Raising the profile of Internal Communication
Based on the creation of an ‘employee alignment’ community of practice in Johannesburg, we recently hosted a group of 30 senior leaders and consultants who work with large organisations in the fields of change management, internal communication and employee engagement. The inaugural group consisted of senior practitioners and leaders in the field from organisations including Absa, Deloitte, Standard Bank, FNB, Visa Inc, Pfizer, African Bank, Hollard, MTN, Edcon and WesBank.
Leading up to the robust discussions at the session we sent out a short survey to participants to gain their perspective on some critical areas in their organisation around employee alignment, internal communication and change.
We received 21 responses to the 9-question survey, so although not the final word on the subject based on the small sample size, it did reveal some interesting insights. The disturbing results around the question concerning the Perceived Professionalism of Employee Comms led to the following imaginary scene. Picture this:
You’re part of the internal communication department in a large corporate. You’ve been called into an exco meeting to pitch your annual plan and budget. The long wooden boardroom table is crammed with used coffee cups, punctuated by piles of important papers, and crowded with the serious faces of seasoned executives. You’ve just finished your presentation and now all eyes are on you as they begin to pose the kinds of questions that earned them their place at the table.
“That all looks very nice, but do you have a strategy we can review?” the CEO asks.
You answer, “Um, well, I’m not sure you’d call it a strategy as such.”
There is a slight chilling of the atmosphere before the FD kicks in, “do you have any data to support your budget request?”
You shift in your seat. “Not ‘data’ exactly, no.”
The Head of Marketing sneers, “So what measurements do you have to support your work?”
You feel your face redden as you answer, “Well, we can’t really measure precisely, so…” You falter, gulp, and clutch at a brain straw, “We do know that most people get our emailers, and sometimes we count click-throughs to the microsite.”
The silence thickens like cold gravy. You have to say more. “We’re waiting for IT to approve a new app,” you say brightly. A film of sweat blossoms on your forehead, “People like apps!”
There is a communal clearing of throats. The HR Director checks her watch. “How are you perceived internally?”
“Fairly well.” Your smile brightens before it falters, “I think.”
The executives exchange glances. You try to swallow but your mouth is sandpaper dry.
“How useful are your comms to employees?” one of them asks. You don’t know which one; they are all one melded mass of mild incredulity by now.
You try to rally an answer, “Pretty useful. We think. We don’t get any complaints. Well, not many!” You force a laugh, then instantly wish you hadn’t. The room is hot now; somebody must have turned up the air-conditioning. And there’s no air. How can these people breathe!
“Do people look forward to getting your comms?” somebody asks brightly, hopefully, as if encouraging a small child that’s lost her mommy in a shopping mall.
“I’m not sure internal comms are supposed to be enjoyable, are they?” you stammer on the verge of tears now. You should have gone into advertising. Nobody prepared you for this level of scrutiny. You want to make it stop!
Then as if in answer to your silent plea, a lever is pulled at the head of the table. You feel your plush pleather executive chair vibrate momentarily before the carpet tiles open up beneath you and you gratefully plummet into a shaft of endless impenetrable darkness. As you descend you hear the last question from the rapidly diminishing circle of light above you, “Any other business?’
A nightmare scenario to which anyone who’s ever faced an executive committee under-prepared can relate. Now imagine an IT department, a Sales Department, an HR department, a Compliance Department, (shall I go on?) facing the same kinds of questions as our brave but doomed internal comms manager in the story above. They would be able to offer a very different set of answers, and if they didn’t, they would be chewed up and spat out.
So why are so many employee alignment, internal communication and change management functions in South Africa not subject to the same levels of scrutiny? The question is particularly pertinent given the fact that strategically sound and creatively excellent internal campaigns are very possible. Such campaigns can and do generate measurable impact, as well as quantifiable and justifiable returns on investment.
Indeed, strategy, measurement and creative excellence have become the hallmarks of effective internal campaigns all around the world. At Actuate we believe it is time to professionalise the category in South Africa. It’s time to equip our internal communicators with the ability to confidently face any executive committee, and to deliver solid stats, serious strategy and measurable results for all the hard work they do.
If you feel the same way, give us a call. We’d love to help raise your professional profile and realise your actual value to your organisation.
P.S. You can download the full survey here:
P.P.S. Apart from the Perceived Professionalism of Employee Comms partners, other questions posed in the survey included:
• The actual usefulness of internal comms sent and received
• How enjoyable internal comms are found to be
• Channel preferences
• Whether their organisation had an internal comms strategy
• Measurement of internal comms and campaigns
• The impact on behaviour change of internal campaigns
• Companies they’ve heard of or worked at that are great at internal comms