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Advancing the Digital Maturity of Internal Communications

May 11, 2021 Digital Workplace
James Robertson
By James Robertson

Internal communications has proved its worth during the pandemic, and many (but sadly not all) comms teams are riding high. Where it’s possible, teams are now turning their attention to the road ahead, a road filled with an unprecedented degree of comms complexity.

With the arrival of Microsoft 365, Workplace by Facebook, Slack and a whole crop of employee apps, we now have more internal comms channels not less. What’s needed is a clear way forward. 

The Path Forward for Communications: Questions to Answer, Issues to Tackle

As internal communications teams plan their next steps, a range of key questions confronts them:

  • What role should the intranet be playing in internal communications?
  • What comms functionality should the intranet provide?
  • Are we moving away from email, and if so, how?
  • Where do collaboration and social tools fit in the mix?
  • How do we ensure that all employees are reached at the same time?
  • How should internal comms align with shifts to new ways of working?
  • How do we help to engage all employees in a hybrid workplace?

The context for all of this is that even though we have better digital platforms than ever before, there’s a risk that the effectiveness of internal comms will go down rather than up. With so many tools in play, the enterprise landscape may get more fragmented, further muddying the waters. And above all, the opportunity for the much hoped-for shift away from email may be missed once again.

To help put shape around future directions, and to help give answers to some of the questions listed above, last year my firm, Step Two, developed a digital maturity model for internal comms teams. A wide range of organizations have already used it and it is proving its worth. It’s shared here for the benefit of all comms (and IT) teams.

digital maturity model for communications and collaboration

Related Article: How Internal Communications Is Cutting Through the Noise

A Digital Maturity Model for Communications and Collaboration

This model is structured around five streams:

  1. Formal internal communication, the traditional work of comms teams, sharing leader updates, business changes and new policies.
  2. Collaboration, encompassing all the ways that employees work together in groups to achieve outcomes.
  3. Social and cultural, helping to engage employees with the organization, and with each other.
  4. Intranet, the mainstay of internal communications and content publishing.
  5. Modern work practices, reflecting the changing ways that digital tools can help to get real work done.

For each of the streams, there are three levels of maturity plus an outline of potential benefits to be gained by increasing maturity.

The purpose of this model is to enable teams to make decisions holistically, considering all channels at the same time, rather than in isolation. It’s for that reason that it extends past traditional internal communication activities to the wider digital workplace.

The maturity levels aren’t proscriptive, and there’s no requirement for every business to hit high maturity for all streams. In practice, teams may find themselves in a mix of levels, but even then, the model provides a clear indication of potential future improvements.

Related Article: Internal Communicators, Please Don't Abandon the Intranet

Conduct Research, Then Bring Stakeholders Together

As always, the starting point for any forward planning is to conduct robust research into the current state.

In this instance, this can be done via a mix of internal communications surveys, employee research (via one-on-ones and focus groups), stakeholder engagement and expert assessment.

This will build a picture of the existing comms and collaboration channels, and how internal messages are being delivered (or not!). It will also help to paint a picture of the culture and work practices of teams across the business.

It’s then time to bring together key stakeholders to review the current state and to plan ahead. Key stakeholders will include the internal comms team, the relevant IT or digital workplace teams, major corporate services areas and relevant business leaders.

Strategic and operational decisions can then be made, as follows:

  • Overall, aim to modernize communication practices, moving from after-the-fact newsletters to just-in-time messages, and shifting to more informal writing styles that best suit the online medium.
  • Clarify the use of key platforms to use for internal communications, selecting them for their reach and functionality, thereby simplifying the mix of tools.
  • Make practical decisions about how communication will occur, such as drawing a line between ‘content’ and ‘comms,’ and between ‘need to know’ and ‘nice to know.’
  • Lead the changes that need to happen, ensuring that internal comms sits at the heart of decision-making, even as technologies and platforms are still in flux.

With the complexity of business environments, there won’t be simple, cut-and-dried approaches to internal communications. With the use of this model, however, key improvements can be made to the maturity of practices that will have widespread benefits.

Internal comms teams should aim for clarity of practices in 2021, rather than getting bogged down in a strategic approach for the coming years. In this way, internal comms practices mirror (and ideally lead) the shift to the new normal as it plays out over the coming months.

About the Author

James Robertson is the originator of the global movement towards digital employee experience (DEX). Twenty years in this space, he’s one of the leading thinkers on intranets and digital workplaces. He’s the author of the books “Essential Intranets: Inspiring Sites that Deliver Business Value” and “Designing Intranets: Creating Sites that Work.”

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