Internal communications -
don't just do it - use it!
By David Oliver, Fourth Corner Communications
Part 2 - Effective communication
Traditionally, internal communicators have concentrated on the message and process parts of this model. The main focus has been to communicate corporate messages using a range of tools and channels. Increasingly, though, internal communications practitioners are reviewing their scope of influence and broadening their approach - especially during change when the emphasis may be on changing behaviour and culture.
Here are some broad hints to help bring about successful change through effective communication.
Think strategically - begin by developing an internal communications strategy that links to the business objectives and will effectively drive the change.
Create the context for change - establish a clear 'reason why' - but remember, the 'reason why' needs to be something everyone can relate to.
Develop a clear set of messages that define the vision - remember the whining dog. There needs to be some real clarity of vision and how to achieve it.
Ensure the vision is shared and owned at the top - if you asked the leadership team to go into a room alone and write their own vision for the organisation on a piece of paper, would there be consistency in their replies?
Develop a long-term identity for the change - take a 'campaign' approach and consider an overarching 'brand' to enable you to hang change-related initiatives from.
Establish a sense of urgency - set some key dates to get things moving.
Build momentum for change - once the 'train' is moving, it must be kept on track. The aim is to get to a point of critical mass when the momentum is unstoppable.
Be prolific and consistent - Don't be afraid to over-communicate. Keep the momentum and always refer back to the big picture to give the context.
Empower others to act - empower key communicators to take the message forward. Find the 'change champions' in the business who can help you gain buy-in.
Look for personal engagement/involvement - scour the business for good case studies of people making change happen. Share successes and highlight acts of involvement.
Ensure leaders role model the change - be a role model policeman. Remember, behaviours communicate too and during change, everyone is looking to the leaders to set an example.
Understand the psychology of change - provide help and advice - particularly to middle managers. They are the key facilitators, so help them understand how people react to change and how they can influence it.
Create short-term wins - remember, change is a series of small steps towards a defined destination. The best examples of change are often the simplest (and cheapest). Don't just communicate the 'big stuff'.
Maintain eye on bigger picture - put everything into context. Never forget the vision and keep it central to all communications.
Don't just communicate the change. Change the communication - think about your communications environment and what you can do to influence it. Broaden your approach to internal communications.
At the end of the day, the key to getting support and 'buy-in' to change is involvement. It is so important to develop internal communication strategies that truly involve and engage people. In general, engagement comes from communication activities that are conversational and face to face, such as briefings, events and focus groups. Too much emphasis on traditional mass communications vehicles such as newsletters and intranets can bring about high levels of awareness but less personal understanding and commitment.
The final piece of advice to HR professionals and internal communication practitioners is to concentrate not on what communication does, but what it brings about. Awareness is good, understanding is better but belief is the real prize.
Part 1 - Internal communications