Internal communication – is it a magic answer?

browningyork Communication lessons, Engagement, General communication

A photo of a magician's gloved hands holding a top hat and a wand
The last few months have given internal communicators many opportunities to demonstrate the importance of the work that they do. They have supported their organisations to rapidly change the way they work and to connect with employees in unimaginable circumstances.

This is a good thing for our profession.

However…

It’s an interesting point that once a leader or manager ‘sees the light’ and realises that communicating with internal stakeholders is central to the success of their work, they often think that’s enough. They believe they have found the magic answer they were looking for.

“We’ve sent stuff out, set up a channel, ticked the internal communications box. So the job’s done.”

Well, no, not quite.

We now need to demonstrate to those who are saying “communication, very important, very important” that we need actions that back up these words. Leaders, managers and others will still have to think about how to make communication effective and then act accordingly.

Ask questions
As a professional communicator, I believe that part of my role is to listen to what teams are telling me and ask pertinent questions. The questions they often can’t even see are there.

For example, they might tell me how much easier Microsoft Teams or Zoom makes it to engage with people working from home. ‘And how will it help me to communicate with my team who are working shifts in the hospice wards?’ I ask.

Cue a range of facial expressions along the lines of ‘I don’t know’, ‘I hadn’t thought of that’, ‘It won’t’.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes a fresh pair of eyes and ears and a new perspective is just what’s needed. If they go away and find an answer, then often their work is improved, as well as their communication.

Bad decisions
In many cases, the expectation can be that internal communication will make everything alright. But bad decisions are still bad decisions, however effectively they are communicated.

If a project team does not understand how the rest of their organisation works or is not itself well organised, there is only so much that can be done with the communications. Problematic ways of working are even more obvious under current circumstances.

Bad timing
Similarly, if there are problems with timing, communication can’t put that right. No matter how beautifully crafted and engaging an e-mail is, if it arrives the day before you want your audience to act, don’t be surprised if they don’t get on board straight away.

They probably need more time to process the information. Chances are that they will have been blown off course by reacting to your lack of awareness of their world.

Our current circumstances are making that worse too. It is even easier to feel misunderstood when we are working remotely from each other, spinning many plates and generally not feeling on top form.

In situations where bad timing genuinely can’t be avoided, effective communication can help you to mitigate the fall out by being open, honest and recognising the issue rather than ignoring it. Again, good project management will have enabled you to identify the situation and work out how to deal with it well.

Good place to start
Internal communication is many things – vital, culture-changing, worthwhile etc – but a magic answer it is not.

However, the realisation of its importance is a great place to start the conversation about your contribution to your organisation’s future.

If you need some help identifying what is the magic answer to make communication more effective at your organisaiton, please do get in touch.

Until next time
Sarah