A dice with six showing
Internal Communication Strategy, The Profession

Six “near-myths” about internal communication

There are a lot of things that are believed about internal communication that are, at best, rarely true.

These beliefs undermine perceptions of #IC’s value and impact and make it difficult for real #internalcomms professionals to be effective. Yet they persist because they are easy to believe, and perhaps there are occasional bits of evidence that make them easy to believe.

That’s why I call them “near-myths” – in that they are mostly untrue and counterproductive.

I also argue that the continuing belief in them produces lousy results for organizations, and a lousy climate for IC pros to operate in.

Here are some of my favorites:

1. It’s a cost center

It can be a cost center when there’s no strategy or intent behind it. But when internal communication is focused on aligning organizational intent with the actions of staff, it can be an engine for cost optimization, or even cost reduction.

Why? Because it can help reduce the time employees spend on unproductive activity. And, as we know, “time is money.”

2. It should be under HR because “it’s a people thing”

Yes, “internal communication is a people thing.”

Kind of like “sales is a money thing.” But most organizations don’t put sales under finance.

Unless your company’s main differentiators are in the areas of culture and talent attraction and retention, internal communication can have more impact from reporting to whatever functions and activities are your biggest drivers.

That way, IC can help employees focus on the knowledge, behaviors and conversations that drive improvements in performance.


3. Anyone can do it – or you need tons of different skills to do it

There are a lot of people who think responsibility for internal communication can be delegated to a junior employee or even an intern. And others who come up with job specifications that imply that an IC professional has to be a flawless and proactive writer, event planner, graphic artist, project manager, and executive coach (at a salary in the range of a junior accountant or engineer).

These practices reflect a bigger near-myth: that there’s no value in treating IC as a strategic function, and of hiring IC professionals capable of going toe-to-toe with the C-suite on matters of policy and strategy and meriting inclusion in strategic conversations.


4. It should just be treated as a part of public relations

There’s certainly a need for internal communication to align with what’s being said to external stakeholders like customers, investigators and political decision-makers, and some may think it’s more efficient to just send your employees the information you send to other stakeholders, without making internal communication “a thing.”

But treating employees as one stakeholder group among many, and sharing just the same information with them neglects three important realities about employees:

  • Employees have a more-than-transactional relationship with their organizations and their jobs. For many, work is not a mere exchange of work for cash. Relationships matter. Shared values and objectives matter. Pride in a well-known or well-loved brand matters.
  • Employees own, or at least drive, your relationships with your customers. That means they need to be more knowledgeable than your customers are, to be able to answer their questions and maintain or increase customers’ confidence.
  • Employees are one of your leading external communication channels – talking about your company and your brand not only with customers, but also with their friends, families and neighbors.

5. Everybody understands what employee engagement is

There are persistent beliefs that there is a common definition of employee engagement, and that it can be credibly measured on a scale of 1-100.

But the people who push the use of employee engagement surveys define engagement in a number of different and conflicting ways. Like “discretionary effort”, “job satisfaction”, “commitment”, and “willingness to recommend their company” either to customers or potential employees. The almighty 1-100 scale belies startlingly different motivations employees have toward their jobs and their organizations.


6. You can’t measure the impact of internal communication

A lot of these near-myths are based on an implied foundation myth that “it’s impossible to actually measure the impact of internal communication.”

It’s true that it’s impossible to measure the impact of internal comms solely by using most of the measures that are commonly used: employee engagement scores, eNPS scores, click rates and open rates.

But it’s entirely possible to measure the impact of internal communication if you measure the changes that take place after you baseline what your world looks like before you start communication initiatives.

If you want to change behaviors, start by measuring the behaviors you want to change, before you start communicating about them.

Then communicate the changes you want to see, and measure the growth or decline in those behaviors as your communication efforts continue.

When you put your mind to it, it’s not only possible, it’s actually easy. And that’s what I teach in my Measurement Masterclass.


In closing

I know that these aren’t the only near-myths, or even, flat-out myths which people believe about internal communication. But if you want internal communication to move from being seen as a cost – or even as a nuisance, challenging these “near-myths” is critical to changing the game.


Want to change the game? Drop me a line at mike.klein@changingtheterms.com and let’s talk.

Insights, Internal Communication Strategy

M&A communication: what do you need to know to be effective?

M&A integration, and the internal and change communication that are essential to its success, is an enduring topic that communication leaders need to pay continuous attention to.

Having been involved in merger communication since the late ’90s, I’ve developed a number of insights and ideas about how communication professionals can best support effective M&A transactions.

Here are some questions and insights.

How are communications in mergers and acquisitions different to standard internal communications or change communication?

M&A essentially involves a minimum of 3 organizations (parties) simultaneously. The first two are the current acquirer and the acquiree, who both have their individual internal communication challenges, and the third is the vision of the future integrated organization.

The relationship between those three depends on the nature of the transaction; whether it’s an acquisition, a true merger, or a reverse takeover. The key difference in M&A internal communication is that you need to know which of those 3 organizations you’re dealing with at any given point in time.

Some acquirers will want to race to a superficial ‘integration’ too quickly, where the communications are integrated before the organization. This makes the look and feel of the transaction outpace the operational reality, and creates a gap that can be problematic internally and externally. Being able to balance these 3 parties effectively requires a great deal of strategic and political skill, both from a consulting perspective and an internal dynamics perspective.

Internal Communications are in a unique mediating position between C-Suite/Upper Level Management and the regular employee, and they need to be facilitate broad interaction between them. How does Internal Communications approach this?

There’s a lot of potential for conflict here between the C-Suite and employees. Most Merger & Acquisition situations are created because there’s room for efficiencies.

While the organization is thinking ambitiously and strategically, in the background the discussion is actually about ‘What’s going to happen to my job after this?’. The challenge there is being able to enroll employees in that more ambitious vision, into the logic of the transaction, and into the integration of the two different companies as being the best answer for the most employees.

If you’re not addressing job insecurity, that can feed into more insecurity. ‘We’re going to have a fantastic future, and you may or may not be part of it’ is not a good message. Beyond communications, it’s important to go in with a robust set of principles about how values will be considered and how employment decisions and will be taken.

How should you address job insecurity?

For the most part, you can’t address it immediately because you simply don’t know where the synergies are going to be. You may have inclinations based on the original goals of the integration and the extent people are part of that. The key thing is figuring out why the transaction is taking place, and having people principles that are better than standard. Don’t just do the legal minimum, it can have a massive negative impact.

Do you believe that there’s too much of a focus on the financial/strategic elements of a transaction and not enough of a focus on the people/culture elements?

The issue isn’t whether there’s enough of a focus on people and culture, it starts with the level of thought. There’s a lot of thought on maximizing the financial value of assets, but the reality is a lot of those assets are connected with people, values, culture and processes.

The asset itself is not always driving the value, and how to unlock this value isn’t always considered – most M&A’s just start with a desire to do so. This is where a lot of transactions go wrong. You buy a brand, and treat it as a logo, but you then get rid of what the logo has come to mean. Suddenly, that asset has lost all its value. You need to look at what you’re buying and who you’re buying, and not let the drive for efficiency kill the asset you’re acquiring.

When some employees hear the word ‘acquisition’, they immediately start packing up their desks. How can you anticipate these issues and prevent your top talent from leaving?

Top and mid-talent issues happen on both sides of the acquisition. Even people who would be interested in applying to one of these companies might stay away if they see impending M&A activity.

You need to be clear about what the ambitions are generally and what the processes are specifically, so that people can have some faith in the process and actively participate instead of leaving at the first opportunity.

How effective do you believe smaller team-building activities are to the success of an acquisition? Is it worth going into the forest and building a raft?

Variable. If your goal is to genuinely integrate as opposed to simply having a ‘business as usual’ arrangement, you first want to do an Organizational Network Analysis (ONA). ONA is essentially a form of organizational due diligence that identifies social patterns in at least one, but ideally in both of the companies involved.

ONA can surface the 3% of employees who drive 90% of conversations. If you can do that, you can get a much smaller group of people who can drive the integration on the basis of knowledge and connection, before you invite everybody to a resort to play paddle tennis.

Team Building can be useful, but trying to team-build tens of thousands of people can be superficial unless you do an ONA and find the people driving the organization on each side. This has become even more crucial in the wake of the dispersion of professional staff caused by the pandemic.

Will people be open to the possibility of integrating and forming these connections if you haven’t already communicated to them about job security? Can you communicate about these in tandem or does one come first?

You can’t communicate about job security first. You can’t know who’s staying and who’s leaving until you’ve done your ONA or your role mapping exercise and know about the value people bring. Even though most people will want to know what their status will be, they also know that the best way they can protect their status is to participate as well as they can, provided they have a meaningful way to do so and that the process isn’t disingenuous.

If people sense that the decision has already been made and they’re still being asked to participate as if it hadn’t, that can become a real problem. But if they see that it’s an ongoing process, they will participate more in that process.

Do you need to guarantee communication even if you can’t guarantee content, or is no news good news?

No, you need to be very clear about what your communication principles are. If you say ‘we will publish a regular communication on this specific day and it will be there’, it has to be there. Regular communication is an indicator of the seriousness of management.

Which is more important – the facts, or trying to be as empathetic as possible?

The facts should come first. You need to be cognizant of how people feel and not inflict additional pain onto that process.

In one merger I worked on, any bad news came from the acquiree and any good news came from the acquirer. That wasn’t accidental. The problem when you have corporate empathy is that it can come off more corporate instead of empathy. And there’s no value in injecting something like that into messages, it can make people not want to participate anymore.

When anything that can go wrong is going wrong, people are leaving, not buying into the vision, how should you approach that?

Eyes on the prize.

What do you want to achieve with this transaction and is that something people can genuinely align with and embrace?

Once you have an honest discussion about that, you rebuild the communications. This is where we’re going, this is why, this is how we’re going to treat people and this is what you get out of this.

It looks like remote work is going to be around for a while. How will this affect the future of internal communications in M&A?

Team integration is going to be an issue. How do you get people from Company A to be effective in Company B, not just doing the basics, but also understanding the processes and the people, and how they’re different from what they are used to in Company A? People need to be introduced to each other, there’s a human integration and a practical integration. You need to deal with this as being a distinct process.

What is the biggest difference between internal and external in an M&A context?

Employees on both sides are internal and external communications channels, despite any caution you may give them.

If you’re at a backyard barbecue and ask what’s happening at Company A, the employee will tell you, and it could spread, potentially to a competitor. You have to treat employees as an external communication channel. You also want to have a powerful, consistent and coherent story shared formally and officially through your channels, and have a distinct look and feel, providing it is ideologically consistent.

What is the worst possible mistake you could make?

Overselling the acquirer.

Talking about how great and nice they are in the absence of any tangible policies, principles and intentions. If you create an inconsistency about the acquirer, you will have an extremely difficult problem on your hands.

What are your tips for success?

Really getting to know the organization.

Qualitative interviews, getting a sense of what people would like the new organization to be, being prepared to listen and being seen as a company that listens.

Being generous towards people who are departing.

You do those things, and you will have a very different atmosphere than when you are trying to make a conquest out of it. Do your ONA, and figure out who not to fire. If you fire one of the 3% that drives 90%, you’ve said goodbye to a big chunk of the value of that merger.

What would be your message to help people understand the value of Internal Communications in M&A situations?

Penny-pinching on internal communications could be the biggest waste of money in the acquisition.

Putting somebody who’s used to doing regular internal communications in charge of an M&A internal comms scenario is like taking somebody from a game of checkers into 3-dimensional chess, because there are a lot of different interactions.

The social dynamic is completely different in an M&A scenario.

Is it better to be honest or to be optimistic?

You can be both. Where you have to be cautious is that one person’s positive can be another person’s negative. If you’re doubling the size of a regional HQ in Amsterdam, that’s great for Amsterdam. It’s not great for someone at the other regional HQ in Paris, because they might assume that Paris doesn’t have much of a future. How you handle this really starts with nailing the people principles. Reduce the ambiguity, give people reassurance, tell them how decisions will be made and treat them well.

With thanks to Tara Sabic.

An earlier version of this article was published on LinkedIn

Insights, Internal Communication Strategy, The Profession

Why quantitative research alone doesn’t tell the whole story: the IC Index and the need for caution

One of the biggest issues with using purely quantitative surveys for insights about communication is that what they don’t tell us can be more pertinent than what they actually say.

The recently-released IC Index report, based on a UK-focused study looking at internal communication, is a case in point. 

It hit the streets this summer with a considerable amount of fanfare.  Conducted by London-based employee research firm Ipsos Karian and Box, involving 3000 respondents and collected with the backing of the Institute of Internal Communication, it purports to provide “a UK-wide employee view of what good communication looks like.”

As such, it is not an insignificant piece of research. But by looking only at employee preferences – and particularly at employee ratings and rankings of desirable channels and tactics,it overlooks or glosses over some crucial issues IC pros need to consider when formulating strategies and assessing priorities. 

Here are some insights that become clear on reading the IC Index report – none of which were included in the report’s own text.

  1. Employee content preferences do not (always) equal strategic priorities

Naturally, employee preferences need to be taken into consideration when formulating internal communication strategies.  

But if internal communication is going to be a function that helps move the business forward, and delivers measurable impact on performance, it needs to help leaders to lead at least as much as it helps followers to follow.  

A look at the top employee-preferred topics by “net demand” (the difference between employees seeking more information on a topic and those desiring less) not surprisingly noted communication about pay and benefits as a runaway favorite, well ahead of second choice “my organization’s strategy and direction.”  

Choices in the bottom half included “external context”, “how my organization is helping customers,” “my organization’s achievements and successes”, “my organization’s purpose and mission,” and “my organization’s values and culture.”  

All of these are items which, in my experience at least, register more highly on leadership’s agenda – and are key to driving alignment both strategically and operationally.

  1. Employee “general” format preferences tell us little about specific needs

In the IC Index, the results appear to show a strong preference for email.  

But this preference reflects responses to the question of “Which of the following do you prefer to to receive general news and updates about or from your employer?” – and where the options are “emails”, “1-2-1s with my line manager,” “company newsletters,” “team meetings,” and “my colleagues (word of mouth).

I don’t deny the importance of email – indeed, my #WeLeadComms project is sponsored by #Workshop, one of the more innovative email platforms on the market.

But given that this question only probes “general news and updates,” the IC index tells us little about what types of messages employees prefer to come from which channel, and nothing about which channel actually delivers specific types of messages most effectively.  

Also, by focusing on current employee preferences, the IC Index downplays the attractiveness of comprehensive employee communication platforms, as these have still to become fully widespread in the UK.  Indeed, many of the respondents sharing opinions about employee communication platforms have never actually experienced them – thus making their preferences hypothetical at best.

  1. Asking employees if they are clear on the company strategy does not mean they are clear on the company strategy

One of the major flaws in quantitative employee surveys is that, rather than checking genuine understanding of such details as strategies and priorities, they simply ask respondents whether they feel they understand or are clear about strategies and priorities.

The IC Index gives a 57% “positive” rating to the question “my employer has been clear on the organisation’s strategy and business priorities.”  But research done at MIT showed that only 28% of executives and managers executing strategy could list three strategic priorities.  

  1. All employees are not equal – especially when it comes to consuming and sharing content.

There is a lot of emphasis placed in the report on the IC Index’s findings about the amount of time that respondents self-reported that they engaged with “internal comms” content – with the headline for that section being “You have 15 minutes (or less!)”

The actual results are quite a bit more nuanced than that.  The Index says:

25% say “none-hardly any time”

43% say “up to 15 minutes per day”

23% say 15-30 minutes per day 

7% say 30-60 minutes per day

2% say over an hour per day.

Rather than looking at these results from a “you have 15 minutes or less to engage with each employee” perspective, an alternative approach involves recognizing:

  • About 10% of your people engage deeply with your content
  • 25% essentially pick up all of their company information by word of mouth
  • Any gaps in the formal internal communication are likely to be filled with interpretations shared via word-of-mouth

If you buy the interpretation that we need to make the bulk of IC interventions more “snackable” – you also can’t overlook the fact that word of mouth will be the main way employees will get any substance beyond the initial “snack.”

Moreover, the key isn’t to assume every employee takes 15 minutes to engage with their companies’ internal communication and boil everything down so that everyone gets the same pre-digested 15 minutes of content.  

It’s about making sure that the two minutes, fifteen minutes or sixty minutes that they engage with your content actually count.

  1. The IC Index plays on preferences to dangerously downplay word-of-mouth

It does not surprise me that only 9% of index respondents consider word-of-mouth a preferred communication channel, or that 19% say that they rely upon it.  

But unless companies are to suddenly decide to make all employee communication 100% transparent and 100% “snackable”, word-of-mouth and internal influence will continue to play a critical – and largely misunderstood – role in internal communication, particularly in driving the penetration and recall of internal messaging even by those who shy away from engaging with formal internal communication.  

Because effectively influencing internal word of mouth also involves engaging a relatively small number of highly influential “internal influencers”, focusing on improving internal influence can be a highly cost-effective and time-effective approach to sharpening internal communication and increasing alignment.  

But you wouldn’t pick that up from the IC Index.

  1. The “not-so-magificent seven” paints a rosier picture than warranted

I’m not a huge fan of Net Promoter Score (NPS) or its internal version, eNPS.

But given its reliance on the traditional 1-10 sentiment scale, the most attractive feature of the NPS is that it only ascribes genuinely positive feelings to those giving answers of 9-10, while those at 7-8 are considered “passives” at best, and those below 7 are considered negative or “detractors.”

The one-to-five scale used by Trustpilot and TripAdvisor addresses this more visibly. A 3.5 (the equivalent of a 7 in the IC Index) is not considered an “excellent” score when a 4 is considered the norm in all but the most problematic cases. 

Yet the IC Index insists on considering 7s as “excellent” scores in order to paint a favorable picture of the status-quo thinking pushed through the report’s narrative.  

In the section “The big picture looks good”, all of the sectors mentioned achieved “excellent” ratings from at least 50% of respondents.  But, I suspect, those numbers would plunge if 7s were treated as more neutral (or, as they are in less-trusted employee engagement surveys, treated as politely hostile.)  

In closing

I do not deny the value of the IC Index – particularly as a baseline for measuring the changes improved IC technologies and more resilient cultures could bring in the future.  

But it has the potential to become a charter for complacency, particularly when it comes to the crucial role of internal influence and the opportunities presented by improved technology.

Its omissions – and the report’s generally cheerful tone – could lead practitioners to overaccentuate their strategies towards current preferences rather than future opportunities. 

The report also serves as a cautionary example to internal communication pros to consider adding qualitative questions to their own research to help put quantitative findings into a genuinely meaningful context.

Insights, Internal Communication Strategy

How to avoid screwing up internal communication measurement


For many years, measurement has been a source of frustration when it comes to internal communication and organizational alignment.

Embedded analytics and easy online survey questions can be helpful in adding numbers to the internal communication story. But using them without strategic intent and thought makes them a potential trap for internal communication pros.

It’s a trap that can actually limit the power and impact of internal communication measurement activity by emphasizing what’s easier to measure over what’s meaningful to measure.

To avoid this trap, here are some measurement tips that will help your objectives and ambitions drive the process, rather than have it be driven by what’s easier to measure.

• Drive the measurement agenda

Doing that is simple – choose what gets measured, or at least make sure that some of the things that get measured are actionable, and show a direct relationship between your contribution and the organization’s results.

• Don’t benchmark, baseline.

There’s another trap that a lot of organizations fall into – the desire to benchmark performance and attitudes relative to “similar” companies – sector competitors, other large companies based in the same country being popular targets.

A real pitfall of benchmarking is the need to use common questions (or, even a common research vendor) rather than to ask questions that are specific to an organization’s own reality and context.

Baselining is far more important – asking a given question before the organization or its communicators starts take action to address the issue being examined. Good baselining and tracking allows the ability to measure the impact of your involvement over time – and also the impact of specific one-off interventions.

• Use different types of questions and measures 

There are a lot of different data sources available to an enterprising communicator.

Aside from embedded analytics, one can use surveys to address different types of questions: open-ended questions (where participants are given limited guidance about answers), open-ended lists (where participants are asked to supply several different answers), closed-ended questions where participants select the “right” answer, and ranked lists which test alignment in direct way. Add in the ability to monitor enterprise search terms on an ongoing basis – a potent source of information that can be tapped into silently but powerfully.

What to not do.

Don’t ask people what they think they know.

Earlier in my career, when I was working on organizational change programs with certain (nameless) large consultancies, I was stunned by the surveys they used.

They would ask questions like “Have you heard about the change?” and my personal favorite: “Do you understand the change?: • Aside from being non-specific about what “change” they were asking about, these questions asked participants to out themselves as ignorant, stupid or both.

Don’t do this.

Better to ask another type of question and see how close people are to the official explanation of what they are being asked about.

Measurement is an activity that has tremendous potential to support internal communicators in delivering more effectively, and help them prove their value more convincingly to senior leadership and management.

But to do that successfully, communication pros need to avoid the “measurement trap” that easily accessed data with limited relevance can set.

By following these four steps, IC pros can raise their game – and have the words and numbers at hand that demonstrate their impact.

If you want to navigate and find opportunities in the worlds of measurement, strategy, content or messaging in internal communication, start with my measurement masterclass.

Or, if you’d like to talk, send me a note at mike.klein@changingtheterms.com.