How to overcome the ‘effort vs impact’ internal communications debate and pivot to a ‘business enabler and partner’ conversation.
Recently, an internal communicator posted this interesting question in a group and invited views: how does one measure the effort-impact of internal communications? My question back to her was – how did the question arise? Is it because stakeholders asked about the value the team brings to the table or was it to demonstrate the efficiency of the team?
Tackling issues one by one
The first is an issue of perception or the culture of the workplace where internal teams are looked as service providers and only invited to contribute when asked. The second is an issue with the understanding of the communications team’s role in the system. The good news is that both these issues can be solved. Although it needs tact, executive presence, and determination to reframe the conversations with stakeholders and reset how the function is perceived in the organization. It just takes a few bad decisions and poor framing of conversations to make the internal communications function lose credibility and a seat at the table.
Reframe the conversation
To begin, internal communicators must break the mindset that they are ‘service providers’. If the conversation is about how much time was invested and the degree of effort made, stakeholders will continue to view the function as a ‘service provider’. Stakeholders will begin asking how to reduce ‘time and effort’ and the conversation will drift to ‘managing resources’ and ‘turn around time’.
Collaboration is key
The role internal communicators play is much more powerful and relevant – that of a business partner and enabler. If they are invited to conversations late (when everything is ready and ‘we just need to send out communications’) then there is a serious perception issue which needs addressing. Or if the ‘public relations’ team is sought after more as compared to the ‘lesser known’ internal communications function, then the leader needs to evaluate the reasons seriously. Both functions are crucial and with the current pandemic, we know how much internal communications has demonstrated value and overshadowed public relations. Nevertheless, it isn’t about one-upmanship but collaboration and partnership. When internal communications and public relations combine forces, the results are brilliant. Unfortunately, not every organization brings them together or understands why they must operate as ‘one team’.
Towards shared success
To be a business partner and enabler, the goals of the business and internal communications must be the same. Internal communicators must have skin in the game – which means the willingness to press forward and push for shared success rather than measure basic metrics like e-mail open rates and click-throughs on the intranet. Agreement on a common set of measures which work for the business and the campaign outcomes can create synergy. Also, there are more sophisticated ways to measure the value and impact of programs real-time and over the course of the year.
Upping the game
When it comes to raising the profile of internal communications as a function, it needs to take place at various levels and with different degrees of focus. For example, establishing expectations about what the team does and doesn’t do upfront and early can reduce unnecessary asks and ‘downstream’ challenges. Likewise, channels and their effectiveness need to be shared in the context of a broader and holistic communications strategy and not a standalone ‘likes and shares’ approach. It is best to establish a rigor and rhythm to standardization and reporting so that the ‘internal image’ of the company can be understood through the ebb and flow of internal communications. Leaders and managers need to be made aware that internal communication isn’t a silver bullet which will save them from unrealistic policies, bad planning, and poor implementation solutions.
Also, internal communication is everyone’s responsibility in the organization, irrespective of their level and tenure. Which brings me to the point of the role of the internal communicator to help raise the profile of leaders and managers through education, coaching, training, and outreach initiatives. Top of my mind, there are numerous topics which are relevant to address in most workplaces – from writing effectively to creating effective communication plans; from framing messages for team meetings to driving change.
Finally, the internal communicator needs to establish his or her credentials and be worthy of conversations and therefore ‘earn’ a seat at the table. That comes only when you are passionate about communications, are staying abreast of evolving trends, demonstrating your caliber inside and outside the organization and have established a willing to listen and invest in learning every day.
Getting internal communications back in the conversation (if you haven’t yet got there) expects continuous and mindful engagement, building credibility and having a stake in the success of stakeholders.
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