3 essentials for internal communicators

Understanding business, how communication works, and ways to bring them together can enhance your standing in your organization and industry.

Employee communication continues to get a bad rap. Communicators who handle internal communication are paid less than the media relations folks (you could look it up!), and frankly, in a lot of cases we deserve it.

When you handle internal comms, what is your responsibility? Populating the intranet? Editing the magazine? Rewriting news releases? How about functioning as the in-house expert on how organizational communication does or doesn’t work? Counseling management on how to be better communicators?

I don’t know why, but the latter couple of tasks seem to be outsourced more often than not. I don’t think I’m necessarily smarter than I was when I worked at KeyCorp, National City, or Goodyear, but I am a bit more experienced, perhaps. Winning an internal consulting effort while in-house was a tough sell. A lot of people were more comfortable with me as a writer/editor, a tactician rather than a strategist, despite my efforts to develop a contrary angle.

There are three really important actions internal comms pros need to take if they aspire to more responsibility, more professional prestige, and/or more money:

Increase your business knowledge. You need to be a businessperson who happens to use communication to help advance the organization. That means numbers, reading business, being up on the products and markets, and not caviling endlessly about how boring it all is. It’s your job.

Better understand the process of communication. Why are people more comfortable in small group discussions than in large groups? It’s easier to participate, share information, and make decisions (at least in one view). How do communication styles affect collaboration? (Look up Myers-Briggs.) Why do complex topics require discussion? (The Q&A enables people to process the information more effectively than merely reading a narrative.)

Align content and strategy. This should be a no-brainer, but there are many constituencies in an organization, and a lot of them don’t care about anything except “getting the word out.” Guess what. If there’s no link to the business objectives, no one will care. Too many times I’ve heard, “No one reads that stuff,” as they’re demanding additional tactics (more email, a video, a paper newsletter). Some stuff just isn’t interesting, and people won’t consume it.

If you have a strategic content plan, you have something to point to when you say no. Now, my pal Patty Vossler would say, “Don’t say no without a yes in your pocket,” and she’s right. Ask the question, “What do you want people to think, feel, or do as a result of the communication?” If their goal doesn’t match the objectives of your organization, probe for clarity and bridge the gap. More on that another time.

In the meantime, read this excellent speech from Dr. Bruce Berger of the University of Alabama. It’s pithier and not as simplistic. But then, he’s a darn smart guy.

Whatever you do, do not punt, hand off, or otherwise abdicate. If you feel like you can’t do these three things, go into some other line of work.

Sean Williams is CEO of Communication AMMO, where a version of this post first appeared.


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