Internal communications, often referred to as the Cinderella function of communications, came of age during Covid-19. As a silver lining to a hugely challenging period, it was finally granted a seat at the top table. Two years on, with restrictions being lifted and the pandemic all but over, what next for our newly-crowned princess?
As someone with a background in internal comms myself, I was pleased to see the enhanced value being placed on the function. That said, I remain cautious about this recognition, for fear of it will reinforce the false wall between internal and external comms.
This wall had been fading in the pre-Covid years. The rise of social media led to internal content leaking out, sometimes maliciously but often out of mistaken pride in an age when social posting became a reflex. Customers, investors and other stakeholders increasingly expect transparency. And growing workload has enlarged scope for comms practitioners to gain experience outside their specialism. The pandemic accelerated these trends.
While welcoming greater recognition for internal comms, a better outcome would be to finally demolish the false wall altogether. In my view, the divide is no more organic or necessary than a political demarcation-line: it may prevent conflict but it also artificially freezes the divide. This generates friction, duplication and missed opportunities, like forcing dual teams to attend meetings and liaise with the same stakeholders. It also lowers quality and fun, artificially separating colleagues whose instinct is to challenge and support each other.
A better approach is ‘open-plan comms.’ Walls removed, teams are able to not only enrich their content but leverage it for more impact. Collaboration and creativity increase, opportunities arise to repurpose content, and much-needed runway opens up to develop skills and experience. My own experience has been that greater collaboration of this kind led to my teams’ best work.
This isn’t to say specialism isn’t useful. Clear accountabilities and skillsets matter. However, specialist roles don't necessarily mean specialist individuals. Successful communicators - like successful people generally - have a hinterland, drawing on and developing experiences outside their home turf. That not only helps strengthen teams, but also improves individuals’ career prospects. Since leadership roles are increasingly likely to require strong grasps of both internal and external comms, this will become only more important over time.
So we can be pleased with how it turned out for Cinderella. But her story isn’t over. In fact, it's ripe for an even better sequel. Now, whatever happened to those ugly sisters….?