Here’s what’s wrong with internal comms – and the simple thing you can do about it

When I worked in the internal comms team of a large bank, here’s what you’d typically find on our intranet:

1. Shout-outs about big deals the firm had successfully closed. All thanks, of course, to global teamwork, creative thinking and an unrelenting passion for doing right by the client.

2. Q&As with senior management revealing their grand visions for the firm, each presented in the manner of a great journalistic scoop. Said visions invariably involved more global teamwork, creative thinking and unrelenting passion for doing right by the client.

3. Heart-warming tales of employees volunteering in their local communities. Stories that proved we didn’t, after all, work for the devil. Because teamwork, creative thinking and unrelenting passion for doing the right thing can make the world a better place, you know.

But every summer we had a problem. The markets slept. Tumbleweed bestrew the streets of London, Hong Kong and New York. The whole firm, it seemed, was in the Maldives. No doubt sloughing off the stress of maintaining for an entire year all that global teamwork, creative thinking and unrelenting passion for doing right by the client.

Story leads died in the face of unanswered phone calls and out-of-office replies. Meanwhile, the three-week-old tale of deal making, strategising or selfless community service (inspired by teamwork, creative thinking and unrelenting passion) was looking distinctly stale.

We needed something fresh for what readers we had. The ones, presumably, whose bonus didn’t stretch to a fortnight in the Maldives.

So every summer, we were forced to dig out the same failsafe article to make it look like someone was, you know, actually still here. A little embarrassed, we’d rerun the one piece of the year that was devoid of global teamwork, creative thinking and unrelenting passion.

This article’s title? How to use templates in Word.

And you know what? Overwhelmingly, it got more clicks than any other article we’d published all year.

Now, perhaps that tells you something about the kind of employees whose bonus doesn’t stretch to a fortnight in the Maldives.

Or perhaps it tells you something else. Perhaps it tells you that you can bombard people with all the blather in the world about global teamwork, creative thinking and an unrelenting passion for doing right by the client.

But what employees really want isn’t a load of key messages. Like all readers, they just want insanely useful stuff.

So if you’re in internal comms, consider this: your job isn’t to “engage” (whatever that means anyway).

Your job isn’t to “align and embed business strategy” (no, we don’t really know what that entails either).

Your job isn’t, rather ambitiously, to build an army of brand ambassadors who’ll freak out their friends with their cultish devotion to the firm (yuck).

Your job is simply this: help people do their jobs better.

Do that, and the other stuff will come.

4 comments so far . . . come and pitch in!

  1. Perfect, Clare. But that’s the easy bit.

    Now convince all the HR wallahs who are paid handsomely to blather on about employee engagement, advocacy and alignment all day.

  2. el_t says:

    I’d like to think that most people in internal comms know this. Unfortunately, at the end of the year, they are not judged on the work that helps people. For some reason, all the spangly articles on teamwork, creative thinking and an unrelenting passion for doing right by the client carry more weight at an end of year review than any amount of helping individuals do their job better. More’s the pity.

  3. Simon Jones says:

    As an HR Wallah I agree that bombarding staff with corporate messages isn’t the way to get employees to become more enthusiastic about the organisation they work for. In fact I’d define “engagement” simply as employees being interested and enthusiastic about the organisation and its products. HR has its own jargon and management speak, but every decent HR professional knows that there is more to it than simply internal communications!

  4. Nick Wright says:

    All good writing must be relevant to the readers’ needs. Yet most business and government communication is written from the writer’s (organizational) perspective. Remember the ‘so what?’ rule when writing. For each topic, paragraph and sentence, the reader is saying ‘so what?’ And if they can’t find an answer, they’ll move on or ignore the message.

    But just as important as good subject matter is clear, plain English communication. We’ve used our StyleWriter editing software to evaluate hundreds of business and government documents for clarity and plain English. Around 90 percent fail the plain English, easy reading test.

    Whatever your content (and a good writer can make even the most abstract subject interesting) write for your readers’ needs in plain English.

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