Gary Grates
Gary Grates

Where is it written that employee communications must be all about cheerleading?

Touting and promoting company news and stories in an attempt to “motivate” and inspire employees? Defining leaders as flawless individuals and basic products and offerings as “innovative?”

Is it any wonder that people are turned off by what they are exposed to inside their organizations? If employees can’t find reality internally, where can they go?

The truth is internal communications is the information portal through which content, context, and knowledge is shared via dialogue, discussion, and debate. Done right, and strategically, internal communications is a differentiator in competitive advantage.

So, why do so many companies and communicators treat it as a tactical, feel-good mechanism?

Let’s answer that question by first outlining what progressive internal communications actually looks like today:

IC is the voice of leadership—Internal communications must be an outreach of the C-suite, not an appendage of communications or HR. Internal communications leaders must have access to the CEO and leaders regularly so that they can gauge performance, priorities, challenges, initiatives, etc.

IC is about timeliness, clarity, consistency, depth—Subjects/Topics/Issues must be given context, be relevant, and be free of jargon if they are to gain interest and comprehension. Years ago at General Motors, we created a monthly module or suite of information tied to a central theme consistent with where the business was at that time. Called “Messages from the Marketplace” it was a modular structure where communicators from around the world would customize content based on local realities. The purpose was to truly inform employees and provide a sustainable level of engagement and education. It broke through the typical internal clutter facing every employee.

IC is about employees making the argument themselves—When people can articulate an argument or decision or policy in a confident way, IC has done its job.

IC needs to get people’s attention based on their reality—A well-known CEO who returned to the company he founded after being away for a time addressed his employees globally with a note that was headlined: “Why Are We Losing?” He went on to address all the challenges the company was facing, chasing new competitors and how it was taking away from the purpose, mission and efficacy of the brand. The 20,000 employees applauded the honesty and personal nature of the message. The point was they were feeling the exact same way. His note aligned the interests of the entire enterprise.

IC is about connecting the business to the person—Internal communications strategy, plans, execution must be based off the business strategy, period. Anything different or less important is noise. That said, communicators must be fluent in business strategy and be able to translate it to relationships, content, visualization, programming and meaning that drives behavior and action.

IC is about preparing the organization to interact with itself in a coherent, cogent, sustainable manner—Internal communications exists to strengthen, optimize and uplevel the company’s ability to engage with itself through interpersonal relationships, information exchange, constructive disagreement, and shared interests.

Finally, IC is a bridge to the future—Successful internal communications efforts move people forward along with the business encouraging new thinking, critical analysis and confidence to tackle what’s next. Keeping it real and provocative offers fresh views on the potential of the business.

It’s 2024, we are being inundated with technology including the promise and peril of AI, yet internal communications remain about one thing: Bolstering an individual’s capacity to succeed.


Gary Grates is president of 120/80 GROUP, a leading health communications and marketing consultancy specializing in the intersection of health, digital and technology to improve patient care and outcomes. He is a leading global authority on organizational communications, holding senior positions at General Motors, Edelman, GCI and Real Chemistry. He is also an adjunct professor at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School.