Transformation Quarterly 02_2023

The crises of our times call for continuous transformation. Strategy departments are revving up their tactical manoeuvrings. HR teams are working full speed ahead on defining the leadership skills required to safely navigate the workforce through this turbulent period. And what about Internal Communications teams? A fundamental decision needs to be made as to whether they are to play an active part in solving the major strategic issues or “just” report on them going forward.

A head of communications once quoted his CEO as saying, “I need to be able to talk to people in Internal Communications who know which issues I should stay out of and which ones I need to have something to say about, and who are confident enough to advise me accordingly.” The need for such advisors has never been greater, and the challenges of our times provide plenty of opportunities for Internal Communications teams to act in this way. But very often they do not, seeing themselves more as journalists, working within the restraints of established corporate channels, afraid to help handle the hot topics. 

However, there are plenty of things that need to be implemented internally and thus be explained, put into context, and translated. CEO, COO, executives and management need the sound advice and the assertiveness that a well-structured communications department can provide. Let’s have a look at how Internal Communications can claim (back) that role. 

Step 1: Leave the comfort zone 

In order to know what the pressing issues within the company are, the strategic challenges within the organisation need to be actively addressed. Whether it is continuous dialogue with the decision makers or pragmatic methods for perception analysis – Internal Communications teams must offer tools that can be used to aid strategic decisions. And they need to be able to deliver effective Change Communications at the same time. 

Step 2: Get out of the newsroom trap 

Internal Communications teams must move away from their fixation on news and stories as this makes the department passive, with the team always waiting for the “next big thing”. A change of perspective is required towards the strategic goals and the change requirements of management. Topics can then actively be derived and forcefully promoted in a campaign.  

Step 3: Move away from the fixation on channels 

A study by HWZ – Hochschule fuer Wirtschaft Zuerich recently confirmed what common sense has long been telling us: A speech by the CEO or an article on the intranet are not enough to generate genuine and lasting interest in a topic (and thus make changes in behaviour more likely). Internal Communications teams need to get close to the individual employees and follow the logic of individual thought processes. What is truly relevant here are discussions with peers or line managers. IC teams clearly need to focus more on designing these informal communications channels. 

Step 4: Grasp the opportunity! 

Who is actually in charge of handling the hot potatoes of “change” and “change support”? HR certainly does not want to, because they have their hands full developing management curricula. The strategy department expresses the need for change and that’s where their task ends. But who can ensure that change actually happens? Internal Communications teams must see themselves as creators from the outset, both in terms of content as well as building platforms and occasions for communications. Sustainable change requires the skills and tools of the HR, Strategy and Internal Communications teams. With an active understanding of their role, they can lay the foundations for a fruitful collaboration and genuine change. 

The role and self-concept of Internal Communications teams is not rocket science. We have outlined here how we build this process. Collaboration with the communications team and dialogue with top management are essential to its success.