Knowing your organization’s hidden structure can help make internal communications more relevant

Looking at your organization's structure from a different perspective

Any internal communication needs to pass three tests before employees will act on it. First, it has to pass the logistical test. Was it in the right language? Was it legible? Did it arrive on time? Second, it must get their attention. So far, so good; internal communicators can handle logistics and attention. The third test is often our biggest struggle.

The content has to be relevant. Employees want to know: “What does this have to do with me? Will paying attention to it help me in some way?”

When mass media is the model for internal communications, it can be tough to make content’s relevance apparent to each and every employee. Personalization has been touted as an answer, but mostly it’s unrealistic to tailor each piece of content to each employee. One solution a lot of larger companies have adopted is staffing internal communicators working at the corporate level along with semi-independent departments that function with business units or geographic regions. That’s great, especially when the corporate and second-tier staffs have solid, productive relationships.

It is not, however, the only way to slice and dice a company.

Consider business units. A typical large organization could have several, but they likely fall into two categories:

  • Cash cows—Established lines of business that produce most of the company’s revenues. Performance is measured mainly by how well employees have done at meeting sales targets.
  • New lines of business—These are smaller operations, the internal version of a startup. They’re not generating a lot of revenue—yet. Instead, they’re being scaled up, and success is based on achieving milestones rather than sales numbers.

There’s another component of most businesses and it can exist both at the business unit level and at the internal startup level. These are the functions that support the product or service lines, usually referred to as “staff functions.” Legal, human resources, marketing, facilities, internal communications, and the like all fit into this category. They don’t sell anything, so they are evaluated based on their ability to deliver their services, which are aimed mainly at the cash cows.

Because each of these business segments is evaluated differently, it makes sense to communicate to them differently, but few organizations even recognize these distinctions, no less target content at the employees who work in them in order to satisfy their unique information needs.

They should. At least at the corporate level, it makes sense to assign each of these segments as “beats” to members of the internal communications team. Smaller organizations without a staff large enough to accommodate these assignments can make sure they’re producing content that addresses these three distinct parts of the business.

If you can, make sure employees in each segment get the content that’s relevant to them, but if mass media is your only option and everybody gets everything, it will still help employees working in those sectors get relevant content while raising the business literacy of those working in other sectors.

If this newfangled way to look at the structure of business interests you, read Geoffrey Moore’s latest book, Zone to Win. It was the source of my lightbulb moment.