Why and how internal comms’ form should follow business functions

The structures, obvious and hidden, of your organization offer clues to making your messages their most relevant to—and resonant for—your employees.

Any internal communication must pass three tests before employees will act on it.

First, it has to pass the logistical test. Was it in the right language? Was it legible? Did it arrive on time?

Second, it must get their attention. So far, so good; internal communicators can handle logistics and attention.

The third test is often our biggest struggle. The content has to be relevant. Employees want to know: “What does this have to do with me? Will paying attention to it help me in some way?”

When mass media is the model for internal communications, it can be tough to make content’s relevance obvious to each and every employee. Personalization has been touted as an answer, but mostly it’s unrealistic to tailor each piece of content to each employee.

Many larger companies have opted for staffing internal communicators at the corporate level along with semi-independent departments that function within business units or geographic regions. That’s great, especially when the corporate and second-tier staffs have solid, productive relationships.

It is not, however, the only way to slice and dice a company.

Consider business units. A typical large organization could have several, but they generally fall into two categories:

  • Cash cows. Established lines of business that produce most of the company’s revenue. Performance is measured mainly by how well employees have hit sales targets.
  • New lines of business. These are smaller operations, the internal version of a startup. They’re not generating a lot of revenue-yet. Instead, they’re being scaled up, and success is based on achieving specified milestones rather than sales numbers.

There’s another component of most businesses, and it can exist both at the business unit level and at the internal startup level. These are the functions that support the product or service lines, usually referred to as “staff functions.”

Legal, human resources, marketing, facilities, internal communications, and the like fit into this category. They don’t sell anything, so they are evaluated based on their ability to deliver their services, which are aimed mainly at the cash cows.

Because each of these business segments is evaluated differently, it makes sense to communicate to them differently, but few organizations even recognize these distinctions, much less target content to satisfy those employees’ unique information needs.

They should. At least at the corporate level, it makes sense to assign each segment as a “beat” to members of the internal communications team. Smaller organizations, those lacking a staff large enough to accommodate these assignments, should produce content that addresses these three distinct parts of the business.

If you can, make sure employees in each segment get the content that’s relevant to them. If, however, a mass-media model is your only option and everybody gets everything, it will still help employees in those sectors receive relevant content while raising the business literacy of those in other sectors.

If this newfangled way to look at the structure of business interests you, read Geoffrey Moore’s latest book, Zone to Win. It was the source of my light-bulb moment.

A version of this article first appeared on Shel Holtz’s blog.

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