How Internal Communication delivers business value in the future

How Internal Communication delivers business value in the future

By Jonas Bladt Hansen, 8. October 2018

Internal Communication is not about producing news anymore. I sincerely believe that. Actually, it should never have been about that in the first place. But since this was perceived as a way to showcase the value of Internal Communication, I guess that’s why some perceive internal communication as being those guys who produce the employee magazine and the news for the Intranet.

All this will change. The rapid changes in technology and the emergence of social media has forever changed the way we communicate. Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, WhatsApp and LinkedIn must be considered as relevant channels to reach your internal audience. As a consequence, younger generations expect to engage with executives on social media and expect more authenticity in leadership communication.

The purpose of Internal Communication?

A recent published report from CIPR inside found that the purpose of Internal Communication is unclear. While CEOs seem to understand the importance of internal communications, they seem to be confused about which role internal communication should play in the organization. CEOs stats that Internal Communication (IC) is a strategic function, but examples given on how IC operates are mainly tactical (ICKollectif, The Next Level, 2018).

Personally, I have the same experience. Too often, IC ends up being those guys writing Intranet articles after being told that they are responsible for bringing the organizations values to life. That’s not done with an article or with a couple of roll-ups visualizing the values. If you want your internal communication department to really deliver value, this needs to change.

Apply the COPE Mind-set (Create Once, Publish Everywhere) and let someone in External comms or PR take care of producing the great news stories about your organization. Or establish a content team that takes care of production and ensures coordination with other stakeholders, such as marketing and employer branding.

The future Internal Communications department should focus on three things:

  1. Enable people to communicate and share knowledge
  2. Let colleagues experience the company purpose in the moments that matters to them
  3. Inspire colleagues to act

Enable people to communicate and share knowledge

Executives should get prepared to communicate more themselves. By “themselves” I am not talking about booking the usual camera guy and communication professional to write a script. I am talking about making authentic communication themselves.

For instance, by filming themselves while capturing the thoughts of the day, interviewing a colleague or just have a regular conversation on Yammer or LinkedIn with colleagues and stakeholders. Internal messages are competing with Instagram stories, Snapchat streaks and Facebook likes. An Intranet interview with the CEO written by a communication professional will struggle getting the desired attention.

As a communication professional you should prepare yourself to transform into an advisor for the leadership team, and facilitate communication activities. In order to do so, you should gather data on what kind of content, and which channels work for their specific audiences.

In general, you should start having a discussion with your executives about the important focus areas for the upcoming year. Based on this, you create an overview of how you can support these focus areas.

An example of becoming more focused on linking your activities to the business objectives could be this: Let’s say your HR leadership team wants more people to seek internal jobs. By working closely together with the employer branding team we can help developing some great stories, make job offerings more visible and maybe even arrange events, where you can meet expats. You can measure the success by tracking the amount of job applications for internal jobs.

In general, you should make sure the leadership team is committed to the plan you create. Meet them, present a plan and get their sign off. Then follow up frequently. Give them some kind of overview of activities each month and evaluate at least every quarter.

Let your colleagues experience what the purpose of the organization is

There is a difference between telling what the organization stands for and let people experience it. If you want to have impact, you need to give your colleague an experience they remember. My favorite example comes from the airline industry. More specifically the way they do safety videos.
Regardless of what kind of video you create, you give people an experience. You can choose to give them a boring experience like Continental Airways that they will not remember, or a great experience like Air New Zealand. They connect a boring topic with a great experience. And suddenly they have our attention. Have a look yourself.

Let’s apply this thinking to Internal Communication. And let’s say your organization wants to be perceived as innovative. How do you ensure that this is the experience your new employees get during the onboarding process? Does the welcome letter include 7 folders with HR policies, safety procedures etc., or do you send out a package with VR glasses and a couple of VR clips to watch?

Are your colleagues and other stakeholders able to experience your history (like people are at ECCO) or do you have a one pager in your slide deck telling the story about your history? You can always discuss whose responsibility this is, but my experience tells me that if you have a great idea on how you can turn plain messages into experiences, people are willing to listen. What are your executives talking about when they meet with their employees? Are they spending their time on reporting numbers or a they talking about the company purpose and how they make a difference in the world?

Inspire colleagues to act in the moments that matters

Communication campaigns are a popular way to create awareness around a certain topic and hopefully get people to act. Very often these campaigns tend to have no long-lasting effect. It’s because the only thing that happens is that your colleagues gets the information at the wrong time and place. The safety campaign reminding you that we are taking safety seriously, does not really work. But reminding people to hold on to the stair railing in the stairwell is more likely to have an effect.

Ensuring a high compliance in procurement is not being solved with a global communication/change campaign. The way IC can help is to help procurement identify the key moments where people tend to be non-compliant and see if there is an opportunity to communicate in these moments. Maybe by doing a snackable 1-minute video addressing the exact need people might have (e.g. how to buy a phone in your purchasing tool).

In Denmark, the mobile phone company “3” is using a mobile (!) platform to reach their employees working in their stores. The solution gives the employees a frequent update on what is important for them to do, which products they should focus on, and what the key sales arguments are. A quiz gives the leadership the opportunity to identify knowledge gaps and enables them to act on them. 3 has seen significant performance improvements in sales and in reduction of employee turnover.

The opportunities are endless!

I have had the honor to lead a team of highly skilled IC professionals and give speeches about the future of Internal Communications at conferences where I met with many communication professionals from all over the world. Many are struggling with the challenges I have tried to describe. IC should challenge the existing silos and bring their knowledge and help to the table. The first step is to have a conversation with your executives about their goals for the year to come and to show how you can help achieve them. I think IC has a huge opportunity to unleash the full potential of Internal Communications.

In order to do so, you need to start doing the following:

  • Link your activities to the business strategy. Make an overview to show how they are linked and get the plan signed off with the leadership teams.
  • Focus on delivering more great experiences. A great experience is something that is memorable.
  • Gather data and insights to better understand your colleagues’ moments that matters. You can read an example of how to create personas here
  • Once you have insights, you will be able to give your stakeholders better advice on how to communicate
  • Be patient. Identify windows of opportunities to try out new things. Manage expectations with your stakeholders.
  • Be bold, try out new things and accept that you will fail sometimes,
  • … but be data driven and make sure you fail fast.

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