“Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me and I’ll remember. Involve me and I’ll understand.” ~ Confucius
Internal communications is a key component in an organization’s employee engagement strategy (Oakner 2004).Internal communications is about the transfer of meaning or understanding and not just about moving information around (Gray 2005). It has evolved as a strategic function over the years justifying a ‘seat’ at the table for critical corporate directions. Internal communications has broken away from HR since the 90’s combining with them to bring about sea-change in the way the organization reinforces its image, vision, values and culture. The new approach to communication has been to influence behavioral change and create attraction by ‘pull’ methods. Each part of the communication process builds on the one before. Timing and context – using the right processes and messages for the right people at times is important.Employees today are likely to want more information about the company for whom they work (Argenti, 1998).
Lately, employee engagement has become a key driver for internal communications to play a larger role. By empowering internal communications with great control, employees are provided more understanding and depth in their efforts of ‘selling’ the organization to potential clients, investors, and new hires.
The advantages of internal communications are manifold. It ensures consistency of messages, lowers the amount of time and energy spent overcoming rumor, builds support for credibility. Research also indicates that: “employees who identify strongly with their organization are more likely to show a supportive attitude toward it, and to make decisions that are consistent with organizational objectives.” While the key features of good internal communications practices include timely, clear, concise, informative and interesting – there are a myriad of challenges facing organizations today. Operating across different time zones, different regulations on communications, the varying quality of local communication channels, fractured employee audience profiles, the need to translate information into local language and context, corporate vs local centers, loyalty to functions and regions and quality of communicators make up for a few critical challenges. To further accentuate the situation, leading changes in the employment market are forcing organization to rethink their strategies.
Today, according to research, employees are not chasing ‘careers for life’ and the best ‘top 10%’ decide to choose the organization rather than the other way around. What this means is decrease in workforce loyalty, attrition issues and focus on reputation problems. There is however good news which links people, communication and performance. Research indicates 88% of staff with high commitment says it improves their performance (Source: MORI). Companies voted as “best to work for” yield higher returns to shareholders (Source: Fortune). Companies where staff understands organizational goals have a 24% greater shareholder return (Source: Watson Wyatt) and 1% of additional employee commitment is worth £200.000 in sales (Source: IES). Additionally, the level of employee advocacy increases with better internal communications. Therefore, there is a need to balance how much of communication can be administered, when the emphasis should be on listening and when it must be to inform and even more critical, what expectation can be accepted and what needs to be defined.
I propose a theory that reflects on the Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yang in relation to internal communications. The concepts of Yin and Yang originate in ancient Chinese philosophy and metaphysics, which describes two primal opposing but complementary forces found in all things in the universe. Yin (Chinese: literally “shady place, overcast”) is the darker element. Yang (Chinese: literally “sunny place, sunshine”) is the brighter element. Yin is often symbolized by water, while Yang is symbolized by fire. They are descriptions of complementary opposites rather than absolutes. Lending the analogy to internal communications, “Yang” represents the “firmer skills” – those which are based on convergent thinking processes such as controlling, structuring, conservation of systems and procedures.“Yin” represents the “softer skills” – those which are based on divergent thinking processes such as creativity, leadership, visioning and innovation. Yin provides a sense of direction while Yang defines the process. Based on this theory, internal communications can be viewed as an opportunity to provide employees reasons to promote the organization. By involving employees in the organization’s vision, giving them the right qualifiers or messages, educating them on the brand and the organization’s directions better and providing proof for the messages. Communications needs to encourage employees to take a personal approach, apply creativity while promoting the vision. Also in terms of planning, implementation and measurement internal communications must integrate focus and direction. The theory also reflects on the skills – process continuum in internal communications – learning, doing, measuring and re-introducing feedback into the process; something Yin-Yang has in its core philosophy. Translating the model to internal communications needs a renewed understanding of the marketplace, the audiences and objectives while learning to adapt, leveraging new technologies and constantly asking pertinent questions.
- SMIDTS, ALE , van RIEL, CEES B.M., & PRUYN, AD Th.H. (January 2000) The impact of employee communication and perceived external prestige on organizational identification, Erasmus Research Institute of Management
- Definition of internal communications and Yin-Yang, Available at http://www.wikipedia.org
- Oakner, Larry (2004), Don’t Let Your Employees be the Last to Know, Intebrand
- Gray, Rodney. (2005) Employee Communications and Surveys, CSU Masters students, Barthust.
- Argenti, Paul A. (2005). How Technology Has Influenced the Field of Corporate Communication, Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, Available online at: Social Science Research Network Electronic Paper Collection: http://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=828926