Opinion: Internal communications - highly under-rated

Too many people don't give internal comms teams the credit they deserve, as it's much more than just putting out a newsletter, explains Elaine Ng, head of communications at Philips ASEAN Pacific.

Elaine Ng
Elaine Ng

How many times have you heard people say, "Internal Comms – you mean writing newsletters and once in a while you organise an employee get-together?"

Admittedly, earlier in my career, I thought internal communications was the red-haired stepchild in the communications family where it’s confined within the walls of the huge fortress known as The Company. Where all you do never sees the daylight outside the fortress of the organisation.

Hence, when people look at internal comms, they tend to think about a nine-to-five job that doesn’t require you to go out to meet people. They think about a job that is narrow in scope and inward-looking where you occasionally speak with senior management and HR – all with the sole purpose of writing those newsletters, or what some call internal memos (yes, I still hear this term being used!).

It’s worse when someone comes to you and says, "You’re in comms right, then can you draft this email that will go to all staff?"

First of all, your communications partner isn’t your "writer" or "editor-in-chief". There’s a lot more that goes into the final product than you see – whether it’s an employee newsletter, a press release or coverage that went into today’s top news, or the CEO’s speech.

Second, the internal communications role is more than just about writing newsletters, messages from the management team and the occasional party-organiser. It’s about staying close to not just your organisation’s senior leaders but all rank and file. And staying true to everyone here.

Third, internal communications plays a crucial role in employee engagement and change management. If you can’t get your internal communications strategy right, how do you expect to drive change throughout your organisation, while making sure everyone shares the organisation’s vision and goals?

Internal comms is becoming an even more valuable tool for leaders to communicate to the rest of the organisation – where you can mobilise an entire workforce to make a difference.

One month into his new role, my regional CEO asked for an internal communications strategy and plan. Together with various teams, we came up with three key internal communications objectives:

  1. Explain and Clarify our strategic direction
  2. Excite and Inspire with stories and key wins
  3. Engage and Connect with employees to get insights, ensuring we stay in touch

It’s simple and it works. Since then we have a structured and sensible approach, using multiple channels of delivery such as town halls, newsletters, messages from the CEO’s office, coffee chats and internal social media platforms with a regular cadence – all driving these three key objectives.

Managing change while keeping employees engaged

These days, most companies go through changes for one reason or another, and at a much faster pace than before. If you don’t change and adapt, you risk being left behind. Some employees – especially those who have been with the company for a long time – are uncomfortable with change. However, change is the new constant these days so how do you motivate employees who are nervous and apprehensive, most likely wondering where they fit in?

Our company is building a brand new office building from the ground up. It will be ready in May. Almost nine months before, a new committee was set up to put together a cohesive communications plan around the new building to employees and external stakeholders alike.

Our communications team has, since then, been tasked by our regional CEO to come up with an effective communications strategy to energise and invigorate employees about the big move – which goes beyond a physical one, as it also involves some cultural changes. We started playing a key role to determine how we are going to tell our story.

Our leaders saw how communicators can play a critical role in moving people with a strong narrative. We are brought in early to doodle on the drawing board and to help build the story that we will eventually tell employees. This is how you enable your communicators to help engineer change while keeping your staff engaged.

Employees are the best brand ambassadors

But do you really know what that means? It’s not enough to just rely on sophisticated Twitter hashtags or Facebook contests.

Sometimes employees just want simple answers – what does this new thing mean to me and what do I have to do next? The best way to engage them is to answer their questions and let them know that you are there to guide them through.

Honesty really is the best policy. And honesty delivered through a simple mechanism – such as a newsletter (!) or face-to-face conversations with the direct manager – is really what will touch the hearts of employees. Then they start believing in you and convincing others of how good you are.

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