Internal communications function

In the first of our series on the Five Step Value Framework – 44’s business tool to demonstrate the value of internal communications – we explore how the first step, Change your mindset, can lead organisations and industries to flourish by approaching internal communications as a function just like any other in the business.

Here’s an interesting question… if an organisation treated Internal Communications (IC) the same as all its other operations, like finance, operations and production, what would the ultimate benefits be?

That’s one of the questions we answer in our Five Step Value Framework (FSVF). In the first step, Change your mindset, we argue that by updating our perceptions of what IC is and what it should be, you’ll gain far more as an IC practitioner than just professional kudos and a welcome seat at the boardroom table.

By reframing IC’s purpose, perception and position within your organisation, you’ll be on the way to making it not just an outcome and output of the other work being done, but the most important tool for operating your business strategically. An exciting premise for sure, but certainly not a far-fetched one, especially if you manage IC in a way that will bring the best out of it.

How do we treat internal communications as a function?

Like any other business operation, IC produces tangible outputs to agreed budgets, and should therefore stand up to as much scrutiny and rigour as things like production data or marketing ROI. In other words, demonstrating its business value through planning, control, continuous improvement and robust performance.

This way, by giving IC the attention it deserves, you’ll ensure the unique qualities of the discipline come into their own. The following are just some examples of those qualities, but the list is by no means exhaustive:

  • Putting the company strategy into clear and inspirational context for employees
  • Visibly demonstrating an organisation’s culture
  • Supplying essential, targeted information proactively and responsively
  • Providing organisational operational tools like intranets, publications and apps
  • Meeting the need for immediate two-way communication across departments
  • Informing, involving and inspiring its employees more frequently than the competition.

Add to that IC’s logical position as an interconnected one, one which links all other core operations together, and it’s clear to see how an IC team can become the hub for sharing knowledge, ideas and information. Put simply, quality IC equates to quality performance, excellence and competitive advantage, something only enhanced by the rise of the knowledge economy, advances in technology and a growing suite of social platforms to fuel communication.

It’s been theorised that a company can run well without a vertical ‘top-down strategy’, but it can’t run at all without all the departments working together to a common goal horizontally.

In such a situation, tired notions of ‘top down’ and ‘bottom up’ communication become obsolete, replaced by a collaborative, self-sustaining and continually improving flow of horizontal information that creates a ripple effect beyond the business and into the wider industry.

In summary, if we change our mindset towards IC, and creatively think about its potential as a business tool, it could become the most important, galvanising force in any organisation, and by extension transform sectors and industries (quite literally) from the inside out.

The four-stage operation

The FSVF outlines four stages through which the IC function must develop to achieve full maturity and maximum effect:

  1. Internal Neutrality, where IC is purely reactive, consists of filtered down senior management decisions and is dismissed as out-of-date propaganda with no real benefit.
  2. External Neutrality, where IC has leadership buy-in, firmer budgets and early adopters who see it as a valuable way of gaining exposure, even though measurement is confined to annual employee surveys and channel analytics.
  3. Internally Supportive, where managers endorse IC because they have seen the tangible benefits, which in turn creates a self-fulfilling prophecy where the more IC activity is generated, the more value is gained through deeper employee involvement and greater productivity and quality.
  4. Externally Supportive, where the IC operation is redefining industry expectations, thanks to the rise of the knowledge economy, more dynamic, flatter organisational structures and the increase in use of social media.

Adapted from Hayes & Wheelwright (1984)

You can read more about the Five Step Value Framework here.