Starting the Dialogue
about internal communications
In today’s challenging business environment, we are facing many
social, political, economic and regulatory trends that are impacting
strategic communications. Nowhere is this trend more evident than
in internal communications.
Effective internal communications is vital to employee engagement,
retention and productivity. The world’s highest performing
companies know that engaged employees are more productive,
more customer-focused, more loyal, and ultimately, more
committed to business success. Industry research tells us that firms
that communicate effectively report high levels of employee
engagement, low turnover rates and high shareholder value.
The goal of this research was to better understand key trends,
challenges and opportunities for internal communications.
Specifically, we wanted to examine the role of dialogue: how two-
way conversation can help stimulate participation, exchange ideas,
solve problems, and promote action. We also wanted to gain insight
into how leaders and managers could embrace different forms to
dialogue to inspire and engage employees, particularly in the midst
of a challenging economy.
In March and April 2009, we conducted qualitative in-depth
interviews with communications professionals at 30 client and
non-client public and private sector Canadian organizations.
Participating companies included energy, manufacturing, financial
services, and pharmaceutical industries firms in Nova Scotia, New
Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, ranging
from 90 and 60,000 employees. Results were compiled and analyzed
by NATIONAL Public Relations’ internal research team.
This material is the intellectual property of NATIONAL Public Relations Inc. Every digital, printed and
oral reference or use must contain a clear and visible acknowledgement of NATIONAL Public Relations
Inc. No alteration of the material is permitted without written permission from NATIONAL Public
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Respondents identified social media as the primary trend in
Multi-generational workforces are prompting communicators to
re-evaluate their internal communications strategies to better
reflect generational preferences.
Organizations are being challenged by the sometimes conflicting
goals of attracting younger talent while improving the morale,
motivation and engagement of current employees who have
different preferences and needs.
Face-to-face dialogue is viewed as the most effective way to
communicate. Communicators identified many positive attributes
of dialogue, including the ability to better understand employee
concerns, build relationships and trust, improve message
retention, and overcome internal silos.
Communicators need to create alignment between external and
internal communications at their organizations, in order to build
trust and demonstrate transparency.
Employees of all ages are demanding more timely and transparent
Organizational restructuring, including changes in leadership,
are driving a need for greater visibility and access to senior
The most pressing worry for communications professionals is
trying to keep up with their workload.
Source: NATIONAL Public Relations Inc., June 2009
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1 Economic uncertainty has
created new challenges
The state of the economy and challenges that result
from it, such as ensuring stakeholder value, smaller
budgets, lower revenues and industry changes, have
impacted the way organizations communicate with
CEOs are more visible to employees than six months
ago. Visibility tends to be episodic, however, rather
Current Industry changes
than sustained over time.
Recruitment and retention remain a primary challenge,
particularly in the current economy when engagement
is relatively low.
Recruitment and retention
Mergers and acquisitions
Resources and staffing
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2 The role of internal
Internal communications departments are challenged
by organizational restructuring, reduced time,
increased workload, and less resources.
Communicators are evolving their communications
strategies to be more personalized, relevant and
Communications professionals interviewed felt that the
value of internal communications was misunderstood
as a tactical function, rather than as a major
contributor to the overall business strategy.
Personalization Budgetary constraints
of communications tools
Lack of resources and
internal communications staff
Recruitment and retention
Process and structure of internal
Clarity of internal communications role
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3 Dialogue with leadership
is viewed as essential
The majority of respondents indicated that there was
more dialogue with senior management now, versus
six months ago.
When asked why dialogue with senior management
had increased, respondents indicated that this was
due to recent acquisitions, the economic situation,
business model restructuring or a crisis.
Increase frequency and
reduce Be available to employees
Overall, respondents indicated that the CEO of their
respective organizations communicated very effectively
with employees. Other members of the leadership
team, however, did not fare so well. The majority of
Be more Keep communicating
respondents ranked other senior leaders significantly
lower in terms of communications effectiveness.
More sharing and visioning
Respond in a more
Be more consistent
interactive Less talking at and more dialogue
More personal interaction
Dialogue helps build a
Listen more to employees
belief in our leadership
Continue to be open, timely and honest with
and that our leaders are
‘steering the ship’.
Have an open door policy
Invest time in communication
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Social media is the
dominant trend impacting
88% of respondents cited social media as the number
one trend impacting internal communications at their
Internal social media tools mentioned include micro-
blogging, shared work spaces, podcasts, blogs and
45% of respondents said that changing demographics
in the workplace are a major trend impacting internal
communications; younger employees want social
media tools as part of the internal communications
30% of respondents said there is an increased need
for timely and relevant communications.
Social media is one of the
biggest challenges for
in particular, how to
understand and use these
tools in a thoughtful and
On a scale of 1 to 5, I think
we are a ‘2’ vis-à-vis
dialogue right now because
we’re not listening enough.
I think dialogue is very
important, but it doesn’t
necessarily have to be
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We believe that high-performing
organizations demonstrate the
following characteristics in their
internal communications programs
1. Internal communications programs must have leadership buy-in; not just from the CEO but the senior
management team as well.
2. Effective internal communications programs begin with research. Employees are not a homogeneous
mass – they are individuals with specific needs and preferences.
3. Internal communications must be supported with appropriate investment – including people, funding,
management buy-in, and alignment across key operational functions to present employees with a
4. Internal communications programs must be measurable and demonstrate impact on the bottom line.
5. Internal communications is not a tactical series of events. It is an ongoing strategy that connects
employees as active participants in the business.
6. Programs need to incorporate tools that are relevant and meaningful to specific employee segments and
needs – one size does not fit all.
7. Internal communications involves ongoing dialogue across, up and down the organization. Cascaded
communications simply do not work any more.
8. There must be an openness to change. What worked in the past may not work today.
Content of communications > Intent of communications
Controlled (traditional) > Uncontrolled (online)
Mass > Personalized
Monologue > Dialogue
CEO as leader > CEO and managers as
Readership metrics > Business impact metrics
For more information, please contact: Carolyn Ray, Vice President, Employee Engagement, NATIONAL Public Relations 416- 848-1423
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