Thursday, November 20, 2008


As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m not currently working in internal communication. Being outside has given me a bit of a different perspective on
the function. And guess what?

Internal communication teams should just stop what they’re doing and reinvent themselves.

Today, internal communication teams are a kind of combination of marketers and journalists operating within the company. They produce, to varying degrees, newspapers, television shows, movies, events and commercials designed to spread messages about the company. Of course, there is no wall between the advertising team and the newsroom, like at a traditional newspaper. It’s all one big advertorial.

Now, if you think of your company’s employees as a collection of consumers or households or eyeballs – like traditional media/advertisers do – then this model makes a lot of sense. Market the message internally using the stuff you would externally.

But employees don't think of internal communications the way they think of “House” or Nike commercials or the State of the Union Address. (They may think of internal comm. with equal cynicism, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.) Employees don’t think of the things that surround them at work like they think of the things outside of work.

Stuff at work is either a tool to help on the job – or it’s a distraction. HR? No one thinks about it until they need to do something, like hire someone or deal with benefits. HR is a tool. IT? No one cares until the network goes down. Then, IT has value.

I'm not saying internal communication has no value. If your internal comm. team takes care of the blocking and tackling, then employees know when the holidays are and when open enrollment closes and the names of the CEO and his team. A world-class internal comm. team may run great awareness campaigns that really excite a good percentage of employees. It can help the workforce remain aware of your company’s goals, principles and history.

But often, internal comm is a distraction, not a tool. And it could be so much more. If I were running an internal communications team, I would remake it into an indispensable tool for employees.

  • I would partner with IT and make it my job to improve employees’ ability to find what they need. (And don’t tell me you already do that, through your internal home page. I mean really throw myself into it, figure out the tagging and organizational structure. Set goals, like 90 percent of searches deliver the right answer within the top five returns – like that.)
  • I would make my team the “reference librarians” for the company – the place an employee could go to learn anything or connect to anyone. Be the help desk for general knowledge.
  • I would introduce and emphasize real-time, dialog-based communications vehicles, like blogs and internal forums. I would encourage leaders to use those tools.

And then, when my team is providing services that the average employee reaches for every day, the rest of my job is a breeze.

  • I can place links, quotes and news exactly where employees will see them. Think of it like paid search your messages show up when employees use your tools.
  • I can leverage my reputation as a valuable tool to gain employees’ attention to corporate messages.
  • I don’t have to dig for news, because I’m engaged in the business. (In fact, I may be the first to know where the news is – search is a great indicator of activity.)
  • And I set a great example of business focus, responsiveness and partnering. Most employees don’t give a crap about the newsletter and town hall anyway. But they would love any effort that made it easier for them to do their jobs.

Google is doing something like this on your computer. First it made itself indispensable, then it gave advertisers access to you at the very places where you go. Internal communications teams just fail to take advantage of their incredible position inside the company. You’re inside the walls – now infiltrate the systems. Don't set your team up as a separate function, like sales or design or manufacturing. Be the thing that sales, design and manufacturing need.

It would be different. And boy, would it be measurable!

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