Forget messaging, channels, commentary, speeches, events, campaigns, PowerPoints, and the like; think customer journey, leadership focus, decision making, investments, strategy, positioning, retention, recruitment, trust, relevance.

Having spent my career in corporate communications for companies globally in a variety of industries and segments, the one truth about communications— specifically inside organizations— is that it’s a proxy for how the business is led and managed. In a digital reality, internal communications have taken on an even more critical role, becoming a reflection of the management model, the relevance of the business, as well as the strategic intent of the enterprise.

Internal communications can identify both potential issues and broken systems such as pursuing the right imperatives and priorities, to uncovering innovation and potential new markets and opportunities. The digital realm we all now find ourselves in has shifted the balance of power to customers and employees, forever upending how organizations are led, managed, and operated. For organizational (internal) communications, the migration to strategic from tactical has been nothing less than profound.  Often relegated to parties and newsletters, posters, and internal portals, communications inside companies must now not just reflect the company’s mindset, efficacy, purpose, judgement, voice but its interdependencies and vulnerabilities. It can be a major component in achieving success.

In fact, the five key elements of organizational success today, which can be summed up below, are in fact both driven or hindered by ineffective internal communications:

  1. Customer (Trust) – gaining loyalty, positive discourse, and repeat purchase from customers begins inside with smart, productive employees
  2. Innovation/Technology – keeping ahead of market and customer trends, driven by employee ingenuity, passion, and collaboration
  3. Cost – constantly balancing costs and investments is a reflection of individual and collective actions throughout the enterprise
  4. Talent – attracting and developing people is essentially the most powerful competitive advantage in business and is centered on how engaged, informed, and motivated the workforce is managed and communicated with
  5. Agility – speed and flexibility rule the business landscape

Unfortunately, communications is often viewed through a tactical lens with time wasted chasing symptoms of unhealthy environments rather than propelling the business forward, informing and influencing management planning and behaviors.  It is deployed by leaders as a siren for espousing promotional content about the current and future state of company.

In a digital and social reality, this is a deadly mistake.

First, employees don’t believe the rhetoric any more.  Second, the expectation is that they will be sought after to provide the solutions to the business.

When employees have information on the business along with context they can participate in creating value.  They can operate more strategically and operationally in a nimble and agile manner.  They can initiate dialogue, discussion, and debate with colleagues and managers.

The can go from being passive members of the organization to confident, aggressive partners.

So, what is it about internal communications that provides such magical power?

First, communications by nature is about people.  The relationships and interactions between and among people in different circumstances, scenarios, functions, and regions, which result in rich and diverse data and insight.  It can paint a picture around collaboration, engagement, and understanding.  It can shape perspectives and the promise offered to customers and external stakeholders.

At its best, organizational (internal) communications opens and cultivates a discussion (and even a debate) with everyone inside the business. At its worst, communications becomes a series of messages directed at people via multiple mechanisms, producing a contrived feeling of connectivity and relationship building.

Second, the ability to capture the business in a clear, comprehensive way, giving meaning to people inside and outside the business, is necessary given the information overload we all face. Further, in a time of flux both politically and socially, the ability to gauge risk around policies, programs, and decisions internally with a highly informed workforce is critical to organizational balance and health.  Finally, with everyone calling for authenticity and transparency, internal communications allows the business to see itself from the audience in.

Digital makes everyone more aware today due to 24/7 access to information.  But for organizations, internal communications make employees smarter due to context.

The values and imperatives associated with today’s organizational (internal) communications can be summed up in three ways:

  1. Expert in perspectives (worldview), mindset, behaviors, actions of the workforce using analytics, digital intelligence, and insights to form arguments and perspectives
  2. Expert in issues, policies, investments, strategy, operations, financials, and relationships to connect the dots in a manner that moves the business forward
  3. Expert in narrative and content formulation for various audiences through numerous platforms and among key leaders and managers

Internal communications in a digital age is a strategic management catalyst directed at:

  • Behaviors
  • Connections
  • Confidence
  • Collaboration
  • Relationships
  • Knowledge

It is a connective tissue for major corporate initiatives and employee engagement.

But it is not about employee engagement.

As an example, true employee engagement requires several elements to work in concert – Leadership, HR, Line Management, IT, and the employees themselves – to engender interest, involvement, discussion, and advocacy on behalf of the organization.  To that end, communications is the means to an end that without strategic intent can be a myopic activity that tends to favor activity over result.

The democratization of the workplace is an outgrowth of a digital world where information is ubiquitous and relevancy difficult to achieve.  Acting as an expert in how the organization behaves and operates based on data and insight, and shaping the nature of your story using digital platforms and face-to-face interaction, has elevated the practice of internal communications from the Christmas Party to the C-Suite.

The question is: where do you reside?