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How internal comms has changed over the past 5 years, according to All Things IC's Rachel Miller

I was extremely fortunate to get some time with one of the UK’s leading voices in internal communications and employee engagement, Rachel Miller, founder of All Things IC, which advises public and private sector companies, plus the third sector.

Miller is like a walking masterclass in internal comms strategy, and I came away with a head bursting full of ideas.

We discussed the changes in internal comms over the last five years, turning to what we can expect in terms of innovation and future changes within the industry, and what good internal comms looks like.

Post-pandemic changes

Miller immediately referenced the pandemic, which she said drove a fundamental change in the way companies and leaders communicate with their people.

“A lot of leaders had to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Pre-covid there would be pre-scripted pieces with film crews on hand, and suddenly leaders had to adapt to filming themselves on phone cameras in the garden,” said Miller.

She said internal comms over this time became more nuanced, as employees expected more transparency and visibility. These expectations have become more entrenched post-Covid as 2024 IC Index data found 62% of employees want their employer to take a clear stance on big societal issues.

Comms doing more with less

With the trend towards a greater volume of internal communication, Miller highlighted a correlation with the level of burnout across the industry: “Its cumulative, organisations haven’t taken their foot off gas, they don’t want to dial back on internal comms, but in the face of budget cuts and churn, lots of practitioners are expected to deliver Covid level support with less resources”.

And, with her finger on the pulse of all the latest research, she references the recent CIPR and PRCA 2023/2024 Mental Wellbeing Audit, which highlights the scale of the issue and impact, with 91% of PR professionals reporting poor mental health in the last 12 months, and 6 in 10 citing an overwhelming workload as a key source of workplace stress.

Miller pointed out that, “comms practitioners are known for being ‘yes’ people and it’s in their nature to be proactive,” so she consults organisations on how to say no and improve prioritisation.

AI and hyper-personalisation

Fresh from two speaking slots at the IoIC festival and the CIPD conference, Miller reports that the buzz was firmly around the topic of AI.

Miller feels that AI provides a great opportunity for the future of internal comms, but it is critical for organisations to be open about its use so that trust is not eroded. It should be used flexibly, ethically and sensitively with clear parameters put in place for people. She is positive about its potential impact, feeling that future cohorts will thank our generation for all the exploration that we are doing now, and that it provides a chance for organisations and comms practitioners to “get curious”. This sentiment is supported by Gallagher’s State of the Sector 2023/24 research into Internal Communication and Employee Experience, which reports that the majority of communicators feel ‘enthused’ about Artificial Intelligence (41%).

Another key trend is hyper-personalisation, said Miller: “It was around pre-Covid and now it's back with a vengeance,” and how this plays into employee trust of internal communications. Miller observes that if an email doesn’t feel hyper personalised, “employees can’t see ‘what’s in it for me’. These emails are competing with a broader volume of workplace messaging e.g. peer to peer, so now it’s much harder to cut through.”

Employer brand is key

As our conversation drew to a close, I asked Miller for final recommendations to practitioners and leaders to help shape their communications strategy.

She talked of always seeking evidence of what is happening inside of an organisation as the start point. What happens inside is reflected outside, and it is key that leaders and communicators acknowledge that. Miller said they should recognise their organisation’s brand, reputation, and promises are informed by internal perceptions of leadership and employee experience, and whether these perceptions are “positive or toxic, they will seep out. These days, with social media, you cannot contain it”.

Written by

Leyla Hart-Svensson, head of research at PR agency SEC Newgate 

Hart-Svensson interviewed Rachel Miller, an internationally recognised authority on internal communication and author of Internal Communication Strategy.

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