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Correlations can be a bit tricky to get your head round at first. A correlation is an association between one thing and another thing, for example, weather and ice cream sales. When it gets warmer, ice cream sales often increase. However, correlations are not necessarily cause and affect relationships and there may be more than one factor at play. For example, ice cream sales could also be affected by advertising and/or changes in attitudes about healthy eating. Correlations can though give you a reasonably good sense of when two things are linked.
During the last 9 months, I have been administering a new communication and engagement questionnaire developed by my University of Central Lancashire PhD supervisor, Dr. Mary Welch. It includes questions about internal communication and organisational engagement and it has now been run in five different organisations. The questions about internal communication include topics of interest, methods, line managers and senior managers. The questions about engagement are broken down into three dimensions; cognitive (think), emotional (feel) and behavioural (action). This design enables us to correlate different aspects of internal communication with specific dimensions of organisational engagement and action.
Early analysis indicates that there is a fairly wide range in the strength of correlations with organisational engagement across a broad spectrum of internal communication activities and levels are pretty consistent in all five organisations.
Some aspects of internal communication, such as senior manager communication and employee voice, appear to have moderate level correlations with engagement and a significant secondary association with action, through what employees think and feel.
As with the ice cream analogy, there will always be other factors involved with a broad concept such as organisational engagement. However, these findings, if validated through further analysis, will potentially help us to better understand which specific aspects of internal communication are more correlated with organisational engagement and action than others. More on these when the thesis is written up in due course. For now, I’m a convert to the way that quantitative data can reveal very useful insights that can have a significant impact on practice, especially when you include correlations.
Last week I discovered that internal communication is not quite as young a profession as I thought it was – it can actually be traced back to 1840.
We spent a day at the Institute of Internal Communication (IoIC) last week looking at archives going back to the 1940s. Interestingly, we found out that the institute was originally called the British Association of Industrial Editors (BAIE) which reflects the emphasis on internal newsletters which is the foundation of practice.
Heather has also collected some great books on PR. In one published in the US in 1948, there is evidence of internal newspapers – developed and written by employees, not journalists – dating back to the 1840s. This is the earliest documented evidence of internal communication that I have seen, unless you know differently?
In 2012 CIPR Inside produced a potted recent history of internal communication which can be viewed here. As I dig deeper into our history, two “moments of truth” are emerging. Firstly, in the 1940s, the remit of internal communication in the US clearly includes “bottom-to-top” communication, with employees providing information that helps policy makers in decision making. This is “employee voice” by another name. My question is why did this not feature more prominently as part of internal communication as subsequently practised by Industrial Editors from the 1950s onwards until it became recognised again as part of employee engagement which emerged in the 1990s?
This leads to a second issue about editorial freedom. From the IoIC archives there is evidence of some internal wrangling in the 1970s over the extent of editorial freedom that Industrial Editors should have inside organisations. The Coal Board at the time made it clear to the editor of its internal newspaper that he had full freedom to write stories. However, this seems to be a rare exception. Heather and I are speculating that a desire for professional recognition and to be part of management may have led Industrial Editors to focus almost exclusively on stories reflecting dominant management positions. This effectively left employees without a channel for their views for decades; even today employee voice is not really embedded into management thinking.
Our initial thinking is that there are three broad phases in the evolution of internal communication:
- Publication – 1840s to 1970s, practice is dominated by Industrial Editors publishing internal newspapers and magazines that tell management led stories, reflecting a command and control management mind-set
- Process and Persuasion – 1980s to 1990s, the scope of practice widens considerably as more channels become available, planning and measurement emerge, and there is more focus on persuasion during times of industrial unrest and change (e.g. privatisation in the UK)
- Participation and Professionalism – 2000 onwards, the scope of practice continues to widen with the impact of social media, there is more focus on involving employees by giving them a voice and education becomes more established through specialist qualifications
Heather and I would be interested to test this thinking by looking at more evidence from archives. If you know of organisations that may have kept internal publications dating back before the 1990s, please do let me know. I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
PR is no longer, if it ever was, just about media relations.
For those people who doubt that internal communication is part of public relations, recent research by CIPR found that 52% of PR people spend most or some of their time on internal communication.
PR is about relationships with a range of different groups of people connected to organisations. These include journalists, investors, analysts, regulators, pressure groups and employees.
The people in organisations who communicate with individuals in these groups share fundamental communication skills and (hopefully) communicate in similar ways that reflect the values of their organisation.
However, the nature of the relationship with different groups does vary according to expectations (and in some cases laws) about the way that information is shared. That is why there are specialists in the field, as in accountancy, law or psychology where there are a range of different aspects to the profession (for example, clinical psychologists and occupational psychologists).
Communication specialisms are currently represented by different organisations such as the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) and the Institute of Internal Communication (IoIC). Of these, I believe that CIPR has the broadest outlook on communication, representing media relations, public affairs, digital communication, financial communication, marketing communication and internal communication. However, of the chartered bodies listed, CIPR is the smallest organisation. It has the least resources and so the importance of an integrated approach to corporate communication is perhaps not given the attention it deserves by the wider business community.
Of all the groups of people connected with an organisation, employees have the deepest long term relationship. They depend on the organisation for their livelihood, they contribute most to its ongoing success and their own status outside work is reflected in what they do and where they do it. Because of this, communication with employees should be prioritised more than it is. It should not though be considered as unique and separate from other communication activities. If anything, organisations should bring marcomms, customer service, media relations, public affairs, digital communication and internal communication together into a Chief Communication Office so that a more joined up approach is in place. Otherwise, reputations may be seriously undermined if communication is not congruent across all departments.
As the wizards of internal communication, we have a growing range of magic ingredients to throw into the mix.
As well as all the traditional channels, internal social media is really exciting, almost intoxicating, and has the potential to be a game changer.
There is a trap though. We might get carried away with the euphoria. I’ve now lost count of the number of people who have told me that they have introduced a shiny new platform, only to get frustrated that very few people use it. The ROI on that is not so good.
The wise internal communication wizard exercises some potion control.
Tracy Playle from picklejar communication and I explain this on our social media for internal communication workshop. Before jumping to the tool, we recommend stepping back to take stock of the organisational culture and social technographics of your employees. Then choose the right tool. If this is a blog for example, then ensure that your bloggers are committed to regular posts and honest responses to comments. That way, people will be more likely to trust the tool and engage with it.
The critical importance of internal communication was evident from the discussions about culture following the report on failures at the Mid Staffordshire hospital.
As Richard Vize says in his Guardian article, “The shocking treatment of NHS whistleblowers is totemic of the culture of conformity, secrecy and suppression which leads to scandals such as Mid Staffordshire.”
Internal communication has a fundamental role to play to ensure that employees know what is going on and, at the same time, have a say about what important matters that is treated seriously. It is fair to say that most of the time internal communication succeeds in providing information reasonably well, albeit to varying degrees in different organisations.
The responsibility to ensure that employee voice is also facilitated is more challenging. However, unless this more sensitive aspect of internal communication is championed more by practitioners we are not fulfilling a wider responsibility that we have to employees. To paraphrase the late great Bill Shankly, “Some people believe internal communication is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”
A free download of my chapter on “Informed Employee Voice” is available here.
Keep taking the tablets
In 2013, one of the greatest challenges that all internal communication practitioners have faced for many years, reaching unconnected employees, will be transformed as more employees will bring their own tablet, laptop or smartphone to work.
The worlds of personal and work devices are already blurring fast. According to research conducted by BT in the UK last year, almost four in five (77 per cent) employers now permit the use of personal devices at work and almost half (47 per cent) of employees already use their own devices for work purposes.
This is a great opportunity for internal communication practitioners to connect with field based employees. The challenge is to ensure that communication is meaningful and relevant and produced in ways that make it easy to download onto a variety of devices.
Va, va voice
Smart internal communication practitioners will finally realise that they hold the key to unlocking higher levels of employee engagement by facilitating employee voice.
The era of internal information transmission is coming to an end. Craft communication skills are less important. Polished prose is perceived as propaganda. Organisations that embrace the potential of giving employees a voice will see their culture energised with increased innovation, generating ideas that improve performance.
Ambitious practitioners will grab the opportunity to be at the centre of new, less deferential, ways of management. They will become expert curators of important knowledge. This will give them more va va voom in their own role and career development.
Since the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) launched its first specialist internal communication qualification in 2009, more than 500 practitioners have completed either the certificate or diploma course with PR Academy.
This now represents a tipping point in practice – a significant body of people with a chartered body qualification gives internal communication credibility. This is because studying a qualification takes dedication. It is different from training as it requires reflection that is applied to an assessed piece of work with academic underpinning. Many students are promoted or move to a different organisation after studying and that demonstrates the value of critical thinking. And now there is also a Masters in Internal Communication Management available in the UK at the University of Central Lancashire. But it will be some yet before we see the UK’s first Professor of Internal Communication.
In 2013 the question of whether internal communication is a profession or not will become less of an issue. Instead professionalism, established through education, training, and better informed measurement will lead to practice being treated much more seriously in most organisations.
This post first appeared on Simply Communicate together with a great range of predictions from other experts.
As part of my studies at the University of Central Lancashire I recently had to do what’s called a “Transfer Report” which sets out what I’ve done and where my research is going.
This included a review of some recent definitions of internal communication and thoughts on a new definition, as the following excerpt from the report explains:
Internal communication and employee engagement have separate academic and professional heritages. Internal communication is conceptualised as part of corporate communication (Welch and Jackson, 2007, p. 179). Employee engagement is conceptualised as part of human resources management and organisational psychology. This split may contribute to a silo mind-set. For example, although internal communication is cited as vital for employee engagement (Truss et al., 2006; Alfes et al., 2010; Gourlay et al., 2012) it is given a relatively limited mention in the Chartered Institute for Personnel Development’s (CIPD) profession map (section 8.7). Conversely, employee engagement is not adequately covered in the corporate communication literature (Welch, 2011, p. 1). This report integrates theory from both traditions and builds on a new definition of internal communication that incorporates the importance of internal communication in underpinning employee engagement:
“Internal communication is corporate level information provided to all employees and the concurrent provision of opportunities for all employees to have a say about important matters that is taken seriously by line managers and senior managers.”
This new definition synthesises the combined significance of corporate level information (Welch and Jackson, 2007), meaningfulness and voice (Alfes et al, 2010) and two-way communication (Kim, 2007).
Informed employee voice is what chapter 9 in the book is all about. You can download it here.
How would you define internal communication?
What is the achievement that makes you most proud this year?
I’m sure that when you look back, you may see some things differently to how you perceived them at the time. Not everything is easy to evaluate, especially when, as a group, internal communication practitioners find measurement a challenge.
Measurement is challenging. That’s why as chair of CIPR Inside I focused on it this year. We ran a summit in June and developed a new measurement matrix as a guide to best practice. I spoke about the matrix at a joint CIPR Inside and IoIC measurement summit in Bristol recently and the feedback was that it is a very useful starting point. One delegate said that he now has a print copy on his desk as a constant visual reminder to build more measurement into planning on a daily basis. I love the idea that measurement is a daily thought…as long as we are measuring the right things.
There’s another theme that has emerged from talking to internal communication people this year. It’s the struggle to make our voice heard at board level. That’s why measurement is so important, it helps to demonstrate the value of what we do.
In the short term, one way to highlight some great work and to get the recognition that would help your relationship building with the board is to get a prestigious award. I’m sure there are some great projects that you could cite for 2012 and there’s still time to enter new CIPR Inside’s new awards – entries close on 24 December.
Internal communication is now finally coming out of the shadow of it’s “sexier” media relations cousin.
As trust in CEOs declines and reputation is openly challenged, customers are turning to front line employees more than ever before to confirm what the brand is really like. So, it’s crucial that employees are engaged.
In the UK, engagement levels are currently at 27%, well behind the global average of 35%. According to an Engage for Success report this represents a potential GDP increase of £25.8 billion if the UK moved engagement levels to those associated with the Netherlands – which would make a very significant contribution to economic growth in tough times.
Two of the four enablers identified by the Engage for Success movement are:
· Visible, empowering leadership providing a strong strategic narrative about the organisation, where it’s come from and where it’s going
· There is employee voice throughout the organisation, for reinforcing and challenging views; between functions and externally; employees are seen as central to the solution
Internal communication practitioners are doing some great work in helping to maintain a strong narrative. But that’s only one half of the communication factor for engagement. Facilitating employee voice tends to get much less attention, mainly because of the imperative to just SOS (send out stuff).
In research conducted last year by myself and Sean Trainor, we found that internal communication practitioners are struggling to convince senior managers of the benefits of internal communication. That should start to change now that the Engage for Success movement has published a wealth of data underlining the impact engagement has on the bottom line.
Practitioners can now seize the moment. After all, this is their time in the spotlight. However, perhaps, as a group, they are more introvert and analytical than other people in PR? Or they come from different backgrounds, for example customer service, IT, and operations, rather than media relations? If this is the case, it is a strength; it means they may have a deep understanding of employees as the most important stakeholder group of all.
The CIPR’s Inside group for internal communicators felt it was time to raise the profile of practice, so we’ve created a whole new set of awards. Now, for the first time, the industry has a dedicated set of internal communication awards from a chartered body, including the best employee engagement programme.
Watch out, the “quiet” people of PR are on the move!
This post first appeared on the CIPR Conversation on 5 December.
Hits, views, likes, mentions, re-tweets. Sentiment. ROI.
There are now many more ways to assess internal communication. At CIPR Inside, we decided what was needed is a set of principles to help practitioners through the maze.
We ran a summit with leading experts providing their take on how to approach measurement. We consulted with practitioners. Then we thought hard and the experts re-gathered to consolidate all the thinking into a one page measurement matrix, based on seven dimensions:
Channels: are they working?
Content: are employees getting the information they want and need?
Conversations: are people communicating effectively?
Voice: are there adequate opportunities for people to have a say?
Sentiment: what do employees think and feel about the organisation?
Behaviour: has employee behaviour been influenced by communication?
Return on investment (ROI)
The matrix makes it clear that using output measures is not enough. Outcome measures, identified in the matrix as sentiment, behaviour and ROI are often much more meaningful. Of course, the last of these, ROI, has a limited application only when other factors that impact results can be isolated.
Research and measurement is all part of developing a stronger professional basis for what we do. It is hardwired into the CIPR internal communication certificate and diploma and is linked to setting measurable objectives.
The real challenge is to embed this into day-to-day internal communication planning that supports business objectives, though sometimes business objectives can be hard to identify.
Measurement is not the be all and end all of professional practice, it is one part of ensuring what we do that adds value and enables organisations to perform better. However, simply measuring how many newsletters are produced or the hits on an intranet is never going to establish what we do as a strategic and valued function.