Wednesday, April 29, 2009

So what's internal communication for?

There's been an interesting debate among Melcrum's linkedin corporate communicators, to which I've pitched in my tuppence worth, arguing what internal communication is actually for. It was picked up, in a bouquet of flowery language on Melcrum's blog stating that the camps are split between strategy and engagement.....hmm, don't they roll into the same bag of business tricks?

Anyway, the debate's worth repeating. So, minus identities to protect the innocent, here's how it has played out so far. My contribution's number 15.

What’s the aim of Internal Communications?

The person setting the question writes:

I've been running a poll here on LinkedIn, asking "What's the single most important aim of corporate Internal Communications?" And the responses to date have been:

1. I think it depends on who's asking the question. I might be a wee bit cynical, but I think the aim of internal communication for senior management is to exchange actions for words and pretty images, clever events and funky videos. I'm sure that internal communicators have far loftier aims, but for me it's not engagement (too ill defined as a concept and to do with the job rather than the organisation in any case). So I think I agree with you - communicating strategy would get my vote.

2. With respect, I think you're missing the point. It has to be productivity (or if you allow me to change your limited list of options ... I'd have productivity, quality and reduction in corporate risk and resulting losses as my answer! Not as snappy, admittedly). If comms cannot prove impact on the bottom line ... it becomes irrelevant as a function. In so many businesses IC is toothless, fluffy and cannot demonstrate its worth. Why strategy? ... to improve productivity, quality and reduce corporate risk and resulting losses . Why engagement? ... to improve p, q and re c l; why inform? to ... etc

3. But , what if the strategy was not to increase productivity, but to say increase market share? If IC is aligning all comms to increase productivity, then surely the internal comms team would not be meeting business aims...

4. I first became an Internal Communications Manager in 1988 and despite its various reincarnations since then I still think it's fundamentally about developing integrated, mutually supportive comms channels with the aim of helping employees embrace management messages and management embrace employees' feedback. You can't achieve this without obtaining input from all the key stakeholders and considering the context (cultural and operational) for the communications - the platform for all of this is the strategy. Oh yes, and I was 10 in 1988, honest.

5. I'm yet to come across a business that wants to increase market share, that does not need a focus on productivity. Take your point though ... meeting broader strategic aims could be the conclusion. IC could be very important in reducing productivity ... take the global car industry! I am trying to agree with myself and you at the same time!

6. being able to communicate mutually exclusive propositions, is some say, at the heart of being a good communicator ;-)

7. For me, IC and employee engagement strategy and solutions should build and strengthen the company brand from within; increasing engagement, productivity and profit and reducing employee turnover. Not much to ask of us is it?

8. I think the answer is that there isn't a single most important reason... I tend to tell people that there are five main reasons: - Making people stay and feel great about staying - Getting people to work harder on the right things - Getting people to say the right things about you - Getting people to support and see through change - Keeping to the law. Within all these is implicit that we're there to help a business or organisation succeed... I bet I've missed off something important...!

9. True, though I think we could safely put all of those in the engagement bucket though Liam. It is of course an artificial exercise - in real life there's never a single reason for anything. I still think it's interesting to think of the engagement/productivity/strategy axis though and which point is really the most important in the triad.

10. I don't think you can put them all in the 'engagement bucket' - working better? sticking within the law? embracing change? Sounds like you have a wide definition of engagement? Unless you mean that communications at work has no value unless it happens within the context of an engaged workforce? I'm not sure if you can imply any conflict or polarity between productivity/strategy/or engagement - that would only be possible if there was any exclusivity between the concepts, which there clearly isn't.

11. There's not a conflict between the points but a synergy with focus on one as opposed to another.Thus, in this conversation I think we seeing different focus on either HR and people centric comms or on business strategy centric comms. These are different approaches, though obviously in the real world an enterprise embraces both, so there should not, at least ideally, be a conflict here at all.

12. This is a critical conversation. Defining a mandate & mission goes a long way towards making sure that we are making valuable contributions to our organizations. My two cents: Internal communications' 'aim' is to support the strategic objectives of your business. IC does this by effectively managing the tools and talent needed to create a clear line of signt between business objectives and individuals' day to day work. That can be done by executive messaging, creating opportunities to communicate, managing and facilitating conversations in the organization, and promoting the techniques and tools that can make everyone more effective communicators.

13. Day to day in any organisation many decisions are taken, many milestones achieved, some successes, some failures too are faced. The job of IC is to bring to focus all of these and give it a perspective or backgrounder. In large organisations, senior management is unable to engage with everyone on a one-on-one basis and that’s where IC pitches in. According to some surveys, an engaged employee tends to stick more to the organisation as s/he feels that s/he is important to the company and that’s why the company is trying to explain and share information with them. Intra-employee communication, again in very large/geographically spread out organisations, is according to me a very very important role of IC. Also, in these types of organisations, information tends to get bundled in silos, here again IC plays a role by sharing experiences, which lead to learning. So broadly speaking I’d say Internal Communications rests on these 4 pillars – inform (top down, peer to peer), share/engage (peer to peer, management to employees), retain (sense of belonging) and learn (from experiences of others).

14. I tend to agree that Internal Communications is about performance improvement and implicit in that is the notion that employees need to be linked to corporate goals and objectives. If we, as communicators, are able to link each employee to the corporate vision - the rest takes care of itself. Nicky

15. For me, it's about enabling the organisation to do what it does better. IC is not an end in itself, and nor is engagement.

16. Mark - you are spot on. Engagement is simply the means to acheive the organizational goals. It's a critical one I grant you as human performance improvement is something akin to nirvana for businesses. When companies practise effective internal communications they financially outperform those that don't with 29.5% increase in market value and 50% higher shareholder returns. The aim of communications should be to support the organization in acheiving its goals.

17. Earlier this week I attended a very interesting debate in Brussels, with Dr. Liisa Välikangas (Helsinki School of Economics) and Dr. Charles-Hampden-Turner (University of Cambridge) about creativity and innovation. From this debate came the view to consider an organisation as a flow of ideas, rather than people. This view, however, causes a conflict of Managers ruling vs. Ideas ruling. People tend to think that they own ideas, but Liisa Välikangas points out that ideas own us. Ideas can divide or bring people together. In todays economic downturn, the flow of ideas to foster innovation is more important than ever to achieve economic upturn. Democratic Innovation, where everyone has the right to innovate and come with ideas, is more important than ever. Therefore, I would say that the aim of today's Internal Communications is to FACILITATE THE FLOW OF IDEAS, while making sure that corporate messages and values do not form an obstacle to this. "We should not tidy up knowledge and innovative ideas, we should pass on!", Dr. Charles Hampden-Turner added in the debate quite rightly.

18. The aim of internal communication is to ensure all noses are pointed in the same direction at all times. This should be organised in such a manner that a sharp turn to left, right or any other direction can be done swiftly.


Anonymous said...

This is a fantastic discussion. Very productive and useful. I work for a health insurer in the U.S., and I'm using portions of these posts for ideas for a presentation I'm putting together about how to improve my company's internal communications.

Anonymous said...

Great that it's of value - and I hope your presentation goes well.

Mark S