Seeing Beyond the Horizon: The Art of Internal Communications in 2017

With all the talk today around analytics and data, internal communicators are rightly focused on bringing a sense of discipline and accuracy to their work.  However, along with the rigor data intelligence provides, dealing with human behavior involves an artist’s touch.

To that end, our corporate strategy team recently sat down with Internal Communication leaders from several global manufacturing companies to discuss how they approach internal communications in their organizations balancing the growing ability to incorporate analytics with the vagaries of human dynamics.

Our conversations resulted in key findings across five areas: the communications function, insights about employees, content, channels, and measurement.

Their insights reinforce Internal Communications is at an inflection point. There is a new opportunity (and business imperative) for Internal Communications teams to reinvent themselves and redefine their contribution to executive leaders, managers and employees, thanks to improved access to information.

The Communications Function: How it’s Changing for Global Manufacturing Companies

  • Internal and External Communications teams must collaborate more given the increasing overlap between internal and external sources of information.
  • Communications personnel are being shifted from corporate positions into business divisions and regions to ensure sufficient operational communications support, and balanced pull through of the enterprise’s context.
  • The trending lean-centralized structure is enhancing business acumen across teams, but also creating new challenges such as: collaboration, content management and local distractions.

Insights About Employees: Companies Are Still Figuring It Out

  • Communications teams have limited data about employees that go beyond the organizational structure – office/non-office, division, manager, region – resulting in high-level employee targeting and information overload.
  • Companies are interested, and beginning to invest in, better employee research via external research experts.
  • Reaching non-office workers is still a challenge; companies are at different levels of effectiveness.

Content: A United Approach

More functions, outside of Communications, are involved in content development. This is leading to cross-functional editorial teams.

Channels: What’s Trending Today

  • Email and intranet sites are still key. Employees see both resources as credible. Intranets are being optimized to address universally weak search capabilities and to add smartphone capability while consolidating design.
  • Video is an emerging tool – a beneficial add to the channel mix but not a substitution for other channels as employee opinion on the usefulness of video is mixed.
  • Employees expect mobile access to internal and external information in and out of work. Intranets are being enhanced to address this and some companies are investing in apps.
  • While a diverse channel mix is needed, tool and channel overload is a concern, and for some companies, already a problem.

Measurement: Getting the Basics and Beyond

  • Measurement practices pull basic engagement data about channels and viewership but isn’t as actionable for communications improvement, yet.
  • Companies are eager to identify and master behavioral engagement metrics, but there isn’t a clear path to get there.

What We Learned

The most beneficial Internal Communications teams today – regardless of size and industry – find the right balance of discussing enterprise and operational information at the business unit and regional levels.

  • Teams are business experts first and communicators second.
  • They curate, contextualize and enable information and knowledge sharing in and outside the company.
  • They advocate for employee needs in their conversations with executives to inform content development and to decrease the overall volume of information shared.
  • Teams strengthen relationships throughout the enterprise by learning more about employee career imperatives – why they come to work, their motivation – and tailoring and targeting content according to these interests.
  • They also make sure executives receive and apply insights from employees.

Increasingly, internal communicators are finding themselves in a similar position as corporate brand – multiple people shape them, which makes management both difficult and important. One thing is certain through all this upheaval – there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to communicating and engaging today’s workforce, especially with so many change factors at play. It is a balance of the rational and the emotional.  A melding of science and art.

It’s 2017, so it’s fair to ask: What’s your Internal Communications’ art?

Abigail Rethore
Abigail Rethore