Review: Strategic Internal Communication

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.

Strategic Internal Communication: A Practitioner’s Guide to Implementing Cutting-Edge Methods for Improved Workplace Culture
By Susanne Dahlman and Mats Heide
Routledge, 2021, 138 pages

This book by Swedish consultant Susanne Dahlman and Swedish academic Mats Heide is a very welcome addition to the growing body of publications dedicated to internal communication.

How times have changed. When I embarked on my PhD in 2009 there was only one text book of note in the field in the UK; “Auditing Organizational Communication, A Handbook of Research, Theory and Practice” by Hargie and Tourish. Since then, the level of academic research has increased significantly, resulting in numerous journal articles focused on internal communication. “Exploring Internal Communication” is now in its 4th edition and a new text book, “Current Trends and Issues in Internal Communication” co-edited by Ana Tkalac Verčič and Rita Men, is scheduled for publication later this year.

However, this book by Dahlman and Heide is not an academic text book. As the authors make clear from the start, their aim is to bridge the gap between theoretically advanced books and ‘cookbooks’ with overly simple recipes for complex problems. The book is, therefore, (as they hoped) an easy read. It is not heavily referenced in the text, although there are plenty of academic sources to underpin the thinking. But it is a challenging read for practitioners locked in a channel management mindset, as it requires such readers to think about whether they are doing the right things. As the authors point out:

Good internal communication is not just disseminating information to target groups who are expected to understand and act.

 

Too often, the authors argue, internal communication professionals do not know or understand themselves what their work means for the organisation.

The book is grounded in internal communication that is based on an organisation’s strategy and change. It looks at this primarily from two separate perspectives: the communication role of managers and coworker communication. Coworkership is described as the way that employees take greater responsibility for their work and managers let go of control. It also examines the role of the internal communication manager, digital communication and measurement.

Throughout the book there are great examples of concepts that have a strong impact on internal communication, such as: functional stupidity, symbolic anorexia, hyper culture, Parkinson’s Law of Triviality, post-heroic leadership, sense-dimming, talk the walk, an omni-channel strategy, and the McNamara fallacy.

There are also numerous mini case studies from organisations such as Orkla Foods, Novo Nordisk, Volvo, Tetra Pak, Ikano Bank, Lund Municipality, SAS, and Swedish National Television.

Much of the thinking in the book can be related to Weick’s work on sensemaking. As the authors highlight, “through continuous internal communication, organisations, or their leaders and coworkers, create a certain understanding and meaning of how the members of the organisation think and act”.

This is a key strength of the book and it is amplified in the chapter on the manager’s communicative role which stresses the need for line managers and middle managers to explain the consequences of what they are conveying. It is in communication with other people that sense is made of what we are told. This simple principle has profound consequences for practice. The authors call for the vicious cycle of channel and news related expectations and delivery to be broken. They challenge practitioners to take centre stage and suggest new priorities for internal communication.

This is a book that I will keep close to me on my bookshelf as I know I will be dipping into it regularly.