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Why Internal Communications needs to become ever more of a strategic function

19th January 2017

 
It has become clear that there are a number of changes in the workplace that appear to be driving the need for far more strategic internal communications.
 
These include:
 
 
1. A higher number of millennials making up the workforce and entering management and leadership positions.
 
Millennials can be said to be more demanding than previous generations. Particularly in terms of having a clear purpose and working for organisations with distinct values that they themselves share.
 
 
 
2. The rise of internal social media.
 
With more online conversations taking place, and an increase in available channels – internal communicators must be able to focus on the important areas. And be clear on the value social media is providing an organisation and its employees alike.
 
 
 
3. The demand for more and more internal communications often with less money and less people.
 
It’s brilliant that greater importance is being placed on Internal Communications. However, this is not always reflected in available resource. And so there is a need to not only prioritise communications, but also to prove their worth to justify continued investment and increases to future IC budgets. Effective IC strategy is crucial to achieving both.
 
 
 
4. The development of metrics to determine employee engagement and outcomes of internal communications.
 
For too long measurement of Internal Communications was simply swept under the carpet and ignored. Now, with the transformation to a truly digital workplace, and what with many SaaS providers focussing on measurement – IC can be held far more accountable for the actions they take.
 
 
 
The last point is a good one from which we can jump off from. That being how internal communications needs to focus less on simply engagement, and more specifically on the outcomes of engagement.
 
 
 

Engagement as a buzzword

 
It is fair to say that over recent years Employee Engagement has become a bit of a buzzword.
 
Now however, is the time internal communications must look beyond ‘engagement for engagement sake’, and instead focus on the outcomes of internal communications. Clearly, the outcomes internal communications must be striving to achieve are increases in employee performance.
 
After all an engaged employee provides no value unless it leads to an improvement in their performance that benefits the business.
 
To achieve increases in employee performance, internal communications must become a lot more focussed. Focused on what is going to deliver the desired outcomes. In short IC must become extremely thoughtful on creating communications that matter.
 
What is important to remember, is:
 

Most initiatives do not fail because of missing ideas or concepts. They fail because the intentions, goals and hard information do not properly reach their often company-wide audience.

Frank Wolf, Staffbase.

 
 
Or more simply put:
 
 

Good ideas need good strategy to realise their potential.

Reid Hoffman, Founder, linkedIn.

 
 
Clearly, for internal communications to help improve employee performance, they need to be more strategic in their approach.
 
 
 

How Internal Communications can get more strategic:

Now, we must admit, it would be nigh on impossible for us to answer the above, as a section in a blog post. So the following are more outlines of key areas to look at further.
 
 
 

1. Aligned with values.

Be clear on exactly what your company values are, and ensure all communications and actions have the values ingrained within them.
 
This will help to continually reinforce the core values of the organisation and ultimately these values should be reflected in employee behaviour and output.
 
For example, a core value could be entrepreneurialism. If Internal Communicators ensure that this value is present within communications, then employees will recognise that being more entrepreneurial is key to the success of the organisation – and so their actions will become, yep you got it, more entrepreneurial.
 
It will of course be the responsibility of Internal Communications to highlight and reward employees who display these values in their work – work that benefits the business.
 
 
 

2. Strategic partnerships – Working much more closely with other departments.

The Internal Communications function simply cannot be strategic by itself. It has to form partnerships with all other areas of the business if its strategy is to be effective.
 
Clearly, there should be a close strategic partnership with HR. It will naturally be internal communications who help HR achieve their ‘people objectives’.
 
However Internal Communications must look throughout the organisation, forging partnerships with all business functions. This’ll likely result with Internal Communications needing not to be judged on just what they do – tangible things. But also they should identify and value themselves with less tangible things. Intangible things such as facilitating communications and behaviour change, or educating leaders on new tools or initiatives.
 
On the subject of leaders…
 
 
 

3. Leadership being really clear on the link between internal communications activity and the overall business strategy.

What should be obvious is how any internal communications strategy must be tied to a business goal. This helps leadership to recognise the importance of internal communications.
 
That said, leadership arguably already knows the importance of Internal Communications. However a lot of leaders struggle to see its true value, predominantly because of poor measurement, and a poor strategic approach and delivery of the communications. Results end up being modest or difficult to see, and so leadership unsurprisingly struggles to see the value. This needs to change, and will when Internal Communications are strategic.
 
Leaders are a key audience to partner with. Not only do they play a big part in the execution of the IC strategy. But they also help to raise its importance.
 
 
The final point is a great concept that we came across from Jane Sparrow of The Culture Builders.
 
 
 

4. Creation of investors, instead of savers.

Essentially Jane sees there being two types of employees:
 
1. Investors
2. Savers.
 
Savers do what they are told to do and what is expected from them. Once they’ve accomplished their basic responsibilities they take their reward in the form of payment.
 
Investors are slightly different. They do what is expected of them, and then some. They continually invest themselves in looking for new opportunities and developing themselves at work. They are restless go-getters who simply want to improve everything. They are completely invested in the success of the organisation.
 
Obviously organisations should be focussed on creating and developing Investors. And it falls upon Internal Communications to do so.
 
To do this – and a point we have already alluded to – IC need to focus on equipping employees to become Investors, not just hitting them with communications that tell them to do so. This again reveals the less tangible actions Internal Communicators will be involved in. But still, they are actions born from a clear strategy that is tied to a business goal – that of creating employees who are investors.
 
 
 

The benefits of being strategic:

Hopefully, all of the above should have also brought to light the benefits for Internal Communications of being ever more strategic. To summarise, strategic communications will result in:
 
• Employees that know there purpose and understand ‘the bigger picture’, as all IC activity is tied to an organisations business strategy. Employees therefore also feel valued, important and listened to.
 
• Better leaders. Leaders will have a clear understanding of why it is they need to do things – there will be a clear reason behind it. They’ll have a better understanding of their employees and what it is they require from them to move forward.
 
• Employees who are investors. They’ll be more productive, and contribute far more to an organisation. Yes they’ll be engaged, but more than that, they’ll be performing at a higher level with outcomes that drive the business further and faster forward.
 
• Ultimately strategic Internal Communications will help to create a culture that moves away from simply telling employees to take certain actions, with which they pay lip service too. And instead towards an environment that encourages employee growth because everyone is driven by a common purpose.
 
 
 

Conclusion

Leading organisations have recognised and placed great emphasis on strategic internal communications. Ultimately it has equipped and allowed their employees to do their job better – creating higher levels of performance and better business results.
 
And that really is the bottom line – pardon the pun. Strategic Internal Communications is all about increasing employee performance to improve profitability.
 
2017 must be the year Internal Communications strengthen strategically.
 
Until next time…
 
Rima
 
 
 
This is a piece of content that will also be represented in our annual ‘Internal Comms Trends’ eBook – due out at early in 2017.
You can sign up to receive updates, and the completed full version,
here.
 
 

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