Why Your Organizational (Internal) Communications Will Fail in 2017

Addressing these reasons can save time, heartache, wasted effort while accelerating confidence and connectivity

It’s still early, but for many corporate communications leaders and managers, organizational or internal communications approaches and programming are already headed for less than anticipated results.

So, what is it that diminishes promise into anxiety?   Below is a brief summary of what we’re finding as to reasons for such an untenable future:

No ‘Uber’ Business Goal (Tactical vs. Strategic)

The key omission for internal communications is the lack of an overall business goal.   This can take the form of many different types of priorities related to strategy.  Does the organization want to reposition itself in the marketplace?  Is it looking to increase retention of talent?  Is it looking to recruit more effectively?  Is the company moving from a product to customer strategy? Is it looking to rebrand?  Is clarity of strategy and direction (or lack thereof) getting in the way of progress? Organizing and implementing internal communications against a strategic business goal catalyzes thinking and provides a pathway for conducting and measuring communications in support of the business and not for communications sake.

No Overarching Story Line 

A major miss for communicators in developing internal communications centers around a Narrative.  When we assess effectiveness, one of the first things we look for is a consistent, coherent story line.  What do all the elements add up or lead to?  Without a central theme or narrative, communications is often rambling, incoherent and ultimately meaningless to improving employee confidence.  Note: a story line or narrative is different than just telling stories – see below.  It is the core teachable point of view from which the workforce derives purpose.

Worried About the Wrong Things

In instance after instance, we are finding communications execs fixated on assessing their performance in internal communications against artificial objectives vs. peer benchmarks. Or, chasing quantity over quality. Or, Awareness over Dialogue, Discussion, debate. Or, still relying heavily on e-mail for interactions and information dissemination.

Chasing Content vs. Audience (Relevance)

If you’re paying attention, Content is the new buzzword in communications.  For internal communicators, content is often discussed (and debated) as it relates to relevance.   How can we ensure what’ s being communicated is relevant to the workforce?  The truth, though, is that today’s workforce is not a homogenous group. Rather, it is an amalgam of different generational groups, interest, attitudes, experiences, and beliefs.  Relevance can’t be in the hands of the communicator.  Relevance is owned by the audience segment.  In that vein, internal communications is quickly moving to an “on-demand” model where content is cultivated, shaped and shared by community allowing employees to choose their own adventure aka experience.

Holding Onto Methods That Don’t Work – Overcompensating the Social/Digital Solution

From intranets that aren’t being used, to newsletters no longer being read, to social collaboration forums selling furniture not ideas or collaboration, communicators can’t seem to part with things that no longer hold value.  People, regardless of generation, still prefer face-to-face communication especially for major announcements and sensitive issues.  However, many organizations communications systems ignore this approach favoring informal digital and social channels.  Think about it, there’s a reason Yammer is not being utilized as envisioned.

Not Connected to Important Parts of the Business – Decision-makers

A very subtle, yet powerful, driver for effective internal communications is how connected the communications team is to various parts of the organization from the C-Suite to Business Units and Operating Functions.  A lack of connectivity to any one of these areas often minimizes the role and importance of internal communications.

Worse, it separates communications form the inner workings of the enterprise robbing it of important knowledge and information needed to ensure alignment of communications with the future state of the business.

Metrics That Don’t Accelerate Business Priorities

Even now we still see metrics that track awareness or attendance and not engagement.   Analytics have enveloped the entire profession and none more profound than inside the company.   Do employees share or amplify information internally and externally?  Are they raising or continuing discussions on important topics with colleagues or peers?  Are they recommending talent to join or stay?

Broadcast vs. Conversation Model

When all is said and done, internal communications strategies and plans still boil down to the traditional “broadcast” model – pushing information across channels irrespective of intent, interest, or efficacy.  In a social and digital world, the workplace is demanding conversation or the ability to process, discuss, share, comment, debate and challenge everything from strategy to products, from promotions to investments.  It’s all about belonging to the organization in a personal way.  In this model, social channels and digital platforms complement face-to-face resulting in a conversational loop.

Intuition Based vs. Data Driven

Where is the data?  Where are you most vulnerable to employee flight?  Union representation or labor unrest?  Who is most interested in strategy?  Who uses your portal? When? For what? What stories get the most attention?  All of this and more can be assessed, analyzed, measured, and probed for deeper meaning and insight.

Cheerleading or Provocative?

In reviewing content, messaging, and events, we tend to find an overly positive tone that belies the reality employees are experiencing in their daily work.   Studies show that being provocative in tone and context not only breaks through but also improves trust as people appreciate being treated as professionals.

You’re Not Telling Stories or Using Visuals

We relate to a story.  We expect a backdrop and context setting to truly grasp meaning.  And, over 70% of us are visual learners according to research.  So, why are internal communications often dry, filled with corporate speak, lacking context and one-dimensional?  Time to be story-tellers and artists.

As a large number of organizations grapple with the changing dynamics of a shifting marketplace – global, complex, multi-faceted – engaging employees as integral to decision-making as well as being advocates for the business and its value is central to maintaining competitiveness and ensuring relevance.

From an organizational communications standpoint, avoiding the pitfalls cited above, can reduce risk achieving the right balance of performance and engagement.

Here’s hoping your internal communications in 2017 exceed expectations!

Gary

Gary Grates
Gary Grates
Principal