The rise of internal communications

Internal communications was once as simple as a CEO sending a memo to staff to share company news. Today, it’s recognised as a far more complex and critical part of an organisation’s communication and operations. Some companies have dedicated internal communications managers while others require communications executives to fill both internal and external shoes, working alongside human resources. But no matter what the case, it is clear that communicating with the internal audience has become a top priority as more organisations adopt an “inside-out” approach to communications.

“It’s an essential part of the marketing mix – employees are one of the most important assets a firm has (particularly in the services industry) and if they are not aligned with the firm’s strategy and goals, and generally happy in their roles, that will ultimately impact on the performance and success of the business,” shares Madeleine Little, director of public relations, Jones Lang LaSalle.

When done well, internal communications can help businesses achieve their long-term objectives – aligning employees with company values, creating a healthy corporate culture and cultivating internal brand advocates. But there is also a major risk for companies who don’t communicate well with their workforce. In today’s digital age, each and every employee has the capacity to impact the company’s brand in either a positive or negative way through what they share in social media and other online forums. It has therefore become critical to communicate internally as a priority, even before considering external communications. Our personnel have become one of our most important audiences.

Internal Communications as a part of corporate strategy

Today’s top corporate leaders know that keeping your internal audience well-informed is the first step towards success and an important part of talent retention. Employees who work in an environment where they receive regular communications from top management ultimately feel part of an organisation that is inclusive and cares about what they think. A lack of internal communication can be very dangerous – imagine an organisation that is undergoing a major business restructuring and informs its customers and external partners before its own employees. The organisation risks a major upset within their ranks, and possibly even a mass exodus. Today it is a widely-accepted rule that you communicate internally first, and to external stakeholders second. This helps to maximise talent retention through increased loyalty, and ensures that as  representatives of the company, employees are sharing messages externally that are consistent with the company’s vision.

The role of PR and Communications Professionals

In Prospect’s experience as a global recruitment business for the PR and corporate communications industry, we find that internal communications roles can be positioned differently depending on the company’s size and culture. Internal communications professionals are sometimes found within the HR department, or can sit within corporate communications. In an ideal world, internal communications should be a collaborative effort between HR, who are the experts from a talent management perspective, and the corporate communications and PR team, who are the experts in crafting and delivering messages.

What makes a great internal communications professional?

As with most roles, we recommend hiring for culture-fit first and skills second. We also suggest conducting competency-based interviews as they’re a great way of assessing specific skills required for a role. Key competencies for an internal communications role can include strong communications, leadership, collaboration, decision-making, and knowledge about new channels. Internal communications is not just about writing the company newsletter – it’s about understanding the top management’s objectives and supporting them by keeping the workforce informed through consistent messaging and creating the right corporate culture.

The ability to identify the right channels for internal communication is a crucial part of the role, as these will differ between organisations. Mobile and digital channels such as YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter are great tools to reach the Millennial workforce who are tech-savvy. While for organisations with large groups of employees outside of the office enviromment, such as mining or oil companies, other channels such as site visits, team building and onsite posters would be more effective.

It is very likely that PR and Communications practitioners will have some involvement within Internal Communications in some capacity. With internal communications creeping up the business agenda, it is becoming more of a priority to ensure employees are informed and engaged. Building bridges between departments and making employees feel valued is necessary for business success. A communications executive who has demonstrated a strong track record in Internal Communications could find themselves in high demand in today’s job market.

The writer is Emma Dale, Co-Founder and Managing Director (Asia) at Prospect, a global recruitment firm for the PR & Communications industry. Prospect is gold sponsor of PR Asia 2014.

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