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10 Ways Internal Communicators Can Have More Influence

Simon Rutter

Award-winning Sr Communications Strategist

24 Oct 2023

Communications Strategist Simon Rutter shares some of the ways internal communicators can have more influence in today’s working world.

Internal communications has been having a moment since Covid began. The initial surge in over-communicating was driven by the desire of organizations to reassure their employees (where they could), keep them engaged, and help them remain focused and productive during the most destabilizing global crisis of modern times. 

Now, as we settle into a post-pandemic world, the question is not whether internal communications adds strategic value to a company. But there is a big difference between having a seat at the table, and influencing business decisions. Why else would 40% of internal communications professionals in this report say that the role of IC is falling further down the list of their organization’s priorities? 

So, the big issue facing internal communicators now is, how can you have more influence, and therefore greater impact? 

In this blog we’re going to explore 10 ways that internal communicators can do this, with some quick tips to get you started. 

1. Understand how your business operates 

If you want to communicate about a business to its people, you need to understand how it operates. This means having a good knowledge of your business strategy, products, services, financials, and operations. For example, do you know how your business makes its money? Do you know its target customers and marketing mix? In my experience, internal communicators often know a lot about your organization’s purpose, culture, and values, as that is what you typically spend a lot of your time trying to get employees engaged with. But it is just as important that you understand how your business operates.  

How can I do this? Quick tips

  • Read your company’s annual report and financial results  
  • Shadow salespeople on calls/field visits  
  • Talk to customers/listen to customer calls  

2. Talk the language of your business 

Following on from the previous point, whenever communicating, especially with leaders, use the language of the business. This doesn’t mean adopt jargon, it’s about making sure that your strategy, messaging, or points are relevant to your audience. Leaders especially are time poor, and need quick answers they can readily understand. If you can speak the language of the C-Suite, it will demonstrate you have a good grasp of how the company operates, and are bringing ideas and solutions that are addressing real business problems. By doing this, you are far more likely to be listened to, and your input and ideas taken on board. 

How can I do this? Quick tips

  • Spend time with leaders and pick up on the language they use 
  • Re-read your written communications before submitting to leaders 
  • Pay attention to the most influential leaders, and the language they use  

3. Align internal communications strategy to business strategy 

The role of internal communications is to ensure that every employee understands the business strategy and their role in delivering it. So, firstly, internal communicators need to understand your organization’s strategy (Point 1 above) and explicitly connect the main pillars of your communications strategy to support those of the company (see this excellent blog for more on why this is crucial). Secondly, it’s about understanding, within the context of the corporate strategy, what your company really wants internal communications to deliver. For some companies it’s all about engagement, for others the focus is on risk and reputation. Whatever it is, putting that at the heart of your strategy will show your organization exactly how internal communications will support its objectives, and thereby increase your influence. 

How can I do this? Quick tips

  • Use the same pillars for your strategy as the corporate strategy 
  • Where possible, use the same or similar words in your strategy 
  • Ask the business what it really needs internal communications to deliver 

4. Say ‘no’  

Much easier said than done, but if you have aligned with the business on your strategy so that everyone has clarity on the role of internal communications, then you have a basis for saying ‘no’.  So, if/when the business asks you to do something outside your strategy, you can ask questions such as ‘Ok, which priority does this replace?’. In doing so, you’re educating the business that internal communications is a strategic function working to an agreed set of priorities, and that requests outside this scope need to be treated exactly as they would with another function – via re-contracting, or increasing resources to meet additional requirements. Say ‘no’ and you will be taken more seriously, and your influence will increase exponentially.  

How can I do this? Quick tips

  • Know your strategy inside out   
  • Get written approval on it from leaders 
  • Practise saying ‘no’ to smaller, everyday tasks outside your scope to build your confidence  

5. Be data-driven 

We live in a world awash with data, so it has never been easier to measure the effectiveness of internal communications on business goals, and thereby increase your authority, reputation, and influence. It starts with ensuring you are clear in your strategy about what you are going to measure, why, and how. If the business has asked you to focus on risk, make it clear what elements within that you will focus on measuring, and how – the sources you’re going to use, the frequency you’ll report out, etc. Using data about best practices and benchmarks can also be influential, particularly if you’re trying to highlight a specific issue or request extra resources (more on the importance of data here).  

How can I do this? Quick tips

  • Understand the various measurement options available via your channels 
  • Regularly review your metrics and check they are still the right ones 
  • Use visuals to show key data points

6. Lead organization-wide change and transformation programs 

As I shared in this blog, organization-wide transformations are increasing in frequency and intensity. Whether it’s the rollout of a new strategy or a culture change, internal communications should lead on the communication element of these programs. For various reasons, often internal communications teams find themselves simply pushing pre-agreed messages out. Instead, a great way to gain influence upstream is to proactively get involved in these programs from the start, shaping not just the communications but the business strategy behind them, as a key partner. Internal communicators bring unique insight and perspective that should fundamentally influence business choices, as well as how they’re going to be received by employees. The earlier internal communications are involved in the process, the more impact you will have. 

How can I do this? Quick tips

  • Find out what changes leaders are planning as early as you can 
  • Review the success or failure of previous changes, and share this data 
  • Include change programs within your internal communications strategy 

7. Embrace branding – corporate, consumer, employer 

Branding in any form – corporate, consumer, employer – has never been more important for businesses who need to stand out in a crowded, noisy, and attention-starved world. Branding is inherently strategic, and typically high profile, high impact, and monitored closely by leaders. By getting involved in this work from the outset, internal communicators can have more influence on brand strategy and execution, bring complementary skills to marketing colleagues, and ensure employee advocacy is baked in, thereby playing an essential part in the success of any campaign. Branding is a constant for businesses, so your influence will also be sustainable. 

How can I do this? Quick tips

  • Connect with colleagues in your marketing/brand teams
  • Share your strategies and plans 
  • Ask to be involved from the beginning in any major brand/campaign work 

8. Surface employee sentiment 

In recent years, companies have been on heightened alert for their employees’ views on issues such as inclusion, mental health, and hybrid working. Indeed, since the pandemic 75% of employees say they feel more socially isolated, 57% feel greater anxiety and 53% are emotionally exhausted. As a result, listening activities and platforms have proliferated, alongside the growth of employee activism through such things as ERGs (Employee Resource Groups). Internal communicators have unparalleled knowledge of employees through a range of feedback mechanisms, which means you are uniquely positioned to share employee views with leaders. Having your finger on the pulse of the organization in this way should be used to increase your influence on business decisions, ensuring employee sentiment is factored in. 

How can I do this? Quick tips

  • Have a range of channels for capturing employee feedback 
  • Ensure they cover quantitative and qualitative measures
  • Share sentiment with leaders as early as possible to influence decisions 

9. Key role in employee experience 

Employee experience is becoming a key battleground for employers, who are trying to differentiate themselves and attract talent in a tough market by delivering a more consistent, positive, and sustainable workplace. While employee experience is not owned by internal communicators, you play a vital role at every stage of the employee lifecycle, whether that’s through onboarding (which only 12% of employees feel their company does a great job at), manager communications, or new channels. Working more closely with colleagues in IT and HR to conceive and implement a winning employee experience, which can give your business a competitive edge, will therefore elevate the influence and reach of internal communicators. 

How can I do this? Quick tips

  • If the work hasn’t already begun, start researching employee experience 
  • If it has, get involved asap 
  • Incorporate employee experience into your internal communications strategy 

10. Bring the outside in 

Internal communicators are by nature inwardly focused on the needs of the business. The final way to increase your influence is to be constantly scanning the outside world, keeping an eye on emerging trends, and sharing how they might benefit your organization. It could be AI, hybrid, different generations in the workplace, it doesn’t matter (the Institute of Internal Communications and Chartered Institute of Public Relations are two great places to start.) If you can show you’re aware of the hot topics, that you’re thinking about them before they potentially become challenges or crises and can already start to see their possible impacts and opportunities, then the business will see you as a trusted advisor who can help them get ahead of transformational shifts. Do this, and your influence will multiply overnight. 

How can I do this? Quick tips

  • Set aside time each day to read the news  
  • Scan future-focused research from the likes of Harvard Business Review, McKinsey etc. 
  • Regularly share and test your emerging thinking with leaders  

The future of internal communication

There so many tried and tested, and new and exciting ways for internal communicators to have more influence. In this rapidly evolving Future of Work, the possibilities come as quickly as the challenges. The key question for internal communicators now is, where do you want to have more influence in order to make the biggest impact?