About the Project

The History of Internal Communication

In the twenty-first century, organisations frequently wrestle with the risk of appearing impersonal to their staff. Internal communication (IC) between employers and employees has become a vital element of personalising the organisation and of creating and augmenting organisational voice and engagement amongst employees. In addition, IC is used for a range of other strategic organisational goals, including change management, building organisational culture, enhancing organisational identity and branding, stakeholder relations, innovation, education, equality, diversity and inclusivity, and organisational sensemaking. IC can be defined as the strategic and operational use of communication by management within organizations which treats employees as stakeholders. It currently employs over 45,000 people in the UK. The effort to develop effective forms of communication has a much longer history than many realise and stretches back to the emergence of large-scale organisations in the late nineteenth century.

Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, this project is undertaking an institutional history of internal communications in the UK since 1880. It seeks to integrate historical research with organizational theory, including institutional theory and rhetorical history. Its archival research is unprecedented in terms of scale and scope. It will research twenty UK based organisations, which include six institutions which have historically laid the groundwork for the practice of IC in the UK, and fourteen organisations which have historically practiced IC. The project aims to work closely with our project partners. One of its core aims is to provide IC practitioners with a sense of their occupational history so as to enhance their professional identity. The project will also collaborate with archivists and the British Library to assist with the refining of cataloguing of internal communication records.

Glossary of terms and concepts

Organisation           A group of people working towards a common purpose

Institution                Structures and practices that become widely accepted, either through formal rules or informal social norms

Validity                        Authority acquired through a view being commonly shared

Theorisation            The process of practices becoming institutionalised social norms and part of people’s wider outlook

Isomorphism            The tendency for organisations to become increasingly similar to one another as they grow in size

Brand                              A recognised identity widely associated with an organisation

Ways of imagining communities in internal communications

Esprit de corps           The imagination of an organisation as an extended family

Brand community     The imagination of readers and consumers as ambassadors for the brand

Democratic polity     The imagination of employees as citizens and magazine as an independent voice holding management to account.

Publications by the team

Heller, M. 2008. Company magazines 1880-1940: An overview. Management & Organizational History, 3(3-4): 179-196.

Heller, M. 2009. British company magazines, 1878–1939: the origins and functions of house journals in large-scale organisations. Media History, 15(2): 143-166.

Heller, M. 2016. The development of integrated marketing communications at the British General Post Office, 1931-39. Business History, 58(7): 1034-1054.

Heller, M., & Rowlinson, M. 2015. Organizational Magazines: Addressing Captive or Cautious Audiences, The Routledge Handbook of Magazine Research: 139-154: Routledge.

Heller, M., & Rowlinson, M. 2020a. The British house magazine 1945 to 2015: The creation of family, organisation and markets. Business History, 62(6): 1002-1026.

Heller, M., & Rowlinson, M. 2020b. Imagined corporate communities: Historical sources and discourses. British Journal of Management, 31: 752-768.

Clark, P., & Rowlinson, M. 2004. The treatment of history in organisation studies: Towards an ‘Historic turn’? Business History, 46(3): 331-352.

Delahaye, A., Booth, C., Clark, P., Procter, S., & Rowlinson, M. 2009. The genre of corporate historyJournal of Organizational Change Management, 22(1): 27-48.

Rowlinson, M., Hassard, J., & Decker, S. 2014. Research Strategies for Organizational History: A Dialogue between Historical Theory and Organization TheoryAcademy of Management Review, 39(3): 250-274.

Rowlinson, M., & Hassard, J. S. 2013. Historical neo-institutionalism or neo-institutionalist history? Historical research in management and organization studiesManagement & Organizational History, 8(2): 111-126.