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Internal communications: helping organisations be more than the sum of their parts

Natalia Graur

Can you imagine what you’ll be doing in twenty, ten or even five years’ time? I thought I could. Then I attended the IoIC Live 2019 conference run by the Institute of Internal Communication (IoIC), where a fascinating session explained why internal communications won’t exist in twenty years’ time, and what we’ll all be doing instead.

As a passionate internal communications professional working in the not-for-profit sector, I was taken aback upon hearing my job might be obsolete in a few years. While it might have been a transformational discussion for all the wrong reasons, it instead was inspirational for all the right reasons.

When done well, internal communications can make a huge difference in people’s lives (especially when we consider that a third of our lives is spent at work) and to organisations’ impact. Working in internal communications in a mission-driven global movement such as Transparency International, for me showing impact through our communications is critical.

Now more than ever, as we approach the end of Transparency International’s current strategic cycle, internal communications has a vital role in shaping a shared understanding about the anti-corruption agenda and the role of our movement beyond 2020. While this is clear, the exchange with my peers at the IoIC Live 2019 made me pause and reflect. If internal communications won’t exist in 20 years’ time, what will replace it? Will it merge with external communications? Will it be made obsolete by bots and artificial intelligence? Whatever it mutates into, I believe the essence of internal communications — connecting, engaging and building a shared understanding — will remain critical for organisational success in the future.

“Internal communication is in a moment and we have an opportunity to make a real difference in the future of working lives”, concluded Jennifer Sproul at the end of the IoIC Live 2019.

I see three ways in which internal communications can make a difference in the future of a global movement like Transparency International.

Show the passion

We bring our whole selves to work. If you work in the not-for-profit sector, the mission of your organisation is the number one motivation. In a movement like Transparency International, one of our biggest drivers is passion for social justice. From access to healthcare, education and basic services, the daily lives of people would be greatly improved in a world free of corruption.

My colleagues in Chile Transparente put it this way: “It’s not just another job in the world; it is a job to change the world.” Internal communications can elevate this passion by celebrating impact and professional excellence by anti-corruption fighters around the world, such as our colleagues from TI Brazil and I Watch in Tunisia. It can remind us what the bigger goal is and why it is so important. More than this though, internal communications should inspire us to keep going even if there are setbacks and success is hard to achieve.

Left to right: Helen Appleton, Rhiannon Lewis and Natalia Graur at the IoIC Live 2019. Image by ioic_uk.

Simply communicate

The lines between external and internal communications are blurring. I tend to agree with the prediction made by Jon Simons, Laura Low and Ben Keohane during IoIC Live 2019: in the future, it will be about communications, without the distinction of “external” and “internal”. To take us there, both — external and internal communications — must learn from each other’s strengths.

External communication crafts targeted and clear messages to build the organisational narrative — to tell the story. Internal communication strives to align the stories to the values and purpose that drive us. At Transparency International, sometimes conversations that start on our internal social network spark interesting stories that are later shared on our external communications channels, including our blog, Voices. In other cases, the impact shared on Twitter sparks an internal exchange within the organisation on lessons learned. Staff and volunteers use all these channels regularly, further blurring the lines. While internal and external communications continue to merge, I still believe there will be a need for distinct engagement with our different audiences. As Rachel Miller and Saskia Jones ask on All Things IC, “[w]hat do we want our audiences to know, feel and do because of our communication?”

Shape the digital workplace

Our future lives, private and working, are becoming digital. Internal communications can and should help colleagues embrace and ethically use digital tools to deliver on our mission. Digital tools make it much easier to connect colleagues across the world in a united movement against corruption. They enable us to reach out to each other directly and to share knowledge. The answer to any of our queries is a swipe or click away.

In the future, it might be a bot answering the query, not necessarily a colleague. Would we feel more comfortable interacting with a bot than with a colleague? Would this help provide answers in a non-biased way? IBM’s Silvia Cambie hit the nail on the head when she shared at the IoIC Live 2019 conference that internal communicators have a role to play in ensuring that the digital workplaces of tomorrow align to our organisations’ values and ethics.

So why is internal communication important for a movement like Transparency International?

Because without it, we are just the sum of our parts.

Going forward, I see internal communications at the crossroads between technology, human resources and strategy. Internal communication brings it all together, shows how it matters, and motivates us to keep going. There’s no other (work) place I’d rather be than in internal communications helping to shape its trajectory over the coming years.

Follow me on Twitter @NataliaGraur

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