OPINION: THE EVOLUTION OF INTERNAL COMMUNICATIONS
It’s internal communication’s moment right now, says Suzanne Peck, as the IoIC celebrates its 70th anniversary. How has it changed over the years and what is its impact on business success?
In uncertain times internal communication has had the power to bind companies and their employees more firmly together. How we communicate at work transforms working lives. Done well, it helps people feel engaged and purposeful – that they matter at work – making for better, more successful organisations which contribute to an improved economy and better society overall.
IoIC is celebrating its 70th anniversary and has reflected on the past seven decades. The ebb and flow of economic recessions; the growth, then decline, of unions; political, racial and equality unrest; the rise of the multigenerational workforce; the relentless march of technology – it’s all contributed to internal communication’s changing role in the workplace.
Looking back has been a fascinating exercise, not just in understanding the IoIC’s history, but also in finding out how and why internal communication has reinvented itself. We’ve been talking to members who were active in the 1970s, the ’80s and into this century, finding out what IoIC and internal communication means to them.
When the IoIC was formed in 1949 (as the British Association of Industrial Editors) it quickly set standards for the house journal. For nearly 40 years, the house journal was pretty much it. Cheerfully amateur and full of positive stories of people, social and the occasional bit of business news – as long as it was good news.
From the 1990s onwards, IC began to change how it talked to, and with, its workforces reflecting employees’ desire for more strategic, business-critical information. The internal communications of today began to emerge. Technology and social media have clearly revolutionised IC. Social has completely changed the rules and is one of the reasons leaders have turned to internal communicators for greater support in reputation management and creating connections for better productivity.
Another change is the rise of the disengaged employee. Eighty-seven percent of global employees, says Gallup, are either not engaged or actively disengaged at work. Engaged employees are happier and more productive, which is why the Harvard Business Review calls employee engagement the ‘Holy Grail of today’s workplace.’
A third major change IoIC has witnessed is the breakdown of trust. Forty-five percent of employees say lack of trust in leadership is the biggest issue impacting their performance. According to this year’s Edelman Trust Barometer, 58% of general population employees say they look to their employer to be a trustworthy source of information about contentious societal issues. They’re ready and willing to trust employers, but the trust must be earned through more than business as usual.
What do internal communicators need to do to keep ahead? We can stop focusing on channels without thinking about objectives. IC people can be too nice. We need to keep being strategic thinkers and partners to business. It’s less about producing content and more about understanding audiences and how the content can change behaviours and culture.
We need to be like chameleons, developing new, varying skills such as understanding neuroscience and its impact on people and culture. And we need to help leaders see why IC is important, having discussions about value, impact and return on investment and that brand management and customer experience aren’t only linked to PR or marketing.
And, just as it was there at the start of internal communications 70 years ago, IoIC will be there for the rest of the journey; continuing to support members who are shaping, influencing, listening and being a key difference in business success.
Suzanne Peck is president of the IoIC