The 11 Laws of Internal Communication
A number of years back I developed what I felt were the 11 Laws of Internal Communication. I’ve pulled them out of the drawer and reposted them here as I have started to wonder if perhaps it was time for a rethink. Please share this with others who you feel may get something from this and who may have additional thought sand ideas as I ponder a possible rewrite of them. Thanks for taking a moment to read through and (hopefully) for any contributions, challenges and questions you may offer – I can’t wait to see them. Ken.
Law #1: The Law of the Myth of Internal Communication
Information out is not communication
Perhaps the most fundamental law of all is that communication is a multi-direction process involving at least two active participants. Too often, organizations claim to have communicated when in fact they have simply sent out information.
Without allowing for an opportunity to discuss, and thereby understand (or at least allow for the potential to establish understanding) communication has not truly occurred. Communication is by its very definition is a process and not an event. It takes place over a period of time and, within business, should serve to move people along a path extending from simple awareness, through understanding and commitment to actualization.
The Law of the Myth of Communication serves to remind us that Awareness does not mean Understanding; Understanding does not Mean Commitment; Commitment does not mean Actualization. Each are separate stages of a process and each requires the use of very different approaches and tools.
Law #2: The Law of Candor
Employees are adults – give them the whole truth and nothing but
The Law of Candor is really about treating people as adults. Openness, truthfulness, honesty and other similar values allow for people to participate with a level of trust. With trust established, there is an increased probability of support for corporate strategy being owned at all levels.
Law #3: The Law of STRATEGIC LEVERAGE
If you are not focused on business strategy you are playing in the wrong box
Align all communications to leadership and strategy…help each individual within the organization understand the journey the company is on, what the core areas of focus are and how they fit in and contribute. Focus not on convincing leaders to support internal communication – show them the value by demonstrating a return on the investment they are making.
Law #4: The Law of CONTEXT
Change is the real work, context ensures potential
Change is continuous – equip each employee with a level of knowledge that allows them to understand decisions made, support such decisions and make their own decisions on the spot as required. The world of business has undergone significant change – change that is not only continuous but is occurring at a faster and faster pace – thus maximizing the need for managers and employees to make better and quicker decisions. Build overall staff awareness and understanding of your business environment – focus efforts on getting them to a point where they can make effective decisions that are clearly tied to the strategic intent without having to seek permission from someone else.
Law #5: The Law of INTENT
Before communicating get clear about what needs to change and what behaviors you are seeking
Communications occurs constantly within organizations. Unfortunately, communications (or rather poor communications) is also blamed for so many of the problems, mistakes and errors that occur. The Law of Intent requires that before we begin communicating, we develop a clear understanding of our intent. A few key questions associated with this law to ask yourslf:
- Why am I communicating?
- What will be different as a result of this communications?
- What behaviours need to be adopted by people in the company?
- What current behaviours need to be maintained…altered slightly…or stopped completely?
Once we have clarity with respect to these questions we can begin to plan a communication process to achieve the goals we are seeking.
Law #6: The Law of CONNECTION and RELEVANCE
Connect the organizational journey to individual journeys
The Law of Connection and Relevance is about establishing a direct link between the journey of the company and the journey of each individual who works within and for it. Employee engagement, as we know, has rapidly risen to the top of the must-do list for organizations. At the heart of engagement is the requirement of a connection between each employee, their manager, their colleagues and the business itself.
As a communicator we must work with this law to ensure that all we do, and all we ask of others involved in the communication process helps to establish a very clear line of sight between corporate strategy and an individuals job and interests. If we can help everyone understand how they fit in and contribute – connection and relevance may be achieved and productivity will increase.
Law #7: The Law of PARTICIPANT
Employees are participants, not audiences
In internal communication we communicate with others in a process – they are participants – not audiences. Our focus on “communicating to audiences” within the filed of internal communications has rightfully reached an end point – our need now is to involve and communicate with participants in the organizational journey. By title, this Law of internal communication challenges us to change the way we think about and plan our communication processes.
Allowing for conversation, dialogue and (perhaps most importantly) listening actively within our processes become a necessity rather than a consideration. If we choose not to allow staff to participate our ability to engage and retain them will be diminished significantly.
Law #8: The Law of THE WATER COOLER
Enable managers to fulfill their roles
Regardless of how communications happens there are two things we need to be acutely aware of – the grapevine and the moments of truth that occur when an employee asks a manager or leader a question in the elevator, at the water cooler or wherever…these need to be managed through appropriate support processes. In both formal and informal communications the manager / supervisor plays a critical role so efforts to ensure they can perform this role must be made. Support them in every way possible; ensure they understand their role and what is expected of them. Managers are paid to guide the implementation of business strategy, ensure goals and objectives are met and to engage those they lead.
The Law of the Water Cooler reminds us to not only make sure they understand what they are there to do but to provide the support needed to ensure they can actually do it.
Law #9: The Law of APPROPRIATE APPLICATION
Know what you are trying to achieve – and use the appropriate tools to get there
As the saying goes, ‘One size doesn’t fit all’ and when it comes to communicating with staff this is clearly a law that must not be forgotten. Every vehicle has a purpose or place in an overall communication process; every participant has a need, a distinct situation and a preferred way of receiving and responding to communications. As a communicator we must focus our efforts on understanding each and every difference – and responding to them.
The bottom line…know what you are trying to achieve – and use the appropriate tool (as determined by the tool itself and those we are communicating with) to get to that point.
Law #10: The Law of PERCEPTION
Perception is, as they say, reality!
Perception is, as they say, reality. Know what the current realities are and know how you can either use them or work past them if needed. Perceptions are rooted in culture, history and experience. Therefore, don’t beat yourself up if the perceptions are very difficult to overcome. Just keep to the script and reinforce the basic messages with sincerity, openness and a desire to engage in conversation.
Law #11: The Law of CONTINUOUS LEARNING
If you are not continuously measuring and raising the bar, you cannot succeed
Every time we communicate we learn something – we need to apply those learning’s on a continuous basis so as to improve – remember, with every step of improvement, we raise the bar with respect to our communications – which means there is no end point or perfect communication action. Likewise, our communications are being used to achieve a goal. We recognize that communications, while it can be planned and managed, is not the most precise process and therefore requires that we measure our progress and adjust as we go.
The Law of Continuous Learning requires that we monitor, measure and implement changes based on what we learn – continuously!
Those are the 11 Laws of Internal Communication that I identified and outlined about 5 years ago. As we look ahead I wonder if the time is right for an update…so over to you: Do these Laws still make sense? What Laws are missing?