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The future of internal communications | S1 E29

First published: 22 December, 2020

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Engaging Internal Comms
The future of internal communications | S1 E29
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The Future of Internal Communications

In this episode of Engaging Internal Comms, The Big Picture People’s Craig Smith talks to Jennifer Sproul, Chief Executive of the Institute of Internal Communications since 2016, and currently leading the institute through the most uncertain and difficult times in the profession.

She is also the co-presenter for IoIC’s podcast, for which you can find a link at the end of these show notes.

The IoIC celebrated its 70th year last year and is the only independent professional body that is solely dedicated to promoting a deeper understanding of internal communication. It has 1,800 members, who work mostly in corporate organisations and the public sector.

Prior to her role as Chief Exec for the IoIC, Jennifer worked in the Market Research Society and a variety of senior marketing and comms roles.

The importance of internal communication

For some time, internal communications has been used as a broadcasting function, acting as an executive megaphone to transmit messages.

Today, internal communication means much more. It provides essential access to engagement within an organisation and empowers learning and organisational development. Internal comms is now a key mechanism in successful and forward-moving organisations.

Through communicating internally, organisations can learn:

  • How people share information, through feedback and dialogue
  • How line managers can communicate effectively amongst teams
  • What’s important to the organisation
  • How people perceive their role and how engagement creates empowerment, purposefulness and inclusion, resulting in employee loyalty

In 2020, communication became more important than ever before. “In this pandemic, if we’ve learned nothing else, we’ve learned the power of communication,” says Jennifer. “It’s our tool in the fight against what we’re dealing with right now in the world.

The changing role of internal comms people

Currently, internal comms people have a clearly defined role in facilitating greater communications. However, the future of internal communication as a profession will lead beyond message distribution. Internal comms will assist the learning and development of middle and line managers to act as communication conduits directly with their teams.

As we emerge through a game-changing pandemic, Jennifer identifies this current climate as a pivotal opportunity to develop managers’ skills to communicate more effectively with their teams. This includes helping them to:

  • Digest and understand the context of an organisation’s message
  • Understand employees’ reactive feelings and behaviours as feedback

Internal comms people are now helping managers upskill to become better communicators, an advantage felt even more acutely in remote teams.

It’s about redefining what good management is,” says Jennifer. “As we move to more distributed working, where the line managers are going to play more of a pivotal role, now is the time to really be thinking about making that seismic shift and helping to embed that good facilitation skill throughout the organisation.

Another development in internal comms is that secondment to positions to which they are communicating is now more common. This helps internal comms people to understand the issues that people are experiencing, thus deepening their knowledge of the organisation from the ground floor up.

What has 2020 done for the profession of internal comms?

2020 has been a historic year. It forced individuals and businesses of all sizes to adjust rapidly to survive. There has also been immeasurable trauma – mentally and physically to individuals, and logistically and financially to employees and organisations.

It has also forced organisations and teams to start afresh. Companies have had to become smarter with technology to replicate a community and create a new era of trust.

Whereas remote working was previously unimagined, working from home has been normalised. Employees feel trusted, valued, and included within a rich organisational culture, with a sense of pride and belonging, and therefore loyalty and desire to be innovative and open to change.

Consequently, the need for internal comms as a profession has rocketed. Communication channels enable organisations to fill the void of the traditional office workplace.

The year 2020 was the year that organisations put internal communication centre stage of their new strategic direction. “They’re all going to be going through seismic shifts: from how they work, to how they make money, to what they sell, to what they do, to how they innovate,” says Jennifer.

Organisations are more strategic in their approach to communicating and understanding their people. They’ve learned how content and community resonates for different people in different ways, and how to simulate human experiences virtually.

Now, organisations have the opportunity to shape new futures, with internal communication and innovation at the core.

The future of human interaction within internal comms

With many organisations shifting to remote working, there is a misconception that human interaction and emotion has been lost in the virtual world. Jennifer points out that the move to remote working has taught us just how important human interaction and empathy really is.

Working remotely has highlighted the importance of how we communicate. Organisations have utilised technology to bridge communication gaps. More importantly, the power of emotion and empathy has finally been recognised as crucial within a company.

Organisations are questioning their tone, and the power of informality. Scripts from leaders are being scrapped and replaced with authenticity. Management have recognised the importance of making all employees feel included and needed to help the business move forward.

No matter what the future holds, 2020 has opened floodgates for organisations to learn how to design a future that involves connecting emotionally and empathetically as a priority. This is the future of internal communications.

Continuing the profession of internal comms in a new world

There is a risk that, when the world returns to a less volatile environment, organisations will question the need for internal comms as a priority, particularly to save financial cost.

Jennifer disputes this. “Communication plays a role in every challenge. Nothing can be done without it,” she says.

Many are feeling exhausted, but the need to continue communicating will still be an essential cog in the mechanisms of every business. We need to continue to invest in the future of internal communications as a priority.

Internal comms people must help organisations understand that communication is a key contributor to the solutions they seek. Additionally, the turbulence that 2020 has brought to individuals has caused a shift in how they perceive their worklife. Management must understand that their audience has changed, and so must their approach.

Finally, if 2020 has taught businesses anything, it is that change is constant. Innovation must continue. To accomplish this, organisations must engage their employees and teams. Communication is the key to unlocking this essential ingredient – it was yesterday, it is today, and it will be tomorrow. This is the future of internal communications.

Useful Links

LinkedIn Profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jennifersproul31/

IoIC Podcast: https://www.ioic.org.uk/industry-news/new-ioic-podcast-series-internal-communication-in-the-raw

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