Can Internal Communications Impact the Bottom-Line?

I came across an interesting question on Linkedin by a communication professional in the Russian Federation seeking inputs on how ‘internal communications affects business results (in terms of money)’. He goes on to explain his situation – “IC is a new function in our company. I need to prove expenses to Board Members. I understand that communications is not the only thing that builds business result. How does one show the correlation of expenses and profits in figures?”

I found his ask very relevant considering the growing attention internal communications receives from leadership.

His question generated a lot of viewpoints and debate – over 20 comments were posted on the thread. I wanted to synthesize what it means for internal communicators and how they can present their case to leaders when posed with such questions.

In my recent research on the state of internal communications in India I reported that only a third of internal communicators accepted that they had leaders buy-in and less than half were confident of pitching a business case for their function. With that context I found it relevant to discuss insights shared by fellow communicators on this thread.

While some recommended dramatic ways of pushing the case with business – ‘ask the organization to stop communicating entirely and see how long it lasts’ , others shared research reports such as the Towers Watson 2011/2012 Change & Communication ROI Study  that qualified how internal communications impacted the bottom-line or showcased case studies of organizations such as Pharmacia which demonstrated ROI for internal communications. The IABC Employee Engagement Report 2010 got referred for insights into the impact of employee engagement on corporate performance.

Interestingly, some communicators did attempt explaining the role of internal communication and how aligning the workforce with business goals and priorities supported the agenda. One suggested changing the game by pitching ‘return on expectation’ instead of ‘investment’, an excellent point of view.

Another communicator cited the impact of ‘managing problems’ and ‘training new staff’ (negative parameters) and employee morale and customer engagement (positive indicators) and therefore show how business gets impacted. Also how increasing awareness and engagement led to improved customer service, higher productivity and lesser errors.

Overall, I feel that internal communicators need to switch the approach from pitching ‘how IC adds value’ to ‘proving expenses to the Board’. The Board must have seen a good reason to create a function like IC in the organization in the first place.

There are however some other ways to demonstrate value and quantify the outcomes.

  1. By linking the IC function’s objective to the organization/business. That means, if the firm wants to improve organizational commitment or engagement among staff, consistent, effective communication can get you there.
  2. Internal communication aimed at giving staff a consistent experience and improved manager connection can lead to reduced attrition – a good measure of value that the Board will appreciate
  3. By inspiring staff to promote the brand externally also adds to tangible value. If the communicator can do a ‘before and after’ brand audit, you can gauge the impact of your effort.
  4. By enhancing collaboration and knowledge sharing among staff you can showcase value. Your intranet, if you have one, is a great starting point.
  5. Lastly, by building a lasting culture that aligns to your company’s value system and allows for recognition among staff, this again adds to how internal communication can impact the bottom-line.

What do you think?

Announcing the State of the Nation: 2011 Internal Communications India Survey Results

What do internal communicators in India focus on?

How do they manage internal communications?

What are the most relevant internal communications channels that work in India?

Is there interest in social media in internal communications?

How does leadership perceive internal communications in the country?

Which trend will impact internal communicators in the future?

Learn all this and more in the State of the Nation: 2011 Internal Communications India Survey!

Executive Summary

About the Study

The State of the Nation: 2011 Internal Communications India Survey was carried out between September and October 2011. Communication practitioners in India were invited to participate in this first ever study aimed at gauging the value and impact of internal communications. Respondents who completed the survey were professionals based in India who work or have worked for organizations either in the capacity of a leader or an individual contributor in the internal communications function. Practitioners from industries such as pharmaceutical, IT, banking, energy, telecom, and health participated in the study with a majority of them from organizations with over 3000 employees.

The survey covered the following themes:

  • Background and Role
  • The Internal Communicator’s Profile
  • Internal Communication Team Construct
  • Planning and Skills
  • Focus Areas
  • Expectations of the Function
  • Return of Investment
  • Channels
  • Measurement
  • Leadership Support for Internal Communications
  • Executive Communications
  • Challenges Faced by the Function
  • Social Media and Internal Communications
  • The Future of Internal Communications

This survey provided insights from practitioners on the function’s objectives and outcomes, got feedback on the impact they make in their role and organization, learn more on how leaders and communicators perceived the function, delved on the impact of social media adoption in internal communications and discussed the future of the function.

Respondents who completed the survey will receive a free executive summary of the results and also be invited for further discussion on the subject in the future.


Key Findings

  • The understanding of internal communications is limited in the country and there is scope for training and education.
  • Only half of internal communications accepted that they were aware of skills and expertise to do internal communications. Employee engagement, crafting messages, designing and implementing communication were among the top ranked responsibilities for internal communicators.
  • Only a third accepted that they had leaders buy-in for internal communications and less than half were confident of pitching a business case for internal communications.
  • Less than a third of respondents had their internal communications objectives aligned with their company’s goals.
  • Channels mostly used by internal communicators in India included e-mail, face-to-face, intranet, print publications, posters, TVs, surveys and video. Strangely, social media as a channel didn’t register among respondents as vital.
  • Awareness of internal communication measurement tools was low among respondents and only 11% accepted they knew how to measure the output of their work. A majority of communicators said they measured their work quarterly (35%) and real-time (23%).
  • Less than a third had conversations on internal communications with their leaders and only 25% got the opportunity to discuss newer forms of effective communications.  Respect for the function, micromanaging and overwhelming work were barriers cited for not committing time on these fronts.


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Planning, Managing and Communicating a Successful Leadership Team Meeting

Internal communicators may be involved directly or indirectly in organizing and communicating internal leadership forums that connect and energize  the community. It is a crucial activity since a lot hinges on how well the leadership team converge ideas, coalesces as a group and moves the company agenda forward.

These forums are coined different names at each organization –  ‘engagement’, ‘off-sites’, ‘workouts’ or ‘connections’.

However, there is immense value and impact the internal communicator can bring to such forums in planning, internal promotion and communication.  Here are a few pointers that can help you deliver a successful session.

Keep the outcome in mind: What do you expect the forum will deliver? Very often these forums are expected to launch a new vision, revisit current business needs, explore opportunities or ensure leaders are aligned on company goals. However, it is important to also consider ‘soft’ goals such as connection, relationships and culture building. Remember to measure the outcomes in relation to the objectives at the end of the forum.

Make the most of the opportunity: As an internal communicator you may not get many opportunities for gathering leaders in one spot. Take the opportunity to collate video and audio footage as well as photographs you can leverage for promotions and communication. Be it interviews on the forum’s impact to a group photo that can be included into your staff handbook or a video message for new hires, capture it all.

Appreciate the diversity among people: If the group is converging for the first time it helps to understand the diversity among people interacting at the forum.  Think of cultural dimensions and bias as well as language issues among  participants. Be sure to avoid people from the same geography sitting with each other – very often, it can be the case! While people do find comfort in known faces, they also need to understand that the need to integrate better with others.

Craft messages that resonate: What leaders communicate verbally or non-verbally sticks in the minds of participants. That means, if leaders are supportive, demonstrate intent and participate actively the energy rubs off on others. Branding and communication before and during the event also can aid recall to the goals and expectations from the community. If you need them to deliver to standards, then call it out in the collateral. If there is a need for growing the team’s capabilities include messages in the agenda.

Communicate expectations:  The success of the forum is directly related to the level of expectation setting done before and at the start. Participants clearly need to know their role, how they should take back lessons and learning, the rules of the game and why the organization has invested in their time and effort. Likewise, it is useful to inform stakeholders on the reasons for conducting such forums (especially, when the economic scenario around the world looks unstable) and how it relates to the organization’s strategy and goals.

Close the loop:  Every such forum will lead to action plans and next steps for leaders. Ensure you have note takers who synthesize the output into a format which can be reported out. Take feedback on the impact of content, messages, logistics and branding. Set up an online community which can connect beyond the face to face forum. Publish an update on the content you curated from the forum and take explicit permission before using images and footage in any communication.

Flexibility and open mind: The agenda may get tweaked, presentations may come in late or speakers may expect more time to conduct their sessions. All this can be frustrating for an internal communicator holding together a critical event. However, it will be helpful to stay focused on the final outcomes and help steer the forum so that they can be relevant and successful.  By providing speakers with a consistent presentation template, giving guidance on fonts and transferring of data securely you can provide a healthy experience to the program.

Have other experiences and tips from running a leadership forum? Share them here.