Internal communication leadership

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.

Leadership in communication management is a hot topic. Professor Anne Gregory has a new book out on the subject.   

I’ve been conducting a large number of focus groups and interviews with employees in the last few weeks, asking about senior manager communication. One interviewee told me how he had met a new chief executive within weeks of her being appointed and had a long chat when giving her a lift to a meeting. He was impressed with the interest taken in his work and the team. Two months later he was at a meeting in the head office and he bumped into the chief executive again on his way out of the building. She completely blanked him. This left him bemused and feeling unvalued. He appreciated that she was incredibly busy and understood that she could not remember everyone. However, in a fleeting moment, a great opportunity to engage with someone was missed.

It’s a story I’ve heard repeated several times. Visibility of senior managers is very important. Saying “hi” and just taking five minutes to have a chat makes people feel very important. And quite often some gems of information emerge for senior managers too. However, senior managers have a lot on their plates. They can’t be expected to take time to talk to hundreds of people. Or can they?

At the same time as doing my research, I’ve been struck by the discussion of death rates in certain hospital trusts in England. Sir Brian Jarman was on the radio and TV quite a lot and made a strong point about the way that he has presented data about death rates to the NHS for many years and it has been ignored. He called this “data denial”. This reminds me of employee engagement data. Many senior managers have known for a long time that engagement levels in their organisation could be better. Indeed the general level of engagement in the UK has stagnated at around 35% for a decade. So, are senior managers engagement data deniers?

Leadership in internal communication is pro-actively putting dialogue with employees on the strategic agenda. It is internal communication activism. At a recent Disruptive PR conference, I listened to a debate about the role of PR in society. CSR and sustainability is on the strategic agenda of many organisations and that is to be applauded. However, my question to the speakers was the way that this often seems to be seen as more important than the responsibilities an organisation has to its own employees. Until organisations take this point more seriously, CSR might well be seen as more to do with self-interest than enlightened thinking.

At the same conference, Stephen Welch said that PR disruption is actually less about social media and channels and more about research and planning. Leadership in internal communication therefore requires taking a more strategic, data driven, approach. It includes making the case for senior managers to take more time to talk to employees. Of course, it also requires the ability to build relationships and to have personal impact. It does not necessarily mean having that much lauded “seat on the board”, although that would provide communication leaders with more opportunities to influence. It may take some time to get this established. In the meantime, internal communication leaders can continue to strengthen their own relationship and influencing skills.