A Framework for Internal Corporate Communications

By Alexander E. Hopkins
2015, Vol. 7 No. 09 | pg. 1/2 |

Public relations is a growing field in the United States (Botan, 1992, p. 149). This growth can be partially explained by the fact that public relations is an exercise in power (Curtin & Gaither, 2007, p. 235; Walker, 2006, p. 401). Throughout the world, messages are everywhere, both explicit and implicit. Among other attributes, messages have the ability to inform or persuade audiences on a given issue or set of issues. These attributes have become more pronounced in the digital age of social media, as messages can be created, disseminated, and analyzed quicker than ever before. Given the highly interactive nature of social media between an organization and a strategic audience, a two-way communication is virtually a given in the business world.

These message characteristics are especially true in organizational communications among businesses. Messages are needed to simplify what Metzger et. al (2003) refer to as "… a complex institutional structure with a history of experience and information, to which the public has already been exposed" (p. 299). When a business can identify and clarify key messages to many audience segments, they can foster long-term relationships with their audiences. The importance of relationships in a business cannot be overstated, as a business can be defined by relationships.

Freeman & Gilbert (1992) define a business as "…a connected set of relationships among stakeholders where the emphasis is on the connectedness" (pp. 14-15). When relationships are at the forefront of a business, these relationships make an organization's offered products and services more relevant than ever in a changing global marketplace. Despite the speed at which the global marketplace changes, when a business can develop trust among its key audiences, an audiences' institutional trust may trump superior products or services offered by a competing company.

It is possible to describe a link between organizational communications and public relations, as it shows the diversity by which they communicate. Public relations is defined by Grunig, Grunig, & Dozier (2006) as "… a process in which organizations must communicate with publics in different ways in different situations" (p. 23). From the discussion on organizational communications described above, public relations is clearly the mechanism by which a business communicates with key audiences amidst a changing global marketplace.

However, when the term "public relations" comes to mind, it is not uncommon to think of the term as messages that we can actually see and hear. This is a reasonable assumption, as the media has become more sophisticated over time, allowing society to be exposed to many messages in different, highly-visible mediums. However, it can be argued that messages that are unseen and unheard are often just as important—if not more important—than the highly visible messages that we can discern.

These messages that are unseen or unheard by an external public are often hidden under the umbrella of internal communications. Naturally, since public relations has become globalized because of digital media, it has become more important to balance the local with the global (Wakefield, 2001, p. 641). As a way to keep employees aligned to strategic organizational objectives, internal communications should not be overlooked.

Compared to previous generations, the increased business globalization has strained businesses with a larger workload, longer hours, and a tighter staffing arrangement that emphasizes employee autonomy (Argenti, 1998, p. 199; Buckley, Monks, & Sinnott, 1998, p. 221). Naturally, there has to be a way for a business to keep employees informed on strategic objectives, as well as various communicative means to keep them motivated (Martinez & Jarillo, 1989, p. 490).

One way for businesses to accomplish this is to divide their communications strategy between internal and external communications. Kennan & Hazleton (2006) described Kurt Lewin's definition of internal communication as "… grounded in the recognition that human potential and the desire to leave one's mark are essential to organizational success" (p. 314). It is understandable that the attention paid to internal communication is minimal compared to external communication.

After all, the ends and means by which a company uses internal communication are often proprietary and known only by the executive board and employees. Hofstede (1984) alluded to a unique culture that arises from internal communications when he outlined that cultural cues are transmitted when people are acculturated either as an organizational employee or as an individual in society (p. 22). This process begins during a prospective job candidate's initial interview, from the job offer, and then on to the daily work life. At each step of the way, highly efficient businesses will communicate their business expectations and goals to ensure that employees are all aware of their meaningful work contributions.

Of course, since social culture is unique for each business, internal communications can often be hidden from external audiences to preserve the confidentiality of a business's best practices. Internal communications is often one aspect of human resource management, which (like internal communications) often focuses on marshaling manpower together to achieve organizational objectives. This is evident in Lapina, Maurane, & Starineca's (2013) definition of human resource management as: "…a strategic and coherent approach to the management of an organization’s most valued assets – the people (or human talent) working there who individually and collectively contribute to the achievement of its objectives" (p. 583).

Looking back through Kurt Lewin's definition of internal communication, human resource management is quite similar to Lapina, Maurane, & Starineca's (2013) definition, as both focus heavily on human potential and organizational success. However, human resource management is often ignored during communication planning stages. Instead, it is seen as an enabling function, responsible for not only rolling out the strategic plan promoted by upper management, but also encouraging employees to live the company's brand (Little & Little, 2009, p. 58; Tracey & Nathan, 2002, p. 17).

The view that human resource management should be a business plan's enabler is not entirely unfounded. A company's human resource department handles employee issues on a daily basis and, therefore, would be fitted towards encouraging employees to be "on-board" with a company's strategic plan. Among other reasons, if the definition of "social marketing" is examined, it is possible to see that a company's human resources department lays the groundwork for brand promotion. Social marketing is a strategy that:

…employ[s] mechanisms of social control—e.g., the passage of laws, the inculcation and modification of social norms—to achieve objectives of social change where these objectives are said to be in the best interests of the individuals being changed. As such, social marketing efforts necessarily compromise certain values and interests, often individual freedoms, in order to promote values and interests deemed more socially, economically or morally compelling by the organization sponsoring the change effort (Salmon, 1989, p. 20).

A company's human resource department exhibits social control by creating rules and bylaws that promote normal, daily business objectives. While an employer would require a sacrifice of an employee's personal time to ensure satisfactory business operations, the "best interests" of the employees are assured when human resources fosters a safe work environment and fair compensation.

While a company's internal communication efforts are proprietary and often marketed to a limited audience, internal communications as a whole must be understood to see how businesses create a culture that sustains their business. Internal communications needs to be understood to see how organizations market to different audiences, in particular, whether the company messages align or diverge between external and internal communications.

If pleased external clients are the only testament to an organization's worth, they are missing out because pleased employees work as well, as they continue to deliver outstanding products and recommend the organization as an excellent place to work. Rather than viewing human resource management as an "enabling" function to achieve organizational objectives, an organization should do just the opposite. That is, an organization should use human resource management to plan out an organizational goal and use internal communications to create timely, targeted, and motivational communications to employees that promote a democratized workplace.

Perspectives on Internal Communications

From a theoretical perspective, internal communications is the proprietary means by which a business communicates with its employees to ensure strategic goals are identified and met. Internal communications is quite similar to external communications. From a broad standpoint, both emphasize subjectivity that allow companies to find strategies that best meet their needs, such as participatory dialogue or more top-down information flows (Orsini, 2000, p. 31).

If external communications focuses on the public image of a company, internal communications seeks to provide fulfill the functional image—or the assurance among clients that high-quality deliverables will be completed on-time and within-budget. If a two-way dialogue is adopted between employees and upper management, it can often promote a more democratized workplace. When employees have a voice in how business operations are conducted, they can identify areas to increase efficiency, cut down costs, and decrease staffing.

From an applied perspective, internal communications is needed before any external branding of a company can take place, as it allows employees to understand their working roles prior to promoting the business offerings (Argenti, 1998, p. 200; Little & Little, 2009, p. 60). Internal communications also ensures that employees and clients alike understand the current state of organizational goals, which is especially more important for larger organizations with many employees (Argenti, 1998, p. 200; Pearson, 1990, p. 31).

Once internal communications is in place, there are several ways that the business benefits, including but not limited to: established relationships, participation, feedback, and new developments (Grunig, Grunig, & Dozier, 2006, pp. 34-35; Glaser, 1994, p. 282; Little & Little, 2009, p. 60; Orsini, 2000, p. 33; Pearson, 1990, pp. 31-32).

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