Internal communicators, you have a real tough gig.
Even though you have pretty sweet communication skills, big hearts and ambition to boot, you still have to slog through a lot of nonsense to get your job done, let alone done well.
Over the last year we have been hosting Chuck Chats, where influential communicators come to talk to our main man, Chuck Gose about the good, the bad and the ugly of the internal communications world.
We’re all about authentic communication, even when it’s not pretty, so we asked 20 internal comms influencers about their biggest pet peeves in internal communications, and boy did we get an earful.
We know you are going to relate. So without further ado, here are the top 6 things that drive internal communicators absolutely nuts:
#6 No One Knows What Internal Comms Does
While the portrayal is so bad it’s almost comical, it does highlight a pretty big problem in internal comms: No one knows what the heck you do.
Here’s what the influencers we interviewed said irritated them about the misunderstandings surrounding the role of internal communicators:
"They don’t understand the meaning of internal communication or its importance. When we explain to those outside the industry what it is that we do, it can take a while for them to grasp it."
"People only tend to talk about internal communication when there’s a “need” or a “gap” to be filled. But, when they do, they’ve taken for granted the 10,000 other priorities we are already working on."
— Jen Hall
"Professional communicators have exposure to decisions and discussion that have the potential to impact our workforce in a big way. Our role is often described as being the conscience of an organisation, but for me it goes beyond that."
"People don’t realize the return on investment (ROI) that communications brings...which leads to people thinking that 'anyone' can 'do communications'."
And it’s not just your mom or people who aren’t in-the-loop who don’t get it. Internal people, leadership and executives often fundamentally misunderstand what it is communicators do. While we can forgive your mom, it’s pretty infuriating that there is such a huge disconnect between what communicators do in an organization, how they do it, and how leadership perceives it.
Which leads to our next gripe:
#5 Out-of-touch stakeholders
Since there is quite a bit of ambiguity about the role of internal communicators play or should play in an organization, there’s wildly different expectations about what success looks like.
If you ask leadership or stakeholders, they may believe the role of internal comms is to act as a mouthpiece, megaphone or a spin machine for the company. If you ask HR, they may insist internal comms is responsible for getting employees engaged in the workplace.
And since no one is quite sure what internal comms does, successful outcomes are extremely hard to measure. For example, success for stakeholders could be categorically different than what internal communicators believe is success.
This misalignment becomes even more distinguished when stakeholders hijack comms to communicate things that aren’t relevant, which create a noise and mess with the comms outcomes, strategy and undermine the trust communicators are trying building with their audience.
"Stakeholders come to me and say ‘But it hasn’t laaaaanded’ and I then have to prove all the ways something was, in fact, communicated. ‘Landed’ to a stakeholder and ‘landed’ to a comms person, sometimes are different things."
"It would be great if team members and leaders had a better understanding of how our team actually spends our days so they understood why we pause when they come to us with a new request for a new campaign that would add to our workload and add another message to team members’ communications that are already overloaded."
— Jen Hall
"My pet peeve is when a company hires me to help them find a great internal comms leader but they essentially want an order taker."
#4 Terrible or non-existent IC strategy
Ah yes. That sinking feeling when you’re asked to make a piece of content go viral.
Bad strategy can make an internal communicator’s life miserable. Without a well thought out strategy, it can be impossible to engage employees, with no way to scale, or measure when you’ve succeeded.
Most of the bad strategy horror stories we’ve heard center around having internal comms focus solely on ‘making something pretty’ or sharing irrelevant or boring content from the top down.
And the only thing worse than a bad strategy, is no strategy.
Here’s what our influencers had to say about bad strategy:
"How we communicate projects, new programs and change is super important, and should not be taken lightly, or used to 'make this pretty' or 'send out this email about my specific project because it’s super important'."
"Many internal comms plans are focused around awareness in our industry. Knowledge and interest are better concepts to track and measure against objectives. Employees can have a high awareness, but have low understanding or interest about a topic."
"I worked with one employee communication team that spent all its time putting out fires. Another is the “this is how we’ve always done it” syndrome...But I think what bothers me the most is a failure to link the department’s efforts to business strategy in a way that’s relevant to employees. We’re still producing one-size-fits-all communication in a larger communication environment."
"Companies have invested in internal communication quite significantly and are delivering a ton of stuff, but not strategically. They create noise versus having an impact on real issues."
"I do believe that what you produce internally should be created through the lens of, 'it’s possible that the public could see this.' Nothing is ever completely internal anymore."
"I’m always suspicious when I hear the phrase ‘this impacts the entire business’. Does it though, really?"
Other poorly-thought-out strategies include sending way too many emails, assuming all employees across the board are interested in the same content, and using ancient comms ‘wisdom’ to create strategies that aren’t based in fact or backed up by the data.
Which leads us to another thing that internal communicators loathe…
#3 No measurement and no data
Try developing a good internal comms strategy without data. We dare you.
A lot of internal comms departments are still operating under false assumptions about what employees want and need to hear, rather than relying on data and analytics to get the facts.
Leaving measurement out of an internal comms strategy is bad news all around. First, you won’t be able to prove that your strategy is working, and second, it may become harder and harder to justify your budget and role to higher-ups if you can’t show the ROI in your department.
Not only that, operating without the ability to measure outcomes means you can spend a lot of time crafting communications that simply do not get results. (Not that you’d be able to know whether they were getting results anyways!) Without specific goals or metrics for success, you end up with unclear initiatives and in turn, endless drafts and rewrites. Without measurement, you’re wasting a lot of time and energy.
Here’s our influencer’s advice on measurement:
"Don’t assume if it worked a year ago it’s still working today. Make sure you monitor and analyse all channels to gauge effectiveness, email included."
"Anything can be measured when it is accurately defined. The problem with how we IC folk “engage” with employee engagement is that employee engagement surveys are often poorly aligned either with actionable definitions of engagement, or with real organizational objectives."
"I think internal communicators fear that the numbers might show they’re doing a bad job, and that’s why they want to avoid the entire situation. And when they do measure, they can fall into the trap of measuring their own activities because it’s easier to do, doesn’t require money and doesn’t require permission. But saying you wrote 6 articles about safety doesn’t give you the right to take credit for a reduction in accidents."
"They’re measuring the wrong things. Too many communicators are focused on outputs and not on outcomes. In fact, I talk to far too many communicators who question whether communication can actually achieve outcomes."
#2 The internal communicator inferiority complex
Mix poorly defined roles, fundamental misunderstanding of what you do, a bad strategy and no metrics for success or definable results, and what do you get?
That’s a recipe for feelin’ like you aren’t good enough, friend.
The internal communicator inferiority complex is reinforced by organizational structures, and it is extremely hard to break out of. It can lead to worse outcomes and growing resentment.
Here’s what our influencers had to say about it:
"Communicators who want respect and a seat at the table, but continue taking orders and delivering tactics, you’re never going to see anything change if you keep doing the same things. Sometimes we need to ask to be invited [to take a seat at the table] and once we’re there, we need to provide value beyond order taking."
"Communicators don’t take their role seriously, and let everybody else in the organization push them around. What we do is just as valuable as what other people do, so why do we accept the role of ‘private publishers’ instead of pushing to be strategic counselors?"
"My pet peeve is the internal communicator inferiority complex, I’ve had it myself. Internal communicators provide an important contribution to an organization’s success, and there’s never been a better time to be in this field."
"The one question I get at conferences, EVERY time I speak is, 'How can I convince management to let me do things differently.' There’s only one way: First, you have to prove to them that what they’re currently doing isn’t working. That is research and measurement. Second, you have to show them you have a better way of doing it. That’s where best practices come in. Third, you have to show them the new way is working. That’s back to research and measurement."
And the #1 most infuriating thing to an internal communicator is….
#1 Bad Content
The problems with bad content are pretty self-explanatory, and our internal communications influencers had a lot to say about it, so we’ll let them take this one:
"Pet Peeves? I have lots! Inauthentic comms is the common theme - from ghost-written memos to stock photography instead of showing employees, and formal prose packed with jargon. Yuck! Always take the time to stop and think about who you are communicating with -- not to -- and take time to write and think with your heart, not just your head."
"We’re not respecting the people we’re talking to, and by that I mean we often think too much about what we want to say and not enough about why anyone cares."
"Sending out communications that aren’t succinct might be less work for the sender, but they force the audience to do the hard work of discerning the point. Respect audiences’ time; it adds up."
"As consumers, we hate long emails, spam emails, unappealing UI, but suddenly we are put in the context of our professional roles and we’re doing all the things we hate."
"Engagement is such a fuzzy term. It feels like we’re blaming employees for something - why aren’t you engaged? Rather, we should be creating an environment and experience that compels employees."
"Far too many people in the corporate world use words they would never, ever use with their families, their buddies, etc. Words like maximize and optimize and leverage and empower and core competencies and paradigm shift and utilize and I could go on and on. They don’t use the words in real life, and they wonder why nobody pays attention when they use them at work."
Did we miss anything? What are your biggest pet peeves in regards to internal comms? Tweet @bananatag and let us know!