By Gloria Lombardi

On 19th April, I attended the CIPR Inside Annual General Meeting, when James Harkness and a new Committee were elected with the aim of giving a stronger voice to the internal communications profession. I recently chatted with Harkness to capture his views on CIPR Inside’s efforts to support the IC function.

Gloria Lombardi: You have just been appointed the new Chair of CIPR Inside. What’s your vision for the group?

James Harkness: The CIPR Inside is in a great position to be the voice for internal communicators within the broader communication profession. We are a home for internal communicators with members from a wide range of roles (in-house – corporate, public and not for profit, as well as agency and freelancers). With this breadth I want us to really own and share best practice. Personal development is ever more important especially given the changes that many organisations are undergoing. I believe CIPR Inside should continue to champion development at all levels; whether it’s a formal qualification or a networking event. As a not for profit organisation, we aim to offer the best development without any commercial motivation.

GL: What are the objectives that the CIPR Inside wants to achieve this year?

JH: We’ve got a solid platform of events and activities to build on. Last year we ran a very successful Conference, Ask the Guru events, Awards and a Measurement Summit. So we’ll be doing all of these again but we want to take them all to the next level. We’ve listened to feedback and reflected that in this year’s events.

We also want to run more events for members based outside London and had a good trial running a webinar in conjunction with our colleagues in CIPR International with Angela Sinickas, so we’ll be doing more of those too. We’re also looking at more events this year as well as looking at Personal Development and Measurement.

GL: What events should communicators put in their diaries?

JH: The two big ones for us are the Measurement Summit and our Annual Conference, which will be held on Wednesday 25th September, at the Kia Oval, London.

GL: So let’s talk internal communication. What’s your view on the current state of the profession?

JH: Internal Communication has changed so much. In fact, that’s why the theme of our conference this year is the ‘Future of Internal Communication’. We’ve moved from being responsible for channels and mechanisms to – in many organisations – being a business critical Partner. The benefits of technology and 24-hour communication mean that the split between internal and external communication has become more blurred.

Meanwhile, transformational change continues at a high pace and the pressure on internal communicators to support that has never been greater. So I think internal communicators are valued in their organisations but they need to have broader skills than ever before. They really need to understand their organisations and how they can help achieve business objectives. Communicators need to be hard-wired into the people and business agenda and at the same time they need to combine a strategic outlook with solid craft skills.

GL: Any particular views on the intersections between internal and digital communications?

JH: Digital is really changing things. For me, it means the blurring between internal and external communication will continue. It means that you can’t just keep ‘internal’ in the box. I think overall it’s healthy and means that the internal audience needs be given ever more respect. The issue is complicated when employees are shareholders and in some cases customers (or service users) too, whilst there’s lots of debate about Bring Your Own Device to Work. I believe what’s even more interesting is the fact that we all bring our identity to work and how that’s used means lots of issues for organisations and their people.

We also need to consider those people who because of their roles don’t have such ready access to digital (e.g. people working in airport security, or train drivers, nurses etc.) and we need to be careful that there’s not a ‘them and us’ split created by digital access.

GL: What are the attributes internal communicators should bring to work today?

JH: Knowledge and understanding of their organisations. A real passion for their business will go a long way. They need to really understand where their organisations are headed. They need to be interested in communications and the debates that are happening (e.g. digital, greater numbers of home workers, etc.) and be aware of trends and best practice.

GL: How can the CIPR Inside support communicators in that respect?

JH: CIPR Inside can provide access to best practice, mentors and provide opportunities to network both formally and informally as well as support on development.

GL: What advice can you give to organisations regarding how to make the most of their internal communications functions?

JH: I think they need to think through what they want Internal Communications to do. Many senior business leaders I work with are convinced of the value of internal communications, but pretty non-committal on the value that it’s delivering in their own organisations. I think now is the time for internal communicators to raise their game and really advance their organisations’ agenda. To do this they need to understand their strengths and weaknesses, be open to new ways of doing things and challenging the status quo. They need to have excellent relationships with their leaders and be hardwired into the priorities and culture of their organisations.