I love Communications as an industry, as a profession, as a blogger. I enjoy reading about the theory, the practice and I am grateful to have found a way to do it and be paid for it in my adult life.
But by God I hate Internal Communications (IC).
Hate is a strong word, I know, and I use it sparingly. The only thing I hate in this world is… Pineapple.
Internal Communications is rarely included in application forms or interview questions yet it is a skill that is absolutely expected of anyone conducting PR/Communications in-house.
The Skill of Internal Communications
This has often baffled me because Internal Communications, in my opinion, is a skill set all on its own. It requires knowledge of best practice, time to research and create strategies and ideally it could use someone with a lot of experience in various structures and sizes of organisations to find the best approach, apply it and then be able to concisely evaluate it.
What usually happens is that it gets added to the top of an already-high to-do list of signage, websites, marketing material, news stories, photo calls, event management, etc., etc. And unfortunately, it is usually only pushed when something is going wrong, leaving no time or resources to really investigate why.
That’s not necessarily the reason I hate it though, in PR we’re used to flying by the seat of our pants when it comes to work loads and deadlines. We’re very good at juggling. What we’re not good at is wasting time. And herein lies the reason I detest Internal Communications: so much of what you’re instructed to do is time consuming and disappointingly lacking in positive outcomes.
Good Organisational Communication
Case in point, I work in a reasonably large organisation which utilises a wealth of channels to communicate with staff at many different levels. There are the usual staff committee meetings, emails, conferences, annual review magazines, email newsletters. Added to that we have social media channels, the website, an intranet site, all of which are updated daily with information on the various projects/services and news from across the organisation.
And we STILL hear colleagues complain that they “don’t know what’s going on in the organisation.”
You then have to spend more time (and money) creating printed versions of online communications for people who “prefer to read from paper”, which replicates the information on the website, which replicates the information on the social media channels, which replicates the information in the E-newsletter…
So if you find the time to populate the channels your next challenge is getting the right content to the right audiences. It is quite difficult as a communicator to even keep on top of the detail of what everyone else in the organisation is doing yourself, let alone instinctively know the right channels to get the information out to everyone else who needs it.
I don’t claim to be an expert on any of this but I’m often expected to at least have a go. And this tends to result in a lot of work, covering a lot of bases, that still manages to leave people out of the loop. Worse still, it’s rarely a loop of communication (a cycle, as it should be) but more of a top-down flow with very little input from the bottom up in a way that is easily controlled, compiled and used to inform.
Who Is Responsible For Internal Communications?
A lot of organisations also struggle with the Ping-Pong arguments about whose responsibility Internal Communications is. Management will pass it to Communications, who will in turn pass it to HR, who will pass it back to Communications. The answer is probably different in every organisation but I often find it works best as a mixture of all three disciplines, working together.
Why is Internal Communications a Challenge?
The real issue for anyone responsible for Internal Communications is that communication is expected to come from them but is not always provided to them in the same quantities. Promoting the work and achievements of individuals and teams across an organisation, particularly one that is geographically dispersed, is made more difficult for any central support function that has limited engagement with those people.
These challenges and issues arise in pretty much every organisation so not fully overcoming them isn’t necessarily a failure (or so I try to remind myself!) I remember agonising over my first attempt at an Internal Communications strategy (posted below for your amusement/critique) which tried to encompass all that I’d learned, both about the organisation, its structure and issues, as well as the theory about communication flow and transparency. It wasn’t bad but it’s probably a truer reflection of what happens on the ground than the more extensive examples found on the internet.
I’ve since found better sources of advice, particularly this article on “How to write an internal communications strategy” from Rachel Miller’s blog at AllThingsIC (@AllThingsIC)
So there’s lots of help out there for those of us in-house communicators who have to give Internal Communications a go, but despite having seen it work well at times and knowing that others thirst for knowledge as I do, I doubt I’ll ever learn to love it!