Fellow internal communications professionals, when was the last time you were asked why you couldn’t just send out an email?
I’ve been working in communications for over a decade, with most of it focused on communicating with and to internal stakeholders. While it’s easy for those outside of our bubble to assume that internal communications professionals have nice, easy, and captive audiences; internal audiences are just as difficult to reach as (if not more) than an external group.
A lot of the misconceptions about internal communications come from the lack of realization that ‘communicating internally’ is an action, and ‘internal communications’ is a discipline. The application of the latter to the former is what we do to make that action a more effective and efficient function that supports the business — not just a messy by-product of having a group of humans together. Our challenge is that that’s not always a value that gets recognized.
So how does that challenge manifest in our world?
Our easiest tools (hello, all-staff emails) have become familiar. When we can’t rely on novelty, we become white noise. Like wallpaper, or the office foosball table no one ever uses. Even with the best of intentions, the people who say “just send an email” somehow always forget all the emails they themselves ignore or miss. It’s not malicious; people are busy, they’re dealing with a flood of messages in their own inboxes, and they simply don’t realize the full scope of everything that needs to be communicated in an organization.
The short answer is no. It’s easy to understand how people can think that if they put up a poster (or the digital version of it) about something important, everyone else will recognize its value. What it most often leads to is frustration when no one signs up or shows up and even worse, says they were never even communicated to in the first place.
Maybe … But probably not. In an environment where a lot of communication is ad-hoc, people within the business train themselves to define their own meaning of urgent, important, or relevant. In a flood of information, that tactic means that messages get lost. As internal comms professionals, it is our job to put the urgent lens on things.
Luckily, there are some good, solid steps we can take and tools we can use to educate our organizations and carve out space for effective communication.
A channel strategy gives you a roadmap for content and governance that you’ll be able to point to in order to push back on more established areas of the business. If you’re willing and able to share these guidelines, you can start to train the people you work with to be better partners in communication.
Developing governance for your regular communications is the best gift you can give yourself as an internal communicator, and it’s one that benefits everyone. If you can identify a regular format, style, and cadence for your more predictable operational communication, you can aggregate information and establish predictability for both your audience (knowing when to expect types of info) and your stakeholders (knowing how to engage as partners). Then, when something important needs to go out on its own, you’re not fighting for it to stand out from what’s otherwise a flood of emails.
Is it urgent? Is it important? Is it relevant? If something is only relevant to 20% of staff, it doesn’t make sense to send it to the whole organization. Having this clearly outlined can help you set expectations. While prioritization will be unique to each organization, a simple tool like an Eisenhower matrix can be a good place to start.
This takes a bit more time but incorporating benchmarks and measurable objectives into your internal communications planning will let you come back to your stakeholders at regular to show how your expertise is impacting business processes. Not only will you grow understanding of the importance of your role, but show return on investment.
You don’t necessarily need a full-blown internal communications strategy to start. The more structure you can create within your communications environment, the better you can manage expectations, and create the space you need to deliver messaging that lands. Let’s fight misconceptions about internal communications one myth at a time!
Note: I’m making a concerted effort to not call us communicators, but rather, communications professionals. The work we do, the experience we have, the education we’ve pursued — is professional. Everyone communicates; it’s a natural part of being a human in society. We, however, communicate professionally, an important distinction in bringing our seat to the table. Read more on this here.