The path to establishing an effective internal communication function inside companies

To ensure entry into that boardroom, read on for a strategic way to demonstrate the business value of communications: the establishment of an Internal Communication Centre of Excellence.

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From January to March of this year, Daniel Munslow (pictured, at right) and his associates at Talk2Us conducted a study of over 100 business leaders and corporate communications professionals to “better understand what the needs of the market are in Africa, where the market is positioned as well as to determine what resources are required to assist internal communication specialists to facilitate their jobs to produce better business results.”

What Munslow found initially didn’t come as a real surprise – internal communication typically resides within companies’ Corporate Affairs division. However, what was notable was the time-consuming aspect of aligning and integrating internal and external communication. Corporate messaging to employees and customers were incongruent.

In addition, the study showed a strong need for a fundamental shift toward a centralized model of communications to accommodate diverse audiences and better alignment of messaging. 80% of the companies polled were not customizing messages sufficiently to reach blue-collar workers, doctors or technology staff for example.

“Every company we spoke with said the business is taking internal communication more seriously. However, understanding your corporate culture is a big part of the business also. By allocating the right resources, it will influence the culture of a business,” Munslow points out.

Biggest challenges

According to Munslow, those interviewed – employed at companies in the banking, motoring, aviation and telecoms sector to name a few – work as generalists, rather than specialists in their appointed communications roles.

The danger of that is the lack of specialist skills needed such as business, negotiation and persuasion skills for face-to-face communication rather than a “comms generalist coming from a journalism background,” Munslow says.

This is particularly true when it comes to communicating to a non-wired work force.

“When you have a factory where 95% of staff are blue collar, information isn’t broadcasted; it’s delivered by line managers via face-to-face. If you don’t have an internal communication specialist with sufficient training, your communications will not come across adequately enough,” according to Munslow.

As for measurement, impact measurement is only taking place in 30% of the organizations – all of which are stock exchange companies. Otherwise, most employee surveys consist of ‘tick the box, did you read the newsletter?’ kinds of questions.

“What companies really need to measure is do these channels change the behaviors of their employees?” Munslow stresses.

Establishing an Internal Communication Centre of Excellence

The research Munslow and his colleagues conducted laid the groundwork for a best practice model they refer to as an Internal Communication Centre of Excellence.

“The Centre offers a visual representation of a strategy: ‘this is the value we want to add to the business and this is how you do the what,’” Munslow explains.

“What is your company vision? Do you have a three-year priority plan? The Centre is what you’re ultimately demonstrating: delivering internal communication opportunities that impact your business results. This is what will get noticed by the C-suite so they’ll see the value of communications,” he continues.

The Centre of Excellence consists of three distinct modules to exhibit how internal communications will deliver on the business objectives.


1. People
– These consist of ‘third generation communicators’ who can help influence behavior without traditional top-down communication. They’re trainers and facilitators and can successfully sell communications to the business, using the right channels that deliver the measurement and outcomes needed to change business results.

Unlike first and second generation communicators who are operational and tactical respectfully, third generation communicators develop and carry out a strategic plan to transform the business resulting in significant enterprise-level performance improvement. They foster collaboration and like to shake things up with exhibiting a ‘do what it takes attitude’.

2. Position and purpose – This shows how a company’s vision ties to its business priorities and positions each stakeholder touched.

• How will the purpose deliver on the objectives and ensure that everyone is on board with the corporate strategy?

• Are the right policies/governance in place?

• How do you want the company to be positioned – e.g. if you stand for innovation, what do your staff need to do to deliver effective customer service externally?

• Is your internal communications department providing the right tools to support the company’s vision, values or organizational development?

“This is where internal communication becomes indispensable,” Munslow says.


3. Processes
– This consists of understanding what the communications department needs to do for the company to position itself better in the market.

“To carry this out, communicators need to be skilled on a regular basis. We encourage the creation of a handbook that spells out what needs to happen within communication functions, the role communications plays in business, as well as documented strategies and policies,” Munslow explains.

Processes make up the operating framework of internal communication, “creating a foundation with proper benchmarking to understand the company’s current position,” Munslow points out.

In other words, he says, “what we do delivers” and here’s how: “by using the proper broadcast channels (e.g. intranets or enterprise social networking solutions) to get the messages out.”

“Internal communications can support other functions in the business and ensure that critical conversations are taking place,” Munslow continues.

He recommends the creation of toolkits to facilitate these conversations – whether they happen on Yammer, Chatter or an internal Facebook site.

“Internal communications needs clear guidelines to carry out these principle areas of ‘People, Positioning and Procedures’. Companies need to define what gets delivered and incorporate an ROI for these practices,” he says.

Centre of Excellence in action

A leading multinational construction and minerals company in South Africa launched a values campaign designed to raise awareness, understanding and behavioral change regarding the organization’s “journey to create a more sustainable future”.

Six drivers (strengths, challenges, opportunities, must-wins, vision and values, ambition) were packaged into communication tactics consisting of five stages (Discover, Establish, Implement, Maintain, Measure).

The Discovery phase set out the overall campaign objectives (raising awareness of the company vision via the creation of an open dialogue with employees). This helped staff understand the context of the six chapters as the applied to their daily work life.

The Establishment phase reinforced key messaging in conjunction with the six chapters.

During the Implementation phase, leaders were educated about their roles in the communication process regarding informing staff about the new strategic drivers of the business.

Among the issues covered during the communication training workshops were:

• Do’s and Don’ts to remember when presenting a story;

• Relating the strategy at a more local level;

• Facilitating information sessions;

• Documenting discussions (stories from each region);

• Photographs from each of the sessions;

• Execution of broadcast mechanisms for awareness phase;

• Provision of the collateral.

Educating employees

Supporting collateral was provided to the leaders during the training, after which they shared the materials to employees in their respective regions. This ensured the conversations were unique to every area of the business conducted in a familiar language and tone.

500mm x 500mm hanging cubes were placed within workspaces to keep the six strategic areas on everyone’s mind.

Pocket-sized fold out cubes were provided to all staff with the detail around each of the key strategic focus areas. An additional fold out cube was distributed detailing the company’s mission, vision and values.

Next steps

During the Maintenance phase, Munslow advised his client of the following communication practices to ensure the enthusiasm and momentum didn’t fade after the initiative’s launch:

• “Drip” communication: features in newsletter, on the intranet, and use of table talkers to keep the buzz going;

• Adding the program (and information on how it works) to the company’s orientation program;

• Creation of leaders toolkits to demonstrate progress and encourage feedback;

• A link to recognition awards and other company initiatives;

• A re-launch every three years to remind everyone about how the program works.

Measurement

During this final phase, Munslow suggested using dipstick polls every three to four months. A poll to determine the program’s impact and whether or not the campaign achieved its objects will be carried out at the end of the first year.