Internal communication trends in 2012
Communication for the bottom line

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Too elitist, too peripheral, too little – this is the boring reputation internal communication has had to struggle with for far too long. But, suddenly internal communication has been given priority, and once again it's the working of the financial crisis. Unconventional corporations and extreme subject knowledge in planning and execution today mean that internal communication creates a significant difference for the bottom line. Below are 4 trends and 15 examples of the new best practices in internal communication.
Today internal communicators are heading out of isolated offices to participate directly in change processes.
 
Trend 1: The crisis demands explanations
While internal communication a few years ago was something you did if there wasn’t any external communication, in today’s environment companies are employing specific internal communicators whose tasks reach far beyond cranking out news for the company's intranet. They often work in direct contact with the HR team, using HR's contacts, influence and goodwill to, for example, measure the communication skills of managers or get to sit in at the right meetings.
 
 
This trend is amplified in these times of crisis, where executives have had to face the obvious: it's much easier to keep up the spirit among employees when things are going well than when you have to lay them off. This is especially true if the lay-offs have been substantial, or if the communication about the cuts has been so poor that is has created a 'double-crisis'. It is for this reason that receptiveness is beginning to grow so much it can be seen directly in open job offers.
 
Examples on initiatives
 
  • Action learning: The C-department convinced the executives that they had to initiate communications training of new managers. This training included realistic cases about, for example, internal crisis communication, where the managers were given the opportunity to practice delivering hard messages. The training was concluded with an exercise, supervised by top executives who also evaluated the exercise with a team member from the C-department. This maximized the attention from all participants.
    Effect: Stronger communications skills among managers, and a better network across their various departments.
  • Listening posts: The C-department sought out a group of employees, all known to be gossipers, highly social and/or to have special internal networking functions. There were no formal managers in this group. After a special announcement or mass meeting, the C-department went to the listening posts and had an informal talk about what the group had heard, thought and shared of opinions on this subject.
    Effect: A more systematic approach to the 'grapevine' revealed many opinions the top executives weren’t aware of about important initiatives, and the recognition of this group even led to them becoming stronger ambassadors for the organisation. Other C-departments have successfully created similar initiatives with employee panels, ambassador groups and local networks.
 
Trend 2: Return of the physical meeting
Internal communicators are still very much channel owners, but they still hurl themselves into ever greater change projects within the organisation. These are often complex and expensive projects, where people are to be changed, systems transformed and attitudes modified.
 
Most of the internal communicators I've met through Kforum's network have broken out of the ivory tower and into the organisation where they are used to train managers, guide project managers, give inspirational speeches on staff meetings, help new employees, and everything else that makes a difference in the organisation. Here, digital communication can rarely cover it: the physical meeting is hot.
 
Examples on initiatives
 
  • Breakfast meetings: The C-department persuades a top executive to attend several internal morning meetings to hear how it's going in the departments over a cup of coffee and a breakfast roll.
    Effect: Creates loyalty and better-informed managers.
  • 10 questions to the managers: Questions from the employees are put in a jar, and two or three managers each draw and answer the questions live on stage. Alternatively the questions are mailed/texted to a neutral C-person, who passes on the questions during the meeting.
    Effect: Rumours are handled collectively and the team spirit is strengthened.
  • Cross-departmental meetings: Employees across departments are invited to meetings with the management, where projects are presented and discussed. The meeting ends with employees voting on whether they are positive or negative towards the presented by paper ballots or electronically.
    Effect: Bias is broken across the organisation, and the management gets important input on the level of engagement.
  • A trip to the gossip bazaar: The C-manager walks alone into the cafeteria and sits at a table to overhear the talks in places where she doesn't usually come. Effect: Insight into the many cultures of the organisation.
  • The daily blitz meeting: The C-department and top executives meet every morning for a morning brief of 10 minutes to clarify the agenda. A trick also known from lean where short meetings with a fixed schedule create overview and facilitate action points.
    Effect: Problems are solved before they can escalate, and the C-department comes closer to the management, i.e. gets a better opportunity for counselling and sparring.
Read the article about the return of the printed employee magazine here (only in Danish).
 
Trend 3: Printed and profitable
At the start of 2000, employee magazines were closed down or cut all over the place – or they were 'digitised', which in reality meant the companies' intranet took over the role of news media more or less successfully. Some employee magazines survived, but many no longer receive the same attention and resources as before.
 
Now they're back. If you want to create engagement and foster a sense of community, a printed magazine that everyone can read when it fits in the workday is a pretty powerful tool. Whereas before the employee magazine was considered a dinosaur, it's becoming trendy because the volume of printed material as a whole is in demise.
 
Printed is substance, overview and delivered into my hand – not as superficial as material on the intranet. Printed has become a luxury item and free luxury to me as an employee is seen as a recognition of that I'm special to the organisation. Printed is a more democratic medium than the screen, which naturally demands you have a screen at work, something that many employees don't have. The distant cousin of the employee magazines, the newsletter, also thrives in both electronically and printed version.
 
Examples on initiatives
 
  • Say it in the bathroom: Curated, shorter bits of the employee magazine were placed in bathrooms where employees have their guards down in relation to taking in new information. The cafeteria can be used in the same way.
    Effect: Gets the message out in the organisation and breaks down the image of the C-department as 'something from the boardroom'.
 
In a surprising way a video focus on a large company's safety day meeting.
 
Trend 4: Think out of the box
Internal communicators are beginning to juggle ideas and methods from its sister areas: HR, IT, CSR and marketing. Disrespectfully, they turn upside down established views on, for example, what an employee meeting can be, how a strategy can be conveyed to the organisation, or how an employee magazine is designed and distributed.
 
This takes courage and professional competence. An internal communicator form a larger IT company put it like this: "I would rather bother 20 per cent and excite 80 per cent, than end up having 100 per cent that just don't care. It takes a bit of edge and cheerfulness".
 
The most successful of these experiments found that employees start showing up at mass meetings – voluntarily; that the management start paying attention to their own communications skills; and a higher level of engagement because suddenly there is someone not just talking to me but also listening – they don’t talk down to me or above me, but in fact to me.
 
Lessons learned: If you, as an internal communicator, ask other employees to be ready for change you also have to be willing to change your own channels and methods. Which, by the way, can bring a lot of good with it.
 
Examples on initiatives
 
  • Use the building: An internal employee health project was kicked off with an event where participants used the building's facilities for intensive exercise, stretches, etc.
    Effect: a strong team spirit, great pictures for the employee magazine and employees that actually began working out more with their colleagues.
  • A video replacing a printed manual: Instead of writing a long – and probably not very useful – manual, the C-department produced a video, with a live demo of how to use the intranet's most important functions.
    Effect: A dramatic increase of the level of knowledge among users, and goodwill to the C-department for making it easy to be in the other end of the system.
  • Dogma film: A C-employee brought a small camera and sought out project managers and other key staff in the organisation to ask them about their attitude towards a new project. Effect: The clip was used to make the attitudes and level of knowledge visible to the management team at a board meating.
  • A USB that doesn't go missing: As important as USB sticks can be as a tool, they often go missing. A C-department produced a USB stick the size of a credit card and put the video presentation for a new business strategy on it. A handy little tool for employees, and it didn't go missing since you store it in your wallet – next to your real credit cards.
    Effect: The employees saw the strategy presentation time and again, and got a clearer image of the way to success. It is proven to be a highly efficient tool to achieve organisational targets.
  • Catching on: If a company has travelling employees, or simply employees with no regular computer access, entertaining and informative podcasts can be the way forward. And if you have access to employee's mp3 players, you're well underway.
    Effect: Goodwill and a heightening of the level of knowledge within the internal targets groups that are often overlooked and/or heard.
  • Say it with wax: One organisation was about to launch a new set of values after a merger. During a strategy day the employees were invited and asked to shape their input to the values in modelling wax.
    Effect: The unexpected game about an important subject was able to put into words the employees' knowledge and attitudes, and the strategy became tangible to everyone.
  • Ask employees in the cafeteria: Instead of doing a resource demanding survey, the C-department lined up outside the cafeteria with a tray of marshmallows. When the employees passed they answered a few questions, and came up with valuable comments for the department. 
    Effect: Quick answers to important subjects and goodwill from the organisation, so that they were able to return with a new survey another time.
 
Do you know any best practices in internal communication? Feel free to share your thoughts here.
 
 
 
 
 

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