Tag Archives: communications strategy

Putting strategy back into internal comms: the time has come

Ever since I did my first piece of corporate communication work, an audit of UK external and internal communication for pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly in 1997, I saw the massive strategic potential of internal communication.

Yet, in the last twenty years, I have seen internal comms used less and less as a strategic tool, and more and more to drive the easier-to-measure but more nebulous objectives of “awareness” and “employee engagement”.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

At the turn of the century in London, there were actually large internal comms strategy firms who were looking at ways to use communication to identify specific groups of people, and mobilise them to help organisations achieve specific objectives.

Rather than driving awareness with infotainment indiscriminately broadcast to all employees, internal communication strategists focused on developing, delivering and facilitating complete messaging for people who needed to act on it, or those who needed to be aware so they could lead, follow, or get out of the way.

The strategic approach to internal comms was never repudiated. But in the early 2000s, it was overwhelmed by the drive for employee engagement.

Employee engagement is not explicitly anti-strategic.

The quest to measure it, and the corresponding push among corporate leaders to drive and demonstrate ever-increasing employee engagement scores, has had the effect of subordinating any other business purposes for internal communication to the two-fold purpose of raising employee engagement scores, and increasing the percentage of employees participating in employee engagement surveys.

Why does that conflict with the strategic use of internal comms?

When your job as an internal comms function is to make sure 100% of employees submit their engagement surveys and feel sufficiently happy to deliver an 80% to 100% engagement score, there is little tolerance for emphasising the selective delivery of hard messages to the minimum number of people necessary.

Some stakeholders squeal that such selective engagement is “discriminatory,” and other express concern for the potential impact on engagement scores.

It has also become a resourcing and sponsorship issue.

Some years back, when “precious” IC resource was being focused on “engagemen-tainment,” comms departments responded to urgent requests from senior stakeholders for change communication support with “toolkits” – essentially giving these stakeholders uncustomised instructions in “how to communicate” and telling them to take a hike.

This approach not only further diminished the active practice of strategic internal communication, it also had the perverse impact of distancing internal comms from potentially supportive senior stakeholders.

Now, as more and more businesses and practitioners are actively questioning the value of all-employee engagement and “engagemen-tainment,” a window is reopening for internal comms to become a strategic function again.

Moreover, if it doesn’t, how will IC otherwise be able to retain any perception of value, if it is neither driving engagement nor driving alignment and action?

Some ways to make IC more strategic in this transitional period:

1. Start proactively helping your business stakeholders, not just your engagement stakeholders
2. Conduct interviews and learn more about the business’s priorities, and then look more at how you can support and accelerate them
3. Kill off eyeball and awareness measurements.
4. Develop measurements that track the flows of messages and attitudes in different parts of your business
5. Invest in influencer research and/or social mapping to find the three percent of people who are driving 90% of your conversations
6. Develop a two-tier communication platform: a brief and snappy infotainment approach for all employees, supplemented with a more adult and comprehensive approach for influencers, leaders and managers
7. Don’t be afraid to use the same vehicles for delivering lightweight and heavyweight content, but do make sure they are effectively signposted

Embracing a strategic approach to internal communication offers massive advantages. For organisations, it offers the possibility of greater alignment and faster results.

For communicators, a clearer path to making a difference and a more tangible set of tasks and tools, and a greater opportunity to be seen as strategic assets and even, leaders.

Why not start now?

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Mike Klein is an internal communication strategist, writer and blogger, based in Delft in the Netherlands.

His blog, Changing The Terms, has been recognised by Communication Director Magazine as one of Europe’s top communication blogs.

He is also currently Vice Chair of IABC’s Europe-Middle East-North Africa region.

You’ve done your channel audit — now what?

A channel audit is just the first step on the way to a streamlined, totally effective suite of communications channels.

Once you’ve established what channels are useful and which aren’t, you need to retire the ones that are no longer serving a purpose or have been superseded by newer, better channels.

There is a lot of risk here because it is easy to upset or annoy colleagues who may rely on the channels you are removing plus you may inadvertently remove a channel that is serving a specific purpose that is not covered by the others.

So here’s a seven-point plan to get you started:

1. Was your audit good enough?

Before you refine your channels, take another look at your audit. Are you confident that the methods used were robust? Was your measurement accurate? Did you speak to the right stakeholders? It helps to have an honest sense check before you take anything away.

2. Don’t just delete channels!

Once you are happy with your audit, it is really tempting just to start getting rid of the channels that don’t work. This is the worst thing you can do. If an email newsletter suddenly stops arriving or a magazine ceases publication, all this will do is alienate your audience and cause confusion.

3. Work out what is going where

Look at the content for the channels you are going to retire and work out where that content will now live (should it still be needed). This will ensure you don’t lose anything important in the process.

4. Create a timetable for removing channels

Don’t take on too much by trying to deal with all the channels simultaneously. Create a timetable and make sure all interested parties and stakeholders have bought into the process and plan.

5. Communicate what is happening and why

Once you’ve done all of the above, tell your audience about it. There will always be people who use channels you are about to get rid of (even if it’s only a couple of them!) so make sure you communicate what you are going to do and let people know where they can find the content in future.

6. It’s not a science, so be prepared to make changes

You might retire a channel, then realise you still need it. This is ok. The perfect channel mix takes time and trial and error to get right, so don’t be frustrated if you don’t get it right straight away. Just remember to keep your audience updated on what is happening.

7. Now you are in a good place, measure to stay there

Once your channel mix is looking better, keep it that way by making sure you measure the success of each one and do regular temperature checks. If you don’t stay on top of this, you will end up needing to do a big audit again in a couple of years time.

It goes without saying that the team at Headlines can help with any/all of the activities discussed in this blog. So, if you don’t have the in-house expertise, resources or time to do it yourself, just give us a call.