What are Internal Communications? | Brief Overview


Internal communications includes all communication within an organization. Communication may be oral or written, face to face or virtual, one-on-one or in groups. Effective internal communication is a vital means of addressing organizational concerns. Clear and concise internal communication helps to establish formal roles and responsibilities for employees and maintain organization and clarity within an establishment.

Internal communication is the communication that exists within a company, between and among employees. It can take many forms, such as face-to-face casual conversations, formal meetings, phone calls, emails, memorandums, and internal wikis. Communication within an organization is key to success. An organization's adaptability to external changes relies on efficient communication internally.

The function of an Internal Communications department is to ensure a cohesive communications culture throughout the organization. Internal Communications may be labeled Employee Communications, Engagement Communications, Communications, and other variants. The key theme running through these titles is communication, in whatever format, among a firm's employees.

Internal Communication in Practice

Internal communications departments have broken away from HR[specify] since the 1980s and 1990s and now report directly to senior management in most organizations. In some organizations where internal communication has not been established as a separate communications function, it may be coordinated by Human Resources, Marketing, and/or PR departments.

Internal communications helps employees to understand the organization’s vision, values and culture. It may involve staff members in issues that affect working life. It keeps staff informed on important decisions made by management. When implemented effectively, it can be crucial in a time of crisis, providing employees with both a strategy to handle a crisis and the facts surrounding such an event. As some of the most invested individuals in an organization, employees can prove to be excellent partners when addressing a crisis. By maintaining open lines of communication between management and employees, effective internal communications can create stronger relationships throughout all levels of the organization and forge a sense of community.

Excellent internal communications cannot simply be implemented and left alone; the process must be ever-changing and adaptable for success. As organizations identify more and more special interest groups within their own walls, internal communications methods become increasingly diverse to match the varying needs of each organization's internal staff and stakeholders.

Presentation of Messages

The way messages are presented can have a negative or positive impact upon the reader, regardless of the core content of the message. While this could be condemned as spin, organizations that strive to practice excellent public relations will avoid manipulative and ambiguous messages as they destroy trust in the organization. The most effective way is to find a balance between being "his Master's voice" and representing employees' interests.

Common Causes of Problems in Internal Communications
1. “If I know it, then everyone must know it.” Perhaps the most common communications problem is management's (leaders' and managers') assumption that because they are aware of some piece of information, everyone else is, too. Usually staff is not aware unless management makes a deliberate attempt to carefully convey information.
2. “We hate bureaucracy. We're ‘lean and mean.’” When organizations are just getting started, their leaders can often prize themselves on not being burdened with what seems as bureaucratic overhead, for example, extensive written policies and procedures. Writing something down can be seen as a sign of bureaucracy and to be avoided. As the organization grows, it needs more communications and feedback to remain healthy, but this communication isn't valued. As a result, increasing confusion ensues, unless management matures and realizes the need for increased, reliable communications.
3. “I told everyone or some people, or ...?” Another frequent problem is management not really valuing communications or assuming that it just happens. They are not aware of what they told to whom, even when they intended for everyone to know the information.
4. “Did you hear what I meant for you to hear?” With today's increasingly diverse workforce, it's easy to believe you have conveyed information to someone, while remaining unaware that they interpreted you differently than you intended. You may not become aware of this problem until a major problem or issue arises out of the confusion.
5. “Our problems are too big to have to listen to each other.” Particularly when personnel are tired or under stress, it's easy to do what's urgent rather than what's important. So people misunderstand others' points or intentions. This problem usually gets discovered too late, too.
6. “So what's to talk about?” Communications problems can arise when inexperienced management interprets its job as solving problems and if there aren't any problems/crises, then there's nothing that needs to be communicated.
7. “There's data and there's information.” As organizations grow, their management tends to focus on matters of efficiency. They often generate systems that produce substantial amounts of data -— raw information that doesn't seem to really be important.
8. “If I need your opinion, I'll tell it to you.” Lastly, communications problems can arise when management simply sees no value whatsoever in listening to subordinates, believing subordinates should just do their jobs.
(From the Field Guide to Leadership and Supervision, 2008)

Aspects of Good Internal Communications
  • Internal communication should be:
  • Transparent and timely. When details have been confirmed and approved, messages should be presented to employees before any external public
  • Clear
  • Concise
  • Informative
  • Independent
  • Relevant
  • Compelling
  • Internal communications practitioners should adhere to certain values, such as:
  • Openness. This is similar to the ideal "transparency" public relations practitioners should strive for
  • Honesty. Essential for any organization
  • Two-way symmetrical communication. This entails sending and receiving information, feedback, and engaging in a two-way conversation
  • Internal Communication enables change and allows 'transfer of meaning.'

Key Principles to Effective Internal Organizational Communications
1. Unless management comprehends and fully supports the premise that organizations must have high degrees of communications (like people needing lots of water), the organization will remain stilted. Too often, management learns the need for communication by having to respond to the lack of it.
2. Effective internal communications start with effective skills in communications, including basic skills in listening, speaking, questioning and sharing feedback. These can be developed with some concerted review and practice. Perhaps the most important outcome from these skills is conveying that you value hearing from others and their hearing from you.
3. Sound meeting management skills go a long way toward ensuring effective communications, too.
4. A key ingredient to developing effective communications in any organization is each person taking responsibility to assert when they don't understand a communication or to suggest when and how someone could communicate more effectively.
(From the Field Guide to Leadership and Supervision, 2008)

Internal Communications Departments
An internal communications department can become a moderator of interaction between official organizational representatives and employees. The internal communications department should be responsible for developing and maintaining a number of channels that allow effective communication to take place across the business. These channels include:
  • Intranet web site
  • Wikis, blogs, podcasts, internal social media tools (e.g. internal Twitter-style sites such as Yammer)
  • An informal session where employees can listen to and talk with the organizational representative such as a managing director, such as a Town Meeting or breakfast with CEO
  • Conference calls
  • Employee television channel
  • Internal newsletters, brochures, and other printed, tangible materials
  • E-mail
  • Team briefing sessions
  • Message boards
  • Personal or group meetings
  • Virtual meetings
  • Communications packs for line managers
Managerial Communication Approaches
Clampitt (2005) lists three approaches managers use to communicate with their employees.
Arrow approach - Communications are carefully constructed and aimed at a target audience. It assumes the more accurate the message, the clearer the understanding of the recipient. Problems arise when it is taken for granted that information is mostly transmitted by words and that recipients are passive receptors.

Circuit approach - Communications are achieved with positive relationships and job satisfaction of employees through understanding and discussion. It assumes that communicating is grounded in mutual understanding. Problems arise because of the myopic view that understanding will lead to agreement and that this understanding should be the sole goal of communications.

Dance approach - Communications are achieved through an intricate combination of the practice, understanding, and intuition. It believes that the communication involves the coordination of meanings, the understanding of common rules, and the recognition of patterns between two or more people.

Supervision is often considered to include designing the job, hiring someone to fill the job, training them, delegating to them, guiding them via performance reviews, helping them develop their career, noting performance issues, and firing them, if needed. Obviously small nonprofits may not be able to afford full attention to all of these activities (McNamara 2008).
When your external environment changes, your internal environment should adjust as well, and internal communication is vital during these times.

When the environment constantly changes, the organization must innovate to adapt to or control that environment. Generally, the more new ideas an organization can generate, the more likely it will be to adjust successfully to its environment. Thus, it should decentralize to give more people the power to generate new ideas and innovative behaviors (From Public Relations and the Path to Innovation: Are Complex Environments Good for Business?, 2008).

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