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Mumbrella's Head to Head: Is internal communications an undervalued specialty?

In this series, Mumbrella invites senior PR professionals to share their opposing views on the industry's biggest issues and talking points. This week, Thrive's business director, Lauren Nowak, and founder and director of Agent 99, Sharon Zeev Poole, go head to head on whether internal communications has been undervalued by businesses.

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen internal communications put to the test. The industry has seen layoffs and stand-downs be announced via Zoom or email, and staff learning of major business changes just minutes before it is announced to the public.

The success of a business in this period could hang on the quality of its internal communications. But how much do businesses really care about their internal communications capabilities?

Thrive’s Lauren Nowak says internal communications has been undervalued as a specialty for agencies and professionals. She believes that it should be considered a ‘critical arm of marketing’, but focus often shifts to customers instead.

Sharon Zeev Poole, founder and director of Agent 99, says that whilst internal communications has been traditionally ignored, recent events mean that it will be more valued by businesses than ever before.

Is internal communications an undervalued specialty?

Lauren Nowak, business director of Thrive in Melbourne, argues ‘Yes’:

While branding is typically looked at through the customer lens in the first instance, there is a much more important ‘market’ in bringing a brand to life – your employees.

Internal communication is not about getting the message across. It’s about shared meaning and purpose. In the words of Simon Sinek, “If the leader of the organisation can’t clearly articulate why the organisation exists in terms beyond its products or services, then how [do they] expect the employees to know why to come to work?”

Employees are unified and inspired by a common sense of purpose and identity. But this is not easy to achieve. If your people aren’t empowered and engaged, it’s hard for them to feel valued. Further, if your employees aren’t aligned, but are still high-performing, they’re at risk of burning out. Or looking elsewhere.

In times of crisis like the past few months, internal communication has been a crucial tool in organisations being able to galvanise their teams to:

  • Ready themselves for the challenges faced;

  • Prepare for the rebuild;

  • Implement the rebuild quickly and strongly

Internal communication should be considered a critical arm of marketing – and just as important as marketing to customers. When employees live the vision of the business, the customer experience is likely to be much closer to what is being sold.

Getting it right is tough, but when the power of internal communication is harnessed, and resourced accordingly, it can mean the difference between an average (or worse) and a great (or better) business.

Sharon Zeev Poole, director and founder of Agent 99, argues ‘No’:

Funnily enough, if this question had of been asked of me this time last year, my answer would have ‘Hell yes!’ But now, my thinking has changed dramatically on this front. Crisis and panic have rocked Australia to its core in 2020, which in turn has pushed internal communications to the forefront – its days of sitting as an undervalued specialty on the sidelines are over.

Tragedies like the bushfires and a global pandemic have proven that internal communications as a function is not just a speciality anymore, but rather a necessity for organisations and brands wanting to survive. During these times of acute external change and ensuing mass redundancies, we have seen companies, big and small, utilise internal communications strategies to not only keep their employees well informed, but to help establish a voice of authority and trust amidst turbulent times.

This period has taught us as communicators that you cannot undervalue the importance of constant connection with your employees to keep them informed of your overall goals and challenges.

Public abhorrence for a lack of internal communication has been made clear where, for example, state government disagreements with one another over restrictions left many industries and employees in the dark. And this is just one example of many.

The businesses that have put strong internal communication strategies at the forefront, whilst without doubt encountering their own fair share of difficulty, have come out ahead. Their staff and other internal stakeholders will have showed unrelenting support due to the effective way they have been valued and kept aligned to the company objectives – especially when working remotely.

While internal communications is currently far more prevalent than it used to be, as we head into the future, the lack of its presence is likely to become more highly scrutinised, with those who are not up to the task of continually educating and aligning with their staff on a grassroots level, undoubtedly left behind. So, my two cents as a business owner? Always be transparent (even when it sucks) and encourage your teams to do the same – whether that is in a physical workplace, or most likely that hybrid office of the future which now includes your living room.

Originally published by Mumbrella:

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