A Framework for Evolving Internal Communicators

mary_welch_webThe 2013 IPR best in class employee communication practices study emphasises that internal communication must evolve to help organisations cope with fast-paced change. With expectations rising and pressures mounting, how can internal communicators ensure they evolve professionally?

As an educator and researcher, I’m interested in a  key question: What do evolutionary internal communication professionals need to know? If internal communication professionals want to develop professionally and stretch intellectually to serve the changing needs of employees and organisations, what do they need to learn? What areas of their general knowledge do they need to develop into deeper insight?

Let’s take a moment to focus on knowledge as information and insight acquired through education. Let’s separate it from skills, experience and practical expertise for the moment and ask: What should internal communications professionals know? What specific specialist knowledge should internal communication managers possess beyond “general knowledge” or “a reasonable overview”? What should they know more about than their clients and their colleagues in other disciplines?

I’ve constructed a knowledge framework for internal communication professionals based on research summarised in a forthcoming Public Relations Review article. The framework has 10 component knowledge areas in four clusters (view framework matrix). Examples of some of the knowledge areas in the matrix include:

Fundamental specialist knowledge
Employee relations (e.g. employee engagement)

Strategic communication management
Leadership (e.g. leadership communication)
Management (e.g. relationship management)
Strategy (Internal communication strategy and objectives

Underpinning theory and research
Communication science (e.g. employee communication needs)
Concepts and theory (e.g. Internal communication theory)
Research and evaluation (e.g. Internal communication audits)

Context and tactical considerations
Organisational culture and context
Internal issues and crisis communication
Emergent communication methods (e.g. social media)

Now, imagine you are creating an education specification for evolutionary internal communication professionals.  What would you add to this matrix of required knowledge? And what, if anything, would you strike from the matrix?

 

Dr. Mary Welch is a senior lecturer in communication management for the Division of Communication, Marketing and Public Relations at Lancashire Business School – University of Central Lancashire, UK.

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8 Comments

  1. great idea, I agree that the key of how to manage human is coming from internal first. Internal audience with the cultural difference is vital for organization. Building trust among members of organization must be reached first to grape the bigger goals of our organization. You have made a good point to provide my idea to make my task as lecturer of communication business in Indonesia. Thanks Mary

  2. Mary, your focus on this field of public relations is commendable and much needed. Despite the information age, the rise of measurement, and the decline in organizational hierarchy, internal communications remains an understudied subfield of our discipline. Efforts like yours will help us gain ground in assuming a stronger, functionally-effective place in the strategic management of organizations. Internal audiences are too often afforded minimal efforts when compared to efforts to reach external ones. I would argue one is not more important than the other but, rather, they serve organizations on different, but equally, critical dimensions of the organization’s activities toward strategic objectives. Developing competencies for internal communicators will only help round out public relations as a management function on par with Finance, Technology, and other traditional corporate functions.

    • Thanks for your comments Dennis, I agree that internal communication is a vitally important but surprisingly under-researched area of public relations and communication management. Best wishes, Mary

  3. Mary,
    Great work. I’m a part time professor of PR Strategy at the undergraduate level and the majority of my career has been spent in the Internal Communications arena, so I commend you on the work you have done here! Makes great sense. In a real world scenario, where the breakdown often occurs is around transparency. I still find that leaders only want to talk about the good news and brush over the bad news. The ability to negotiate with any level of management is critical — and to negotiate for doing the right thing.

    Another breakdown for professionals is in the theory that you can move from one area of communications into internal and it’s just the “same thing, different audience.” But, the dynamics of the internal audience are completely different and they have the ability to make or break the organization in a whole new way! You may have that in mind in some of your “buckets” but I have to be honest that I haven’t seen much good research on this dynamic. It’s not culture, it’s probably more related to leadership and management — an area historically covered in the business school, not in PR.

    One last thing I’m not sure I see embedded here is the notion of research and measurement. I’m grappling with that now — how do I connect the work I do to showing a real business impact. I’m lucky in that our leadership team instinctively “gets it,” but I’d really like to keep showing that what we do is a real business driver. Internal communications just doesn’t hold the allure of media relations. : – ) That could easily be because anyone can speak to employees (or so they think) but leaders still think there is smoke and mirrors when talking to the media. (sigh)

    Again, great work!

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this Jody.

      I like your views on influencing leadership communication. Knowledge of business psychology could certainly help communication professionals negotiate for doing the right thing. You make a good point about the dynamics of internal audiences. Understanding internal stakeholders and employee communication needs is vital. That links to your point about research and measurement. I agree research is a key knowledge area for internal communication professionals…and from your comment, an area that too often seems like an uphill struggle.

      Many thanks for your comment, best wishes Mary

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