Internal communication doesn’t always have to be a poor relation, says Bell Pottinger’s Liam FitzPatrick

Get two internal communicators in the room and the conversation soon turns to the challenge of getting leaders to value internal communications (IC) more. OK, it doesn’t happen every time, but as a breed, IC professionals are often a frustrated bunch.

But with a bit of careful intelligence gathering and some claim-staking, it doesn’t have to be that way.

The problem begins because we’re continually reminded of the difference that good communications can make. And it’s not helped because everyone has an opinion about what IC could and should be doing.

IC people can stop the redundancy programme turning into a nightmare, we can make people feel great about their jobs, we can turn staff into ambassadors and they can help bring about behavioural change. And we can help other people communicate better; perhaps showing a line manager how to encourage and motivate their team or helping the CEO realise that employees need to see more of him or her than a Christmas letter once a year.

Professional dissatisfaction is partly bred by the curse of attending too many conferences, where for a large fee you can hear speaker after speaker explain how, with a single bound, they achieved true enlightenment or effortlessly transformed the behaviour of the entire board and executive team.

There’s a risk that you believe that everyone else is having a better time than you are – a feeling that that will be familiar to anyone who was ever 15 and wondered why they never got invited to as many parties as their school mates.

But there are some people out there who don’t spend their lives fretting about winning over the support of the CEO. They seem to have won the battle for access and, while they don’t get their own way all the time, they endure fewer senior meetings where managers seem willing to speculate wildly on what communications should be doing.

Crucially, they have taken ownership of their audience and established themselves as the authority on what people are thinking inside the organisation. When 80 per cent of senior leaders come from numerate professions – accountancy, engineering and science – it’s the people with data who get taken seriously.

PR people have less of a challenge – everyone knows that it is career limiting to dabble in media relations when it’s not your job. But in the absence of any data about internal communications, it is always acceptable to indulge in conjecture and subjective anecdote telling.

And therein lies the secret to great internal and change communications – establish the facts and own their collection.

There doesn’t need to be some complicated survey methodology, HR normally manages something grand already. All that is needed is a way to prompt and collate day-to-day feedback – it can be as simple as a monthly series of phone calls or a question on the front page of the intranet.

Once upon a time PR people waited outside boardroom doors to be handed the press statement – over time leaders came to appreciate the advice that PROs could offer. The internal communications specialists who are making their voices heard are doing so by owning insight into their audiences and by showing that there is more to their craft than subjective gossip and guesswork.

Liam FitzPatrick heads up the Change and Internal Communications Practice at Bell Pottinger. He blogs at www.itsnotrocketscienceblog.com


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