It seems like the internal communication/engagement world splits into several camps (see attached).
- Internal communication as information management. In the old days, “the newsletter brigade,” but now arguably more sophisticated. They might now use wikis and podcasts, but at the end of the day the key objective is moving the right information around the organisation at the right time, from and to the right people. Feedback may be present, but it’s still pretty much a one-way ticket.
- Internal communication as projects for the business. This is where the business needs something done or changed, and ropes in internal communications to make it happen. At its worst this can be pretty diabolical, but my recent experience shows that sometimes, given the complexity of today’s global organisations, the speed of change, and the difficulty of managing “the big picture” in spite of theoretical exhortations to “join things up”, this actually doesn’t work too badly for some companies. So long as the execution is good, this can actually work pretty well.
- Employee engagement by numbers. Run a big, monstrously expensive and complex survey every year. Track the numbers by department. Do action plans to move the problem numbers in the right direction. Repeat as necessary until people are engaged.
- Employee engagement as an HR exercise. Often tied to the above, but usually run by the HR function (ideally with, but all too often without, consultation with those irksome internal comms and marketing/brand people) – all about workplace issues, connection to the firm and colleagues, development and performance planning, etc.
First, and no big surprise, all of these things are about managing change. But it isn’t “change management” in the “here comes Accenture to fire everyone” sense of the word. Having previously worked for 5 years in a top agency dedicated purely to engaging employees in large-scale, complex, global change, I would say that, though, wouldn’t I?
Second, you guessed it, in an ideal world it’s all of these things. It sounds hard (or impossible) to achieve, but it doesn’t have to be. As I’ve said before, the main problem is that the way organisations structure their communication function (as such) is for the most part woefully inadequate to deal with the advances in practices, technologies and changes in audience behaviours. Some of it has to do with handing the keys over to those lower down in the organisation structure, and some of it has to do with realising that functions don’t “own” audiences.
Which brings it all back to audiences. Or stakeholders or whatever you call the people you’re trying to talk with. They aren’t who you say they are. Even if your segmentation model is 100% accurate, which it never will be. I’ve argued with some success that audiences don’t exist — the communicator creates them, for better or worse, and the better you do at creating your audience in context, the more connected those individuals will feel to you and your ideas.