Opinion: internal comms needs to go back to basics

Bring your internal comms back to basics

October 8, 2013

Internal comms back in the late 90s was very different from how IC works in business now.

IC has been transformed from a PA typically sending out a newsletter once a week to the present day where there are dedicated IC teams, the board or senior leadership teams playing a bigger role, and a wide variety and choice of IC channels are available at the touch of a button, writes Laura Mullan.

It’s a really exciting time for IC and I am so proud to still be part of it. However, with so many changes and the rise in popularity of online and digital communications, I often wonder whether IC is losing its way – moving further away from relationship building and face-to-face interaction to unintentionally hiding behind IC channels – intranets, magazines, e-bulletins and videos to name but a few.

I am certainly not saying that there is no place for these channels – they are an important part of building engagement in an organisation.

Laura Mullan
Laura Mullan

However, they should work with, rather than instead of, taking time to interact directly with colleagues.

If we don’t make time for the face to face, we increase the level of detachment between IC and who we’re trying to reach – our internal customers or colleagues – which results in the break down of relationships, and creates a lack of understanding of who the customer is and what their needs and expectations are.

In one of my first jobs, working for Volvo Car UK, I was told that to successfully market a car, a business must know everything about their customers. I believe this same principle applies to internal communications.

I feel it’s vital to truly know internal customers – not as a one-off exercise through surveys but as an everyday way of working – an integral part of an IC strategy and culture.

That way, any IC activity, whether it’s launching a new channel or a change communication campaign, has more chance of succeeding and adding value.

One of the best approaches I took in a previous role was to work on the production line at Vauxhall Motors. As scary as the experience was initially, I found it the most beneficial activity I’d done and thoroughly enjoyed it.

I learnt so much about my fellow colleagues – what their priorities were, their interests, and their motivations for coming into work. This knowledge helped me shape the way IC worked.

You might be thinking – “that’s easier said than done”, particularly for those organisations that employ a lot of people or who operate on a global scale with few resources. However, there are ways around this.

Creating a strong IC network across locations or business units can really help. The value of establishing IC champions or ambassadors should not be under-estimated. A network can be the eyes and ears for an IC team – and help to maintain a reality check on what colleagues really want.

I’ve been in situations in previous roles where I haven’t had enough time or have had bigger priorities.

However I always remember the advice I received and try to make time or re-arrange my priorities to get make time for my customers. After all, the people I work with, and those I am trying to reach, are the reason I’m working in internal communications.

Back to basics tips
• Understand everything about your colleagues – your customers
• Make time to build relationships
• Consider the investment in an effective IC network
• Don’t get bogged down in the deliverables – focus on the people

** Laura Mullan joined the world of internal communications at the beginning of her career 14 years ago. Having worked for well-known organisations as well as venturing into the academic side of IC, Laura has seen many changes to the role that internal communications plays in business. Laura works for Headlines Consultancy Team as an Internal Communications Manager.