CIPR President Elect – what is your view on internal comms?

Last week I approached the three candidates standing as President Elect to find out a bit more about what they think of internal comms. All three replied instantly so here are the answers from Emma Leech, Gary Taylor and Sarah Hall:

1. What do you think the role of internal comms is inside organisations  today?

Emma: Internal communications plays a critical role within organisations. We work in ever more competitive and rapidly changing environments and ensuring we attract and retain the best talent, unlock potential and ideas, and differentiate on excellent and authentic customer service are obvious wins. Less obvious is the tremendous impact that loyalty, engagement, great change management and advocacy can have across the organisation and – very pragmatically – on the bottom line.

I’m also a Fellow of the Institute of Internal Communications and as someone who has worked in the field and now manages a team in this area, I clearly identify with the importance of working with professionals who can listen to the organisation’s heartbeat and respond to it. From using local intelligence to feed into crisis communications and planning, to identifying and helping to tackle strategic business issues, or simply developing messages and campaign opportunities, internal communications has a key role to play.

Gary: The way organisations are changing, it’s more important than ever to communicate – especially change – with staff members. Your staff are the best people to explain, promote and celebrate the good work you’re doing  – they need to feel informed and part of the decision-making process. An effective internal communications strategy can help achieve this. Sadly, it’s often shunted to one side, seen as less important that the external  communications function or just as the trickle-down of information from the Management Team, at a pace and in a form that suits them, not the staff.

Sarah: Internal comms (IC) is critical for two reasons: there’s an increasing expectation for organisations to be open and transparent; and organisations are striving to become social. The shift to social organisations is a huge opportunity for IC. Figuring out how to move from command and control management, to a more open, networked organisation is a big job and requires a specialist skillset. It’s an issue that will continue play out for IC over the next generation. Although there is much being said about employee advocacy, the notion of employees as advocates won’t sit comfortably with me until the relationship between the organisation and employee is equitable. While this plays out however, the opportunity to use modern platforms such as Facebook at Work, Slack and Yammer as a means of engagement, is a huge opportunity for anyone working within this area.

2. Where do you think CIPR can improve how it supports internal comms  people?

Emma: I think we could start by responding proactively to the Inside Group’s agenda. I’ve been amazed at how vibrant and collegiate the Group is and the support of the recent #thebigyak event is a great example of the energy and fresh thinking the Group has to offer. We could learn a lot from that as an Institute. I would want your ideas on how we could provide better training, develop the Diploma, and support professionals in the field. I think there’s a job to be done in actively promoting the very real and financial benefits of great internal communications that will help raise the profile and value of practitioners. I think it’s also important for the CIPR to help support members better as part of their career journey to ensure that internal communications colleagues don’t hit roadblocks in terms of progression which can be a real issue.

Gary: By creating, encouraging and acting as a platform for greater engagement between internal communications practitioners /specialists. There’s a huge body of untapped knowledge that events such as #thebigyak help to release. But too many practitioners – in all areas, not just internal – are left to work on their own, at the mercy of what  non-practitioners think is ‘right’. We should be there for them with something they can point to, a source of good practice and latest thinking.

Sarah: Internal comms is an important public relations discipline and it rightly continues to grow in stature as understanding grows of what it can achieve.

The CIPR has a powerful opportunity at its fingertips.

  1. To enhance its own internal comms between HQ, board, council, groups and members, using the knowledge and expertise within its membership
  2. To support the growing number of internal comms practitioners and better serve them with the knowledge and tools they need to succeed
  3. To celebrate this expanding body of knowledge and practice

As President-Elect, I’d strive to make the CIPR a best practice model for how IC can transform organisations. I’d look to help IC professionals communicate the value of their work to employers and demonstrate return on investment.

Finally I’d make this burgeoning area of the industry a key aspect of the 70th anniversary celebrations in 2018. It’s an important area of public relations and there are some excellent people within the membership pioneering the way.

3. With all your experience what is your key advice to those working in  internal comms?

Emma: My advice to colleagues is to engage, enjoy, learn and make change happen. When you’re closest to an organisation’s issues, you’re often closest to the solutions. Listening is everything. Using that insight to deliver real strategic value is a major strength. Some of the best campaigns I’ve ever been involved with have been internal communications led – a simple conversation that sparked a big idea, change project, recruitment or fundraising idea. We often make the mistake in PR of believing our own hype – great internal communicators bring challenge to that and a truly authentic organisational perspective. That kind of insight is gold dust in business today – sprinkle it wisely!

Gary: You are the communications professional. You do this every day. Depending on your relative position within the organisation it can feel daunting to have to say to the higher-ups “you’re wrong on this” – but your organisation’s reputation (as well as your own) relies on good, professional communications.

Sarah: Internal comms practitioners have an incredibly exciting opportunity. As the C-Suite looks to public relations professionals to make sense of the changing world around them and manage reputation, the value placed on practitioners is growing. I’d urge all IC practitioners to focus on their continuous professional development (CPD). It’s critical to demonstrating your worth in organisational terms. Finally, collaborate to share best practice (as already happens through fantastic initiatives like The Big Yak) and lobby your industry bodies for support in educating employers and the business community about the incredible work you do.

Diary of a Diploma: Day one

On Saturday I attended the first day of my CIPR Inside Internal Communications Diploma. I was really looking forward to the day and it didn’t disappoint. We started with a fun ice breaker to get to know each other which was a great way to start the next 6 months. There were about 12 of us in the class and a real mix of experience and industry which should lead to some great discussions.

Getting the books for the course was a real bonus for me as these have been on my list to buy for some time. I have already started reading one of them as I have to read about 10 chapters before our next lesson on 23 February.

Our first session was looking at the evolution of internal communication. This was a great discussion and took themes from the CIPR Inside video issued earlier this year. One of the main things that came up was whether we had really moved on since the 1980s – any thoughts? We were joined by Paul Roberts from Ibis Communication who talked about measurement. It was great to see some insights into how measurement should be undertaken and has made me realise that this needs to be a focus in 2013/14.

There were 5 rules Paul shared with us:

  1. Only measure what you can influence
  2. Build quantitative and qualitative research into your measurement programme
  3. Measure at intervals that allow you enough time to change course
  4. With quantitative data, focus on top and bottom box scores when analysing results
  5. Approach your programme from the perspective of your audience

I don’t plan to share too much from the course as that wouldn’t be fair, but as the day went on and we each reviewed our own internal comms function measurement came out as the weakest part of our role.

We reviewed several different communications models, some I remember from my degree which was refreshing! It got my mind thinking about how we can apply some of these more traditional models to the role social media now plays on how we communicate.

Organisational behaviours and leadership also came into focus as we reviewed the role leaders play in culture and engagement. Kevin shared a great video that asked the question, who needs leaders?

Leaders have a huge role to play to make communication successful and we reviewed how informed employees felt much more engaged in the business. I did challenge some of the research as being informed doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Are you informed about news that is relevant to you? And how do you know how much has been shared to warrant feeling informed?

The reading has already got my brain buzzing and it was great to take some time to sit back and think theoretically about the work we do and how it is so intrinsically linked to culture and the organisation. Although it has only been one day it has given me a fresh perspective on my work and provided some great ideas to shape my strategy for the next year – roll on 23 February!

Hitting the books again

This year I’m taking on a professional qualification and will be keeping track of my progress and journey on here…

I have a degree in Marketing so I have been keen to learn a bit more about the theory behind internal communications for a while. It’s a hard thing to choose as there is a lot on offer from various bodies covering so many topics.

I wanted something that wasn’t going to go on for months, that was recognised and that allowed me the freedom to manage my time with some classroom learning as well. I was also keen to make sure that I was mentally prepared for the time needed to do the course – it’s a big commitment after all!

When I joined the CIPR Inside committee I was torn between their course and another one – why did I choose this one? Honestly it was down to timing – a 6 months course that wasn’t going to break the bank. The other factor was the tutor. I have been working with Kevin Ruck for the past 8 months and his theoretical knowledge of the internal comms world has impressed me during that time. It was probably the deciding factor for me to do the course as I was totally out of my depth in a conversation where models and theorists were mentioned – I needed to get my head around all this!

I’m expecting to learn about models and theories that I can apply to my work. Theories that allow me to think more strategically and look at things away from the tunnel vision working inside an organisation can do. It’s been a long time since I was at uni so I’m quite looking forward to hitting the books again!

So I start on 2 February with the first lesson in London all day – I’m excited and almost itching to get started – I just need to make sure I keep myself disciplined and do the 8 hours a week I need to do!

I am studying the CIPR Internal Communications Diploma which is taught at PR Academy.