By Faisal Khan on February 02, 2023
6 minute read
IC and the SME: When, How & Why? 

That’s the subject of this conversation between Internal Communication consultants and researchers Anthony Monks and Mike Klein. Anthony, a Director at UK-based B2B technology PR consultancy, ITPR, has recently completed a survey looking at How good (or bad) are UK businesses at communicating with their employees?, named ‘An investigation into the state of Internal Communication in UK Medium-Sized Businesses’, which surveyed decision-makers working in HR, Marketing, PR/Communication departments in organisations employing more than 100 people, and Mike has recently conducted the #WeLeadComms Communication Leaders Survey identifying how comms professionals see major trends and areas of opportunity. He also leads a Measurement Masterclass for Internal Communication professionals in companies of all sizes. 


MIKE: Anthony - you recently completed some research in the UK about how medium-sized UK companies are using and developing their internal comms competencies and why there’s still a major need. What are the three biggest things you discovered? 


ANTHONY: Thanks Mike, yes, the research was conducted in May 2022 via an online panel survey, with the results delivering several key findings:  

  • Although the vast majority of UK businesses have an Internal Communication function (84%), less than a fifth (18%) have a stand-alone department responsible for delivering internal messaging. 
  • Almost half of UK businesses (42%) said that they find it difficult to accurately measure the value that Internal Communication brings to their organisation. 
  • Almost one in five UK Business Decision Makers (18%) said that Internal Communication is not important to a company’s bottom line, despite 88% saying it is important to employee morale and 84% to employee well-being - both of which have a tangible impact on the bottom line. 

There were also really interesting and concerning trends around how businesses capture and act upon employee feedback. The study revealed that 81% of UK businesses indicated that they capture employee feedback at least once a year, which on the surface does seem positive. 

However, when drilling into data, just 72% of those companies that capture employee feedback said that they have an Internal communication strategy, and less than a quarter (24%) act on the information they gather. 

When you combine these, you can see a worrying trend emerging, a high proportion of UK businesses believe they are doing the right thing, without then acting upon what they discover. 


MIKE: These are all interesting and somewhat surprising insights. That 84% of medium-sized UK businesses think they are doing something is a good thing - it means they have some basic awareness and can converse on the subject to an extent, but the other figures indicate that professionalization is missing. 

In that, there seems limited professional, dedicated advocacy for IC in these companies, and probably few standards. A lot of people with limited training and experience, make it up as they go along. 


ANTHONY: There were slightly surprising, it shows, as you say that there is some awareness that UK businesses understand that they should be doing something, which can be hypothesised stemmed from the pandemic - when some businesses were forced to get their Internal Communication efforts up to scratch, or in some cases, create a brand new function.  

The adage of a little knowledge can be dangerous is true, you can see that those making the Internal Communication decisions have good intentions, but with a lack of professional knowledge and understanding of Internal Communication planning, implementation and analysis - they are potentially causing harm to their employees, as well as the bottom line, by failing to plan and deliver effective Internal Communications.  

For example, when asked which department should oversee Internal Communication, while 25% nominated a stand-alone Internal Communication team, the preference was still for PR (28%) and HR (26%). With 8% thinking that it should be the responsibility of board-level executives, 7% marketing and 6% Policy and Governance - there is some real ambivalence here which is stifling Strategic Internal Communication thinking, not to mention potentially damaging the discipline's reputation. 

It is really important that UK businesses understand what Internal Communications can and should achieve. Internal Communication involves using every suitable method available to a business that allows it to speak to and listen to employees and a key goal for Internal Communication is to create a shared understanding between a business and its employees. 

This is achieved by motivating employees at every level to understand how their work contributes towards the delivery of business objectives and vision and how they contribute to the values of the business - of those at the top and those charged with planning and delivering, how can they ensure that they are not only reaching their employees but engaging them through two-way symmetrical communication?  


MIKE: This seems to highlight two simultaneous trends: The broader trend, which I picked up doing the Communication Leaders Survey, is that communication professionals are highly concerned about the extent to which they are seen to be adding value and want to try to increase the value they are seen to be adding, and which is corroborated by your survey’s low actual perception of IC’s economic value. 

The narrower trend is that neither comms leaders, or the c-suite, at any level, has had much success at setting tangible and economically value-reflective KPIs for their IC activities. 

Your point about shared understanding is the crucial pivot here. If Internal Communication is going to be measured effectively, these shared understandings must be clear, and their fulfilment needs to be equally clear.   

That’s why I focus much of my consulting work on identifying the gaps between leadership, management and employee priorities in organizations.  By asking people two questions: what are the three biggest priorities facing the company - and what are the three biggest things you are working on in your job, you can elicit, quantify and track the extent to which that understanding is being shared, and track it alongside actual business performance. 


ANTHONY: Adding value is always the hard sell - but it doesn’t have to be. Internal Communications need to adapt measurement frameworks from its cousins of PR and Marketing, such as AMEC, and even knock next door to speak to HR - a lot of useful data is there, it is just a case of understanding what it means and how to use it correctly. 

For example, the survey showed that 43% said they find it difficult to measure the value of Internal Communication.  

More worrying is that only just over half (52%) measure the success of the Internal Communication strategy based on employee retention (including reasons for leaving, such as exit surveys) and 50% look at employee productivity - what about the rest? They are not considering Internal communication as having an impact on the bottom line. 

This is where we, as Internal Communication professionals, the flag-bearers of our profession, need to ensure we are educating business leaders, to help to make the links between effective Internal Communication and all parts of the business. 


MIKE: It’s hard to measure value if you aren’t looking for value in what you measure.  If you’re just measuring hits and click rates, you aren’t translating that into what these mean for the business. If you are just measuring employee engagement scores, you are just measuring how employees feel, and not what they know, or actually do. Businesses are run on actual outcomes, but Internal Communication is often measured in terms of feelings.  And very few leaders think about or question that. 


ANTHONY: If business leaders treat Internal Communication with the same critical analysis as other business functions then it is entirely possible that they will be able to speak with, listen to and act upon the views of employees.  

A truly effective internal communications strategy that has a measurable impact on the bottom line is only possible if it becomes woven into the very fabric of a business. Then it will help to align employees with the business objectives, mission, vision and values. 


MIKE: Precisely. It’s about asking the right questions - and finding the right insights in whatever other data exists.  That gives substance to the “fabric” you mention. 

And that’s one of the beautiful things about the 100-2000 person organization.  There’s more complexity than can be handled in basic interpersonal conversation, but the issues are often more “local” and meaningful to the participants than in mega-corporates.  I find that people in these companies tend to care a great deal - many have a real intensity of belonging - and that making Internal Communication work isn’t a question of adding headcount but adding skills, discipline and real metrics. 

The more dispersion of people, the greater the need for IC and for a strategic approach.  Indeed, you can say that the Internal Communication platform set is actually today’s corporate headquarters. 


ANTHONY: I think that you are spot on there Mike, the organisation of between 100-2000 employees is the perfect lens for seeing best practices in Internal Communication - although I would add that is vital to consider all employees, not just those remote working, office based who have access to digital technology (although their adoption and use of if a different debate, for another time). Businesses must also find ways to connect with front-line staff who are not tied to laptops or taking part in virtual meetings.  


MIKE: Indeed! There’s a lot of focus in the Internal Communication industry on “deskless workers” at the moment, and they need to be front of mind in organizations that are heavily dependent on their alignment and performance. 


ANTHONY: Staff interactions with employers and colleagues have expanded dramatically in recent years, while expectations have also shifted. Generational differences in attitude and preferred information sources must also be considered, with interactions occurring both on and offline, and not only during standard operating hours. 

Truly effective, engaging and two-way Internal Communication delivers bottom-line benefits through improved employee retention, productivity and well-being. It encourages compliance with business processes and is a core component of successful change management. It boosts advocacy through better staff engagement. 

Critically it taps into one of the most valuable resources available to any company: the expertise, knowledge and sentiment of the entire workforce.  

Businesses, not just in the UK, must change their dated and restricted perceptions of the value and importance of Internal Communication. It is not just about culture and reputation, two often intangible factors if clear thought is not applied to how internal activity can be accurately measured. 


MIKE: I’d add that the answer isn’t to hire someone inexperienced, junior and “cheap” to handle this full-time - many companies in the 100-2000 bracket are better off hiring experienced part-time consultancy and management, at least initially, and then pulling in admin and execution support from the business.   

A lot of issues in business are endemic and repetitive, and experienced support can help you accelerate the organization’s progress through these challenges.  Wheel reinvention is a massive false economy, and it’s routine in companies that don’t have experienced IC support. 

Thanks for the conversation, Anthony.  There’s a lot of potential here.  And, we in the IC world have to lead the way in connecting the work we do with the value leaders see.  I think the research we’ve both been doing moves that process forward. 


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