The Power of Internal Communication: An Interview with Dr. Rita Men
Dr. Linjuan “Rita” Men, assistant professor in the Department of Public Relations at the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications co-authored a new book titled Excellence in Internal Communication Management, published by Business Expert Press.
The book “integrates theories, research insights, practices, as well as current issues and cases into a comprehensive guide for internal communication managers and organizational leaders on how to communicate effectively with internal stakeholders.”
We talked with Dr. Linjuan “Rita” Men about her new book, the power of using smart communication to reach internal stakeholders and why it is good for business.
You recently published the book “Excellence in Internal Communication Management, a comprehensive guide for internal communication managers”, that brings together science and best practices for internal communication.
What exactly is internal communication?
In our book, internal communication is broadly defined as the management of relationships with internal stakeholders. It encompasses all kinds of formal and informal communication that takes place internally at all levels of an organization, including hierarchical communication (i.e., top-down or bottom-up communication among managers, supervisors, and non-management employees), mass media communication (i.e., controlled messaging using various traditional and digital media channels), and informal networks (i.e., employee peer to peer communication).
“Employees’ roles as brand advocates are far more salient than ever before,” says Dr. Rita Men, assistant Public Relations professor, University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications
Why did you decide to write this book?
Employees have long been recognized as the number one stakeholder of an organization not only because they are the production force but also because of their role as corporate ambassadors. The value of employees as the company’s communication assets can never be underestimated. Employees’ roles as brand advocates are far more salient than ever before. How employees feel about the company and what they say publicly are often perceived as more credible, forming the basis of how external stakeholders view the company. That’s why we say a favorable and enduring organizational reputation is built from the within.
The ongoing issues and trends such as new technology, globalization, multicultural workforce, generational shift, leadership authenticity and work-life balance call for a work that could integrate the most recent scholarly findings, professional insights, best-in-class practices, and up-to-date cases to provide a road map for effective internal communication and employee engagement.
Internal communication has long been my research passion and I have had the opportunity to keep up with the field serving as the chief research editor for the Institute for Public Relations (IPR) Organizational Communication Research Center (OCRC). I am constantly reading recently published studies in this area and conversing with industry thought leaders. When I joined UF, I thought about developing a graduate-level course on internal communication and employee engagement, but had trouble finding a good and updated textbook. Then I started to think—why don’t I just write one myself? That’s how I started the project.
Your research suggests that managers should think of their employees as important and diverse stakeholders. Can you tell us more about that?
Diversity is a core value that a growing number of companies embrace today because of an increasingly diverse and globalized marketplace. Diversity is not only about race, gender, age, generational differences but also varieties in background, education, cultures, and personalities. Many benefits come with workplace diversity, such as increased adaptability, attraction of talent, broader service range with a wider collection of skills and experiences, variety of perspectives and ideas and innovation and creativity. However, diversity poses some challenges such as cultural and language barriers, prejudice, discrimination and stereotyping. Communication is the key to overcoming these challenges, fostering mutual understanding, respect, and collaboration, and effectively engaging a diverse workforce.
What does research suggest for getting employees more engaged?
Employee engagement is driven by various organizational factors that can be categorized into four groups: (1) work environment such as abundant job resources, job characteristic, pay, and compensation; (2) organizational leadership such as a CEO’s credibility, top leaders’ communication style and channels, and supervisory leadership style and communication; (3) organizational communication factors such as a two-way, open, inviting, and caring communication climate and effective communication channels; and (4) organizational culture that emphasizes transparency, integrity and trust, participation and empowerment, fairness, supportiveness, innovation, social responsibility, and joy and happiness.
What are the best practices for reaching internal stakeholders?
Over the past decades, the landscape of an organization’s communication has significantly changed with the evolution of new technology. Companies today possess a wide range of communication channels to reach their internal stakeholders, ranging from traditional face-to-face communication and print publications to electronic media and social media tools. These channels vary in richness, formality, sociability, cost, and ability in carrying messages and more.
For instance, face-to-face communication is instant, interactive, personal and allows and we can convey and interpret emotions or feelings through nonverbal cues. Print publications are a formal way to keep stakeholders informed and are effective in delivering information that is static and not time sensitive. Video conferencing has the ability to overcome geographical barriers and bring the physically dispersed together. Email has the advantage of reaching a widely spread target audience simultaneously in an easy and quick way. Intranet is a way of formal online communication and is often used for strategic purposes, such as to reinforce key corporate values, strategies and culture. Social media tools, which are interactive, empowering, relational and communal can foster sharing, collaboration, dialogue and conversation in the organization. Blogs can build thought leadership and promote open discussion and collaboration.
Companies and leaders should consider audience needs and preferences, resources available, delivery speed, sender objectives, message attributes, channel attributes and characteristics of receivers to select the appropriate channels to reach internal stakeholders.
Where do you think internal communication research is going?
Research guides and informs practices and is inspired by practices. The book considers future trends and issues, the ongoing transformation of internal communication practices, and the gaps in internal communication literature. From that, we identified eight topics worthy of further scholarly investigation: internal public and audience segmentation, enterprise social media, employee empowerment and engagement, work-life integration, emotional culture, change communication, leadership communication and effective measurement and evaluation.
Linjuan “Rita”Men is an assistant professor in the Department of Public Relations at the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications where she studies internal communication, leadership communication, public engagement, measurement and evaluation, relationship/reputation management and social media public relations.