Working in communication seems to have been a calling for me from a young age. I took communication, English and business studies for A Level and my degree was in marketing. Since graduating, all my roles have been about communicating in one way or another. My career has enabled me to explore; to take risks in terms of understanding what I’m good at and not so good at. And understand what I enjoy and don’t enjoy! I’m driven to help organisations make their communication more impactful.
Great communication plays such a central role in making organisations less chaotic and I want to help everyone – including non-communication professionals – understand the power of communication. It’s been a calling and a career for me, but I know it’s not always something business leaders, operations directors, commercial directors, CEOs or business owners think much about, and I want to change that.
If everybody understands the impact of communication on other people, then work really would be a different place. It’s vital for leaders to understand how communication can play a pivotal role in creating more efficient organisations and engaged teams. Inspired by a podcast interview with Emma Drake – Communication Strategy that Works – I share some insights for non-communication professionals and people looking to establish an internal communication strategy for the first time.
Identify if you’re at the essential tipping point
There’s usually a certain point in an organisation’s growth when internal communication is required. Although there’s no magic size that an organisation has to reach, once you get to a certain number of employees, perhaps working at multiple locations, you may start to see symptoms of chaos that need addressing. Chaos could be people on stress or sick leave, high employee turnover, a merger and acquisition, team friction issues, lots of meetings where nothing gets done, rapid growth, a focus on financials to the detriment of everything else, or a loss of purpose. Left to run rampant, any of these quickly turn into toxic chaos that hampers an organisation’s ability to thrive.
If any of these symptoms ring a bell, that’s a good indication that you need to start thinking about your communication strategy and how you communicate inside your organisation. Don’t shy away from the things you see are causing chaos; burying your head in the sand doesn’t help anybody.
Upskill, upskill, upskill!
A huge amount of communication comes down to leadership, whatever the size of your organisation – whether you have 10, 20 or 50 employees – if there’s a lack of skilled communicators in the leadership team, things will start to break.
Leaders and business owners need to become much more aware of their communication style and the impact it has on others. Once you reach 80 to 150 people, that’s when you must also start looking at process and structure. We know from the history of human evolution that communities of over 150 people need a hierarchy in place.
Seek expert advice
If this is your first foray into internal communications, I recommend using a consultant to help provide the insight, understand what’s really going on and create your communications strategy… and then upskill or recruit a skilled communicator to deliver it. Often there just isn’t the budget to hire someone who will give that breadth of both strategy and execution, so this is a good route to take.
If your organisation feels in chaos, it’s often the case that things get left to almost breaking point before action is taken to bring it back together. This just makes it much harder to fix.
If you’re thinking, “people aren’t doing what we want them to do” or “things aren’t quite right, but I don’t know why”, that’s when you need to bring in a consultant to help you identify that. Don’t wait until it becomes a massive thorn in your side, because that’s much harder to extract and heal. This is at the heart of The Field Model framework I developed to understand, diagnose and fix issues for the long term.
Identify where internal communication sits in your organisation
Some see internal communication as part of HR. Yet, according to Gallagher’s State of the Sector 2020 report, which I reference in my book, predominantly it’s under the remit of corporate communication. Public relations as a discipline is closely linked to reputation management so, for me, internal communications sits under PR because, by definition, it’s about the publics of an organisation, which includes employees.
I’ve worked in marketing functions, commercial functions and HR functions, and it doesn’t make any difference: as long as you’re able to support the business strategy, that’s the most important thing.
Think about what’s in (and out of) scope for your communications function
If you’re at a turning point as an organisation, I encourage leaders to think about what they can’t do, shouldn’t do and hate doing and when it comes to the day-to-day. It’s not so easy to recognize what you shouldn’t be doing! Can’t, hate, shouldn’t is a shift in mindset that allows you to assess gaps and recruit effectively. Otherwise, you can get pulled into doing things that are helpful, but not necessarily impactful. Being clear about this will help your relationships internally, whatever function you work in.
Everyone needs to be a great (empathetic) communicator
When it comes to the fundamentals for communication practitioners, the Institute of Internal Communications (IoIC) produced a profession map (there’s a copy in my book) detailing the core skills, technical skills and behaviours needed to be an internal communicator. I would argue that all these skills are needed in all functions and levels of an organisation. These skills include being an active listener, empathetic, curious, tenacious, challenging, collaborative, influencing, analytical, and a creative thinker. But we all need to develop these skills to thrive at work – no matter what role we do.
When I think about people who are great at communicating – whether they’re leaders, communications specialists, operations directors – there’s commonality across those individuals way above anything else and that’s empathy. That real understanding of the impact on people, that we all need to actively listen and exude integrity. We need to hear more people say: “If I’ve said I’m going to do this, this is what I’m doing,” or, “I can’t do it and I’m going to be really honest and open about that”.
These are all skills that can be trained and coached. Some people will naturally be better communicators than others, but we can all build skills to better understand other people and communicate well.
Communicators need to be involved in the right conversations
If you’re setting up a communications function, make sure the right people are involved in the right conversations. Don’t expect communicators to just produce endless content, they need to be strategically advising fellow leaders or the leadership team to listen and feedback. Since strategies are constantly changing and organisations frequently divert their core focus, communicators need to be involved in the bigger questions around culture and organisational strategy: issues that are more on the business side than the people side.
I hope you’ve found this guide useful. If there are any questions you have as a leader, CEO or business owner about streamlining your communications and creating a more efficient and engaged workplace, please get in touch. If you’d like to know more, you can find out more about The Field Model, listen to my bite-sized podcast on this topic or watch this short video – What is The Field Model?