The Past, Present and
Future of Internal
Communication

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

While certain aspects of internal communication continue to change, informing employees of basic internal functions remains important.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

By Lauren Dixon

E

ffective communication with internal staff ensures that all parties are on the same page. Without alignment on company goals, mission and values, confusion can easily ensue. That’s where Robyn Hannah steps in. As senior director of global communication at Dynamic Signal, an employee communication and engagement platform based in San Bruno, California, she leads the communication strategy both internally and externally, ensuring that employees know how to complete items as fundamental as signing up for health insurance to as complex as delivering business goals.

In an interview with Talent Economy, Hannah shared her observations of internal communication practices, what she sees for the future and suggestions for how to start a strong internal communication strategy on a dime. Edited excerpts follow.

Someone has to create alignment. Your employees are your most-valued asset. You do not have a company without your employees.”

— Robyn Hannah, senior director of global communication at Dynamic Signal

TALENT ECONOMY: What exactly is internal communication and why is it important?

ROBYN HANNAH: Communication is the vehicle through which we disseminate corporate goals, business objectives and company culture. These things that make up the fabric of our organization disseminate to our employees, and from our employees to our customers, through communication. I think it is fundamentally how we create alignment within our company; it’s how we allow employees to know who we are as a company and what our values are; it’s how they understand our company goals, whether that’s for the year or quarter; it’s how employees can prioritize.

If you’re dealing with a difficult customer and maybe they are operating outside of your business values, maybe you have to retire a customer. Some of those tough business decisions can be bounced against the framework of who you are as an organization, what your vision and mission and values are, and the only way for employees to know those things, to make those decisions and to have that criteria is by having some vehicle for delivery, which is truly internal communication.

TE: Historically, how has this role changed?

HANNAH: For different companies of different communication maturity levels, internal communication can mean different things. For some, it’s very tactical. It’s blocking and tackling. It’s here’s your information. For a long time, the intranet or maybe posters in a breakroom have been internal communication for a lot of organizations. But that doesn’t work anymore.

Technology has fundamentally changed the way that we communicate in our everyday lives. We live in this app economy where news and information and content push to us. No longer do we have this destination model. I don’t go to the New York Times on my browser, right? I get a push notification, and that information that is being pushed to me is based on topics that I’ve self selected are relevant to me.

I think internal communication at companies is starting to reflect more the way that we communicate in our everyday lives. The enterprise has been a little behind. There are still a lot of companies that are using intranets and posters. Part of the evolution is that we’re moving to proactively providing employees news and information that’s relevant for them to do their job, and we’re now able to deliver it in a way that’s convenient for them.

At Dynamic Signal, our employee communication and engagement platform is designed to meet employees where they’re at with targeted, relevant, timely content and information delivered to them on the channel that is most convenient for the way that they work. If you are in finance and you sit behind a computer all day, maybe getting internal communication about your open enrollment period or a new leadership appointment via email makes sense for you. Maybe you’ll read your email. But if you are a sales executive, when you’re looking in your inbox, you’re only looking for customers and trying to close business. You’ll mentally ignore those internal emails as, “I can get back to that later.” But what if they’re really important?

If the goal of internal communication is to align employees to business objectives and goals, disseminate culture and values, help employees prioritize their day and make sure that they’re getting the information they need as efficiently as possible, we need to find ways to get it to them in a way that makes sense for them. That’s a big part of the evolution.

Beyond that, what’s been really interesting is we’re seeing more and more appointments of chief communication officers. The CCO is a relatively new C-suite position, but it seems like every week we’re seeing more large companies appoint somebody as CCO. They’re really consolidating communication under one org, whereas in the past, maybe internal communication sat under HR or operations, and external communication — things like social media, public relations — sat under a marketing team.

The problem is that today, the speed of communication, the fact that everybody is on mobile and everyone is getting news and information at their fingertips all the time via news apps and Twitter, there’s no longer a sense of internal communication and external communication. It’s really confidential communication and everything else.

The other really important and I think notable advance in internal communication is around measurement. So many other parts of the organization, especially marketing, have become very data driven. And historically, internal comms has been seen as this soft, cushy part of the business. We put an email out there and said, “Open enrollment starts now. Please read. Action required!” We didn’t have any measurement. We didn’t know what was happening with penetration; we didn’t know what employee sentiment was; we didn’t know what employee engagement was; we didn’t know how employees were feeling or receiving the information. It was this sort of spray and pray mentality. Communication now looks at things beyond just open rates but engagement, time on page, are employees taking action on some of the information they’re given?

Robyn Hannah

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY THERESA STOODLEY

I think measurement is how communications will continue to earn a seat at the table. It’s hard to get budget or authority when you don’t have data. Communicators I think have always known that internal communication is critical when it comes to things like alignment, understanding business goals and objectives, driving culture throughout the organization. But if you have no way of measuring that, you can’t prove that. You can’t get resources or budget or headcount to support those efforts.

TE: In your position at Dynamic Signal, what do you communicate internally and externally?

HANNAH: There’s so much! We want to make sure our employees know how to enroll in the 401(k) or go see the doctor. We want them to have those sort of basic, HR communication functions, but it can also be the lunch menu for the week or our holiday schedule.

We have things like Women of DySi and Pets of DySi and DySi Cares, which is our CSR group. So we have these employee affinity groups that people can choose to join and connect with other employees around issues that are important to them. We have this whole internal channel of people who submit photos of their pets. It’s been fun to see these other sides of your colleagues’ lives that you wouldn’t normally see.

We also want our employees to be very well-informed about what our company goals are. Our CEO sends video messages saying, “Great Q1! Here’s what happened and what we’re looking to accomplish in Q2.” We also host all-hands meetings with an AMA [Ask Me Anything] session. We’ll send out that notification to all of our employees through different channels — whichever channel works best for them — and we let them know that this is coming up and they can submit questions that they want to ask the CEO. I think our objectives are always ensuring that employees feel celebrated, connected, aligned, know what our goals and objectives are and that they feel valued as people.

On the external side of things, we’re sharing what we’re doing in the industry, our thought leadership and some of our research externally, but it’s not enough for us to just share that from our own branded channels. In my role as far as public relations and media relations go, it’s exciting to get to go speak to communications professionals and share all of this, but it’s really important for us that our employees feel empowered to be storytellers, too.

We are very careful about who we hire because we want every employee to feel empowered to be a brand ambassador and an employee advocate. We push a lot of our news out to our employees to share across their own networks, in their own voice. And different employees share different things. That’s perfect because everyone brings a unique and diverse perspective to the company, and we use our communication tools to empower them to tell those stories externally. We believe that external storytelling success begins with internal communication.

External storytelling success begins with internal communication.”

— Robyn Hannah, senior director of global communication at Dynamic Signal

TE: For smaller companies that might not have the funds for an internal communication role, who typically owns this, and what advice would you have for them?

HANNAH: Internal communication is a non-negotiable. Someone has to create alignment. Your employees are your most-valued asset. You do not have a company without your employees. And employees who don’t know what your goals are as a business, don’t know who you are as a company and what your values are and what your mission is, they can’t function and you will not be successful as an organization if you ignore the fact that employees are your most-valued asset. Whether it’s an executive or HR or someone in marketing, communicating with your most-valued asset — the people who truly represent your business to the world — is a non-negotiable.

I think you just have to start, even if you have nothing in place. Someone has to say, “Our employees are important; they need to know what’s happening in the company; they need to know what we’re driving to as a company; they need to know that we value them because we recognize we don’t have a business without them.”

If all you have is email, start with email. If all you have is an open space where you can gather people together, go face time. If you’re a small company and can get everybody in one space, great. Or use Skype or Google Teams or whatever digital tool you need to get people together.

My advice is to start doing something. And sometimes asking forgiveness is better than asking permission. We all have a phone in our pocket with video and camera capability. You can start a free social media account and start to take photos and video of your employees and what their day-to-day looks like. Celebrate the people who make your company what it is. Highlight and showcase them. Create a sense of pride and loyalty. Start to empower them to tell their story on social media. That doesn’t cost any money.

Lauren Dixon is senior editor at Talent Economy. To comment, email editor@talenteconomy.io.