By Mike Klein on March 07, 2023
4 minute read

The word “innovation” often has an intimidating and mystical air to it. 

Yet, when one is freed from the idea that they have to come up with entirely brand new ideas from scratch, the possibility to innovate becomes much more accessible and actionable. 

Communication pros should take this as very good news. 

One way to innovate is to take ideas that work in one discipline and use them to improve things that don’t work in another. 

In the world of internal communication, the general consensus is that there is much that needs to improve - meaning there is excellent scope for innovation.  Here are three examples: 

1. Segmentation 

Internal communication has struggled with the idea of segmentation for decades, particularly given the pressure driven by the “employee engagement” movement to drive a one-size-fits-all measurement that combines disparate concepts like “loyalty”, “commitment”, “satisfaction,” and “willingness to expend discretionary effort.” 

But even though companies want people to feel the same way, they need people to focus on different things.   
People managing large change and transformation programs their key people to understand their programs’ strategies, timelines and deliverables in detail,   

But unless their roles will change imminently and substantially, route salespeople, customer service representatives and even functional professionals don’t need that level of detail, but are often inundated with irrelevant information under the guise of “engaging everyone equally.” 

How to overcome that?  Some companies have the resources, skills and platforms to support precision employee segmentation.  But a much simpler approach was laid out by US General George S. Patton during World War II.  

“You either need to lead, follow, or get out of the way.” 

That sounds brutal.   

But injecting it into your internal communication strategy can be a useful innovation. 

Basing your strategy on what you need people to “do” rather than “feel”, you can share detailed information with those who need to lead, more focused information which spells out how people can effectively follow, and more general information to the rest of the organization, encouraging them to be aware and confident without having an undue need to interfere or resist. 

2. Measurement 

Another area rife for simple innovation is the area of internal communication measurement. Existing measures like engagement scores, click rates and open rates can give you some insights about employees’ levels of enthusiasm, but little that’s useful about what they are focusing on or whether they have the right knowledge to contribute effectively. 

Introducing the use of open-ended questions, which are used much more commonly in market research and building political strategies, can identify where employees see organizational and personal priorities. They allow you to see how much of an alignment gap there is between what leaders think are priorities, and the priorities employees are working towards. 

Introducing multiple choice quiz questions, like those used frequently in the academic world, can not only assess knowledge levels and communication gaps, but also can identify the popularity of wrong answers, indicating additional misalignment or employee cynicism. 

Here’s an example: 

Which of these is not a company value? 

  • Integrity
  • Sustainability
  • Transparency
  • Irritating and abusing our customers

Naturally, this is a bit of a comic example to make the point.  But if even a small percentage of employees choose something other than answer D, it can be indicative of cynicism, or, perhaps more generously, a lack of awareness of how the company is putting items A, B, or C into meaningful practice. 

3. Influence 

There is a growing recognition of the role that informal influence plays in supporting, aligning and mobilizing employee activity and performance.   

But organizations often have warped views about what drives informal influence. 

Said one executive to his managers at a management conference in Europe: “I want you to be the influencers.” 

But internal influence often has much more to do with individual credibility than one’s position on the hierarchy.  And it takes more than hectoring managers or appointing so-called “ambassadors” or “champions”, approaches that seek to control organizational influence rather than tapping into what’s actually there. 

A relatively recent innovation from the worlds of social science and information technology is the idea of network analysis, to find out which employees are currently being sought out for support and advice by their colleagues.   

While it is possible to hire some excellent firms that have extensive back–ends and experience in analyzing and mapping influence flows in organizations, there’s also a basic approach called Snowball Analysis - a technique from the sociology discipline - that can identify credible colleagues who form many of the key connections in your existing “grapevine” - your all-important informal communication network. 

Communication pros can conduct snowball analysis with minimal training, and unlike the social mapping exercises, snowball projects can produce useful results with far fewer employees being surveyed or and avoids large-scale concerns about employee privacy and “surveillance.” 

Where to start 

Segmentation, measurement and influence are areas that are generally not working well in internal communication, making them great areas for injecting some innovation.  But your organization might have additional issues requiring innovation instead of doing more of the same.  The key questions to ask:

  • Are there other disciplines that have already addressed similar issues? 
  • Is there an area of my company that’s open to a bit of experimentation? 
  • How do I measure the impact an innovative approach can add?

In closing 

Innovation in internal communication need not be expensive, controversial or excessively invasive.   

But it requires a willingness to look beyond the IC/PR bubble for new solutions.   

Marketing, politics and sociology - in that they all look at understanding and moving the attitudes and behaviors of groups of people, are excellent starting points.   

To learn innovative, actionable and cost-effective measurement techniques, register for the Measurement Masterclass - now available in public and company-specific versions. 

If you want to explore how to innovate in segmentation, strategy or identifying and mobilizing internal influence, schedule a free half-hour consultation with Mike Klein at 

Mike Klein is Principal of Changing The Terms, a strategic communication consultancy focused on innovative approaches, and is the founder of #WeLeadComms, an initiative to recognize leadership, courage and innovation in the communication disciplines. He is also a Senior Strategic Advisor to internal communication software firm Sparrow Connected.

What’s Next:   

Real, Unscripted Insights from Top Internal Communications Professionals

The ICON Podcast challenges conventional thinking about internal communications. 

Think differently. Consider bold ideas. Step outside your comfort zone. Elevate your career. Together, we’ll elevate the internal communications profession to the C-suite.

Link to Podcast
BLOG POST TAGS: Internal communications Internal Comms planning Thought Leadership innovation

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