Internal comms: beyond information to understanding

Rick Harrison

Head of Strategy

12 October 2016

Have you given your employees permission to be great? Have you given your team what they need to make your vision a reality?


For a start they need to know what that vision is, this is true whether the vision is about the future of the entire organisation or how the latest brand and marketing strategy is going to drive growth. This may seem straight forward and most people are happy that they can tick that off the list straight away. But knowledge is more complicated than just being given the information, knowledge comes from understanding and the common business communication tools just aren’t very good at generating that understanding.


We need to get to knowledge because it is much more empowering than information, it is what gives employees the ability to work autonomously in support of business goals. Knowledge takes work to get and is impossible to give. With information it is possible to communicate directly, it can be one way, it is easily replicable. Knowledge is something that people have to create for themselves, they do this by processing and understanding what is being told to them, it is an educative process. And because it is the recipient that has to generate the knowledge it not only takes work, but they have to do the work, and if you are going to get them to do the work, your employees need to be properly engaged with the subject matter.


For example, we all know that powerpoint often isn’t an effective way to communicate, and the type of PowerPoint that does the rounds on email, or suddenly appears on the intranet with an introductory paragraph and some clip art definitely falls into the ‘not so effective’ category.


Actually presenting is better, but another key failure is trying to communicate essential information in a familiar context. The ‘town hall’ meeting may seem like the obvious place to communicate around a new vision, but a vision is a big and important thing. It will guide the activity that employees prioritise, it should drive decision making and tactics. It probably shouldn’t be sandwiched between a performance report and HRs latest presentation on workplace behaviour, especially at an event where people switch off before they sit down. Expecting them to do the work in that context seems optimistic.


The best route to engagement is in a context which supports conversation, where there is actual dialogue. In general, understanding comes from a process of questioning information, allowing it to be reshaped to work well in the recipients mind. The fewer barriers to employees being able to question the information and the less work asked of them; the easier they will find it to convert the information into knowledge they can use. Another reason that circulating presentations or even delivering presentations to a large audience are not great ways of communicating on topics that are important to you and the business.


Engaging your employees well creates the opportunity to really align the behaviour of the team with the intent of the senior team and the promise of your brand communications. Some creativity will be required to generate that engagement, irrespective of channel. Even better some input from the people on the frontline may just be the difference between having a vision that gets treated as another top down piece of internal spam and a purpose that everybody gets behind.


True engagement is reflected in good, ongoing, communication. Done right that communication is a two way channel and the benefits multiply the earlier a dialogue is opened. Involving employees in defining the vision, ensuring the delivery is treated as a conversation and then actively pursuing continuing conversations around the implementation all works to amplify engagement and improve outcomes. Once it has been implemented the conversations should continue, examples of behaviour that reflect the new approach should be sought out and promoted internally, recognising great behaviour and allowing the staff to talk in their own terms will reap additional benefits.


It’s essential the conversations continue beyond implementation because even when employees have been engaged and the work has been put in to ensure they understand they still need to be given permission to act on it. The words that are used and the target behaviours should be actively encouraged, and repetition is essential. Saying it once and then wondering why no one has done anything with it six months later is a quick route to disappointment, frustration and stress across the entire organisation.


The brand promise made by external communications becomes real through the following; the employees are told about it, they are encouraged to live it, they are rewarded for doing so and they are reassured that this is not just another random initiative but something they can act on. Rewarding them for taking responsibility for engaging with the the vision and making the brand promise real is going to make a bigger difference to your business than a standalone creative campaign ever can.


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