How Can Internal Communicators Overcome the ‘Postman’ Syndrome?


A participant at the recently concluded internal communications workshop I ran in Bangalore, India highlighted a common concern that professionals in the industry face but rarely discuss.

She said she felt like a ‘dakiya’ – (Hindi for postman) at her workplace. This conversation became a passionate discussion among many in the room and I realized that it seemed like an issue with most of those practicing internal communication in their respective organizations.

I decided to probe the concern a bit further. Here is how our conversation went. The name of the participant is changed in the transcript below to protect her privacy.

Me: “Tell me more about why you feel like a postman?”

Janet: “It isn’t just my CEO who asks me to pen his e-mails; even my supervisor gets me to craft and publish communication on her behalf.” (The frustration in her voice reflected how much she wanted out of that scenario.) 

Me: “Were expectations set about your role? Are you aware what internal communicators are expected to do?”

Janet: “As an internal communicator I was told to focus on churning out mailers but what I can’t understand is why can’t leaders write their own communication? After a while my his e-mails begin reading like mine and there isn’t a way to differentiate!. I have limited understanding of internal communications since my background is in advertising.”

Me: “Have you had a conversation on what an internal communicator is expected to do and how your role can be improved?”

Janet: “I wouldn’t dare to have that conversation with my boss or my leader. They aren’t open to it and will go out and hire someone else.”

At this point the group began sympathizing with Janet and spoke of their woes in clarifying roles. Also, how internal communicators bear the cross all the time without any recognition.

Here are the questions:

What you think is the issue in this case?

How can internal communicators stop being ‘postmen’ or ‘delivery people’ and play a strategic role?

As a consultant or a person looking at this concern from the outside how can you help Janet get ahead of the expectations that her boss and leaders have?

Interested in your views. Post it now.

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8 thoughts on “How Can Internal Communicators Overcome the ‘Postman’ Syndrome?

  1. Firstly I feel the role of an internal communicator includes drafting communication on behalf of the management to the organization. The internal communicator should understand the message to be sent and the context and frame it accordingly.

    I sympathize with Janet on the part that the management is not ready to listen to her problems. The management should listen to the concern raised by her, about the problems she is facing.

    You are not a postman but you are the spokesperson. Your communication represents the management. It becomes interesting when you understand the context and initiate discussions. The management should also promote discussions rather than just dictating. Communication should always be two way only then will it be effective.

  2. Ultimately it is about the leadership capability of the communicator. It’s not what the management gives but what you can do and how you can carve your niche. Janet needs to find another job and understand that she will be the voice of the company manifested through the CEO

  3. This is a common pain that many Internal Communicators go through. The best way to avoid this is by clearly communicating to all key stakeholders about the scope of the role and that mailers are just a small part of the role, and not the primary function.

  4. There are a few things to note here. As communicators, this is the operational part of our job – writing pointers and sending out crisp, accurate and concise messages – whether internally or externally.

    However, the postman part we can avoid by creating processes for communications as well. The process document should say who should do what and also have SLAs – as done by other departments as well.

    The draft has to be done by the team/ CEO/ SME concerned > Then we give the pointers as to what else need to be added or deleted to make the message clear and crisp for all to understand > then once all information is in place > it would be our job again to review, keeping the audience in mind and sending them out.

    Every job needs to have a process for it to be carried out efficiently and without wasting anyone’s time or making anyone feel ‘its not my job’ syndrome.

    Also let’s not forget, as long as we are learning – everything is our job!

  5. I think Internal Communications has a very strategic role to play in an organization. And to do strategic stuff it is very very important to help the stakeholders within the organization understand the scope and utility of the function. Most often, I have personally experienced, that a majority of the stakeholders within the organization (leaders included) do not understand how to leverage internal communication and their perception of the function is limited to ‘drafting skills’ and ‘writing experts’.

    It is upto us to change this paradigm.The best way to do is to equip yourself with a ‘proof of concept’. Work like an agency. Be proactive in pitching and selling what you can do and how to leverage your expertise. Once you have added value to a required project, take that success to others and help them learn about the potential of your function.

  6. These are excellent inputs that all readers can benefit from. Thank you so much – Sony, Peter, Sushma, Rajiv and Ira. From the comments here is what I gathered:

    1. Internal communicators are spokespersons for the leaders and not postmen.
    2. Internal communication is a strategic function but there is limited understanding of the role it plays
    3. Clearly communicating expectations upfront helps reduce angst later.
    4. There is a process to be followed and learning comes from all elements of internal communication
    5. Internal communication will have both operational and strategic aspects to it and communicators must embrace what comes their way.
    6. Internal communicators are expected to understand how to use messages to provide context in communication.
    7. Internal communicators need to demonstrate leadership and that may help overcome the ‘postman’ syndrome.

  7. The problem begins and ends with both- the communicator who is unable to break though the “crafter and drafter” role and the client or CxO who can’t tell internal communications apart from his executive assistant. It is less of a problem these days with mature MNCs but still a sore point in many startups and Indian family businesses.

  8. The solution to this problem lies primarily in how internal communicators view themselves and conduct themselves. The ability of the internal communicator to break out of the “drafter” mold is to develop an opinion / approach / strategy of their own in the context of respective organisations. An attempt needs to be made in carving out a role for oneself beyond the reactive mode of drafting communications for others.

    Along with this it is of course important to refelct on the maturity of the organisation and it’s expectation from “internal communications. As long as there is an expectation beyond drafting mailers and posters – there is an opportunity for internal communicators to come forward with ideas, proposals, initiatives that demonstrate an impact to business. The key is to start small, demonstrate impact and then make it large!

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