What is internal communications? We analyzed 40 definitions to find out. 

What is internal communications? We analyzed 40 definitions to find out. 

Why do so many interpretations exist? What can we learn from all these definitions? And why did we feel the need to create our own definition?

If you have ever searched the term “internal communications”, you are likely already aware of the dozens of definitions that exist. 

But that didn’t stop us from crafting our own definition: 

What is internal communications?

The role of internal communications is to align employees to company strategy by systematically informing, influencing, motivating, and engaging people at all levels of the company through the one-way and two-way channels—digital and physical—that are most relevant to each employee. 

If this definition feels long or complex, it isn’t without reason; but we will get to that later. First let’s look at why so many interpretations exist, what can we learn from all these definitions, and why we felt the need to create our own definition in the first place. 

A lengthy research project 

As the largest group of professionals we interact with, it only made sense that we invest in understanding internal communications professionals, but also that we understood the term internal communications. 

We began by analyzing 40 different definitions of internal communications. 

We pulled them apart, tagging words and concepts, and then grouping tags into themes, and observing frequencies. 

The more we examined the role that internal communications professionals play in their organizations, the greater variety of answers we discovered. 

We also learned the difference between internal communication (singular) and internal communications (plural). Internal communication is the overarching view of how a business communicates with, and to, their employees, while internal communications are the tools, tactics and channels that enable internal communication. 

Despite an abundance of definitions, there were common key purposes that most definitions shared. This included: 

Keeping everyone informed 

Internal communicators have a responsibility to explain and clarify corporate information (top down), so that employees are informed, and able to understand the impact of their role. Informing employees delivers a tangible business value. 

Connecting employees

Internal communicators have an obligation to listen to employees, and facilitate two-way communication up to management. They have the power to influence organizations to involve employees in the bigger picture whenever possible, even when confidentiality stakes are high. Connecting employees also ensures strong interconnections between employees. This allows information to flow efficiently, breaking down cultural / generational / global barriers, and creating a greater sense of belonging.

Keeping a finger on the pulse of the workforce

It’s critical to know what is on employees’ minds and how they are reacting to internal communications. Only by keeping a pulse on the organization can you proactively correct misinformation, address emerging questions and concerns, and adapt messaging accordingly.

Inspiring staff and building positive morale

A well-developed internal communications strategy can give employees purpose and meaning in their work. It helps build commitment to mission, vision, and goals. It’s also about building a culture of recognition and empowering employees to go above and beyond when they see an opportunity to make the organizations better. 

Measuring the impact of internal messaging

Most of today’s internal communication professionals have a strong mandate to measure the effectiveness of their communication efforts. Regular monitoring helps provide comms professionals optimize their tools and messaging so that all the above can be done better. 

Unlike other roles within an organization, the role of internal communications overlaps with lots of critical business areas, making it hard to pin down a definition sometimes.

Internal communications, as looked at through the lens of a role, has evolved from a corporate ‘mouthpiece’, to a role that straddles human resources, public relations, marketing, knowledge management, and more.   

Next, we considered the definition of Internal Communications as an activity or exercise. We started looking at some of the common themes within each definition, such as:

Trust: building trust in leadership and the truthfulness and authenticity of the messages they’re conveying.

Timeliness: Internal communication must be timely and relevant. Messaging must be exactly when employees need it–not too early and not too late. 

Purpose: Sharing the company’s Purpose and aligning people with that purpose, giving their own work personal meaning

Vision: Selling leadership’s plan for the future of the organization and giving employees a voice in that so it becomes a shared vision.

All-way: Internal communication must include bottom, top down, cross-unit and lateral channels.

A definition of our own

All of this research inevitably brought us to our own definition of internal communications. 

Rather than just crafting a single sentence that encapsulated all our research, our definition is broken down into three purposeful sections: Why, How, and What. 

WHY

  • Align employees to company strategy
    • Maximize impact, value, and performance.
    • Develop employees’ emotional commitment to the organization and its goals so they get involved and contribute insights to both the business output and the culture.
    • CEO survey: There is a link between good internal communications and strong financial performance.

HOW

  • by systematically informing, influencing, motivating, and engaging people at all levels of the company
    • Inform: Clearly explain and clarify corporate information (top-down) so that employees are informed, aware, and able to understand their place in the “overall finished product”. This also includes getting employees the right information at the right time.
    • Influence: Illustrate decisions and corporate strategy to build trust in leadership, anticipate potential backlash, manage change, and influence employee behaviours.
    • Motivate: Give employees purpose and meaning in their work. Use storytelling, key wins, shared values, and recognition to inspire employees to take discretionary action for the betterment of the company.
    • Engage: Listen to employees, consult with them, make them feel heard. Connect the workforce (global, multi-cultural, cross-generations) through two-way channels that go top-down, bottom-up, one-to-one, and one-to-many.

WHAT

  • through the one-way and two-way channels—digital and physical—that are most relevant to each employee
    • Measure and track the effectiveness of messaging and channels.

Our definition not only aligns us internally, but helps us talk about internal communications in a way that resonates with many internal communications professionals we interact with frequently. 

Has remote work changed the definition of Internal Communications? 

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused an enormous shift in the workplace, which has impacted internal communications. But has it changed the definition of internal communications? 

We believe that the definition remains the same, but that the focus of internal communications shifts towards enabling work. 

There is also a shift away from physical channels, as most organizations (apart from essential services) no longer have office based employees.  

In a remote work environment, the whys and hows of internal communications are even more critical than before, as is the role software and technology plays. 

Have questions? Get in touch! We're always happy to hear from you.

May 12, 2020

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