Making Internal Communication Internal

The step-motherly treatment of internal communication is at the root of system breakdowns during the hours of crisis.

Let’s imagine a scenario.  There is a fire in your neighborhood and the firefighting team arrives to put it down and after a few hours of battling, they manage to bring the fire under control.  When the time comes for them to leave, the neighborhood gathers around and blames the firefighters for the burnt remains and loss of property.  Does it make sense?

While this may seem absurd and irrational to say the least, this is a situation many in the communication business face regularly – blamed for not handling a difficult or challenging situation to the satisfaction of all.

This dichotomy of internal and external has more serious consequence than commonly understood Click To Tweet

We are getting a little ahead of ourselves here.  So, let’s wind back a little and define communication from an organizational point of view.  For ease of operations, it is now an accepted form to break communication into internal and external.  But in essence, they are not. The simplest way to explain this is to understand that ‘stakeholders’is a collective noun and employees, shareholders, government, media, public etc are all part of this collective.  A good communication system will always be mindful of the whole and for operational clarity, divide them as internal and external.

This dichotomy of internal and external has more serious consequence than commonly understood. In the organizational food chain, the external communication team is somehow a notch above their peers in internal communication. If employees, who are the primary target group or audience for internal communications, and if employees are treated as stakeholders on par with others like investors or media, there is no reason why this artificial dichotomy must define the flow of information.

 
The effect of this division become more obvious during the hours of crisis when the internal communication team is left clueless about how to deal with the situation.

Even under ideal situations, to expect information flow to be synchronous would be naïve, to say the least.  In the real world, the opposite is the default mode – information flow will be asynchronous. Employees learning new developments about their own company through the media is a good case in point. Companies, at least the listed ones, are legally obliged to inform the stock exchanges and market regulators first which gets picked by the media.

But when this is preceded by a group huddle for framing the message to be sent to the stock exchanges and regulators was the internal communication team consulted?  The answer in 9 out of 10 cases would be a booming no.  So, when news reaches employees through the media and creates internal confusion (e.g., a possible M&A situation, real or rumored), the internal communication team is barely ready to face their colleagues with answers, while the external communication team is fully equipped to handle the media or other external stakeholders.

The consequence of such situation is seldom taken note of, which is lowered morale within the organization, at least among the rank and file and therefore a diminished trust of the senior management and leaders.

 
This is not a hopeless situation.  A lot can be done to set this right and it doesn’t take much to do it either. A few simple steps can help.

  1. Take the internal communication team into confidence and let them be a part of all strategic meetings that involves communication as part of the outcome. So, if there an internal meeting called to frame the message and tone for any big announcement, include the internal communication team in this;
  2. The internal communication team should be more than just mute observers in such meetings. We ask, what do we tell the media.  So why not also ask, what do we tell our colleagues and how and when do we do this;
  3. Once the stock exchanges and regulators have been notified, don’t waste any time in reaching out to employees too. Remember, they are stakeholders too and are as important as others;
  4. Regularly assess, through independent internal audits or surveys, if employees are happy with the flow of information. In addition to this, provide employees a safe and second channel of communication to offer genuine feedback on possible lacunae in internal communication systems; and finally

Take internal newsletters more seriously. Don’t make it into a chore.  By making it interesting, current and engaging, it can be a very powerful platform to bind the team into a cohesive force.  Also using social media to create private groups for employees can also be very effective in reaching out to employees in more creative and sincere ways.

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India
Yorkecommunications Pvt Ltd
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