The job of internal communicators is constantly evolving. That evolution has accelerated over the last three years, as businesses have grappled with the impact of the pandemic.
“When I asked the Comms-unity – a global Slack channel full of internal comms professionals – about the hidden roles of internal communicators, the question went a bit viral,” said Lottie Bazley, internal communications strategic advisor at Staffbase, speaking at PRWeek's recent conference. “Something which continues to come up was the new role of strategic communicator.”
This can mean the straightforward communication of a business’s strategy. But increasingly, it also means communicating anything, whatever the topic might be, in a strategic way.
“Strategic communications to me means using impactful communications,” Bazley said.
There are three key parts to this.
Talking about tricky things
Businesses are expected to comment on major issues of the day, such as the pandemic, the death of Queen Elizabeth, or the global living crisis. Bazley points to the idea of a permacrisis, or extended period of instability and insecurity, requiring internal communications professionals to step up. “Since the pandemic, we’ve seen comms professionals step up into this coveted trusted advisor role, rather than just being the comms police, channel managers or people that just send company-wide emails,” Bazley said. “We’ve taken that step up and proven we can talk about the tricky things.”
She advised internal comms teams to make sure business leaders are talking about tricky things, even if it’s challenging, and to ensure they use inclusive language when doing so. It’s also important to work closely with HR teams where relevant, ensuring any new policies land the right way.
Bazley said: “When things get tricky, it’s important to remind people where wellbeing programmes sit and make sure they know where to find them. Plus, facilitate conversations with employees; that could be offering a safe space to talk to each other on the intranet or running focus groups, listening to their thoughts, getting feedback and feeding back to senior leaders.”
Of equal importance is ensuring internal communicators are educated on the issues that matter, so they can converse and communicate empathetically. “Internal communicators play a very special and important role when talking about things that people feel very strongly about. But diversity and inclusion topics are often sensitive, and educating teams about these issues helps ensure you’re communicating inclusively.”
Both formal and informal learning can help people identify blind spots. “Seek opinions from people from diverse cultural backgrounds, be brave and admit to any mistakes, and show a willingness to learn from feedback,” Bazley added.
Communicating without bias
Fake news gets all the attention, but Bazley said internal bias can be the more prevalent challenge. “Fake news tends to be easy to spot or easy to disprove. Biased news or creating news in an unbiased way requires a lot more effort from us as communicators.”
She warned of the need to explore opinions and thoughts dissimilar to our own. “We have to make sure we are conscientiously and judiciously communicating without letting our own bias - conscious or unconscious - take the story in a certain direction. I’m often making sure that I take a step back to check my echo chamber.”
Being a great storyteller
Great storytelling has the power to engage, influence and inspire listeners and readers, as well as enable them to make sense of change, and connect with each other. Bazley said it requires a few things to achieve.
“What do we want people to know, feel and do? When it comes to great storytelling, it’s really important that we focus on the feel part of this model.”
She added Staffbase recommends making your business the main character of the story. “What is it that your organisation is, what challenges do you have to overcome as a team? This will help you understand what the narrative around your organisation is.” Comms professionals can also take it one step further and consider employees as the main character.
"Another helpful tip for those finding it challenging is to start with the phrase ‘once upon a time’, which gives internal communicators a chance to think creatively and bring imagination to their thinking."
Bazley explained that by ensuring these three areas are a focus for the year to come, internal communicators can ensure they stay ahead of the curve and deliver the best experience to employees.