Who are your internal communications for?

Who are your internal communications for?


An article by Thomas J. DeLong in Harvard Business Review caught my eye about the “ignored majority” of employees in companies.

The diagram shows a categorisation of employees by how they are meeting the organizational performance goals (on the y-axis) and how they are meeting their own personal standards of expectations at work (on the x-axis). It leads to a model where there are people in all four corners, with the majority in the middle.

The general argument in the piece was that leaders in organisations spend too much time concentrating on those in the four corners of the model, at the expense of the largest number of employees who actually fall into the central “stalwart” category.

But what is a stalwart then?

The quickest way to identify Stalwarts is to list the people who make the fewest demands on the CEO’s time. Such reserve is utterly alien to most Stars, who make sure that they squeak loudly enough to get the attention they want.
The other signature trait of Stalwarts is their deep loyalty to the organization. They are responsible and care deeply about the organization’s values, and they generally steer clear of risk. Stalwarts are intrinsically motivated by the service they can render for the good of the organization, and they let their own careers take a backseat to the company’s well-being. They feel that they have accomplished something if the company is running like a well-oiled machine.

Thomas goes on to identify some commonly-held beliefs about stalwarts that are wrong:

Everybody is the same. Not every employee wants to give his all (or even his best) to the organization, leaving little time and energy for people and passions outside the workplace. Stalwarts place a high premium on work-life balance, and they highly value the time they spend with family and friends. In fact, many of the most productive Stalwarts are recovered Stars who, for a variety of personal reasons, have made a conscious decision to drop off the fast track.
Everybody wants the same thing out of work. Leaders often assume that all of their followers share their drive for power, status, and money. That’s just not so. Many Stalwarts want to influence others in their jobs. Others value autonomy, creative opportunities, or the chance to develop unique expertise.
Everybody wants to be promoted. Not every employee wants to climb the ladder and rise to corporate prominence. The truth is that many Stalwarts seek recognition and stability rather than promotion. Stalwarts strive for advancement, but not at all costs.
Everybody wants to be a manager. Corporate career-planning practices typically operate on the assumption that people will feel rewarded and special if they are given even nominal management responsibilities. For that reason, we often ask Stalwarts to give up their technical competencies for managerial ones. In the process, we often turn terrific specialists into mediocre managers.

This got me thinking about internal communications – and how communication channels, messages and tone need to be varied by these different groups.
While the discipline of segment, target and position is at the core of the marketing discipline, I fear it’s not as strongly ingrained in the internal communications discipline – leading to overfocus on the stars and saints in terms of targetting and positioning of corporate messages.
While this may well help paint a shiny gloss on the company’s achievements, does it really serve to help improve performance when the majority of employees are in the stalwart category and may well have alternative motivations and drivers of performance to the saints and stars in an organisation.
Maybe a more nuanced approach to internal communications is what’s needed here?


I work with technology-centric businesses as an interim Chief Operating Officer (COO), consultant and advisor. I created the B3 framework® for scaling technology businesses and I write a newsletter called Build for leaders who are building brilliant companies.