Internal communications can be a lonely profession, but there are lots of internal communication practitioners and professionals who successfully work on their own in all sorts of businesses and organisations. Most are attached to something else, a Human Resources team perhaps, maybe Corporate Affairs or as a part of a Marketing function.
Clearly, when it’s just you working on internal communications you’re going to need to co-opt some help from people working elsewhere in your organisation if you’re going to get anything done.
Make some friends in your Human Resources department
Colleagues in HR can offer some great insights into the collective conscience and culture of an organisation. There will also be people in HR who work with different parts of the organisation on a regular basis and they’ll consequently have a good idea about what’s going on, and the hot issues for employees. They will often be able to put you in touch with people in the business who you can work with to surface content and develop communication plans.
HR, by definition, (and apologies for stating the obvious here!) is all about “people” and they’ll know how people in the organisation like to receive information and the language and tone of communications which works best for them. They will also often be your route into line managers, and may already have some existing communication channels established with this important audience which you can tap into.
Finally, all organisations have some “history” (good and bad!) and HR will probably be able to help you avoid the pitfalls of developing and deploying internal communications which might inadvertently remind people about the bad stuff and simply serve to agitate them.
Use templates for developing content and communications planning
We’ve all been there, haven’t we? You ask a business colleague or subject matter expert to draft a communication for you. They send it to you late, after your deadline, and it’s just awful – full of complicated language and longer than your average Tolstoy! So, you end up dropping something else and staying late to pick through all the wretched detail and rewrite the thing, wishing you’d just done it yourself in the first place.
When it’s just you working on internal communications you’re not going to be able to write everything, and the problem I’ve just described can become acute if you don’t address it somehow. You could offer to educate large swathes of people across the organisation in the best practice principles of writing well, but you haven’t really got time for all that….have you?
Developing some message templates for people to draft their content into could be a solution. A good template will help colleagues to structure and shape what they are trying to communicate and remind them to keep it brief. I use a message template which is based on the journalistic pyramid, which also includes a few simple hints and tips for authors on aspects of Plain English, such as keeping sentences short and reminders to use active language.
Similarly, a planning template can also help people to self-serve on their communications planning for simpler communication tasks, leaving you to concentrate on planning for more complex projects. Again, a good communications planning template will lead the planner through the stages of identifying communication objectives, audiences, channels and key messages. It will help them to take a step back and think about what they are trying to achieve with their communications, rather than just launching straight into implementation mode. I worked in central government communications for many years, and the Government Communication Service has developed an excellent communications planning framework called OASIS which can form the basis of a good template planning approach for any shape and size of internal communications activity.
I’ve found that planning templates work really well when you’re working with project managers in change programmes and other formal project environments. Project managers like working with formal project documentation and will usually embrace your template. The project will also have other documentation that describes business objectives, milestones, stakeholders, risks and issues, which can all help you to help them, to shape a really good communications plan using your template.
Find some eyes and ears
At some point you’re going to ask yourself if your internal communications are actually working, and if you don’t ask the question first somebody else eventually will. Evaluation and measurement has been a preoccupation of the internal communications profession for a number of years now as we’ve sought to justify our existence alongside more established functions like PR and Marketing. However, it really needn’t be a complicated affair, particularly if it’s just you running the internal communications show in your organisation.
Start with some simple numbers. If your organisation has an intranet, or uses some other web-based form of communicating with employees, find out who manages this and ask them if they can provide you with some regular statistics such as unique views of important webpages. Similarly, if you’re using email to communicate, find out if you can get some data on email open rates. This will give you some clues about what people are looking at the most, but not necessarily if they are reading it or what they are then understanding and doing with the information.
To plug that gap, and give you some more qualitative data, supplement the numbers by periodically running some small representative staff focus groups to test your internal communications. Can people recall particular messages? What did they understand? What did they do, as a consequence of the communication?
Also, remember those new friends you just made in HR, they may run a periodic staff survey which already includes some questions about internal communications. If there aren’t questions like this, maybe you can get some added into future surveys. Finally, if you are working with formal projects they will often run some kind of post implementation review after the project has ended. These can be another way to get structured feedback on project related internal communications performance, and like the staff survey option, are great way of getting others to do your internal communications evaluation for you.
Where’s my content going to come from?
Good internal communications are founded in good content which strikes a chord with the audience. When it’s just you, you’ll probably be frequently asking yourself – where am I going to get my internal communications content from?
If you’re working in a formal project or programme environment, then you probably won’t have too much of a problem. Projects are usually a fertile source of good internal communications material, particularly if they are change related and people need to know what the changes mean for them.
Colleagues working in Press Office, PR, Customer Relationship Management, Corporate Affairs and Social Media Management are all potential sources of good internal communications stories and content. You just need to work out how to tap into all of that and make sure colleagues working in these areas are aware of you and the internal communications agenda. They will then regularly refer external content to you, which can be adapted for internal purposes. It is also just good practice to make sure your organisations internal and external communications are aligned and telling the same story.
Finally, the explosion in user generated content on social media platforms is also now gradually permeating into internal communications practice. Communicating using the authentic voices of the people who work in your organisation is perhaps the most powerful way that you can connect with employees. Again, this doesn’t have to be really sophisticated, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend you going cap in hand to your Financial Director for the cash to buy a “Yammer”, when you’re still trying to establish the value of a fledgling internal communications function.
Start small and build up this type of user generated content approach. For example, projects work with various internal stakeholder groups during implementation, and the project manager you helped out with their communications planning might be able to return the favour and point you at some great personal testimonies or “user” stories that you could get people to tell. Similarly, the focus group you set up to evaluate your internal communications might also be a source of user generated stories, or could point you at others who have a story to tell.
Working as the sole internal communications practitioner can be a lonely existence, when there’s no-one else doing a similar or related role in your organisation. So, for support, look outside where you are working and network a bit more. Joining a professional body, such as the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, Institute of Internal Communications or the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) will get you connected to a huge support network of like minded people, grappling with the same sort of challenges you are.