Yin and Yang of Internal Communications – making employees advocates of the brand

 “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.   

References : 

  1. 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
  2. Definition of internal communications and Yin-Yang, Available at http://www.wikipedia.org
  3. Oakner, Larry (2004), Don’t Let Your Employees be the Last to Know, Intebrand
  4.  Gray, Rodney. (2005) Employee Communications and Surveys, CSU Masters students, Barthust.
  5. 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


Internal communications book from India: opportunity to feature your organization’s best practices!

Hi, I look forward to your case studies and comments on how to structure this book outline better.

Inviting contributions!Please mail me at intraskope@yahoo.com by December 10, 2007 Book Outline  Internal Communications – a practitioners’ handbookSynopsis: Internal communications professionals need to be today’s corporate information strategists and play a vital role in reinventing organizations. This book will showcase key internal communication practices with insight into models, strategy and policies that are used widely by practitioners. It will give a deep understanding of the key issues confronting the internal communications discipline today in India and abroad. The book will illustrate ‘real world’ case studies, and tips and practical knowledge to communicators wanting to excel in this powerful function.
          A brief history of internal communications
An introduction of the function and its perspective with regard to integrated marketing communications
         How to integrate internal communications with the organizational structure         A look at India and challenges for internal communications with employee motivation and retention         Working out internal communications programs and policies         Tips on how to raise the profile of internal communications within your set-up         Essential skills for internal communications         In-sourcing or outsourcing – a look at leveraging talent and information         Review of drawbacks and benefits of new media

This book will benefit:

         Any communication or human resources professional who would like to explore this critical function

         Media and Communication students looking at making a niche for themselves in this domain

         Faculty in business management or communication schools

Book modules:

  1. Internal communications discipline today (Global perspectives, Indian context)
  2. Critical success factors in implementing an internal communications policy
  3. Planning and arriving at internal communications channels
  4.  New media and technologies in internal communications
  5. An insight into the methods in internal communications
  6. Briefing and messaging – a critical element
  7. Outsourcing and internal communications
  8. Matching the medium to the message and the audience
  9. Internal communication audits
  10. A day in the life of an internal communications professional
  11. Creating an internal communications classification system

Case Study template 

  • How does the business need/structure of communications team impact internal communications?
  • How internal communication is used to build value?
  • Areas where internal communications is used in your organization – risk, security etc?
  • What unique modes/tools are used to help employees’ engagement and understanding of business?
  • Relate a case study where internal communications has worked?
  • Can you explain the process followed?
  • Any measurement metrics?
  • Addendums: background on organization, structure, context, screenshots, photographs, comments from associates?

 Author Profile:Aniisu K. VergheseAniisu works with a leading global investment management firm as an Internal Communications professional. He has over nine years of rich experience in employee communications, online marketing and advertising. References: http://www.linkedin.com/in/aniisu  

Can internal communications learn from Twenty 20 cricket?

For those unfamiliar with the term Twenty 20, it is an abridged yet exciting form of one-day cricket, a popular game around the world. The shorter version of the game is now the center of attention in India since the country emerged champions in the recent tournament at South Africa in September 2007. India beat challengers like Australia, South Africa and Pakistan, an arch rival and the losing finalist, to lift the trophy.

One can draw a parallel with Twenty 20 and internal communications by relating to the pace, format and interesting facets of this game. I feel internal communication professionals can learn a great deal by understanding the triggers that make this game a resounding success.

Keep it short and sweet: To begin with, the term ‘Twenty-20’ sums up the game succinctly well. Each team gets to play 20 overs a side as against the usual 50 over which the limited overs game allows. It is easy off the lips and derives a lot of energy appealing to all age groups. Is there a lesson for creating easily understandable names for better recall? Do we design our communication to appeal to the skeptics and the skimmers?

Package the message to suit the attention span: The Twenty 20 format is crisp – does not take more than 3 and half hours to complete a match. In this age of shorter attention spans, that is definitely a boon. The packaging (‘Kerry Packer’ style colored dresses and cricket balls), timing of the event (held in the evenings – also made it easier for those in the sub-continent to watch it conveniently), the on-field branding (dancers and music) created an overwhelming attraction to the spectacle. Relating it to internal communication, a neatly packaged mailer or a brochure helps you win half the battle in terms of grabbing eyeballs and ensuring there is acceptance to the message.

Settle for a result: Unlike its earlier avatar, twenty 20 expect a result out of every match. So even if there is a tie, the teams end up playing the ‘bowl-out’ to get a result. Can internal communications similarly build in similar elements into our communication deriving a metric to be measured even for a simple mailer campaign?

Closer to the action: The tournament allowed audiences to get closer to the action with impromptu interviews with the players while the match was in progress. Something unheard of and frowned upon in the longer format of the game. The cameras captured action both on and off the field throwing color to the match fixtures. There were near-field interviews which gave viewers an on-the-spot perspective on the game. Can internal communications also provide the depth which readers seek with information? Can we get them a more personalized version of the sender and the inside story?

Thinking on your feet: While the shorter format expects the player to score quickly or be aggressive on the field, it also focuses on quick thinking as a strategy. If a batsman is running amok, will rotating a bowler slow the run glut? If a bowler is displaying tenacious length, can you outfox him by shifting your stance? All in those split seconds! To sum up, like in Twenty 20 cricket (where the post match ceremony is also as short and sweet!), internal communicators can pick up tips from this fascinating new format of cricket by observing the finer points on branding, speed, flexibility, quick thinking and understanding the recipient of the messages.