Communication field guide: internal communication
When we talk about ‘industry’, we’re basically referring to professional job scopes that require communication in a significant and formalised manner. Everyone needs to communicate of course, but there are certain roles in which the need is more formalised than others. In a business or organisational context, this ‘professional’ communication is usually broken down into two types: internal and external communication. Internal communication is also generally referred to as organisational communication: how people communicate within an organisation. This could be a small family business, a government body, or a large corporation.
Analysing internal communication
The study and practice of internal/organisational communication is vast and diverse. From a management perspective, which generally aims to make an organisation meet its aims (usually financial and operational) more effectively, organisational communication is often about streamlining processes and making them more efficient and productive. From a sociological perspective, internal/organisational communication is closely linked with organisational culture.
In our opinion, the management perspective ignores the sociological perspective at its own risk, because a process — whether it works or not — is often the external expression of something under the surface: for example, how people function within the culture of the organisation, how hierarchies are set up, how people negotiate power and trust, or whether the individual’s needs are being met. The ethnographic method is incredibly useful when studying internal communication because it addresses the sociological and cultural issues rather than just looking at productivity and output, which tend to be symptoms rather than root causes of issues.
Forms of internal communication
In very practical terms, internal communication usually takes place in the form of: email, memos, circulars, company intranet, messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Slack, or Gchat, a poster on a notice board, a poster in the lift at the office, meetings, employee newsletters, employee events, annual dinners, speeches, face-to-face conversations, standard operating procedures, employee handbooks — you get the picture.
The goals of internal communication
Internal communication often has very clear functional and practical goals — mostly, it’s about getting things done and making sure that it’s business as usual. Some of these are about everyday operations but also about making sure that there’s buy-in for things like regulations and safety procedures (especially if they’re newly-instituted). Organisational communication also influences other things.
One of these things is often called employee engagement: getting people in the business or organisation to feel invested in their work, feel a sense of belonging, and feel valued. Internal branding is another term that’s often used in this context, and it is about helping people in the organisation understand what’s happening and what the organisation stands for, and why. This could be very useful when an organisation is conducting new initiatives or going through major changes, but it’s also necessary during the ‘on-boarding’ or orientation process for new employees.
Who’s in charge of internal communication?
In large organisations, Human Resources departments are usually at the core of internal communication. But depending on the nature and goals of the communication, there are likely to be other departments involved. For example, there could be a health and safety department that needs to communicate safety procedures to employees. There could be a corporate communications department that feels that employees don’t understand the core values of the company and there needs to be more education and awareness.
Or the leadership team of an organisation may need to communicate internally to everyone. In a smaller organisation, these functions can be subsumed by individual people or by one person.