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What is internal communications?

There are many different definitions of internal communications.

Russell Grossman, Government Communication Service Head of Profession for Internal Communications defines it as a function that exists: ‘to help leaders […] inform and engage employees, in a way which motivates staff to maximise their performance and deliver the business strategy most effectively.”

Dr Kevin Ruck, founder of PR Academy, describes it as: “corporate level information provided to all employees and the concurrent provision of opportunities for all employees to have a say about important matters that is taken seriously by line managers and senior managers.”

Fran Collingham, LGA Associate and former Director of Communications at Coventry City Council refers to it as a function that acts as an organisation’s: “problem solver – helping councils to understand the implications of big stuff on employees and reflecting back the management decisions that don’t make sense down the line. Internal communication should be there to give honest feedback when others might not be brave enough to do that”.

Although the exact words might differ, it is clear that internal communication should not be seen as the part of your council responsible for ‘sending stuff out’. While it does have a tactical role to play, it should be positioned as a strategic service, responsible for helping employees to understand your vision and motivating them into achieving your council’s objectives. It’s also an important listening service, helping you to identify issues that staff need to hear about or want to discuss and supporting you to create opportunities to fix problems that might be stopping your messages getting through and ultimately, your objectives from being achieved. 

Is internal communication the same as employee engagement?

Yes and no.

There are many similarities between internal communication and employee engagement. The 2012 Engage for Success Research by David MacLeod and Nita Clarke identified that there were four common themes that could make employee engagement more successful – all of which include an element of internal communication:

  • strategic narrative – visible and communicative leaders that tell a compelling story about where the organisation is headed
  • engaging managers – who support their teams and give individuals the freedom to succeed
  • employee voice – employees who feel free to speak up, have many different kinds of opportunities to have their say and are listened to by their managers
  • integrity – the values on the wall are reflected in day to day behaviours. There is no ‘say –do’ gap. Promises made and promises kept, or an explanation given as to why not.

Developing a strategic narrative, talking to managers, encouraging opportunities for employees to have their say and communicating with employees in an honest and transparent way are all things that would commonly fall under an internal communication remit, leading many to see employee engagement and internal communication as one and the same.

Internal communications is undoubtedly a key part of this but it is important to remember that internal communication is an action – a function that uses information and dialogue to inform, motivate and inspire. Employee engagement is a reaction – the outcome you get as a result of investing time, money and strategy into communicating with your people and making your organisation a great place to work.

It’s also important to remember that there are issues beyond communication that contribute to employees’ general satisfaction and engagement with their work. These include issues such as training and development opportunities, cultural and environmental factors, pay and benefits, recruitment and retention matters and management structures among others. These things can’t be addressed by internal communication alone.

It is for this reason that some councils and other organisations make broad employee engagement work part of HR, while internal communications sits as part of a wider communication directorate.

It does not matter which approach you adopt within your own council. It is far more important that those departments, wherever they are located, have a close working relationship and regularly communicate and engage with each other. This ensures that issues affecting employees throughout the organisation are acknowledged, addressed and communicated.

It is also important that both departments work together to promote employee engagement and internal communications as everyone’s responsibility – not a role restricted to employees with those words outlined in their job descriptions. See our top tips on how to do this.

Why does internal communication matter?

At its simplest level, internal communication matters because it enables your employees to do their jobs more effectively, which in turn means you can deliver the best possible service to your residents, partners and stakeholders. Internal communications helps to explain what is expected of your employees so they can help fulfil the ambitions set out in your corporate plan.

But there are also other benefits. Internal communications can have a positive impact on performance, retention, innovation, customer satisfaction and wellbeing – putting your organisation in the best possible position to achieve your strategy.

As Engage for Success’ 2016 update, Further Evidence, discovered, organisations with highly informed and engaged workforce saw a direct impact on customer satisfaction, public reputation and for many organisations, a commercial advantage.  As the commercialisation agenda becomes increasingly important for local government, along with the need to encourage greater self-service among residents, it is evidence worth remembering.

Employee engagement: the updated evidence - infographic