Some thoughts on internal communications development

Yesterday I was invited to speak at the launch in London of VMA Group’s 2016 internal communications market survey results, which outline some of the profession’s latest trends.

I spoke with Drew McMillan, who leads internal comms at Virgin Trains, and we discussed our thoughts about the profession’s development in the coming years. If you weren’t able to make it along, here’s what I shared.

Internal communications needs to evolve to take into account a multi-generational workforce. We hear lots about the rise and influence of Generation Y or millennials, those who are typically born between 1980 and 2000. But for some time to come, organisations will also include baby boomers (born between 1945 and the early 1960s), Generation X (born in the 1960s and 1970s) and, before long, the so-called Generation Z born in the 21st century.

There are similarities in each generation’s attitude to the workplace, and many differences too – including purpose, tenure and technology. It’s not the role of internal communications to address this by itself, but what and how we communicate to employees needs to be alive to these nuances and agile enough to respond. It would be fantastic to see each generation represented in internal communications teams, or at the very least indirectly through focus groups, editorial boards or other ways that we stay in touch with the way employees think and act in our organisations.

Internal communications will continue to rely on a mix of channels. While I think digital is an essential element of our armoury and makes us think more carefully about how we use print, I doubt it will ever overtake the need for strong face-to-face communications – especially through line managers. More than ever, I think we need to devote time and energy to getting this area right – especially when I read how many of us say poor line manager communication skills are a significant barrier to our success, but that few of us will be prioritising it in the year ahead.

But internal communicators can’t opt out of digital – it’s here to stay. Nearly everything we do is touched by digital and an important part of our professional development is to be well-versed enough to apply it appropriately in our organisations. Just as we should have strong allies in HR to understand how organisation design thinking affects our work, or to steer learning and development’s focus (and budget!) towards areas that help what we do, we need partners in IT to make sure we steward the latest digital effectively.

Internal communications should reflect the outside world. Our organisations don’t operate in a bubble and neither should our work. We should provide context for how macroeconomics affect our business, and be alive and sensitive to world and national events, and continue to help employees be ambassadors for our organisations. The quality of our work should also be consumer-standard. The content we create competes for the discretionary time and attention of our employees with external news and information, so it needs to measure up. Whether we produce content directly or manage it, we need to know what good looks like and we should continue to benchmark and invest in this vital aspect of our careers.

We must continue to sharpen our business acumen. It’s reassuring to read that more of us feel senior business leaders value internal communications and we have a stronger voice at the top table. To stay there, we need to keep demonstrating we understand our organisations and the general mechanics of business. While the skills and competencies we need to plan and deliver great internal communications are important, they’re a given. It’s a wider appreciation of business that will truly see us perceived as trusted advisors.

Is there anything you’d add, remove or emphasise? I’d love to hear what you think.

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