I haven’t reviewed a book on the topic of internal communication and yet it’s a vital element of marketing, branding, organisational culture, change management and leadership. This contemporary book (published in 2021) is just 200 pages and is subtitled “Streamline your corporate communication to drive efficiency and engagement”. So here’s a book review: Influential internal communication by Jenni Field. What books would you recommend for internal communications in professional services firms?
About the author
The author supports business leaders and created The Field Model framework (“how to diagnose the chaos and create a sense of calm”), the IC Crowd (a Twitter community) and podcast “Calm Edged Rebels”. She’s a former president of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR).
Aims of the book
She starts with a bold claim for the book: “to transform your organisation using influential internal communications”. No doubt hoping to reposition internal communications to a more strategic function. We witnessed the critical importance of internal communications during the Covid pandemic (research carried out by The Institute of Internal Communication (IoIC) suggests internal communications benefitted from the Covid-19 pandemic) and know just how important internal communications is for employee engagement – not least when embarking on major change programmes.
The internal communications model
The author’s Field Model has three elements – Understand, Diagnose and Fix. As such it is relevant for those interested in consulting models and skills. The model covers both the impact of the leadership team and individual styles. The options for fixes covers a variety of areas such as upskilling, leadership communication, consistency and commitment, culture, respect, prioritization and organizational structure.
The author draws on an astonishing array of established insight and contemporary research from across the globe from well-known experts in neuroscience, vulnerability, motivation, chaos and data.
Part One – Foundations
The Introduction to internal communications mentions that is often part of PR (Public Relations) and can also be linked to HR (Human Resources). It notes that employees have a different relationship with the organization from customers.
The author’s definition: ”Internal communication includes everything that gets said and shared inside an organization. As a function, its role is to curate, enable and advise on best practice for organizations to communicate effectively, efficiently and in an engaging way”.
The Institute of Internal Communication’s (IoIC) definition: “At the most basic level, you have to communicate well at the right time so employees know what is expected of them and what is happening in the organization. At a deeper level, for employees to feel engaged with their workplace and give their best, they have to see that their organization cares about their views and understand how their role contributes towards overall business objectives”.
It then outlines five reasons why internal communications is important today: economic climate, delivering a great customer experience, democratic/consultative style, new technology and frequent change.
It considers the various professional bodies with an internal communications focus: CIPD (1913), CIPR (1948), PRCA (1969) and IABC (1938). And there’s the IoIC’s profession map (see above) showing core, technical and behaviour skills – which is similar to the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s (CIM) professional competences structure. Empathy, listening and tenacity are also mentioned.
Fitzpatrick and Valskov’s (2014) eight golden rules are included:
- It’s about results and outcomes, not activity
- It’s about the business
- We don’t drive with our eyes shut (know your audience)
- People have two ears and one mouth (listen)
- Come with data, leave with respect
- Line managers matter
- There is no silver bullet
- What we do matters
And the 2017 research by CIPR into CEO views are shared. And there’s a nod to communications theory. Six foundations for impactful communication are listed:
- Focus on the audience
- Set a clear goal
- Get the tone right
- Keep it simple
- Structure to make your point
- Adapt to the medium
There’s a review of communication channels (listing Gallagher’s list of 29) and a nod to culture. There’s an explanation of the differences between internal communication, employee engagement and employee experience.
Macleod and Clarke’s report (2009) shows strong links to bottom line and productivity when companies dedicate resource to ensure employees are engaged.
There’s a model for an internal communications plan and strategy – aligned to business strategy and addressing all stakeholders:
- Business intelligence
“Without communication there is chaos” is the second chapter which also states: “Chaos and constant change are the same thing”. Toxic chaos reports are shared on the Glassdoor employee review web site (Best Places to Work | Glassdoor). Carillion and Patisserie Valerie are mentioned. There’s a comparison of MBI (Management By Instruction), MBO (Management By Objectives) and MBV (Management By Values) which should resonate with professional services firms. A table shows how communication is the antidote to chaos.
The third chapter is on “Understanding organizations and leadership” and starts with Mintzberg’s six basic components of an organization: strategic apex, middle line, operating core, technostructure, support staff and ideology. The focus here is on business intelligence. “Leadership and communication go hand in hand” sets the scene for servant leadership and the role of empathy and accountability. Amongst the missing skills of managers the author lists – making time for the team, if you don’t know ask for help, be accountable and make others accountable.
There’s an interesting quote for our remote working world: “Research from the Remotely Interested Report (2019) into communicating with deskless workers showed that the line manager as a communicator is so important that it impacts the effectiveness of all other communication channels in the organization”. There are references to Simon Sinek and the importance of emotions as well as psychological safety.
Six leadership skills to master are listed: compassion, look after yourself, respect, time and attention management, self-awareness and listening. The role of community, gossip and belief are touched on and there’s reference to Dunbar’s Law (see Client relationship management (CRM) – how many close social (kimtasso.com)).
There’ an interesting section on generations in the work place – looking at particular at Generation Y and Z and their channel preferences (there’s further great insight into this here: Book review: Digital Body Language – How to build trust by Erica Dhawan (kimtasso.com))
Chapter 4 is on “Understanding People”. There’s a swift overview of neuroscience which talks about the human need for information and certainty. Fairness, community, ambiguity, curiosity and motivation are reviewed.
The author lists the Hilary Scarlett’s SPACES theory linked to neuroscience for organizational change: Self-esteem, Purpose, Autonomy, Certainty, Equity and Social Connection. (see Book review: Neuroscience for organizational change by Hilary Scarlett (kimtasso.com)).
The Edelman Trust Barometer is mentioned as a helpful tool for tracking the role of trust in society and the workplace. And Edelman’s four things that CEOs must do to obtain the trust of their employees:
- Have a big idea (mission and purpose)
- Inform employees first (not last)
- Focus on your home market (multinationals have got to make community work)
- CEOs need to stand up and speak out
The work of Brene Brown on vulnerability and bravery is mentioned as well as Martin and Marks’ work on hard (higher status) and soft messengers (who lead with connectedness). And there’s guidance on listening to employees – and acting on what they say.
Part Two – Applying the model
The simple and elegant Field Model (Understand, Diagnose, Fix) is introduced as a tool to structure your thinking about the nature of the problem and the potential fixes. “How to go from chaos to calm in your organisation” with the calm coming from a place of curiousness.
The understanding phase is interesting -.the author notes that sometimes people don’t know what is wrong. And that sometimes fixing the symptoms can help – which she argues can work for a couple of years in most organizations. There’s a list of questions to drive the listening programme to gain a deeper understanding of what is wrong.
The diagnosis phase involves finding out why there is a problem, and more listening and facilitating is recommended. Tools include: surveys, interviews, focus groups and 1:1 sessions with leaders.
The fix phase is where you need to be “comfortable getting uncomfortable”. Topics include upskilling the teams or individuals, changing leadership styles, being consistent, defining the culture, respect, prioritization and organizational structures.
Chapter six takes a deeper dive into data and diagnostics. Communication audits are presented as the building blocks of diagnosis. And there’s a reminder that the model – like communication – is cyclical rather than linear.
The author mentions that there are over 100 different companies offering employee engagement surveys for organisations (some research agencies specialising in professional services are shown towards the end of this article: Client satisfaction benchmarks – How do you measure up? (kimtasso.com)
Diagnostic tools are considered in terms of the number of employees and there’s detailed guidance (with watch outs) on listening interviews, focus groups, surveys and polls. The role of benchmarking and data bias and accuracy are also considered. Data scientist Benjamin Ellis, who specialises in employee engagement surveys, is quoted when talking about mapping – aligning the objective and the data and the merits of the Likert scale.
There are also notes about people diagnostics such as MBTI (for individuals) and DISC (for task and pace) (see: Creativity and personality profiling (kimtasso.com)) and SDI (Strength Deployment Inventory) for teams which helps people relate to one of seven Motivational Value Systems (MVS) and one of 13 Conflict Sequences.
Chapter seven is about “The Fix – how to make changes that last”. And this relates to other resources on change management – the author uses a simple model of task (the content of the work), procedure (who does what) and relationships. She mentions RASCI to help everyone understand the decision-making:
- Responsible: the doer
- Accountable: the buck stops here
- Support: the helper
- Consult: in the loop
- Inform: Notify me
Recurring themes in change projects include leadership, blockers, culture and strategy. There’s a section on Purpose mentioning Kantar’s 2019 study into the role of purpose in organizations (three phases – articulation, infusion and amplification) with case studies from Patagonia (clothing brand) and TOMS (shoes). With some comments about leadership behaviours – integrity and working as a team – with a case study from Richer Sounds. There’s a short section on blockers/toxic people and a nod to culture and strategy.
Chapter 8 is on “applying the model and making it work for the long term” with a focus on teams, mergers and acquisitions and growth. There’s reference to 2019 research into deskless workers (solitary, mixed and teams). There are helpful tables summarising how to fix teams, M&A, growth and leadership issues with diagnostic tool, diagnostic themes, fixes and likely time frames. With a mention of global crisis mentioning a free guide from Rachel Miller on crisis communications.
The conclusion summarises the key points:
- Your own skills and continuous learning
- Understand the symptoms
- Diagnose what’s going on
- Analyse the findings and explore them alongside business intelligence
- The conversations to enable the fix
- Tell the story
- The fix itself
- Measuring success
The increasing importance of employer brands, recruitment and retention during the shift to hybrid working, the Great Resignation and the increasing interest in organizational culture mean that internal communications has moved up the management agenda. And this is a good book to start to develop your knowledge of the topic although often the content is philosophical rather than practical and tactical. Internal communications professionals will enjoy the strategic approach the author adopts. Those who are new to internal communication may wish for greater detail of the nitty gritty of implementation on a day-to-day basis.
While being down-to-earth and easy to read, the book is evidence-based with a wide range of contemporary research and management leaders being quoted. It’s an interesting read although on occasions it rambles a little. And sometimes I found myself wishing there was more to get my teeth into. It will be useful to consultants who are asked to help identify and address organizational communication problems. Each chapter ends with a list of the key points, some quick tips and detailed references and further reading which are useful.
So which books on internal communication would you recommend for professional services firms?
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