A single theory of internal communication

About the author

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

Theory gets a lot of bad press.

“That’s just the theory” is a comment often levelled when a proposal sounds like a step too far.

However, as Kurt Lewin said, “There’s nothing as practical as a good theory”.

Theory is exciting; it opens up new possibilities if we are prepared to suspend initial judgment. That’s why I like exploring theory, especially theory from other disciplines, to see what it offers for internal communication. As Henry Ford observed, “if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.”

Rachel Miller asked a great question about a single theory of internal communication when I appeared on Simply TV recently. It is true that particular management models often dominate thinking for certain periods. For example, Porter’s Five Forces or Grunig’s PR Model of Excellence.

Internal communication theory lags behind most other management disciplines. As a field within public relations it has been neglected by academics. From an HR perspective, the importance of internal communication for engagement is acknowledged. However, HR academics often focus on other priorities, such as performance management and organisational design.

So where can we start for internal communication theory? My own academic research has recently highlighted some interesting trends. For example, information about plans, goals, progress and achievements has a greater impact on employee engagement levels than information about pay, benefits, job opportunities and recognition. Giving employees opportunities to have a say also leads to higher engagement. These two activities, informing employees about topics they really want to know more about and giving them a voice, come together in the concept I’ve called “Informed Employee Voice”.