Is internal comms dead?

with 5 Comments


Someone has to ask.

It wasn’t that long ago I was explaining to clients where “internal communications” came from.  It was a “discipline”, it came from the business realisation that people were a key part of their asset portfolio… and now that we had driven down supply costs, making people more efficient had to do with Internal Communications.

But it’s been at least five years since we first started moving away from the term “internal communications”.  Two years ago we abandoned it altogether.


Because it is explicitly incorrect.

Internal communications is seen (and too often performed) as a task akin to managing the plumbing or electricity.  You stand at the top and turn on the tap and/or flip the switch.  On and off.  Off and on.  The information flows down.  If it doesn’t make it to every corner of the building you go and investigate.

And that is how many executives understand it.  Certainly that is how many Internal Communications roles are staffed.

Social media is just one example of how this isn’t working, but there are others.  Recent safety issues are a better example: you don’t get safety by decree.  Engagement presents more problems.

However the fundamental issue is this: Internal Communications as generally practiced cannot and does not help the business to succeed.  In fact, it may be doing the opposite.

It’s 7:35, 06 October 2010.  Internal Communications is dead.


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5 Responses

  1. Adam Hibbert

    About time too.

    ‘Employee dialogue’, anyone?

  2. @tokes

    How about IC = ‘Internal Conversations’?!

    I wouldn’t say the function is dead more its focus has changed. For example as businesses become more ‘social’ I see IC as growing more akin to a Community Manager – seeding, facilitating and stimulating conversation between employees, as opposed reporting, broadcasting etc.

  3. @kev_mcdougall

    @tokes – agree with you 100%

  4. David Ferrabee

    Most of what people now recognise and seek as Internal Communications has already been surpassed by events. Like VHS for a world that has gone on-demand.

    Many Internal Comms people are actually providing services that businesses don’t need: magazines, intranets, email newsletters… A cacophony of media and information that are just an echo chamber for old messages… Or serve only as ‘vanity publishing’.

    So there is a lot of reporting on prizes, profiles and picnics. While the actual conversations that drive the business are happening somewhere else.

    Operational issues are being discussed as part of regular business conversations. Change programmes are being driven by their own communications (or none). And the company strategy is being carried about by the CEO in a lonely vigil that Internal Communications teams are not tending to.

    Instead we often see central teams of people creating random video libraries and social media storms that will be the future empty halls of information.

    There is no one narrative any more. It can’t be owned by anyone. Internal Comms people can only feed and foster communications. They can’t own it.

    And that’s a real shame because people come in to work to work (not to make friends) and they want to know how they can be more successful, how they can make the business more successful. They want to learn. They want to try new things. They want to be challenged and they want to have a role in making the organisation successful. Not a certificate, or a soft toy.

    As a result, the emphasis will probably move away from internal comms – embarrassingly, only about a decade after most people even heard mention of it. Emphasis will move to change communications. Operational and strategy communications will be where organisations need to focus.

    I do find this unsettling, because I feel like I was there at the hey-day of Internal Communications. I have travelled to five continents to talk to people about it. I’ve been involved in some of the key debates.

    But hey, adapt or die.

  5. sean trainor

    I guess you now feel like you are ‘there’ at the hey-day of change communications (whatever that is?)

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