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Why does internal comms struggle for respect?

Probably like most IC bloggers, my laptop is filled with internal communications articles that I started but never finished.


Being brutally honest, some were simply too dull to be published. Some bit the dust purely because something better came along.

Such is life.

Now for the big confession: this is one of those aforementioned articles.

Yet there should be no shame in it.

This belter was cast into the wilderness many months ago while I devoted my precious time to more *ahem* worthwhile topics like cars being mistakenly blown up and how to politely ask people not to defecate in the shower.

However certain events in recent weeks brought my attention back to this certain effort – and this theme in particular.

I’m sure you already know where I’m going: that awful description of an IC professional in Cosmopolitan.

You know the one: “… the internal comms strategist is always busybusyverybusy – despite their whole job seemingly being about organising people’s birthday cakes.”


To be clear, this is not a hatchet job on Cosmo.

I’m pretty sure they didn’t mean to upset a large swathe of the IC community with a few ill-thought out words seeking cheap laughs. Humour is subjective, after all.

Nor is this a knee jerk reaction.

I let the dust settle – because the rage at the crass wording has been expressed far more succinctly than I could manage.

Yet this tongue-in-cheek article does expose a harsh truth: how the internal comms industry faces a daily battle against unfounded perceptions.

It comes down to a single word: respect.

It may be merely seven letters yet its importance cannot be understated.

Generally, respect tends to be hard to earn and far easier to lose.

Casting a look over the Headlines IC blog over the past couple of years, the same question begs to be asked: does the internal communications industry, as a whole, get the respect it deserves?

It had begun to feel like times have changed.

And that’s why the Cosmo article is so frustrating.

Because it suggests the stigma of IC being something of a frivolous, non-essential part of a business continues.

Elaine Ng, then head of communications at Philips ASEAN Pacific, touched upon these challenges of recognition in this excellent blog posting for PR Week, : “When people look at internal comms, they tend to think about a nine-to-five job that doesn’t require you to go out to meet people.

“They think about a job that is narrow in scope and inward-looking where you occasionally speak with senior management and HR – all with the sole purpose of writing those newsletters, or what some call internal memos (yes, I still hear this term being used!).

“It’s worse when someone comes to you and says, “You’re in comms right, then can you draft this email that will go to all staff?”

This theme was reflected by IC practitioner Jane Revell, who highlighted IC being regarded as “PR’s poor cousin” in her ‘Myths about Internal Comms’ article.

But Jane is keen to point out that there is a bright outlook for IC professionals due to a shift in attitude.

She said: “Internal communications has traditionally been regarded as PR’s less exciting, less glamourous cousin.

“It has been great to see that the recognition of the importance of IC has grown so enormously in recent years.

“Communicators and senior leaders now realise the importance of valuing employees, first and foremost, as the people who drive the success of an organisation, and recognise the impact effective internal communications has on business performance.”

This view is backed up by numerous comms experts – keen to highlight that robust internal communications provide the foundations for commercial success.

It was neatly summed by in this blog via corporateclassinc.com: “Even for companies that prioritise customer service and external relations, it is essential to foster positive internal communication and respect for employees.

“Without a strong internal foundation, external relations can’t follow suit – and external contacts will notice fissures in an organisation that has weak internal relations.

“Also, an organisation likely will have less focus and lower quality outputs if internal staff does not communicate well or feel appreciated.”

Nicely put.

So perhaps – and this is just a thought – that there are some damn good reasons why IC professionals are forever “busybusyverybusy”.

Anyway gotta go: there’s cake to be ordered.

The psychology of workplace change

Stephanie Davies, Laughology Founder and CEO, takes the hot seat, blogging about the psychology of change at work.

Change is a word that can cause all kinds of emotional responses. Some people view change as negative, while others see it as positive. But now, even the way change happens is changing, which means there’s a lot to get our heads around.

These days, many modern businesses treat change as a continuum, rather than a finite process. The fast pace of the world means that many organisations position transformation as continuous improvement, especially those that are constantly evolving to stay ahead of the game and future-proof themselves.

Ways of working, lifestyles and services are developing all the time, forcing organisations to evolve with them. For example, office spaces and set working hours will be a thing of the past before we know it and communicating at work will be more about social media platforms and instant messaging.

We will all need to become learning ninjas, constantly updating our skills to match new systems and beat the competition.

By helping employees to grasp this concept and improving their resilience, adaptive thinking, flexibility and growth mindset, you can ensure they are future fit. Businesses need people who can think and adapt quickly and effortlessly and who will and feel positive about doing so.

As Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said: “Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”

At Laughology we would advise you to:

1. Support your workforce in becoming future fit.
– Be clear about why continuous development is important – what does it mean for the organisation, why is it important for the business and how will it help in future?
– Share ideas, inspire with vision and engage people with their own development
– Lead the way. You should make sure managers have the knowledge, people skills and coaching skills to successfully evolve their teams
– Create the right culture. A culture of continual learning and trust built through honest positive, open communication will impact how people adapt to new ideas
– Help employees to understand where you are now and what needs to happen to get you to the next stage; this will make change easier to stomach. Small, manageable and well-communicated steps
will help people feel more in control and happy about development.

2. Become a growth mindset business.
Organisations that welcome new ideas and experience are the best performers. Too often, businesses can stifle experimentation due to fear of failure and because it’s easier to stay in their comfort zone. But it’s a changing world. Invite new ideas and ensure that resources and encouragement are available for your people to continuously learn and develop.

3. Pause, assess and celebrate.
Encouraging your team to take a deep dive into the process behind its own successes and failures will maximise learning and improve performance by instigating employee-driven change . We work in such fast-paced environments that it’s easy to finish one project and move straight onto the next without pausing to ask what worked well and what could be done differently next time.

4. Reinforce growth mindset practices through communications.
To have a true growth mindset, an organisation needs to constantly highlight and reinforce growth mindset practices. Try encouraging your people to share their favourite recent examples of their growth mindset with their teams, and share growth mindset success stories through your channels at every opportunity, across the whole organisation.

Measure outcomes, not outputs, to judge the impact of communication

“If we want to be taken seriously as business people specialising in communication, then we have to stop desperately trying to prove our value to organisations.”

So says Sean Williams, Founder and CEO of Communication AMMO and adjunct professor of Public Relations at Ohio’s Kent State University.

Sean and his colleagues from the US Institute for Public Relations Measurement Commission have just finished work on a study to identify a series of standards for IC measurement.

Their findings are due to be unveiled at the International Public Relations Research Conference in Orlando, Florida, in March.

Throughout their research, the group avoided looking at output measurements, such as circulation figures for internal publications and number of intranet stories published.

This kind of data is a staple in many IC audits and status reports, but Sean argues that it doesn’t reveal anything about how successful IC activity is.

For him, effective communication isn’t about the size of your audience, but about how that audience reacts to your message.

“We call it ‘look mommy’ communications,” said Sean. “But we have to be certain that we’re adding value to the business.”

Sean explained that during his research he and his group analysed three aspects of internal communication and how it feeds into measurable outcomes:

• IC activity (what we do)
• Outcome (what happened as a result)
• Business impact (how the outcome affects some aspect of the business)

For Sean, this goes to the heart of how we define ‘effective’ communication, and what needs to be measured.

He said: “The sophisticated IC measurer is going to make sure that whatever they’re doing – focus groups, interviews, whatever – they’re capturing information and trying new things to effect an impact.

“What is it that happened as a result of our communications, that changed the way people think or act? And did they take some sort of action in support of business results?

“When you can look at things and say, for example, ‘productivity is up but safety is down’, there might be a communication disconnect somewhere.

“That’s when you start to look at things like where you’re wasting time, where you’re losing productivity, where you can reduce your touchpoints, and so forth. That’s where we all need to be.”

To read more of Sean’s thoughts on the world of IC, check out his blog.

How IC can help you find and hire the best employees

Paul Peters from applicant tracking system Betterteam blogs on how a company’s current employees can be an untapped source of excellent job candidates.

We’re living in one of the toughest hiring climates of all time.

It’s taking a record 29 days to find employees and more job openings are going unfilled than ever before.

But what many companies are failing to realise is that current employees are an untapped source; they can identify the very best candidates for your business.

They can help you reach ‘passive’ candidates who are not yet on the market or who aren’t actively looking for jobs – and who make up about 75 per cent of your potential pool.

Leveraging employees can also give you inside information that helps you find and attract better candidates on LinkedIn and job boards, especially for competitive roles.

How to handle referrals

This is the most obvious, tried and tested way of leveraging current employees to attract new ones.

Many companies reward successful referrals, which may be expected in some industries. For me, this puts the emphasis in the wrong place.

You want employees recommending people not because of a bonus, but because they really want to work with those they’re recommending.

Working with great people improves everyone’s day and makes the company more profitable. In turn, people ideally get paid more, receive more promotions and have more job security.

That said, recognition doesn’t cost a thing and can go a long way towards making an employee happy. If a referral is successful, be sure to thank the referring employee when you announce the new hire.

How should you approach asking for referrals?

At an education startup I once ran, we found many of our best employees by putting out a message via email or Slack, informing employees that we were hiring and which positions we were hiring for.

We would generally ask: Where can we find the best person to do this job? Or: Do you know someone you would love to work with?

I’d also recommend sending employees some pre-written copy that they can post to social media to help put the word out. This is an effective way to reach passive candidates.

If you’re hiring engineers, for example, engineers at your company are likely to have contacts from their past or on social. Even if they aren’t seeking employment, they may see your employee’s post and get in touch.

Leverage employees to win at LinkedIn recruiting

This is a bit more proactive than asking for referrals and a great tactic in tough hiring times.

Talk to your very best hires and ask them about the best teams they’ve ever worked in, and where and when it was. It’s likely that their experience links to a high point at the company they worked for.

Through LinkedIn’s advanced search tool, you’ll be able to find out who else worked there at that time.

Ask your current employees to introduce you to anyone who looks like they might be a good fit. Talk to them about why the potential candidate might like the position and use that when you make contact.

How your employees can help you write killer job postings

If there’s any risk to getting help from your employees with recruiting, it’s becoming too dependent on it.

By failing to post your job elsewhere, you may not reach a diverse enough audience and could miss out on potentially great hires.

But yet again, your current employees can help you succeed, by influencing your job board postings.

Nearly all job postings are the same; they read like a bullet pointed list of demands by the employer. This gives you a terrific opportunity to set yourself apart.

Forget writing out all the possible qualifications and requirements for a job – keep them to a minimum.

Instead, ask current employees what it is about the job, the workplace, their fellow employees and the location of your business that would make someone want to work there. That’s what to include in your job posting.

Potential applicants are like customers you’re trying sell to. A little effort into this part of the recruiting process will reap big rewards.

At Betterteam, we’ve helped several clients rewrite their job postings this way.

After taking this approach to an endodontist position that hadn’t received an applicant in months, the company received two well-qualified applicants within three days, and hired a great employee a short time later.

Don’t let this tough hiring climate hold you back! Improve communication with your employees and let them show you the way to making your next great hire.