The 10 Commandments of Internal Comms

Jordan Berman 10 Commandments of Internal Communications

The 10 Commandments of Internal Comms

I awoke to a jolt on the redeye flight from Phoenix as our wheels touched down on the frozen tarmac in Newark, NJ. I felt surprisingly energized for having logged only 2.5 hours of sleep. That’s because I had returned from the desert clutching my “Ten Commandments of Internal Communications.”

The past two days were part of a pilgrimage to the 9th Annual Marcus Evans “Internal Communications & Situational Messaging” conference Feb 19-20, 2020. The event brought together 60 senior communication and HR executives working to elevate employee engagement at a who’s who of Fortune 500 companies: Bristol-Myers Squibb, IBM, Marriott, PetSmart, TD Bank, Uber, Banner Health, and beyond. Watch OFC’s conference highlight video here

These are the faithful charged with informing and inspiring colleagues from cubicles to cash registers and everywhere in between. The folks I met in Phoenix are dedicated disciples of Doug Conant, former CEO of Campbell Soup Company, who said, “To win in the marketplace, you must first win in the workplace.” Sure, eighteen presentations over 2-days might seem to be the very definition of “Death by PowerPoint”, but to the internal communicators gathered inside the Marriott, the event was equal parts knowledge sharing and group therapy. Like Moses in the Sinai, or Jim Morrison in the Mojave, we searched the desert for internal communications inspiration….and found it! 

While this list is more likely to live on a digital tablet than one chiseled in stone, here are The 10 Commandments of Internal Communications:

Sharon Dilling of BMS and I shared how diversity (traits and characteristics that make people unique) and inclusion (behaviors & norms that make people feel welcome) are no longer “nice-to-haves.” Communicators must thread the DNA of D&I within core business processes and across all company narratives. D&I can only supercharge collaboration and innovation if it evolves beyond the silo of ERG: Employee Resource Group heritage month celebrations, towards accountable business impact.

Jennifer Russo of Banner Health cited James Humes, author and Presidential speechwriter, who wrote, “The art of communication is the language of leadership.” If leadership is about mobilizing teams to get things done, effective communication is the active ingredient. Executives must be able to effectively articulate the why, what and how of the agenda they wish to move through the organization.

Heather Hummelsheim of Marriott International hit on the importance of being real, especially with Marriott’s “Checking In” podcast. Teleprompter talks and pretentious press releases are as relevant to employees in 2020 as carbon paper and typewriter ribbon. Employees crave communication from their leaders that is real, relevant, and human. Show some vulnerability and personality. Don’t worry, you’ll retain authority while bolstering your credibility and creativity. 

Jill Stracko of Uber talked about “quieting the noise” and simplifying the storytelling process, which was echoed by numerous speakers extolling the virtue of less clutter, especially in email. Jill added that you need to communicate as if writing to a friend, even if you’ve got 24k employee “friends.” And don’t be afraid to elevate internal communications to a place where employees get exclusive insider access to special content. You’ve simply got to avoid employees finding out something after your consumers/customers alert them.   

While your email and Intranet are still the PB&J of employee messaging, the media consumption diet of Millennials, which now make-up 75% of the global workforce, is trending towards short videoclips, podcasts, messaging apps, and social media. Ignore these media platforms at your peril. Those were points reinforced by Becky Graebe of Dynamic Signal and Erwin Van Der Vlist of Speakap. With that said, not everyone is gorging on avocado toast in the company café. There are now 5 generations of employees in the workplace: Traditionalists (born 1900-1945), Boomers (born 1946-1964), Gen X (born 1965-1980), Millennial (born 1981-1996), and Gen Z (born after 1996). “And” is the operative word when it comes to publishing content across platforms, especially when non-desk bound frontline staff and remote employees are in the equation. BTW, Joel-Michael Martin of PoliteMail shared that the best day and time to send employee email is Tuesday between 7:30-9am. The guy wore a “Straight Outta Comms” t-shirt, so better take his advice or risk a not-so-PoliteMail from Joel-Michael.

Cynara Charles-Pierre of TD Bank shared a great point on shaping an organization’s EVP: Employer Value Proposition. In essence, the EVP defines your company on its best day. So, be aspirational, but keep it in reach. Otherwise, you’re risking a bait-and-switch. The veteran of MTV, HBO and jetBlue also drove home how critical it is for brand marketers and internal communicators to collaborate on creating a holistic and consistent brand story across all channels. And if you’re not having fun producing the content, your colleagues will likely not enjoy consuming it.

Wendy Sherwood of CBRE reinforced how critical it is to bring scientific rigor when testing hypotheses and moving beyond the measurement of activity to the measurement of outcomes. Want to influence your leadership team? Use data-driven decisions and connect internal communications programs with positive business changes to show impact. This is a message Tarek “Daughtry” Kamil from Cerkl evangelized as well.  

Internal communicators tend to network within their organizations while external communicators are obviously more outwardly focused. This can result in internal folks feeling isolated, especially when compared to the larger departments of their marketing siblings. Stepping out of one’s company to interact with functional equivalents across other industries is the best way to see how universal our challenges and potential solutions are. While norms and culture may vary, the dynamics within different organizations are often remarkably similar. So, bankers and bakers unite. You likely have more in common than simply counting that bread!

Forget Krispy Kreme, Jessica Taylor of PetSmart revealed the most powerful way for encouraging employees to participate in an initiative is by rewarding them with a half-work day. Sign me up! She also demonstrated the power of a hashtag with #LifeAtPetSmart. In essence, employees post favorite moments/pics/stories on their personal LinkedIn accounts and tag it with #LifeAtPetSmart. These posts then form a wonderful mosaic of company life that can be re-shared by the company. Of course, puppy and kitten pics don’t hurt for virality : ) And hats off on a really solid acronym summarizing the PetSmart culture with AWE: Awesome Work Experience.

It may seem impossible to completely break away from the siren’s call of your iPhone, be it for email or conversations with colleagues back at the office. However, attendees that get the most out of their event experiences seem to be the ones that are present in the moment to make meaningful human connections. And isn’t that what internal communications is all about?



About the Author

Jordan Berman is the Founder & CEO of OFC (, a creative agency and video production studio that injects storytelling into employee communications and training to earn attention and inspire action. OFC lives at the intersection of pop culture and office culture to build multimedia campaigns that create buzz, drive engagement and maximize results one cubicle at a time. Clients include PepsiCo, AT&T, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Motorola Solutions. Jordan previously held senior marketing positions at MTV, Showtime, AT&T, Black & Decker, and the DDB agency. He has a BS in Industrial & Labor Relations from Cornell and an MBA from NYU.

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