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The People Business asks 10 internal communication specialists how they are facilitating conversations in their business in order to drive engagement.

A new book that explores what internal communicators of large and small businesses are doing to engage employees has been published by Kogan Page – and IoIC followers are able to get a discount off the purchase price (see below).
The People Business looks at real examples of what does and doesn’t work in internal comms strategies, including the role of leadership, measurement and tailoring messages and channels to employees’ personality types. Authors Annabel Dunstan and Imogen Osborne, founders of Question & Retain, and comms consultant Vickie Sheriff, who contributed to the book, shared their insight during a Kogan Page podcast.
The book is based on interviews with 10 leaders about the work they are doing to drive engagement through internal communications at a time when the function is, as Annabel (left) says, “coming of age”. 
“Internal communication has really professionalised,” she says. “It’s no longer a CEO with a secretary or personal assistant sending out a newsletter once a week. It’s much more complex than that and rightly so. Internal communication plays a key function in helping protect a company’s reputation in good times and bad.”
Imogen agrees: “Everything you say inside a company these days is actually the same as everything you say outside a company. One of the largest challenges facing businesses with comms is they have to treat their internal message the same as their external message. It’s all about having a conversation – and a conversation that’s authentic.”
Connecting engagement to productivity
In the podcast, Imogen, Annabel and Vickie discuss how businesses are waking up to the fact that an engaged workforce is a productive workforce.
“The challenge is how to make an authentic connection between what a company is trying to achieve – how it is becoming more efficient and productive and meeting its strategic objectives – with how the workforce is coming with you,” says Vickie. “If people really believe it and feel part of it and not just a cog in the machine, they will put in the extra effort and do things that they won’t do if they’re disengaged.”
Increasingly, employees feel that if they’re going to spend so many hours working, they want to do it for something they feel strongly about.
“The workforce has become more fickle and less loyal,” continues Vickie. “That raises questions for business leaders. In order to build a workforce that isn’t fickle and is loyal, how do you make sure they are engaged? That’s where internal communication comes in.

And internal comms is being badged as different things. You’ll see teams are being called employee engagement to bring to life it is about engagement and not about sending out messages or helping people with their PowerPoint presentation. It’s morphing – and is bringing talented comms people in because they realise the value to businesses.”
Internal comms also presents a great opportunity for a new type of leadership, reflects Imogen. “It came up a lot during the interviews and with other research in terms of how CEOs handle their leadership role and look for opportunities for conversation with their staff. The best leaders out there are those who will embrace all feedback in its varied and diverse forms, and they’re not afraid of having that conversation or creating the right channels to have those conversations. It doesn’t have to be the written word.”
Involving everyone
The People Business is made of interviews with IC professionals, each with a distinct theme.
Imogen recalls talking to an IC expert from Grant Thornton about its platform that allows customers and employees alike to get involved in a common set of goals.
“There’s this whole idea that we’re here to do good, we’re here to make life better for people. It’s not just about making money. I found that attractive as an enduring experience if you’re working for an organisation.”
Equally, smaller companies are seeking ways of being more innovative and are more challenged to be ahead of the curve, says Imogen. “I had a long discussion with Fiona Shepherd, the CEO of April Six, about how important it is to involve everyone from millennials to middle managers to senior managers in the conversation and to get feedback and not be afraid of listening to things you don’t like to hear – you can still learn from them.”
On reflection, Imogen says writing the book has reiterated that every company is different.
“You don’t have to enslave yourself to one particular mode of communication,” she says. “If it suits you to use a variety of tools and tricks, then do it. It’s important, however, that you’re bringing in that cultural piece. Companies are embedding their cultural approach to how they communicate inside and out. That’s definitely something we’ll see more of.”
Imogen acknowledges that none of the interviewees felt they’d “completely nailed” engagement.
“That’s very refreshing,” she says. “It just means more innovation and more new ideas are going to come your way. So the future has to allow for that.”
You can listen to the full podcast, The Future of Internal Communications, on Soundcloud. And IoIC followers can get a 20% discount off the price of The People Business by using the code IOIC20 when buying the book through the Kogan Page website.

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