09 December 2010

As Manager Internal Communications, I don’t manage 99% of internal communications

As a Manager Internal Communications I am not responsible for 99 per cent of the internal communications in our company. Think about it: where and how do people communicate? On a daily basis, every employee communicates via email, phone calls, one-on-one conversations, small group meetings, departmental meetings, phone conferences, video conferences, reports, you name it.

In my current job I am responsible for NONE of the above… OK, it makes sense that I don’t write your emails, but - in fact - I have no say in email as a prime communication tool too.

Defining Internal Communications as a profession is traditionally hard. I am still not able to really pinpoint it, but I like the approach of a Dutch consultant, Ilse van Ravenstein. She is the owner of Involve, an agency dedicated to internal communications.

She defines different playing fields. The model varies in words every now and then, but this is my interpretation of it. Our field of responsibility:

1 Players: empowering our employees to communicate themselves (this covers the 99 per cent I mentioned. We can be a consultant to our employees or we can train them).

2 Media: the obvious one, our internal media mix; intranet, newsletters, blogs, you name it.

3 Themes: we often take responsibility for a cross media approach of themes that matter to everyone; strategy, sustainability, change programs.

4 Measure: embed and guarantee: we should measure the internal communications need and -effect, make sure that we embed our efforts in the organization and ensure that our actions are followed up.

5 Organize the IC function: we need to organize all the above: ensure that the Internal Communications function has its place in the organization. We should build up a network of people responsible for internal communications.

Does this model cover it all? No, but I have not seen a better one so far. The definition question will remain, but at least a framework like this allows us to discuss our scope in a more structured way. The model helped me discuss my program with my internal stakeholders at Océ. I am sure that the scope of the internal communications function will differ from organization to organization. With the 99 per cent in mind, it might be wise to focus on empowering the players: our employees. If you are a regular reader of my blog, it should come as no surprise that I think that there is a world to be won in that area.


  1. Good point!
    Another approach to liberate the potential of internal comms is to help with strategic projects: they need the whole thing: positioning, comms strategy and execution, they are important to the organisation, and, as a result, they've got budget ;-).

  2. Hi Georg,

    Thanks for you comment. I totally agree with you. In fact, that is indeed the way that we generate our budget for many internal comms. project at Océ.

  3. I think your six levels are spot on, but treating your employees as an undifferentiated and uncontrollable mass is a prescription for disaster unless all of your employees are solely focused on one thing.

    When it comes to the kind of strategic projects my good friend Georg talks about, differentiation, targeting and understanding how the various internal tribes interreact with each other is crucial, and a one size fits all (or, perhaps as you seem to advocate, a "no size fits all") can lead to needless defeat.

    Mike Klein
    The Intersection/Commscrum

  4. Mike, thanks very much for you comment, but I'm not sure if I understand what you mean. Of course,I did not mean to advocate that employees are undifferentiated and uncontrollable. I just wanted to make the point that a lot of communication is happening outside of my control.

  5. I guess I overstated things a bit. Main thing that got me was the reference to "themes that matter to everyone".

    My contention is that not everyone responds to the same group of themes, but that different employees often gather around common themes. Empowering them to organise and become part of differentiated "tribes" is an extra distinction beyond simply empowering people to communicate.

    That much being said, the rest of the analysis is spot on!

  6. Jan, it's very good to see this 99% acknowledged.

    If you're not already familiar with them, you might be interested in some of the writings of Chris Rodgers on reframing communications, in particular this post (http://bit.ly/fRhN6m), where he writes:

    "The most important communications, then, are not those that line managers have with staff. Nor are they the formal messages that communication specialists craft for managers and others to ‘deliver’. They are the conversations that people have with each other – throughout the organization – as they go about their work and as they interact informally together."

    As Rodgers suggests, those informal interactions are ways of making sense and building relationships from which significant outcomes - changes - emerge in unpredictable ways.

    The 99% - in particular the informal conversations in an organisation - may be worth a little more attention and thought than I believe it gets from many internal communications professionals.

    It's a considerable challenge, however, to think about how it might be most useful to play a deliberate and different part in an ongoing organisational dynamic in which we are all already, inevitably, playing a part!

  7. Mike, thanks for your second response. I totally agree with your tribes statement. To me that is the most important aspect of the social media revolution, and I can see that that is missing in this model. Thanks!

    Thanks for the pointer. I think that another aspect of the social media revolution is that all of a sudden informal communication has become visible, tangible and within the reach of the internal communications function. I think taking ownership of the internal social media might be part of the answer to you last statement, and that brings me back to Mike's statement about tribes. What a great discussion this has become. Thank you!