Internal Communication Practice Key Communication Management Essay
In this essay, the author will discuss internal communication and various important constructs present in the literature which facilitate practice and further the understanding of internal communication as a strategic management function. Tench and Yeomans (2006, p. 335) trace the origins of internal communication to business and industrial journalism in the late 1940s. The authors claim journalists were attracted by generous salaries to write for staff journals, publishing news and information relating to the organisation. It was thought that better informed employees, would be better motivated and thus make bigger contributions to the productivity of the organisation (Tench and Yeomans, 2006, p. 335). As the authors suggest, this view is still applicable today, with empirical and theoretical work published since, further validating these claims. Indeed, Robson and Tourish (2005, p. 213) state, “There is now a substantial literature that suggests that internal communications helps to improve the likelihood of an organisation being successful”. Even so, internal communication is regarded as an understudied area within public relations (Tench and Yeomans, 2006, p. 337; Welch and Jackson, 2007, p. 178), with scholars calling for further research on internal communication to derive a better understanding of its mandates, scope and focus (Forman and Argenti, 2005; cited in Welch and Jackson, 2007, p. 178).
In responding to these demands, Welch and Jackson (2007, p. 178) proposed a stakeholder approach to internal communications. The authors began by examining the current position of internal communication in the literature, according to the domains (business communication, management communication, corporate communication and organisational communication) of communication, said to represent the crossroads between communication and organisational life (Miller 1996; cited in Kalla, 2005, p. 304). They particularly regard the use of Frank and Brownell’s (1989; cited in Welch and Jackson, 2007, p. 179) passage as a definition of internal communication by various writers, as an unhelpful continuous loop. The authors explain Frank and Brownell’s passage actually relates to organisational communication as a field of study as explained above, focusing on an organisation’s communication processes in general and over the last two decades, increasingly seen as shifting to integrated external and internal communication (Welch and Jackson, 2007, p. 180). The authors write, “While there is recognition that internal communication has an identity, it is seen as being integrated with external communication. Given this, Frank and Brownell’s (1989) definition of organisational communication (as a whole) cannot be appropriate for internal communication (as part of the whole)” (Welch and Jackson, 2007, p. 180). This distinction as explained by Welch and Jackson (Welch and Jackson, 2007), responds to calls in internal communication research to provide ways of improving understanding of the communication management function for the benefit of both practitioners and scholars.
Rather than organisational communication, Welch and Jackson view corporate communication as a more appropriate school of thought for internal communication (Welch and Jackson, 2007, p. 181). Here internal communication is seen as one of seven facets of organisational communication (van Reil 2005; cited in Welch and Jackson, 2007, p. 181) and therefore considered in its own right. It is then possible for the development of theoretical grounding to further research and facilitate practice of internal communication itself. Indeed the authors justify their ascription to corporate communication for internal communication by stating it is more concerned with communication as an instrument of management, and allows for the provision of theory which could be of practical use (Welch and Jackson, 2007, p. 181). The authors propose an initial definition of internal communication and suggest it is the, “strategic management of interactions and relationships between stakeholders at all levels within organisations” (Welch and Jackson, 2007, p.183).
Developing their stakeholder approach, Welch and Jackson (2007, p. 183-185) recognise the need to view stakeholders as more than a single entity and within their own groups and subgroups, perhaps identified by demographics or staff groupings relating to sector and organisational purpose (Welch and Jackson, 2007, p. 183). Something L’Etang suggested was not taking place in his critical view of current research (2005; cited in Welch and Jackson, 2007, p. 183). Welch and Jackson (2007) reference Freeman’s (1984) view of stakeholders, which he defined as individuals who can affect or are affected by the achievement of the firm’s objectives (Freeman, 1984; cited in Welch and Jackson, 2007, p. 183), to contextualise their proposals for internal communication from a stakeholder standpoint. It should be noted that within a stakeholder approach, there is a high level of importance implicitly assumed regarding the impact these individuals who can affect or are affected by organisational success, have on the achievement of such success.
Freeman’s research was focused on understanding external stakeholders by encouraging organisations to become more responsive to their external environment and identifying groups and subgroups important to the organisation. His research contributed to internal communication research and suggested various internal stakeholders including line management, team members and other internal groups or related departments and subsidiary managers (Welch and Jackson, 2007, p. 183). These concepts are best viewed in practice, and are further developed by Welch and Jackson (2007) and in this paper.
Identifying stakeholders is understood to be an important process in effective communication. Indeed a good understanding of stakeholders allows organisations to plan and measure communication more accurately, determining who needs to be informed, and the best way of doing so. Further analysis could identify stakeholders according to demographics (age, gender, income), psychographics (personality, attitudes, behaviours), contract with the organisation (fulltime, part-time, temporary), graphical location (head office, regional office) (Tench and Yeomans, 2006, p. 340). Staff groups could also be furthered to include supervisors, junior managers, specialist professional employees and overseas employees (Tench and Yeomans, 2006, p. 340). Welch and Jackson consider various methods of identifying internal stakeholders (Welch and Jackson, 2007, p. 184) to realise stakeholder groups at different levels of an organisation and ultimately redefine internal communication as the, “strategic management of interactions and relationships between stakeholders within organisations across a number of interrelated dimensions including, internal line manager communication, internal team peer communication, internal project peer communication and internal corporate communication” (Welch and Jackson, 2007, p. 184).
The University of Central Lancashire will now be examined according to Welch and Jackson’s proposed approach. Internal stakeholders here would first consist of, strategic management or governors and senior management such as the university board, faculty leaders and senior management teams. Then day-to-day managers consisting of division leaders, head of departments, and service or middle managers. This will be followed by various team members and related groups, such as academics, researchers, administrators, academic support staff, and manual and other ancillary groups (i.e. library staff) (Diagram, 1).
Diagram 1 – Internal Stakeholder Map – University of Central Lancashire
Applying this construct to aspects of internal communication such as the direction of communication for example between top management and the rest of the organisation, identifying the participants involved as well as content, Welch and Jackson (2007, p.185) provide an internal communication matrix (Appendix 1). The matrix is useful as it contextualises internal communication in terms of the interrelated dimensions previously defined (of internal communication), and for example could aid organisations to plan internal communication strategies and tactics, according to needs of each internal stakeholder and the organisation itself. The dimensions offered are explained by Welch and Jackson (2007, p. 185-186) with most attention paid to internal corporate communication.
For Welch and Jackson (2007, p. 186), internal corporate communication relates to communication between an organisation’s strategic managers and its internal stakeholders, for the purpose of promoting commitment to the organisation, a sense of belonging to it, awareness of its changing environment and understanding of its evolving aims (Welch and Jackson, 2007, p. 186). In order to explicate how internal corporate communication would work practically, Welch and Jackson (2007, p. 186) provide a diagram illustrating its functionality (Appendix 2). The authors dismiss criticisms of the model relating to its one-way communication between the organisation and its employees, suggesting it’s impractical to expect senior management to individually discuss strategy with all employees face-to-face, except in really small organisations (Welch and Jackson, 2007, p.187). They continue by highlighting Grunig et al., (2002; cited in Welch and Jackson, 2007, p. 187) notion that internal mediated communication, can be symmetrical if its content is aligned to employees’ need to know, instead of management’s need to tell. They also suggest one-way mediated communication is appropriate, when message consistency is crucial, and if combined with a commitment to encourage upward critical communication (double-pointed arrows in the model of internal corporate communication) then internal communication can provide opportunities for dialogue (Welch and Jackson, 2007, p. 187). Cornelissen (2008) who suggests allowing employees to communicate with management is important because their ideas, responses to their working environment, or critiques of the plans and ideas announced by the organisation may be used to find ways to improve performance and profitability (Cornelissen, 2008, p. 197). An example
Furthering the goals of internal corporate communication, Welch and Jackson (2007, p. 188) look to the literature to explicate how these were derived. The first, contributing to internal relationships characterised by employee commitment, is discussed in relation to Meyer and Allen’s (1997; cited in Welch and Jackson, 2007, p. 188) distinction of three types of workplace commitment. Affective commitment which relates to employee’s emotional attachment with the organisation. Continuance commitment which relates to the cost of leaving an organisation. And normative commitment, relating to an employee’s feeling of obligation to an organisation. Welch and Jackson (2007, p. 188) also cite De Ridder (2004) as inspiration for this first goal. In De Ridder’s (2004) study, commitment and trust are proposed to be key conditions for creating a supportive attitude (De Ridder, 2004). The author suggests that both trust and commitment often go hand in hand, as indeed the same factors that affect trust can also affect commitment. De Ridder (2004) regards good communication as one such factor, and cites Mathieu and Zadjac’s (1990) study as indicative of the strong effect communication has on commitment.
De Ridder (2004) also proposes information relating to an employee’s work (task-related) and information relating to organisational objectives, problems and policy (non-task-related) too increases the level of commitment and trust employee’s will feel towards the organisation. Summing their review of commitment and trust, De Ridder (2004) suggests commitment to relate to the daily communication processes that motivate employees (task-related), and trust as the communication activities that reassure them (non-task-related)(De Ridder, 2004). From this view, organisations are most able to contribute to internal relationships, by encouraging high-commitment levels from its employees, through effective communication directly relating to their work, and through open mediated communication relating to their organisation’s goals, problems and policy. De Riddler (2004) notes, however, task-related communication will be more effective if employees feel the information provided supports their preferred approach towards their job. This however can be difficult, especially in circumstances were daily task-related information is repetitious such as for a sales assistant in a retail store. Perhaps in such cases, task-related information to encourage commitment to the organisation would be more effective if focused on feedback relating to work efficiency as well as included aspects of task-related information.
New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. (NUMMI) provides a good example of an organisation successfully encouraging commitment from its employees, by providing high quality task-related information. In an article written by John Shook, an employee at the organisation during periods of organisational change directed at improving employee performance; Shook explains why the organisation was able to successfully transform the poor-performing workforce, into committed and involved members of the organisation. He writes, “What changed the culture was giving employees the means by which they could successfully do their jobs. By communicating clearly what their jobs were and providing the training and tools to enable them to perform them successfully” (Shook, 2009).
The second, promoting a sense of belonging in employees, is considered by Welch and Jackson (2007, p. 189) according to Cornelissen’s (2004; cited in Welch and Jackson, 2007, p. 189) view of a “we” feeling which allows individuals to identify with an organisation. Welch and Taylor (2007, p. 189) also cite Baumeister and Leary’s (1995) study, which proposed individuals are strongly motivated by a sense of belonging. Welch and Jackson (2007, p. 189) suggest this need for belonging also exists in social situations, including the workplace. Belongingness is often related to the concept of identification, indeed Cornelissen (2008, p. 198) defined organisational identification as, “the perception of oneness with or belongingness to an organisation, where the individual defines him or herself in terms of the organisation of which he or she is a member” (Cornelissen, 2008, p. 198). Cornelissen (2008) citing works by Dutton et al., (1992) and Smidts et al., (2001) explain organisational identification to increase in relation to perceived external prestige of the organisation. They state, when an organisation appears to hold a strong reputation to outsiders, employees feel proud to belong to that organisation, partly to increase their self-esteem. For example an executive at a Premiership football club such as Manchester United is likely to be proud to belong to that organisation, as indeed it is widely perceived to be a prestigious organisation.
Cornelissen (2008, p. 198) also highlight increased identification with an organisation when an employee sees an overlapping between his or her own personal identity to that of the organisation. For example a hip-hop DJ at the BBC’s 1Xtra digital radio station (a hip-hop radio station), is likely to identify with this organisation, as the overlapping of values and goals between employee and organisation is evident. Welch and Jackson (2007, p. 189) make an important distinction here, and suggest identification can be seen as a persuasive strategy organisations use to develop stakeholder relationships, by emphasising shared values. In this view, organisations are open to the notion of unethical practice or manipulation, as with any persuasive act of communication. As a result, Welch and Jackson (2007, p. 189) explicitly highlight the ethical dimensions within the concept of internal corporate communication. A good example of an organisation acknowledging the importance of related values between workforce and organisation is Danish pharmaceutical company, Nova Nodisk (Schreiber, 2008). The company ensures employees are understanding and supportive of the organisation’s core values by ensuring every employee spends at least one-day with a diabetic. The organisation has also set up a task-force named “value facilitators” who ensure the organisation’s values are understood and accepted throughout the organisation’s global internal environment (Schreiber, 2008).
The interrelatedness of Welch and Jackson’s (2007, p. 186) goals of internal corporate communication can be seen, as Cornelissen (2008, p. 198) explains the impact internal communication has on organisational identification. Similar to the first goal of internal corporate communication, Cornelissen (2008, p. 198) suggests organisational identification is likely to increase when information provided is perceived as adequate and reliable, such as information relating to what is expected of an employee and their specific contributions (Cornelissen, 2008, p. 198). Cornelissen (2008, p. 198) also identifies increased organisational identification when an organisation makes an effort to listen to its employees. He states, “Good internal communication, combines upward and downward communication in such a way that employees are well informed about the future directions of the organisation, are allowed to interact with management about their policies, and where this interaction has an impact on managerial decisions” (Cornelissen, 2008, p. 198).
The final goals of internal corporate communication are, developing awareness of environmental change, and developing understanding of the need for the organisation to evolve its aims in response to, or in anticipation of, environmental change (Welch and Jackson, p. 188). Welch and Jackson (2007, p. 190) explain internal communication happens within the context of an organisation’s constantly changing and dynamic environment (Welch and Jackson, p. 190). The authors argue for the need for organisations to communicate their opportunities and challenges in the external environment to their employees. This way employees are able to gather a clear understanding of changes in the organisation’s environment and align their contributions to the organisation accordingly, this also contributes to developing commitment to the organisation among internal stakeholders.
At this point it is important to establish the dimension of internal corporate communication as part of the overall internal communication function. Welch and Jackson (2007, p.191) highlight the need to acknowledge internal corporate communication as positioned within an environment shared by the other dimensions of line management, team and project communication, highlighted in their communication matrix (Welch and Jackson, 2007, p. 191). This environment is argued by Welch and Jackson (2007, p. 191) to generate the atmosphere or climate in which communication occurs. This climate is influenced by attributes such as culture, attitude to conflict management and communication systems (Welch and Jackson, 2007, p. 191). Communication climate also considers communication levels as in the internal communication matrix, and thus represent different groups of internal stakeholders. Therefore, it is possible for varying communication climates to exist within the same organisation.
Welch and Jackson’s (2007) stakeholder approach provides organisations with the opportunity to strategically plan its internal communication. Indeed with the internal communication matrix, organisations are able to acknowledge how required information can be disseminated throughout the organisation. The matrix can also aid organisations in carrying out audits of its internal communication, with a focus on each dimension. The internal corporate communication model is also useful as it provides organisations with a focus as to what internal corporate communication can achieve and how. Incorporating the model will allow organisations, to strategically plan mediated internal communication, maintain a symmetrical two-way communication and consider its internal stakeholders in relation to external factors, ultimately engaging employees with their jobs and their organisations (Welch and Jackson, 2007, p. 190). The author also considers applications of organisational commitment theory and organisational identification theory for understanding internal communication further, under the stakeholder approach proposed by Welch and Jackson (2007). These frameworks overlap and considerations of not only the theoretical works mentioned here but others within the literature can contribute to the development of a successful and efficient internal communication strategy. It is within the view of the author however, that a stakeholder approach to internal communication makes most contributions to organisational goals and objectives, as the most it is understood about internal stakeholders, the higher the quality of information which is provided to them.
Cornelissen, J. (2008), Corporate Communications: Theory and Practice. Sage, London.
De Ridder, J. (2004), ‘Organisational communication and supportive employees’, Human Resource Management Journal, 14(3), pp. 20-30.
Kalla, H.K. (2005) ‘Integrated internal communications: a multidisciplinary perspective’, Corporate Communications: An International Journal, 10(4), pp. 302- 314.
Robson, P.J.A., and Tourish, D. (2005) ‘Managing internal communication: an organizational case study’, Corporate Communications: An International Journal, 10(3), pp. 213- 222.
Schreiber, E. (2008), ‘Reputation’, Institute for Public Relations. [Online]. (Updated 02 Dec 2008) Available at: http://www.instituteforpr.org/essential_knowledge/detail/reputation/#Employee _Involvement_and_Reputation
Shook, J. (2009) ‘How NUMMI Changed Its Culture’. [Online]. (Updated 01 Aug 2009) Available at: http://www.lean.org/shook/2009/09/how-nummi-changed-its-culture.html
Tench, R., and Yeomans, L. (2007), Exploring Public Relations. Pearson Education, Harlow.
Welch, M., and Jackson, P. (2007), ‘Rethinking Internal Communication: a stakeholder approach’, Corporate Communications: An International Journal, 12(2), pp. 177-198.
Internal Communication Matrix (Welch and Jackson, 2007, p. 185)