ASK FIVE: Jennifer Sproul, Chief Executive of Institute of Internal Communications

 It is 70 years since the Institute of Internal Communications was founded. Chief Executive Jennifer Sproul answers our Ask 5 questions on why internal communications is critical to business success.

Many organisations focus on external communications. Why is internal communications just as important?

Internal communication is just as if not more important than external communication in my opinion.   Successful internal communication creates a culture and environment of mutual understanding that enables organisations to thrive in what is an increasingly fast paced world.    An organisation that communicates well with its people can achieve greater productivity, innovation, reputation, talent attraction and retention.

It is also worth considering the relationship between internal and external communication.  The way we as consumers and citizens form our opinions on the brands who trust and align ourselves too is influenced by some many more factors and sources which can’t always necessarily be controlled.   We look to our friends, peers and social media sources to evaluate our view of what is being said and our belief in that. So, if the internal and external are not aligned and our people are not central to making those messages come alive whether that’s as a brand advocate, interactions with customers, prospective employees and living the values, this will fundamentally impact trust and reputation for any organisation.

Tell us more about the #wematteratwork campaign and how internal communication can support with wellbeing?                

The #WeMatteratWork campaign is a new long-term initiative that seeks to examine employees’ sense of purpose and value at work by focussing on how we communicate with them.  When looking at the ever-changing organisational environment, communication is fundamental to helping people feel engaged and purposeful – that they matter at work – and this makes for better organisations and a better society.

Throughout the campaign we will be creating content and tools to help facilitate conversations to understand the values our people want to see, that make them feel valued and supported.  What do we expect from leaders, what makes us go home and feel proud or that we want to go back in the morning to do our best, what environment would makes us feel happier and how can we ensure a culture of positive communication that benefits as us individuals and the organisations we work for.

As part of this campaign we will also look at how internal communication is vital to supporting wellbeing.  How we interact and communicate in the every day is fundamental to how we feel in ourselves.  When I spend time with friends and family and the inevitable question of ‘how’s work going?’ the most common topic we find ourselves discussing is how communication is affecting our wellbeing.  From the relationship with our line manager, from when change is communicated to us (often it’s the communication that affects us not the decision) to when we are struggling with personal issues, communication fundamentally impacts on our wellbeing.

We want to start enabling conversations and gain key insights to help us as communicators advise our leaders and build strategies to manage the wellbeing of our people.

With technology and social media changing how we all communicate, how can organisations adapt to embrace the way that employees now want to communicate whilst balancing the need for work life balance?

The advent of increased technology solutions and social media is in my opinion both a blessing and a curse for internal communication.  There is no doubt that technology is enabling organisations and its people to benefit from increased flexible working. It also gives access to key information, enables knowledge sharing, creates conversations, makes leaders more visible, and offers innovative solutions to create memorable employee experiences. But with all this opportunity also comes great responsibility to not overuse technology and create more noise and stress for our people.

It is important to also recognise we have more generations working than ever before and with greater levels of diversity we must be careful of our assumptions in how people want to work and therefore be communicated with.  My advice is to always spend time to understand your people, their habits, their communication preferences.  It’s easy to be enticed by shiny new toys but we must make sure there is a need and value for everyone not just because its ‘cool’.  People first, technology second.

Every organisation culture is different and there isn’t a one size fits all approach for internal communication. We must utilise technology and tools that fit our people, our organisations and also allow a true beneficial work-life balance.

In a world where change happens all the time, what are your top tips for helping to keep employees motivated and feeling inspired?

It feels like change is now business as usual in the working world.  This makes things really difficult for internal communicators and also us as people when nothing feels certain. Often communication is brought in at the end point when planning significant change and transformation programmes which is extremely damaging for its success.  We need to ensure we are brought in at the beginning to able to advise on the flow and tone of communication throughout this and it is fully considered in the planning process.

In some cases, keeping employees motivated and inspired through change can be really difficult.  We need to allow people to go through their emotions and help them navigate through the change curve but fundamentally we want honesty, authenticity and to feel part of the change not just an afterthought.

What’s your advice on helping organisations understand the value of internal communications?

People are one of the most important stakeholders in an organisation and if you want to achieve success you can’t do it without them.  As people we respond well to communication which makes us feel part of something it unlocks our productivity, allows us to be creative and collaborate to drive innovation, it makes us stay and speak positively about our organisation.

For organisations to be successful they need all these things so how we build relationships with our people will transform them.  In my opinion the best organisations are those that value their people with honest and authentic communication.