Valuing internal communication; management and employee perspectives Kevin Ruck and Dr. Mary Welch, University of Central Lancashire, UK

Author note Kevin Ruck, Lancashire Business School, University of Central Lancashire; Dr. Mary Welch, Lancashire Business School, University of Central Lancashire. Correspondence about this article should be addressed to Kevin Ruck, The PR Academy, Maidstone Studios, Vinters Park, Maidstone, Kent, ME14 5NZ. Email:



In a review of 12 leading recent academic and consultancy studies it was found that there is no consistent approach to measuring internal communication. Underlying internal communication theory is not always applied and emerging theory is missing from many approaches to measurement. The emphasis is on process not content, reflecting a managerial not an employee perspective. There is a reliance on a quantitative research methodology and outdated survey instruments. A new conceptual model is explored as a framework for a new approach to measurement that reflects the linkages between internal communication and employee engagement. This is supplemented by consideration of how the use of internal social media impacts internal communication theory and measurement.

Introduction The role of communication is becoming an increasingly important factor in the understanding of the value of intangible organisational assets (Ritter, 2003 p. 50). Communication within organizations is linked to higher levels of performance and service (Tourish & Hargie, 2009 pp. 10-15) generating communication capital (Malmelin, 2007 p. 298) and social capital (Lee, 2009), grounded in organisational relationships. It is therefore important for managers to be able to assess internal communication. Many well established tools developed in the 1970s are still used, such as the Communication Satisfaction Questionnaire (CSQ), the ICA Audit, the Organizational Communication Development audit, and the Organizational Communication scale (P. G. Clampitt, 2009 pp. 58-61). Though managers have long recognised the importance of internal communication, it is often seen from the perspective of management rather than the employee. As Welch and Jackson (2007 p. 187) argue, “research into employee preferences for channel and content of internal corporate communication is required to ensure it meets employees’ needs”. This is echoed by Uusi-Rauva and Nurkka (2010 p. 303) who assert that “little research has focused on finding out what employees consider important in the internal “expert communication process”“. This paper is based on a review of twelve leading academic and consultancy studies representing 10,928 respondents. It argues that approaches to assessment are too narrowly focused on process, rather than content. Assessment tools are outdated, rooted in a positivist research philosophy, and take little account of employee communication needs and the rise of internal social media.

Communication, organisational identification and engagement


Employee communication needs Before examining the twelve studies, this section explores the general approach to assessment of internal communication. Goldhaber et al., (1978 p. 82) found that an employee’s primary needs include, first, more information about personal, job-related matters, and then, information about organizational decision making and a greater opportunity to voice complaints and evaluate superiors. According to the consultancy, Towers Watson (2010, p. x), “Most firms do well at communicating about the business; however…less than half of firms report they are effective at communicating to employees regarding how their actions affect the customer or increase productivity”. Towers Watson (2010) go on to report that internal communication messages are delivered either centrally or locally and content differs as shown in table 1 below. Table 1 Towers Watson 2009/2010 Communication ROI Study Report. Messages delivered centrally Explaining and promoting new programs and policies Educating employees about organizational culture and values Providing information on organizational performance and financial objectives Providing individuals with information about the true value of their total compensation package However, there is no evidence in the report to suggest that these topics are the most important ones that employees expect managers to discuss. Furthermore, the conclusion that firms do well at communicating about the business is challenged by Truss et al., (2006 pp. 13-14) who found that 25 per cent of employees say that their manager rarely or never makes them feel their work counts. And only around half of all employees say that their manager usually or always “consults me on matters of importance” or “keeps me in touch with what is going on”. In general, 42 per cent of employees say that they are not kept very well informed about what is going on in their organisation (Truss et al., 2006, p. 17) and this applies to both the public and private sectors. An effective communication climate is, according to Robertson (2005) based on the following topics; job, Messages delivered locally Helping employees understand the business Telling employees how their actions affect the customer Integrating new employees into the organization


personal, operational and strategic issues. Many of these are reflected in an audit of communication in a healthcare organisation, where the following top six topics were cited for “information needed” (Hargie and Tourish, 2009 p. 252) How problems that I report in my job are dealt with (3.8) How my job contributes to the organisation (3.6) How decisions that affect my job are reached (3.6) Things that go wrong in my organisation (3.5) Staff development opportunities (3.5) My performance in my job (3.5) Scale: 1 = very little: 2 = little: 3 = some: 4 = great: 5 = very great These results signify the importance of upward feedback and managers “closing the loop” of concerns raised. They also highlight an interest in “things that go wrong”, something that does not sit comfortably with a journalistic, tell or sell approach that can be perceived as organisational propaganda.

The dominance of process and the individual The general focus of internal communication audits tends not to be on content so much as process. For example, Tourish and Hargie (2009, p. 31) state that audits typically focus on who is communicating with whom, the issues that receive attention, the volume of information sent and received, levels of trust and the quality of working relationships. Valuable as these perspectives are, this highlights the general starting point for internal communication audits and research; the managerial perspective on process rather than individual employee expectations of content. In the review of studies conducted for this paper, little research could be found that specifically tackled what employees would like their organisation to communicate. As Chen et al., (2006 p. 242) argue, “A review of the research on organizational processes concluded that member satisfaction with organizational communication practices has been ignored”. D’Aprix (2006 p. 238) does place an emphasis on the employee perspective in his model of the employee questions that line managers must answer (see figure 1). This is similar to Robertson’s proposal (above) with a primary focus on the individual’s role at work. This is indicative of work conducted in the practitioner survey field on employee engagement (for example, Gallup) that suggests that it is an individual’s role and work that are the most important engagement


factors. This represents an individual, cognitive psychological, perspective on communication and engagement and underplays the pivotal role that social connection to and involvement with the wider organisation has for engagement. It is not enough only to know where the organisation is heading, that is just a starting point. As Truss et al., (2006, p. 45) report, the three most important factors for engagement are much deeper: 1) having opportunities to feed your views upwards 2) feeling well informed about what is happening in the organisation, and 3) thinking that your manager is committed to your organization.

Figure 1. D’Aprix’s (2006) employee communication model Furthermore, it could be argued that job responsibilities, performance feedback, and individual needs are purely hygiene factors for engagement; if they are not satisfactory then employees will be disengaged. If they are in place, then social identification with the organization, reinforced by informed employee voice, is what leads to higher levels of engagement. This concept is explored in more detail in the following section.

Content and organisational identification Miller (2009) suggests that the content of internal communication is dependent on the approach to management in the organisation. For example, in a classical organisation it is argued that “communication about task is very narrowly focused” (Miller, 2009, p. 29). However, in human relations organisations “the innovation content of communication is critical” (Miller, 2009, p. 50). Sluss et al., (2008 p. 457) point out that although a myriad of potential exchange relationships exist within and between organizations, all employees have two seemingly

preeminent relationships at work; one with the immediate supervisor, and one with the organization. Organizational identification, based on social identity theory, is the degree of oneness with the organisation and has been found to be associated with job satisfaction, job involvement, turnover intentions, and in role and extra-role performance. Leiter and Bakker (2010 p. 2) suggest that “Employees’ responses to organizational policies, practices and structures affect their potential to experience engagement”. This is illustrated in a social identity theory approach to organisational identification adopted by Millward and Postmes (2010, p. 335) in a study of business managers in the UK. They reported that “The fact that identification with the superordinate grouping of “the organisation” was particularly relevant to performance is important for theoretical, empirical and pragmatic reasons”. This reinforces research by Wieseke (2009) that found the higher the level of organisational identity of sales managers the greater the sales quota achievement. Furthermore, a lack of organisational identification has, according to Knight and Haslam (2010, p. 721) been associated with increased stress and burnout, withdrawal, and sickness. These are powerful drivers for an organisation’s investment in what Welch and Jackson term “Internal Corporate Communication” (2007, p. 186) defined as “communication between an organisation’s strategic managers and its internal stakeholders, designed to promote commitment to the organisation, a sense of belonging to it, awareness of its changing environment and understanding of its evolving aims”.


Corporate vision, values, image and identity Although D’Aprix includes organizational vision, mission and values in his communication model, the detail of the content in these categories requires deeper consideration For example, corporate image and identity is not prioritised in the literature on internal communication as it is often seen more as the realm of external communication. However, Cartwright and Holmes (2006 p. 200) suggest that it “can matter a great deal to an employee as it represents their assessment of what characteristics others are likely to ascribe to them because they work for a particular organization”. Holtzhausen and Fourie (2009p. 340) argue that “the non-visual elements of the corporate identity impact on employer-employee relationships and thus need special attention when managing employer-employee relationships”. Although employees are interested in knowing about organisational strategy, it is how it is discussed that is critical. Daymon (1993 p. 247) suggests that the reasons why employees give up on the communication process is the failure to connect strategy to people:


I think people didn't go . . . because the first one that [the chief executive] held was all financial. . . . It was all money, money, money, and it meant very little to a lot of people. He wasn't talking about realities. He was talking about fiscal policies. . . . Sluss et al., (2008, p. 458) suggest that, in terms of values, perceived organisational support is a key factor. This is defined as the subordinate’s perception of the extent that ‘‘their work organization values their contribution and cares about their well-being”. It is especially important as many more people today “are seeking a greater sense of meaning and purpose in their extending working lives” (Cartwright & Holmes, 2006 p. 200).

Review of approaches to assessment

Shortcomings in establishing theory in internal communication have often led to a predominance of the assessment of channels used, or volume of information generated (the what); essentially process explanations rather than the content of the communication itself, how well it is provided, or understanding. The well established International Communication Association (ICA) survey is a comprehensive approach made up of eight main sections. In an adapted version set out by Hargie and Tourish (2009, pp.420-437) one of the sections explores content and another channels, four are more generally about processes and volumes of information sent and received and two can be tailored to specific organisational issues. The range of content topics is mainly job related; pay, performance, promotion, development, with only one question in the set related to wider organisational goals. Respondents use a five point Likert scale to rate the topics according to the how much information is provided. The balance of job related questions and organisational related questions is skewed towards the individual job level and this underplays the importance of organisational identification. Furthermore, some important topics, such as job security and the general support provided by the organisation, are omitted. In terms of channels, the audit provides a list of channels and asks the question, “how much information are you receiving through these channels?” This may provide a useful snapshot of channel use in a given organisation. However, it does not explore what content is provided through specific channels and whether or not this is appropriate from an employee perspective. The overriding focus on the volume of information within the ICA also suggests that internal communication can be reduced to a transmission process and this ignores the question of how well the information was provided, including tone, clarity and


appropriateness of the medium used. It also fails to address questions of credibility of the information provided and how far it led to two-way dialogue. Another well established survey, the Communication Satisfaction Questionnaire (CSQ) takes a different approach to the ICA and focuses on primary dimensions of communication satisfaction that include: general organizational perspective, organizational integration, personal feedback, relation with supervisor, horizontalinformal communication, relation with subordinates, media quality, and communication climate (Downs & Hazen, 1977). This focuses mainly on information specific to an individual but also includes some wider organisational aspects, such as clarity of communication and openness to ideas (Pincus, 1986 p. 399). It is grounded more in general satisfaction than volume of information. The findings of the studies that have used the CSQ indicate that the areas of greatest employee satisfaction are the supervisory communication and subordinate communication, while the area of least satisfaction tends to be the personal feedback factor (P. Clampitt & Downs, 1993). The shortcomings of the CSQ are, according to Clampitt (2009 p. 58) the omission of top management communication and decision-making. Other surveys often explore preferences for channels and as White et al., (2010, p. 78) explain, e-mails are appropriate for quick notices and updates, printed paper signifies importance, and web sites are archives for retrieval-as-needed information. However, interpersonal, dialogic communication remains important to employees at every level of the organization. Review of twelve leading studies An analysis of twelve recent leading academic and consultancy studies of internal communication is provided in table 2 below. What emerges from this analysis is a disjointed picture of the assessment of internal communication. Despite the existence of well established tools, these are not always used. Consultants and academics use different question sets and approach the topic from different perspectives. This analysis reveals an overwhelming reliance on a positivist position, using questionnaires to ascertain the state of internal communication. It is not clear what validated approach to the subject these are based on, though there is a tendency towards a paradigm that is focused on messaging rather than dialogue and relationships. On the other hand, some themes do emerge, such as the reliance on newsletters and email and the decrease in print channels. In terms of content, where this is assessed, there is a focus on job related topics and wider organisational dimensions are often marginalised. The techniques used in the majority of the approaches reviewed in table 2 paper are questionnaires, many based on scales that were developed in the 1970s. The advantage of using such well developed tools is the potential


benchmarking of data on a significant scale. The disadvantages are that the tools do not reflect a broad, current, range of theories. They also reflect a narrow, positivist, worldview approach to the complex field of human communication and do not take account of the changing world of work that is resulting from the introduction of social media. It would be more meaningful to work towards assessments that reflect a combination of positivist and interpretivist approaches in the future. Table 2 Review of approaches to internal communication and engagement assessment
Source Towers Watson (2010) Content Understanding the business 60% effectiveness Organisational performance and 328 organizations that collectively represent 5 million employees in various regions around the world. financial objectives 56% effectiveness Rewards (health care, bonus, pension, pay) 45% effectiveness Actions affecting customer 45% effectiveness Job security IABC Research Foundation and Buck Consultants Employee Engagement Survey IABC (2010) 877 respondents from various regions around the world. 24% provide no information on this topic Formal list of values or description of the desired culture published – 74% Involve senior leadership in orientation programs to transmit vision, values, and culture – 54% Consistency between a manager’s behavior and the cultural values of the organization checked – 30% Frequently used channels, ranked in order Emails (83%) Intranet (75%) Face-to-face meetings (54%) Website (47%) Print employee newsletters or newspapers (32%) Posters/flyers (28%) Town hall meetings (27%) Virtual meetings (21%) Videos (19%) Social media (12%) Channels Social media – less than half of respondents are using this channel Electronic communication – substantial increase in use Face to face communication – significant increase in use Print – increase in use in some areas but significant decline in other areas

Business television (8%) Home mailings (5%) White et al., (2010) Even when respondents said they had sufficient information to perform 147 interviews conducted in a large, multicampus, geographically dispersed university in US. Melcrum Social Media Survey (2010) More than 2,600 internal communication professional respondents; 1,800 from organisations with more than 500 employees. Online video was chosen as the most popular "social media" tool with 52.6 per cent, with blogs (51.9 per cent – respondents were told they could tick all the tools that applied to their use of social media), instant messaging (47 per cent) and social networks, including Twitter, Facebook and Yammer, in fourth place with 37.6 per cent. their job and sufficient information about policies and goals of the organization, they still wanted information about administrative decisions, budgets, personnel decisions, pending changes, goals, and future directions, etc. Not assessed. Podcasts (4%) Employees who were most satisfied with internal communication were those who received information from a variety of sources, including interpersonal channels. Despite the convenience of emails, a high value was placed on face-to-face communication, even though many employees noted that meetings are time-consuming. Newsletters and emails 68.8 per cent of leaders use online newsletters and companywide emails to get messages out to their staff.


Marques (2010)

Criteria for successful communication: timely, clear, accurate, credible, pertinent,

Several participants listed the aspect of execution or delivery format of the message, stressing that communication should be delivered in a responsible format given its content. Not every message lends itself for email, but not every message

A qualitative study (entailing a phenomenological approach) with 20

responsible, concise, professional, and sincere.

subjects. CIPD (2009) A representative sample of more than 3,000 people in employment in the UK. requires face-to-face settings either. Not assessed.


Employees are most likely to say their managers rarely/never coach them on the job (44%); this is particularly the case with larger organisations. They are also more likely to say their managers rarely/never discuss their training and development needs (35%) nor provide them with feedback on their performance (26%). More than one in five (26%) are either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the opportunities that exist within their

Al-Ghamdi et al., (2007)

organisation to feed their views upwards. Not specifically assessed.

The eight highest rated methods used by employees to learn about their firm’s strategy were:

187 responses from employees in one company based in Riyadh and Jeddah.

(1) Plant Manager meetings (2) Group meetings conducted by employee’s immediate supervisor (3) Employees’ immediate supervisor (4) Information placed on bulletin boards, posters, and signs in the plant (5) E-mail (6) video (7) Tele/Video conference (8) The firm’s Division management in

Truss et al., (2006)

Training and development 32% rarely/never discussed

employee groups. Not assessed.

Stratified sample of 2000 employees in the UK.

Performance 30% rarely/never discussed Vision 48% say senior managers have a clear

vision Well informed about organisation 42% say they are not well informed Voice 37% satisfied with opportunities for Byrne and LeMay (2006) Satisfaction of company wide information 598 fulltime employees from the US based offices of a high technology oriented organization, using an adaptation of the International Communication Association (ICA) Communication Audit Survey Response scale of (1) strongly disagree to (5) strongly agree 3.2 Satisfaction of business unit information 3.05 Satisfaction of job information 3.37 Response scale of (1) strongly disagree to (5) strongly agree Satisfaction with rich media 3.76 Satisfaction with lean media 3.43 upward feedback Information Lean/Rich media


Akkirman and Harris (2005) Survey in a Turkish subsidiary of an international company based in Germany. Virtual office workers returned 46 surveys (a response rate of 70.7

Communication Satisfaction Questionnaire (CSQ)

Not assessed.

Communication satisfaction 3.66/3.24 Personal feedback 3.38/2.92 Organizational integration 3.57/3.12 Relationship with supervisor 4.02/3.73 Communication climate 3.69/3.26 Horizontal communication 3.66/3.17

Results are shown for virtual

per cent) and traditional office workers returned 22 surveys (a response rate of 62.8 per cent). Clampitt and Downs (2004) Around 1300 people from organisations in different countries. Communication Satisfaction Questionnaire (CSQ) Supervisor communication – 34.18 Subordinate communication – 33.43 Horizontal communication – 31.81 Organizational integration – 29.62 Media quality – 29.17 Communication climate – 26.56 Corporate information – 26.35 Personal feedback – 23.99 Quinn and Hargie (2004) Scale of 0-50, (50 is max satisfaction) ICA questionnaire Information - respondents thought they were receiving between “little” and Interviews, questionnaires and critical incident analysis in a police force in Northern Ireland with131 respondents to the survey. The greatest shortfalls related to: how decisions that affect my job are dealt with; self development opportunities; major management decisions; development and changes in policing; things that go wrong in the organisation. “some” information, but wanted a “great” amount of information. ICA questionnaire Information received through various channels - these results were the only ones that showed a statistically non-significant result, in that respondents did not wish to receive any more information through the grapevine and did not want to receive very much more via the media. Not assessed. workers/traditional workers


A summary of the key findings from the data is summarised in table 3 below. This analysis suggests that satisfaction with organisational information ranges from 53% to 64%. As a basic employee requirement, this indicates there is still much to be done for employees to feel that they are well informed. In terms of


understanding the business strategy, values and goals, 60% of employees understand where the organisation is headed, though this is undermined by senior manager clarity (48%) and minimal senior management involvement in telling the story (54%). Most concerning is the very low (30%) level of consistency in behaviour to match values. At an individual level, 30% of employees do not have any discussion about performance at all, job information satisfaction is around 67%, and personal feedback satisfaction ranges from 48% to 58%. Satisfaction with opportunities for upward feedback varies in the two studies highlighted, nevertheless it is clear that at best there is still a large number of employees who are dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with this (26%). Taking the three key drivers for employee engagement highlighted earlier; feeling well informed, line manager commitment, and employee voice, it is not surprising that given the data summarised here that engagement levels are often stubbornly low, around 35% according to Truss et al., (2006, p. xi). In terms of new and social media, it is clear that electronic communication is replacing print, though use of social media is still at an embryonic stage with less than half of organisations using it at best. Finally, questions about satisfaction with content are rarely asked and it is worth noting that employees do, naturally, expect channels to be used appropriately for the information provided.

Table 3 Summary of key findings from internal communication and engagement assessment
Satisfaction/Channel use Information Data 74% values published (IABC), 42% not well informed (Truss et al.), satisfaction of company wide information is 3.2 out of 5 (Byrne and LeMay), communication satisfaction 3.66/3.24, communication climate 3.69/3.26 (out of 5, virtual worker/traditional worker, Akkirman), media quality 29.17, communication climate 26.56, corporate information 26.35 (out of 50, Clampitt and Downs), even when respondents said they had sufficient information to perform their job and sufficient information about policies and goals of the organization, they still wanted information about administrative decisions, budgets, personnel decisions, Understanding and living the business strategy, values, goals Satisfaction with upward feedback pending changes, goals, and future directions, etc. (White et al.). 60% understanding (TowersWatson), 54% senior manager involvement in communication, 30% consistency in behaviour (IABC), 48% senior managers have a clear vision (Truss et al.). 26% dissatisfied or very dissatisfied (CIPD), 37% satisfied (Truss et al.),

Satisfaction with feedback on performance 30% performance not discussed (Truss et al.), 44% of managers rarely/never coach employees (CIPD), satisfaction of job information 3.37 (out of 5, Byrne and LeMay), personal feedback 3.38/2.92 (out of 5, virtual worker/traditional worker) (Akkirman), personal feedback 23.99 (out of 50, Content Clampitt and Downs). Timely, clear, accurate, credible, pertinent, responsible, concise, professional, and sincere, but communication should be delivered in a responsible format given its content (Marques), main shortfalls are: self development opportunities; major management decisions; development and changes in policing; things that Channels, new and social media go wrong in the organisation (Quinn and Hargie). Lean media; 3.43 out of 5, rich media; 3.76 (out of 5, Quinn and Hargie), email 83%, intranet 75%, social media 12% (IABC), email/online news 68.8%, online video most popular social media tool (Melcrum), general increase in use of electronic channels, though less than 50% using social media tools (TowersWatson).


Linking assessment to theory Hargie and Tourish (2009, pp. 235-6) highlight recurring themes in the communication literature as: • • • • • The need for adequate information flow concerning key change issues The central importance of supervisory communication as a preferred communication source The importance of inter-departmental communication in promoting enhanced innovation The role of participation as a means of enhancing corporate cohesion The notion of communication as a foundation of teamwork and positive employee attitudes, and thus an agency for enhancing performance • • The need to maintain face-to-face communication as a primary method of information transmission The benefits obtained from conceptualising dissent as a source of useful feedback, rather than simply as resistance to overcome. They conclude (2009, p. 236) that there is a “…disabling gap between theory and practice”. This is reinforced by the results in the analysis in table 2. Change issues are not specified in any of the assessments reviewed, the overwhelming use of e-mail and newsletters dominates information transmission and the omission of facets linked to participation and useful feedback is very apparent. However, the themes themselves may not


necessarily form a complete validated underlying theory of internal communication. For example, they do not fully incorporate research findings that link internal communication to employee engagement (Truss et al.2006). So, there are gaps at both the theoretical and practice levels. If an audit or assessment is conducted to obtain an accurate, objective, picture of the state of internal communication, then it is clearly important to understand what an ideal state is. Downs and Adrian argue (2004, p. 245) that communication theories are still incomplete, and as there are many of them, “theory needs to be used judiciously”. Furthermore, Downs and Adrian suggest that: The state of our art is such that no umbrella theory of communication exists. Therefore, each problem in the organisation may require auditors to use different kinds of theories, always watching for their contradictions and inconsistencies. If auditors need to call upon a range of theory, then emerging public relations theories such as critical theory, the excellence theory of public relations and rhetorical theory (Toth, 2009) could be incorporated much more into internal communication theory. As yet, these approaches are under-explored and could be a rich vein of research. Many of these theories point to a new direction in assessment based more on bridging than buffering, where bridging is about relationships with stakeholders, rather than a set of messaging activities designed to buffer the organisation from them (Grunig, 2009, p. 9). As the assessments reviewed in table 2 indicate, the focus remains on the circulation of information; type of information, timing, and load, flow; downward, upward and horizontal and use of channels. These are all indicative of a focus on buffering. An updated conceptual model for internal communication This paper has explored approaches to assessing internal communication and the associated links to internal communication theory. As theory is incomplete, it is not possible to establish a definitive conceptual model of internal communication that can be used to guide assessment. However, it is possible to outline a new conceptual model of internal communication (figure 2) that takes more account of the individual and the social communication needs of employees, the cognitive and social psychological aspects of communication and identification, bridging and buffering, and the drivers for employee engagement that are missing or marginalised in many of the assessment instruments.


Figure 2. Conceptual model of employee questions to be addressed through line manager and corporate internal communication This conceptual model aims to incorporate a balance between line manager and internal corporate communication. It incorporates the importance of employee voice, based on being well informed together with questions of organisational support and identification. It is grounded in the argument that employee engagement is the outcome of strategic internal communication practice. The model shows linkages between key dimensions where these are likely to be strongest although research is required to test connection strengths. It is conceptually possible that some aspects, such as role, are more like hygiene factors and others, such as identification are more powerful drivers of engagement. However, this hypothesis needs to be tested as a potential weighting has not been explored to date. Furthermore, this conceptual model is a higher level model only that requires a more detailed and layered approach to new assessment instruments. This extends to assessing the use of the right medium for the message and incorporation of the full range of employee communication needs as identified in some the research highlighted in this paper. In the next section social media and internal communication is briefly reviewed, as this will have a profound impact on theory and the development of new approaches to assessment.

Medium theory and internal social media


Information richness and new media ages Much of the research and assessment of internal communication includes the use and preferences of channels. According to Daft and Lengel (1986 p. 560) this is linked to the concept of information richness and in order of decreasing richness, media classifications are (1) face-to-face, (2) telephone, (3) personal documents such as letters or memos, (4) impersonal written documents, and (5) numeric documents. Rich media are personal and involve face-to-face contact between managers, while media of lower richness are impersonal and rely on rules, forms, procedures, or data bases. Downs and Adrian (2004, p. 57) argue that communicators need to match communication that is high in ambiguity with rich media and communication that is low in ambiguity with lean media. As highlighted earlier, this basic principle in terms of matching content to media is not often assessed. It is worth noting that, according to some theorists, the channel itself conveys its own message. Medium theory, developed first by Marshall McLuhan and then extended by Donald Ellis (Littlejohn & Foss, 2008, p. 290), is based on the idea that the media, irrelevant of the content, impacts individuals and society. As media change, for example from print to television and more recently to internet, this affects the way people think and relate to each other. Littlejohn and Foss (2008, p. 292) conceptualise a first, broadcast, media age as a social interaction approach, based on transmission of information and the second media age as a social integration approach which is more interactive and personalized. This analysis can be likened to Grunig’s (2009) differentiation between buffering and bridging. In the second age there is less emphasis on the media and information per se and more on the way that it creates communities. However, Poster (1995 p. 22) argues that the first age may not have been an age at all, “Until now the broadcast model has not been a first age but has been naturalized as the only possible way of having media – few producers, many consumers”. Relating this to internal communication today, it could be argued that its first real age has yet to arrive, with practice focused as it is on a model of transmission of messages from senior management (the few) using email and newsletters (broadcast channels) to employees (the many). A new age of social integration in internal communication The dawning of a new age of social integration in internal communication raises significant questions about theory and assessment. According to Poster (1995, p. 28) it amounts to “users having decentralized, distributed, direct control over when, what, why, and with whom they exchange information”. This leads to critical thinking,


activism, democracy, and quality. Poster’s approach is related to external communication. Could it equally apply to the world of internal communication where there is usually more control over channels? If so, assessment approaches need to add these dimensions as they are missing from most current instruments. Bennett et al., (2010) claim that social networking sites provide opportunities for both formal and informal interaction and collaboration with fellow employees and clients/customers which aids knowledge transfer and communication. This, in turn, leads to a shift in culture from “information gathering” to “information participation”. Lange et al., (2008 pp.4-5) argue that the benefits of social networking can be classified into three broad categories: (1) Community. Interaciont with people who share your interests and passions; (2) Collaboration. Connection to people, expertise and resources in search of solutions that cannot be created with any one of those ingredients alone; (3) Contribution. Capabilities to make it easier for customers or citizens to contribute their ideas, expertise, concerns and preferences. Fraser and Dutta (2010) highlight examples of corporations which have started to adopt social networking sites as a business tool such as General Motors which uses an internal blog and FastLane, which uses a corporate “focus group” that attracts around 5,000 daily visits. Assessing internal social media The approach to assessment of internal social media has to date focused on basic techniques, using website data and analysis or intranet traffic figures. A recent Melcrum survey (2010) involving more than 2,600 internal communication professionals found that internal communication teams enjoy sticking to the basics with 61.6 per cent suggesting they measure the success of social media initiatives by using website data and analysis or intranet traffic figures. The survey also reinforced assessment from other research regarding the use of newsletters and emails; 68.8 per cent of leaders were found to be using online newsletters and companywide emails to get messages out to their staff. The use of social media technologies becomes increasingly important as organisations offer different working styles, such as teleworking, hot-desking, and virtual offices. Interestingly, despite concerns that virtual working provides a challenge for internal communicators, research conducted by Akkirman and Harris (2005) found no evidence to support the idea that a virtual workplace would have a categorically negative impact on organizational communication. In fact, they found the opposite, virtual office workers experienced higher levels of communication satisfaction than office workers on all measured factors. Currently, internal communication theory and assessment has not caught up with the impact of social networks and media within organizations. This is an example of what Poster (1995, p. 74) refers to as


contingency in communication theory, “Communication theory begins with a recognition of necessary selfreflexivity, of the dependence of knowledge on its context”. He goes on to argue that “The first principle of communication theory in the age of electronic technology, then, is that there is no first principle, only a recognition of an outside of theory, an other to theory, a world that motivates theory”. Poster warns against the temptation, at an epistemological level, to try to secure a firm knowledge of communication theory. This is a steer towards research and assessment of internal communication that is more grounded in a relativist or interpretivist worldview, based on understanding more than explaining or seeking to find absolute principles. Conclusion An analysis of the studies reviewed in this paper suggests that levels of satisfaction with internal communication are around the 50 to mid 60 percentage range. Understanding of organizational strategy is around 60 per cent. Both these findings represent significant room for improvement and are seriously undermined by a lack of senior manager clarity, commitment to values and integrity in upholding values. Indications are that satisfaction with opportunities for employee voice can also be improved. Taken together this data suggests that there is a great opportunity to improve internal communication in key areas that lead to higher levels of employee engagement. The data also indicates that internal communication is often dominated by a journalistic “tell” approach, or buffering, that does not necessarily meet the communication needs of employees. However, it is not just the results themselves that are the focus of this paper. It is clear that, in a changing communication environment, traditional approaches to assessment are themselves becoming outdated. They emphasise volume and channels rather than content and dialogue. They also marginalize the importance of organisational identification and are too reliant on a positivist research philosophy and questionnaires. Additionally, assessment of internal communication should be revised to take more account of the impact of social media, within a wider context of medium theory. A new conceptual model of employee communication is posited as a high level framework for revised approaches to internal communication assessment. It includes a stronger balance between communication related to an individual’s role and wider internal corporate communication. It incorporates the importance of employee voice, based on being well informed together with questions of organisational support and identification. At a more detailed level of assessment the framework should be supported with instruments that include a far greater emphasis on content that meets employee needs as this has now been ignored for far too long now.



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