Embracing internal communication complexity

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.

I was recently asked by PR Moment to consider the greatest challenge facing IC which got me thinking about the complexity of what we do.

Some people say that internal communication is not rocket science.

True. It’s much harder than that.

We can get people to the moon and send a spacecraft to Mars. However, satisfaction with internal communication often remains stubbornly low in many organisations.

Let’s not pretend internal communication is easy when we know it is not. Internal communication is complex. It involves trust, understanding, collaboration and relationship building. There is culture to consider alongside politics, organisational strategy and change. There is not much that is more complicated than that.

And then there is employee engagement. A term that some practitioners think is best avoided because it is tricky.

One of the reasons why internal communication is so rewarding is because it is complex. It demands research, thoughtful analysis, creative problem solving, empathy and an understanding of how effective communication is based on dialogue. Monologue is much easier. Write some ‘messages’, push them down some ‘channels’ and, hey presto you have ‘communicated’ with your internal ‘audience’ (fellow employees actually). Except that, curiously, employee engagement results remain static.

To downgrade internal communication practice to a simple message-channel-audience level is to disrespect employees.  It implies that almost anyone can do internal communication as long as they can write some basic copy. And it leaves organisations failing to fulfil their potential.

Which brings me back to employee engagement.

It is true that there is no simple definition of engagement. In that respect it is like other terms, for example, leadership and culture. However, in my view, taking an employee engagement led perspective offers an exciting future for internal communication practice. It recognises employees as people, not ‘resources’ or ‘advocates’ that need to be put through some tacky ‘engagement’ programme. It gives employees a voice, because they deserve to be heard and they have some great observations that can make a real difference. It includes keeping employees informed in a transparent way, adult-to-adult, not adult-to child as in many cascade programmes. It means that senior managers have to explain and listen at the same time. Give me this any day over firing messages to internal ‘audiences’. Embracing complexity is far more interesting.