Extract | Internal Communication Strategy | Rachel Miller

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This extract from Internal Communication Strategy by Rachel Miller is © 2024 and reproduced with permission from Kogan Page Ltd. All rights reserved. The extract features in Chapter 2: The Mindset Strategic Communicators Need.

What is mindset?

Before we look at the mindset from an organizational perspective for strategy creation, let’s turn our attention to its importance for internal communicators. To be an effective internal communicator you need to combine your mindset, which is defined by the Oxford dictionary as ‘a person’s particular way of thinking and set of beliefs’ with your skill set ‘the combination of skills you can use’.

When considering mindset, we need to think about what’s inside, which is your attitude. Attitude is defined by the Cambridge dictionary as ‘a feeling or opinion about something, or someone, or a way of behaving’.

An internal communicator’s attitude (mindset) matters just as much as their competencies and experience (skill set). To be successful as an internal communicator requires working on both.

If you have incredible knowledge about the profession, or your organization, but lack the belief or confidence to have difficult conversations with stakeholders or champion employees’ voices, it’s difficult to operate at a strategic level.

Capturing the uniqueness

Let’s imagine your completed internal communication strategy is in front of you now and the company logo is covered up. How would you know it was yours? Mindset matters when writing an internal communication strategy, because it should be as unique as the organization it represents.

When I was pregnant with my non-identical twin sons, I absorbed myself in the world of multiple births research. I learnt one of the ways to tell identical twins apart is their fingerprints. I discovered that the whorls, loops and ridges tell the story of your time in the womb. How you interacted with the world around you is reflected via your fingerprints. So even though your sibling/s had the same environment, your personal experience is unique, which is revealed through your fingerprints.

On the day you’re born, you are communicating your story through your fingerprints. Therefore, everyone is born a storyteller – don’t let people tell you otherwise!

I bear this in mind when looking at organizations and how they communicate. I look for what makes you special and unique. What makes you stand out? It’s typically the way you interact with the world, so in the same way each child has their own fingerprints, companies have their stories and employees have individual experiences due to their interactions.

What makes you stand out?

An IC strategy should mirror the company’s tone of voice, state what is important and show what makes the organization special. Generic strategies do not help anyone, least of all the internal communicators who try to live and breathe what’s in them through their daily work.

This is why mindset is critical for an internal communication strategy, because it needs to demonstrate the particular way of thinking and set of beliefs inside the organization. It needs to show your values, both the organizational values and what you value from an internal communication perspective. If anyone picked up your internal communication strategy, it should be unquestionably yours for all those reasons, even if the logo was covered up.

That’s how to make an internal communication strategy appropriate and relevant for each individual organization, and why a one size fits all approach doesn’t work. You cannot simply copy someone else’s, as their organizational goals, mission, purpose and priorities will differ to yours.

Saying what we mean

There is a word within the world of internal communication that grates on me. Every time I hear it, I hope the intended meaning is the right one. I’ve even banned it from my own internal communication practice.

It’s the word land. As in . . . How did the comms land? We’ve landed it to the front-line employees. We’re going to land this campaign on Monday.

Why does it irk me? Because ‘landing a message’ implies once you’ve hit send on an email for example, the job has been done. But that’s only half the story! I agree with this comment ‘we never “land” anything, unless it’s an aircraft’ (Gregory, 2022).

The difference between information and communication

One of my favourite quotes is from the journalist Sydney J Harris, who said ‘the words “information” and “communication” are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through’ (Harris, 1972).

Harris was an American author and syndicated columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. I’ve been referencing that quote for years as I identify strongly with it, particularly when analysing an organization’s internal communication and figuring out what’s going on. His book, For the Time Being (1972), is worth checking out.

The reason land jars with me is because it’s often meant in the information giving out, or outputs territory, whereas the intention should be communication getting through, which is outcomes territory.

It’s easy to focus on the information part, which is implied when internal communicators talk about the word land. However, that puts us squarely into one-way, or fixed, broadcasted, information.

What is priceless for internal communicators is knowing whether something has resonated with colleagues, which requires two-way communication. This means checking for understanding and testing recall.

I’m going to define the difference between outcomes and outputs now, as this distinction is critical as you prepare to write an internal communication strategy. If you are using ‘land’ and you mean communication getting through, well done. Make sure your stakeholders are also thinking along these lines and don’t think the fact you’ve sent an email means communication has happened.

Working intentionally

A technique I use to help with strategy creation is my intentions framework. I used to call it my secret sauce for internal communication, but it’s really a framework that internal communicators can use to set their intentions and plan their work. It helps you create your aims, which enables you to measure.

There are various schools of thought within internal communication when it comes to planning. Some organizations use know–feel-do, or think–feel–act. My intentions framework encourages internal communicators to know the answers to the following questions. It can also be used with stakeholders when trying to decipher their business needs and determining the editorial strength of their request.

Setting intentions

Before starting to write, ask yourself these questions:

1. What do you want people to do, say, think or feel as a result of your internal communication?

2. How do you want (or need) them to behave?

The need part is pertinent for safety communication or operational communication.

Don’t underestimate the power of focusing on feelings. In a world that has experienced the Covid-19 pandemic, how employees feel has been brought into sharp focus. If you are communicating change or trying to increase positivity around a certain product or service, gauging and monitoring how people feel is essential. You can then see how and if those feelings change over time.

Turning intentions into action

I used my intentions framework with the CEO of a local authority in the UK. They had been through a lot of change, they’d spun off the local authority housing part of the council, which had then developed its own identity, branding and values. Then after only a few years, the local authority reversed that decision and were planning to reunite both parts again.

This meant some employees had worked at the council, then the housing entity, and back to the council again. They had aligned themselves with a new set of values, a fresh vision and way of operating. A lot of hard work had been done to separate the two entities, and they were about to reunite.

I sat down with the CEO and head of communications to discuss the scale of the change and what was ahead for their people. I started by asking the CEO to imagine it was a year’s time, I asked him what he wanted employees to be feeling about the changes. What would they be doing, saying, thinking and feeling?

His answers were instrumental in helping the internal communication team and I to plan the way ahead. Knowing the outcome we were aiming for was for employees to feel involved in the changes, confident explaining the rationale, knowledgeable about the process and excited about the future gave us a lot to work with. We were then able to determine what needed to happen over the next 12 months and identify the gaps.

If you are communicating complicated change, look for ways to demonstrate empathy and kindness. Spot opportunities to reinforce feelings through messaging and take employees through the change. You don’t want employees to feel like the changes are being done to them, but for them and with them. This means not leaving the thinking or messaging down to chance.

Asking why

If you find yourself setting an aim relating to something people should do, feel or know, ask yourself why these things are needed.

Dewhurst and FitzPatrick (2022) say:

Keep asking ‘Why?’ until you reach a business or organizational target or statement. For example, if you want people to better understand the safety processes for their area, presumably that’s because you want them to follow the processes more consistently. The reason for this is probably because you want people to be safer at work, that is, you want fewer accidents to happen. There’s the core aim: reduce accident rate. (By how many, by when?).

They caution not going too far with the ‘why’ questions and say many aims can ultimately be related back to reducing costs or increasing sales. They urge communicators to ‘keep things focused on the problem your customer wants to solve’.

Dewhurst and FitzPatrick suggest working the other way around from ‘know–feel–do’ – they urge professional communicators set out the ‘do’ first. ‘Work backwards from the core business/organizational aim. What did you discover in your stakeholder conversation? Be specific about what behaviour is needed, by whom, and if appropriate, in what situation.’

How to write a strategy: Formatting

Formatting an internal communication strategy is something internal communicators struggle with. It’s one of the first hurdles when comms professionals are thinking about creating an internal communication strategy and can lead to a delay in starting the work. Therefore, let’s address it before looking at mindset and business priorities in further detail.

Which format to choose

The answer to knowing which format to write your internal communication strategy in depends on the culture of your organization. If everything that gets debated, discussed and decided goes to your board as a presentation, that’s the format you should use.

If you are a spreadsheet-first organization where everything is mapped out in that way, then you need to write your strategy in a spreadsheet. If you’re a document-led organization, then that’s the format to use.

Be informed by your organization

There’s never a one size fits all approach in the world of internal communication. When considering formatting, be informed by your organization. Once you know what your senior management team or director of comms’ preferences are, it’s unwise to present a strategy in a different format.

You need to understand how internal communication happens and how decisions are made, which means knowing how they’re presented. Look inwardly to the company to help you make the appropriate choice. If there’s no standard way topics are debated, discussed and decided, choose your preference. You need to write confidently, so do not let the type of document stop your work from flowing.

Communicating clearly

Whatever format you decide, there are some key parts that you need to work through, which we will do together in this book. They are applicable regardless of the format, and it’s where The MILLER Framework comes in. Make sure your internal communication strategy makes sense to whoever reads it. This means using jargon-free language and explaining industry terms.

I’m a visual thinker, so presentations get my vote, especially because they allow me to present the internal communication strategy to relevant parties without having to reimagine or rewrite the content into that format.

What’s your reason?

Which of the following reasons resonate with you when thinking about writing an internal communication strategy?

  • Having a clear plan for what’s coming up in internal communication
  • Demonstrating to my line manager that I can think strategically
  • Sharing my strategy with my stakeholders, so they can understand what we do
  • Being able to say no to what’s not in our strategy
  • Having something to refer to when I’m writing my personal objectives, or setting objectives for my team

These are all considerations internal communicators have and they are good reasons to think about creating an internal communication strategy.

How long should it be?

The question of ‘how much is too much?’ is a common query among comms professionals. When it comes to the length of an internal communication strategy, the truthful answer is it can vary. Again, this can come down to the culture of your organization – the ‘way you do things around here’ (Deal and Kennedy, 1982) – which determines what you create. If your senior leaders expect a one-page summary on everything, you need to be able to produce one. Or if everything is a large presentation slide deck, do you have enough to fill it?

The MILLER Framework creates a logical flow, and as a minimum I suggest one to two slides/one page for each letter. This means you are looking at a minimum of six presentation slides or six pages. There’s obviously a huge difference in the word count between those two! Which is why the formatting considerations are worth thinking through.

Two versions

I often create two versions of an internal communication strategy. One is the comprehensive version, which contains all the information a leader or team member needs. That detail needs to be documented somewhere. The other is a shortened summary that explains how internal communication happens, this could be a visual summary or one-pager, which can be shared with employees and leaders. Some internal communication teams stick this shorter version on their desks.

A strategy is focused on internal communication – the overarching way the company communicates; if you use The MILLER Framework, your internal communications – tools, tactics, channels and methodologies – are reflected in the Logistics part. The focus is the thinking, which is why the language needs to align with the way your business communicates.


A summary version of an IC strategy would not talk about channels. It would include sections such as:

  • Internal communication vision
  • Internal communication mission
  • Organizational objectives
  • Internal communication objectives
  • Outcomes
  • Activities
  • Impact
  • Inputs and enablers

Trying to distil information is tricky as strategy is ‘inherently complex, we see this in the thick reports and complex frameworks that companies use to describe their strategic choices and how they connect with each other. Describing a strategy favours complexity, but executing it requires simplicity’ (Sull et al, 2017).

What’s the timescale?

You may choose to write an internal communication strategy that will see you through for the next 12 months. Or you could choose to write a three- or five-year strategy.

I’m hesitant to suggest creating a longer-term one, for say 10 years’ time, because it would require so many updates between now and then. However, if your company regularly communicates in 10-year timescales, then go for it.

The benefits of longer-term strategies come when you are trying to create objectives that change behaviours, as behavioural change, or changing habits, takes time. Picture a scenario where people managers are not communicating well inside the organization. The lack of consistent communication is impacting productivity, adding to confusion and wasting time, money and effort all round.

You could create an internal communication objective to increase opportunities for two-way communication by people managers. However, it is unlikely a one-year strategy would see the desired outcome happen, whereas a three-to-five-year strategy would allow you to change or break communication habits, upskill people managers, introduce a dedicated IC channel or peer network for them, and introduce plans and processes to support robust communication habits.

Aligning with business strategy

An internal communication strategy needs to align with a business strategy. This sounds simple, but it rarely is, and internal communicators struggle to gather the information they need.

We need to have organizational alignment in place, which is ‘the process of creating unity between the company’s ultimate vision of success and the way leaders and individual contributors drive business results’ (CMOE, nd).

Creating strong strategic pillars

The UK’s Government Communication Service (GCS) is the professional body for more than 7,000 public service communicators working in government departments, agencies and arm’s length bodies. It has three pillars to its 2022–2025 Communication Strategy, Performance with Purpose.

The pillars are:

1. Collaboration

2. Innovation and improvement

3. Great people

The wording of the collaboration pillar is applicable to all, as it concentrates on fostering better collaboration, describing it as the need for a ‘clear, shared plan, an ability to overcome institutional barriers to join up campaigns’ (GCS, 2022a).

Specifying goals

The Government Communication Service has outlined its strategy’s goals, which include building public trust, to retain, attract and develop the best communications talent and to improve the ability of government communications to work together. It also says communication ‘makes a real difference’ to individuals and society (GCS, 2022b).

Business priorities

Do you know what your business priorities are? They may be stated in a different way, for example, they could be called strategic priorities, pillars or goals.

What happens if your business doesn’t have its priorities communicated anywhere? Well, it makes our roles a lot harder! An internal communication strategy is not the business strategy, they should be two distinct and separate documents. However, in lieu of having clearly articulated business goals, mission, vision and strategic priorities, it’s not uncommon for the professional communicator to find themselves identifying what the priorities should be, following conversations with stakeholders.

In an ideal scenario, you should be able to easily collate these documents. However, I know that’s not always the case. If you can’t find them internally, look externally. Documents such as annual reports, recruitment websites and even the press release and media centres on websites can contain this information. I hope you have access to such data if it already exists inside your organization, but sometimes we have to seek it out, and I regularly find external communication contains valuable insights we can use internally.

Strategic priorities

Strategic priorities are defined as ‘an explicit set of prioritized actions to execute strategy over the mid-term’ (Sull and Turconi, 2017). Think about your organization’s strategic priorities or pillars. If you don’t have them as part of your business strategy, what could you put in place to underpin your internal communication strategy?

Consider the actions you want to take. Strategy research suggests instead of trying to summarize strategy in a pithy statement, translate it into a handful of actions the company must take to execute that strategy over the medium term.

Your strategic priorities ‘should be forward-looking and action-orientated and should focus attention on the handful of choices that matter most to the organization’s success over the next few years’ (Sull, Sull and Yoder, 2018). You can apply this thinking for an internal communication strategy.

Do your leaders know your strategic priorities? Could they recite them if you asked? If not, you’re not alone. Analysis of 124 organizations revealed only 28 per cent of executives and middle managers responsible for executing strategy could list three of their company’s strategic priorities (Sull, Sull and Yoder, 2018).

Collating the evidence

Collate the following information about your organization, to inform the start of your internal communication strategy creation:

  • Business priorities
  • Vision
  • Mission
  • Values

You may need to write the following from scratch:

  • An internal communication vision
  • An internal communication mission
  • Why internal communication is important for your organization
  • The outcomes you are aiming for


You will then use this data to inform the creation of your internal communication strategy. The types of documents and thinking in this list is what makes organizations individual, because you are adapting what you are writing to suit your company.

Writing an internal communication vision

Decide whether you need a vision for the comms team or the organization’s internal communication, or both. This doesn’t replace your company’s vision, but outlines what good looks like for internal communication inside your organization.

I sometimes create visions with a team as communication principles. I think of it as the blueprint for the team. It’s not just their reputation and promise as practitioners and as a team, but an aspirational positioning statement they can measure themselves against.

Why would a business need an IC vision?

Organizations typically have a lot of feedback indicating internal communication needs to be improved. This ranges from anecdotal feedback in exit interviews, to formalized comments in employee surveys and questions via line managers.

Creating a vision for the way an organization communicates can be helpful to provide a check and balance against which to measure the efforts of your people. It’s also useful if you are part of recognition schemes such as Investors in People or Best Companies.