The title of this piece is not that of a meditation book, nor is it a quotation by a yoga guru. It simply expresses the importance of internal communication — which unfortunately remains neglected in this part of the world — in guaranteeing internal cohesion across an organization, with all its positive consequences in terms of resistance to crisis, resilience and ability to navigate in the midst of turmoil.
When external communication seeks to build and immunize the image of an organization in the “outside” world, internal communication strives to consolidate the sense of belonging and foster loyalty, which in turn renders its members ardent defenders and even ambassadors of the “brand,” protecting the company’s name long after having clocked-out. In light of this, one cannot help but establish a parallelism between a corporation and a human being: external communication corresponds to the way in which a person deals with their surroundings, while internal communication would be closer to “what is happening in the head” of this person — internal crisis or inner peace, self-confidence or doubt about oneself, clear convictions or inner contradictions, etc.
Why businesses need to find zen
Without pushing the comparison further, it is clear that internal strategic communication has been relatively neglected by regional corporations as compared to the importance given to external communication, with many chronic symptoms of this situation being discernable across sectors: lack of cohesion between employees, debilitated loyalty to the organization, absence of well- being in the workplace — which automatically translates into lower productivity — and many more harmful signs. In many aspects, regional corporations are becoming like Babel towers in which no one seems to speak the same language, work towards the same goals, or even be informed of the direction in which the organization might be heading in the future. Companies do not seem to realize, however, that by focusing only on external communication and failing to properly address employees’ concerns and need for information, they might be inadvertently exposing themselves to external scrutiny as disgruntled and fearful employees could disseminate negative messages that can harm the organization’s image at any moment. As such, by failing to proactively extinguish an internal communication problem, companies would be fueling the fire on the external communication front.
This becomes especially pertinent in light of the severe economic crisis that is shaking the world. The landscape we are now witnessing in the region is far from reassuring: companies are downsizing their workforce in a wave of job losses never seen before, with many analysts agreeing that we might just be entering the tunnel. If the attention is now focused on the employees who have lost their jobs, this should not overshadow difficulties faced by those who have managed to stay onboard: worries about their future place in the company, fear of being fired at any moment, uncertainty concerning the direction that the company might take — all due to a lack of transparency within the company or simply a failure to properly communicate its situation and vision clearly to its internal stakeholders. It goes without saying that such a state of mind would directly impact the productivity of the corporation, which might in turn lead to more job losses, thus indefinitely maintaining the vicious circle. The worst example in this respect that will be used for decades to come is that of Lehman Brothers, whose employees only found out about the collapse of their company through the media and walked out to tourists gathered outside their offices snapping pictures of them as they left the building carrying boxes of personal belongings.
What makes this situation puzzling is the fact that internal communication tools are readily available and seem to actually be used, yet they do not appear to be yielding the desired positive results. Examples abound of regional corporations that publish an internal newsletter that ends up collecting dust in the drawers of employees, because the one or two people in charge of writing it are unaware of the real issues that are of interest to their colleagues due to the lack of two-way communication channels. Similarly, one can think of the many companies that have built their own intranet network, which nevertheless remains underused due to the lack of engaging content and the absence of an overall internal communication strategy.
Reaching meaningful inner discourse
The ad hoc fashion in which these channels are being used in today’s regional corporations cannot therefore guarantee any success in this respect. Not only that, but it is in times of acute crisis that all the benefits of efficient and consistent internal communication are the most visible. The analogy with a human re-emerges in this case: it is in difficult times that a person who is “inwardly solid” can prove his/her value, and a corporation that is internally immunized can demonstrate its resilience.
This suggests that simply deploying internal communication tools is necessary but not sufficient to implement solid and sound internal communication. These tools have to be anchored in a holistic strategy that addresses all the internal issues and optimizes all the channels, in a bid to maximize the synergy between them and subsequently optimize their impact on the targeted internal audience.
This strategy should aim at conveying a single consistent vision and mission for the company, while at the same time contributing to reinforcing personal ties between organization members, cultivating employee well- being and encouraging individual sense of initiative. This requires sending out a consistent set of strategic messages that aim at boosting the morale of employees, engaging them in the decision-making and change process, reassuring them about their future, and demonstrating transparency about the situation and where the company is heading. From internal newsletters to orientation programs, employee appreciation events, sports teams and corporate events just to name a few, all these initiatives contribute to convey these messages and to reinforce the bonds between organization members, creating a sense of belonging that naturally translates into increased motivation, loyalty and higher productivity. The invaluable role of proper strategic internal communication is multifold: toning down all negative perceptions, consolidating the weakened sense of belonging and reunifying the organization’s ranks by providing a clear and reassuring vision that will breathe much needed optimism for the organization’s future.
As such, a sound and consistent strategic internal communication platform could be seen as a gauge of inner solidity that would ultimately translate into “inner corporate peace” in times of turmoil and immunize the organization until it reaches a safer shore.
Mark Helou & Ramsay G. Najjar