Tag Archives: internal communications news

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?


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.

Claudio Ranieri – did employee empowerment go too far?

Claudio Ranieri has departed Leicester City only months after leading the club to a spectacular Premier League triumph.

But what role did Foxes’ players have in his sacking?

Debate has raged over whether Leicester’s stars turned on the likeable Italian boss as the team struggled after last season’s fairytale.

Vice-Chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha insisted the decision to sack Ranieri came from the owners alone – and was quick to distance his players from the rumoured revolt.

“It is unfair that our players, who supported Claudio fiercely, are being accused of disloyalty,” he said.

But in his Guardian column, Chief Football Writer Paul Doyle presented another view; one that supports two-way dialogue and employee empowerment – in this case, football players.

He wrote: “Even if it were true that Leicester players expressed disagreement with the way Ranieri was running their title defence, is that so bad?

“It is a dumb strain of conservatism indeed that demands workers blindly follow their leader.

“Consultation in the workplace is usually a sign of enlightened rule and generates an empowering sense of shared responsibility.

“A workforce that feels its feedback is ignored can become less productive. Or play like oafs.”

In May 2016, just after Leicester were crowned Premier League title winners, IC Magazine managed to secure an exclusive interview with the people’s champion, Ranieri.

Speaking of his management style at the time, his tactics seemed to be those of someone who knows how good internal communication works.

He told us his approach was one of involvement, communication and employee empowerment.

“I just want everyone to feel involved – medical staff, sports science teams, our Chief Executive,” he said. “Everyday decisions or jobs – we are all part of the project.”

So, at least it seems that Ranieri and Doyle are singing from the same hymn sheet. Only on this occasion, it is rumoured not to have worked out so well for the former LCFC manager.

Internal comms ‘helps no-CEO firm to thrive’

Powerful. Decisive. Inspirational.

The CEO is the big beast of any organisation – the person who signs off (or not) on the decisions that truly matter.

Because the buck, after all is said and done, nearly always stops with them.

They are a staple part of today’s corporate fabric – commonplace alongside email overload and water cooler conversations.

So it was a surprise to read about the company that decided to ditch its top dog – and has thrived as a result.

Swedish software consultancy Crisp had trialled numerous leadership structures before deciding to axe the organisation’s chief executive role altogether, reports BBC News.

Developer Yassal Sundman said: “We said, ‘what if we had nobody as our next CEO – what would that look like?’

“And then we went through an exercise and listed down the things that the CEO does.

“When we looked at it we had nothing left in the CEO column [with duties picked up by other senior leaders or colleagues], and we said, ‘alright, why don’t we try it out?’”

It sounds straight forward, doesn’t it?

Nonetheless it is a huge leap into the unknown for most businesses.

In 2015, tech company MT Online revealed it had ditched emails, meetings and managers with great success.

But this radical idea is another level again.

The trust element is certainly refreshing – particularly with some businesses considering state-of-the-art ‘workplace sensors’ to monitor and potentially enhance productivity.

Interestingly, the lack of a visible leading figure at Crisp has seen internal communications becoming a crucial part of the organisation’s new-look decision-making process.

So what role does IC play in Crisp’s approach?

Involvement. The business holds a four-day meeting for its 40 members of staff every three months. These are used to tackle the ‘bigger’ issues that impact on the entire business.
Ownership. Colleagues are encouraged to openly discuss plans or bounce ideas off each other instead of taking them ‘upstairs’.
Responsibility. Workers are highly motivated because they have a shared sense of responsibility, says Henrik Kniberg, organisational coach. “If you want to get something done, you stand up and start driving that.”
Measurement. Crisp takes employee engagement seriously with regular measurement. Currently, the average is about 4.1 out of 5.

To read the full article, visit the BBC News website here….

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.

Q&A: what can internal comms learn from advertising?

Compared with the likes of external communications and marketing, internal comms is still a young industry – so we decided to take a peek at one of our sister industries to see what we could learn.

Kate Nicoli works as Board Account Director at Leo Burnett, one of the world’s most successful ad agencies, with prominent clients such as Coca-Cola, General Motors, Samsung and Kellogg’s.

Kate Nicoli

The agency is responsible for such iconic adverts and campaigns like the Marlboro Man in the 1960s and the reinvention of Old Spice in 2010.

Q. Hello Kate. One of our big challenges is that employees are busy, often out in the field and don’t have time or are unwilling to engage. What can you tell us about engaging with unwilling audiences?

A. “In advertising, all audiences are unwilling! Back in the 1960s we used what’s called an interruptive style of advertising; we would stop the audience, tell them what we wanted to say and they would listen.

“But we don’t have that luxury anymore because there is too much content vying for the audience’s attention. Now you have to create a role for yourself in the lives of consumers, or you cannot expect them to pay attention to you.

“I would suggest it is the same for IC. If you are not giving your audience something in return then they will be reluctant to engage. Unless the audience sees the benefit of reading, watching or engaging with content then I don’t see why they would spend time on it.”

Q. So how do we create that pull to get busy employees engaged with their workplace?

A. “It’s important to become attuned to what your audience wants. The key with advertising is that you base it on a human insight, a human truth that is relevant to the consumer. So time should be taken to understand your audience and what they want. It’s not enough to just send out corporate messaging – it needs to link to the audience on an emotional level.

“For example, if there were rumours going around that your business was going to be sold, you would then address that honestly in your comms, because your audience expressed a desire in hearing more about it. The worst mistake we can make is assuming we know what people want to hear.

“A good place to start is to get your employees directly involved as ambassadors for your comms. For example, rather than the staff magazine being produced by the same people every issue, why not make your employees the editors of your magazine?

“They can put what articles and content they want in there. It becomes something that people want to get involved with and have a real investment in, rather than them thinking it has just come from the top.”

Q. In the mass of information that we communicate to employees, how do we make sure the important stuff gets through?

“I think it is important to remember that IC, and all communications, are not an opportunity to tell people what you want them to know; it is an opportunity for them to find out what they want to know.

“We wouldn’t create a billboard with 30 messages on it, or a print ad with a whole ream of copy. You have to choose the most important message and get it out there as succinctly as you can in an appealing way. So you have to be disciplined and resist the urge to keep communicating with people again and again. Less is definitely more.”

Q. What would you say are the key elements in creating great work?

A. “There are three aspects for me: a good brief, time and the input from the right people at the right time.

“We have recently introduced a new process at Leo Burnett for big creative briefs. We open up the brief to a wider group of people and allow them to all contribute their thoughts, ideas and research to the piece. We do this for ten days before all this content is transformed into a tighter ‘beta’ brief.

“Having that moment to be widely creative, where any idea is welcomed to the table is really helpful when coming up with unique ideas.

“In IC, where I understand budget can often be an issue, you can’t underestimate the importance of taking the time to get the right people involved and thinking creatively, rather than falling back on the same channels you’ve always used before.”

Q. Last question – what are your favourite ad campaigns of all time?

A. “Tough question! I would say the Harvey Nichols Walk of Shame, the Greenpeace-Lego ad and Share a Coke, which is more a marketing campaign but great anyway because it got me buying Coca-Cola and I don’t even drink it!”