November 2nd, 2017
This is what the CIPR Inside committee wanted to find out through their first ever piece of research. I am proud to be one of the key committee members alongside Jenni Field, Trudy Lewis and Lisa Pantelli who led it and presented our findings at the CIPR Inside conference on 1 November.
We interviewed 14 CEOs and had 89 internal communication practitioners respond to our survey. The number of CEOs is smaller than we would have liked. We found that many of the CEOs we approached weren’t able to prioritise time for our interviews and several pulled out due to unforeseen circumstances. While this was disappointing, it was interesting for us to see the appetite for CEOs to discuss internal communication and it may suggest we’re still not high up enough on the priority list.
However, the CEOs we did speak to gave invaluable insight into how they see our function and were overwhelmingly positive about the impact we can have on organisations. It was also interesting to compare where CEOs thought we added the most value and where our survey respondents thought we added value.
Here, I’ve shared some of the key highlights from the research and you can download the report in full on the CIPR Inside website.
Internal communication is more than a function
The general opinion across the CEOs we interviewed is that internal communication permeates into all areas of the business and is much bigger than the team that bears its name. An encouraging view, especially as many of them also ranked it highly in terms of importance to business success. But what does this mean for our seat at the table if CEOs think internal communication should be part of the way things are done rather than a function in itself?
When we asked CEOs to rank our importance against other areas of the business, and we mainly came out somewhere in the middle. CEOs stressed that this was not a negative thing, simply that it’s the right place for us to be. One CEO said he liked that his internal communications director didn’t sit on the board as it he valued their objective view. So, maybe we don’t need this elusive seat at the table to make a difference.
Culture is key
Many of the CEOs positively linked internal communication with culture, and felt that we directly impacted it. However, when discussing how we can do this, many of the examples given were tactical suggesting there still may be a gap in understanding around the strategic value we can add.
Very few of the CEOs mentioned employee voice and two-way communication, which plays a huge part in internal communication and culture. The research suggested there may be an education piece required to move CEOs away from the perception that communication is purely about broadcast.
Defining internal communication
When we asked survey respondents how they’d define internal communication they gave a wide variety of definitions, with some using the term internal communication interchangeably with engagement. An interesting outcome that could suggest that if we as an industry aren’t clearly and consistently articulating our reason for being, it might not be surprising that CEOs are unable to as well.
However, is it possible to have one single definition of internal communication? Probably not, as it may be nuanced in different organisations. But what we can have is a set of agreed principles that apply across all industries, and all internal communication practitioners adhere to as a minimum.
Driving financial performance
Unsurprisingly, the majority of survey respondents believed that internal communication could drive financial performance but encouragingly, CEOs also thought there was link between engaged employees – an output of good internal communication – and the bottom line. Although several made the point that measuring this is an ongoing challenge, it is positive that CEOs do think we play an integral part in financial success.
As a committee, we hope this piece of research is the beginning of an important conversation between internal communicators and CEOS and will help us to shift the industry into a more strategic position in the eyes of the businesses we work for.
Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about the research.