Internal Communications

corporate communications building trust

What is the practice of Internal Communications?

Internal communications is the practice of maintaining effective, multi-directional information exchange throughout an organization — from management to employees and vice versa, and among all members of the workforce. Internal communications methods include speeches, print and electronic newsletters, corporate intranets, and enterprise-wide social media networks, as well as live, in-person and broadcast events, such as management briefings and town hall meetings, webcasts and podcasts.

When done properly, internal communications can have a significant positive impact on employee morale and productivity, engagement, alignment and advocacy. Neglecting internal communications or communicating poorly within an organization can result in a disenfranchised, disinterested or even resentful workforce. Especially during periods of rapid change, ambiguity and uncertainty, internal communications can play a vital role in explaining tough business decisions, providing the context for change and helping the workforce understand, accept and remain focused in the face of challenging circumstances.

Senior Tantalus Consultant Martin D. Hirsch is a seasoned internal communications professional with experience including 35 years’ with Roche, the global healthcare giant. In this article Martin offers his insights into Corporate Communications and in particular how to increase you credibility.

Internal Communications: Earning Credibility in a World of Growing Ambiguity, Skepticism and Mistrust

When the French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr coined the phrase, “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” I’m convinced he was anticipating the intractable tendency of corporations to repeat their communication mistakes from one generation to the next. In my 35-plus-year career as a corporate communications professional, I fought tooth and nail to make communications from my company as balanced, fair and credible as those that I myself would expect from anyone who wanted my trust and support. Giving credit where it’s due, I’ve seen some improvement, but not nearly enough. Management credibility is more important than ever, especially now, when expectations of employees – “our most important resource,” as corporations have long been fond of saying – continue to grow, ambiguity in job roles and responsibilities intensifies and security diminishes.

What are the problems with internal communications?

There are many ways to categorize them, but for the sake of simplicity, let me group them into the three Vs: Volume, Veracity and Vernacular – too much stuff, too much spin, too much jargon and corporate-speak. I’ll elaborate.

Some years ago I heard the legendary corporate/internal communications guru Roger D’Aprix speak at a conference. He gave a history of corporate communications from the industrial revolution up to the present, giving each period a clever heading, and saying the profession needed to get beyond what he called the “SOS” period: Sending Stuff Out. But there’s plenty of sending stuff out still going on. A colleague of mine who accepted a position in operations after heading communications for a particular division in our company once told me something I’ve never forgotten. “Once I moved into operations,” he said, “I didn’t have time to read a fraction of what we put out when I headed communications.” Lesson: It’s not about volume; it’s about value. If it doesn’t inform, influence or inspire, it’s just “sending stuff out.”

Another blast from the past is a book I read in the 90s that left a lasting impression on me: “You’ve Got to Be Believed to Be Heard,” by Bert Decker. It was about public speaking, but the idea is relevant to all communications: If your audience does not find you credible, if they don’t trust what you’re saying – either because they think you’re trying to spin or con them, or because they don’t buy your expertise, or just because you’re boring, they’re not going to listen to you, be persuaded by you or follow you. The same goes for everything corporations and corporate executives say or write. Ask yourself, who do you trust and listen to and get influenced by and what makes you a believer? With me, I turn off at the first sign of a disconnect between words and actions; I bristle when someone disputes obvious facts; my blood boils when a hear or read a corporate statement that lacks objectivity and instead emphasizes a particular, self-interested point of view, excluding relevant but material points to the contrary. Breach any of these red lines and you lose me.

A potential client recently told me she needed advice on how to get the communications staff to speak in what she called “weekend language” – the opposite of the stilted, corporate language people seem to adopt as soon as they take on roles where they need to speak or write in the voice of the institution. Why it’s so hard to get corporate people to speak like humans is one of the great mysteries of our time. But it’s not that hard to fix, with a little bit of effort, and by developing a sort of sniff test for the mind’s ear.

If you want me to get up every morning and give you everything I’ve got, to be excited about coming to work and to suspend my need for loyalty and security because I know employers can’t make those promises anymore, then:

  • Don’t overload me with more information than I can handle.
  • Give me the bad news as well as the good, delivered straight up, without sugar-coating and with proper explanatory context.
  • And speak, or write, like a person, not a bureaucrat or a paid mouthpiece.

Those things alone will go a long way. I may even trust you and give you my support.

Now that you have a better understanding of the importance of credibility in corporate communications, learn how to adapt your own approach to winning the trust and support of your employees and creating the kind of environment that leads to peek performance.

About Corporate / Internal Communications expert Martin D. Hirsch

Internal communications expert Martin Hirsch

Martin Hirsch is a seasoned corporate communications professional with 35 years’ experience at Roche, the global healthcare giant. Working at both the company’s U.S. and European headquarters, he was counselor and speechwriter for more than a half dozen chairmen and CEOs, and led a team responsible for elevating writing and strategic communications skills among staff around the world.

While at Roche, he also project-managed the highly regarded book, “Good Chemistry: The Life and Legacy of Valium Inventor Leo Sternbach,” published by McGraw Hill. Before Roche, he worked in news and feature writing, as well as in financial publishing.

Today he specializes in content strategy and storytelling, both as a practitioner and trainer. He earned his bachelor’s degree in communications and his master’s in journalism from Temple University in Philadelphia, and won the 2018 American Society of Journalists and Authors Writing Award for Best Personal Story Blog. He is a faculty adviser at New York University, guiding graduate students through their Capstone Papers in Corporate Communications & Public Relations in the School of Professional Studies.

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