A new internal comms philosophy

About the author

Kevin is a co-founder of PR Academy and is the author of Exploring Internal Communication published by Routledge. Kevin leads the CIPR Internal Communication Diploma course. PhD, MBA, BA Hons, PGCE, FCIPR, CMgr, MCMI.

What is internal communication? Why do we exist?

Sometimes, it’s good to take time out. To step back from what we do and think about our purpose.

Before doing that, I was struck by a briefing piece in the latest edition of Professional Manager from the Chartered Management Institute’s chief executive, Ann Francke. It discusses the need to reinvent management.

Ann wonders why business schools don’t focus on skills that really matter. She includes communication in her list, together with performance management, coaching, change-management and team work. She also asks a provocative question, “Why are most organisations still run with bureaucratic, controlling behaviours that cause managers to disengage?”

The CMI is launching an all-party parliamentary inquiry on management and leadership. It is also working with academia to improve the curriculum in Business Schools. Ann has made reinventing management a crusade at CMI and it is great to see the CEO of a membership organisation being so proactive about the challenges facing organisations.

Given that internal communication is central to some of the points that Ann raises, should we be thinking about reinventing internal communication as well?

Traditionally, internal communication is grounded in one-way communication, from senior managers to employees, based on carefully crafted copy. The rationale for this is to keep employees informed, although, in the past, it often presented a biased perspective on what the organisation was doing. Practice is evolving naturally as more consultative forms of management emerge. However, as Ann highlights, many organisations still prefer command and control. Social media is also impacting ways that information is shared. In some organisations, employee voice is increasing, although the evidence is that most employees are not very satisfied with the opportunities that they have to express their views.

This general picture suggests that a more radical approach to internal communication should be considered. In fact, reinventing management goes hand in hand with reinventing internal communication.

So, back to the question about the purpose of internal communication. Keeping employees informed, in an objective way, is an IC fundamental. It is the backcloth for general dialogue and debate about what the organisation is doing. Being creative about this, using different media effectively, is part of what an internal function is there to do. However, it is not the be all and end all of internal communication.

Internal communication should involve more internal activism. IC people could use data more to highlight employee views. They could then facilitate regular dialogue between different departments and between managers and senior managers, based on key issues. They can call out weaknesses in strategy that employees observe in their day to day dealings with customers. They can highlight poor processes that frustrate employees. This view of internal communication is one of promoting general internal communication health. An organisation that communicates well internally will have more engaged employees and be more successful.

It’s three-way internal communication; up, down and across, in equal balance.

Our purpose is not just to represent the view of senior managers, it is to co-ordinate knowledge-sharing and dialogue that serves the interests of all employees.

As that great philosopher, Joe Strummer, said, “People can do anything; this is something that I’m beginning to learn. Without people you’re nothing”.