Why internal communications often get wrongly blamed

What if:

we’ve all inherited a paradigm in which…

…Internal Communications can end up being blamed for things that aren’t Internal Communications?

When people understand the Demonstrably Valid Purpose of Internal Communication, it usually dawns on them that communicating alone will often not be enough to deliver employee behaviours. Other ‘stuff’ needs to be going on too – frequently before the communications themselves even come into play. And if that other stuff isn’t identified, and put in place, internal communications can end up being blamed for failing to produce results they could never reasonably have achieved on their own.

The SMARTIED Principle

This other ‘stuff’ is likely to be covered by the SMARTIED Principle – which we developed back in the mid-90s to help support a major business change programme. This principle spells out the key pieces of the puzzle that need to be in place if an employee is going to be doing what their employer wants. And if any of these is missing, chances are the desired behaviour isn’t going to happen; at least not properly, or not consistently. Again, much of this may seem like stating obvious. But to be sure nobody overlooks it, let’s spell it all out.

Here’s what employees need to have in place first, if an internal communication is going to fulfil its purpose of prompting and enabling employee behaviours:


If the desired behaviour is complex or difficult, has everyone in the audience been properly taught how to do it? And, if appropriate, have their skills been tested and verified?


Does this behaviour involve any budgetary outlay? If so, what happens if the person or department doesn’t have that budget?


Does the individual have the right to do this behaviour? And, just as importantly, do they know for sure they have this right? And does their manager know this? It’s remarkable, heart-breaking even, how often employees don’t do things because they don’t think they’re allowed. No one’s necessarily told them they’re not, but many people seem to assume they’re ‘not allowed’ unless explicitly told otherwise.


About the specifics of what they’re responsible for, and what they’re not? We can think of ‘Authority’ as being discretionary, whereas ‘responsibility’ is non-discretionary. And it can often mirror ‘authority’, because many people may assume they’re not responsible for something unless it’s explicitly spelled out for them. Or, equally, they may feel they have to take responsibility for things they shouldn’t be touching.

Importantly, it’s when Skills, Authority and Responsibilities get out of kilter, that things often go horribly wrong.


Do the audience have the time to do what’s being asked of them? Of course, the bulk of ‘new’ actions are likely to be replacing something the audience may already have been doing. And often we might hope the new approach would be more efficient (or at least no less efficient) than the old one.

But that may not necessarily be the case – especially if it’s being driven by a regulatory change of some kind. And even if the new method will be more efficient in the long run, any change will still need to be learned and may take a little getting used to. So in some instances, people could be slowed down for a while.

And if it’s something completely new people are being asked to do, we have a bigger issue. Given that most people are probably stacked out with work already, any new action may mean something else will have to give. What is that ‘something’? There are only so many hours in the day.


Many internal communications refer employees to information provided elsewhere. But does everyone have access to it? Is it up to date, and will it remain so? Is it easy to find, or maybe buried away on some obscure part of the intranet, that’s badly laid out, and has broken links or hopeless search facilities?


Some actions can require employees to use a specific piece of physical kit. Does everyone have access to it? Or are some people struggling with, say, clunky old computers or a hideously slow intranet?

It could be argued that, if people have the Skills, Money, Authority, Responsibility, Time, Information and Equipment, they’ve probably got the ability to do what’s being asked of them. And on top of that, they also need the…


There seem to be three principal sources of this desire.

If people are going to be adequately motivated to do what’s being asked of them, they’ll need one or both of the first two sources, and they’re always going to need the third.

  1. Business purpose: do people understand how any new activity is going to enable the organisation to function better, or better fulfil its obligations to its external stakeholders?
  2. “What’s in it for me?” How is this activity going to make life better for the individual who’s being asked to do it?
  3. Comfort zones. How much confidence do people have in their ‘SMARTIE’ resources? They may, for example, have been given training to help with their skills, but have they been given enough time to practise what they’ve been taught? How are they likely to respond if they don’t? And they also need confidence in their authority, as well as the information or equipment they’re relying on. And they’ll need to be sure they’ll be given enough time to do what’s required.

DFVP IC Practices

If these SMARTIED resources come up short, chances are the desired behaviours aren’t going to happen. Or they’re not going to do so consistently, or to the quality your organisation needs. And that failure may often be wrongly blamed on the internal communication outputs. But as we can see it will actually be a failing in the IC processes.

For our internal communications to deliver the results people are expecting, our briefing, planning and feedback processes need to pick up on any SMARTIED shortcomings, and flag them up to whoever’s in a position to do something about them as soon as possible. Only then can we consider those practices DFVP.

FREE workshop

And we’re currently offering free workshops which will help you understand more about making this work for your organisation. We’ll set it up to run at a time to suit you and anyone you want to invite. It will:

  • spell out more of the business benefits (emotional, financial and reputational)
  • walk you through the mechanics of moving your IC Specialists into the Sweet Spot, and
  • show you how to make the business case for introducing this new paradigm.
free workshop