The End of Internal Communication?

In 1989, at the end of Cold War, Francis Fukuyama famously proclaimed the “end of history”.

But, having just visited Russia and purchased a “Crimea is Ours” refrigerator magnet, I can assure you that history is alive and well and has a bright future.

Similarly, some say that due to certain “inevitable” forces, we are due to see the end of the internal communicator.

Some are saying the death knell will come from the blurring of the lines between internal and external communication, others claim that the adoption of purpose-based leadership, the embrace of enterprise social networks, or the ultimate, glorious triumph of Employee Engagement (depending on which definition of it one chooses, Elizabeth Lupfer’s list of 50 definitions being far from exhaustive).

But coordination and coherence rarely happens organically.  Organizations do not change and refocus spontaneously.  Purposes and values can get agreed, but then the question gets asked. “Now what?” Or, then “how are we going to do that?”  And even when leaders seize the bullhorn and take over the lead advocate role themselves, one advocate does not make a conversation. The power of the advocate’s voice becomes diminished when he is left to communicate tactical as well as strategic information in his own voice rather than as  the lead voice in an open but structured discussion.

Some may think the blurring between internal communication and external communication is what means death for the internal communicator.  But whether one regards internal communicators well as a species relative to our external counterparts, we have some advantages in this respect.  Breaking down the internal-external wall ultimately means bringing customers and stakeholders into the heart of the organisation, and it means unleashing employees as advocates and exemplars.

Both of those movements speak to the natural orientations of the internal rather than the external communicator.  Internal communication takes place within a bounded universe, whether it is a company, community or a  specific market.  The boundary is not being erased, it is simply becoming broader and more porous.  The fundamentals of identifying individuals and knowing whether to communicate directly or indirectly remain the same, and the maturation of the use of employees as an outward communication channel requires deep, robust and interactive communication among employees as well as between them, their leaders and their brands.

True, internal communication will see some change.  Lateral communication will finally be taken seriously.  Leader communication will integrate hierarchical and lateral communication.  And high-value customers and stakeholders will increasingly be treated as integral “parts of the family,” addressed from an internal as well as an external mindset.

But alignment, change, and dialogue will continue to require structure, support and coordination, regardless of technology, philosophy or organisational structure. Spontaneity and intrinsic self-motivation will not change that, or mark the “end of internal communication.”  We are alive and well, and we have a bright future.

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