The art of effective internal communications
Conversations worth having.
Creating and communicating effective messages is vital to sustaining your workforce’s enthusiasm for your organisation.
Finding engaging ways to deliver those messages is not always easy, and corporate leaders need to think and act smartly in order to communicate effectively.
This is never more so than during times of turbulence within organisations. Good internal communication makes a huge difference to how a company copes with change (bad or good), which must always be communicated well if it is to be understood.
Conversations worth having
Delivering essential messages with clarity and confidence engages, informs and directs employees, which in turn helps companies to transform strategy into action.
In tough times, the most effective way to keep employees on side and focused is to give them the information they need, and also to make sure that their managers are as prepared to answer questions as possible.
But open and transparent communication, which is one of the central tenets of creating a sustainable workplace culture, can be difficult to get right.
One size doesn’t fit all
Whether they are dealing with dissociated markets or divisions, trying to remain positive through prolonged periods of austerity, remaining open to the explosion of new communications channels or responding to heightened pressure for organisations to make a broader contribution to society, internal communications teams face challenges from all sides.
This means that a one-size-fits-all approach to communications no longer works. Communicators are dealing with more stakeholders than ever before, and balancing corporate and local messages can be incredibly tough.
Here, we provide an insight into some of our work and the ideas that are being generated by our clients around the world.
Seven strategic questions
Every good internal communications strategy should start with a clear understanding of the business’s objectives. It must also recognise its own importance in achieving those goals.
We’ve put our heads together and pooled our extensive experience to come up with seven essential questions that communicators should ask before embarking on a new comms strategy.
- What are your organisation’s goals, ambitions and strategic aspirations?
- What do the people in your organisation need to think, feel and do in order to make those goals a reality?
- What is the role of the internal communications function in closing the gap between what your organisation wants for the future and where it is today?
- What are the roles and responsibilities of leaders, managers, employees and communications professionals?
- What communications activities will the business undertake over the next 12 months – and who will be responsible for implementing them?
- What resources does your organisation require and what resources are actually available?
- What are your most effective communications channels and what is the best way to use them?
Stay ahead of the curve
Avoid the pitfalls and come out on top with our guide to the latest trends in internal communications.
Dealing with decoupling
Companies with activities in more than one region or with a variety of revenue streams may be experiencing significantly different growth patterns in different areas of their business.
While it may be boom time in Brazil, the company might be cutting costs in Western Europe. This sort of decoupling makes it incredibly difficult to project the right messages at the corporate level and manage how these are interpreted locally.
Here it is not just internal communication that matters; it is also vital to get communication right between the different communications teams around the business.
Reading between the bottom lines
During periods of austerity, corporate leaders need to decide how best to engage with and motivate their employees in the absence of conventional financial incentives. And when times are hard and the future is uncertain, employees have an especially acute desire for honest, straight talk and clear direction from their leaders.
Many companies will have gone through painful restructuring processes over the past few years – some more than once.
Against this backdrop, strong and effective internal communications is not a luxury – it is a necessity.
Information for everyone
Anyone who aspires to a senior role in your business is sure to have a Google Alert set up on the company. This means that they are able to pick up on every whisper and rumour about the organisation, be it in the morning newspapers, an overseas business publication or a trade blog.
This information overload adds another layer of complexity to your internal communications, and there will be times when you need to be as strategic and prepared in how you engage with your own employees as you would be with the media or financial analysts.
A multi-channel approach
Progressive organisations make the most of the ever-increasing wealth of channels available to them today.
Internal communications was once the preserve of the all-staff memo and face-to-face presentations; now, smart communicators make use of the multiple options for dialogue available to them.
Some opt to create films to help corporate leaders engage with employees around the world, or to deliver the company’s core focus for the coming months.
Others get their message across with newsletters and magazines, either printed or online, while larger businesses might have their own in-house radio or TV channel that they broadcast over their intranet.
Spreading the word
Even modest-sized companies are under immense pressure to generate more than just profits.
‘Doing good’ no longer means just having a glossy CSR brochure; it is about turning your employees into ambassadors for your company’s way of conducting itself.
Many organisations commit significant amounts of money to community, environmental and charitable initiatives, but lose the benefits that this can bring to their company through poor internal communications. The most savvy firms involve and inform their employees in all aspects of their CSR or corporate citizenship programmes.
Eight ways to invigorate your communications
Engage with your own leadership
How much creative effort goes into developing a communications plan for the top 50 or 100 people in your organisation?
These are the individuals who are fundamental to the sustainability and development of your business, so consider launching a fresh communications plan for them.
Make contributions a competition
People like to feel that they and the organisations they work for are contributing to the communities in which they live and operate.
Why not launch an initiative to showcase your community engagement agenda by inspiring each market or subsidiary operation to produce a three-minute film talking about its CSR work? The CEO could select a winner, and the event could become an annual competition that reinforces the importance of CSR initiatives and encourages employee engagement.
Start a poster campaign
Pick a theme – ‘If I were boss for the day…’, perhaps. Each month, pick a sample of employees to be photographed and invited to list three things they would do if they became boss for the day.
The posters can be promoted throughout the organisation. Think of it as a modern take on the ‘ideas box’, where people from all departments are given an opportunity to share their perspectives on the organisation.
Launch a ‘Standing Tall’ initiative
Each month, film a different member of staff explaining just why they are proud to work at your organisation.
These films also have the potential to be fed into an advertising campaign and could provide a useful HR resource in creating a bank of content for staff induction films.
Reinvigorate an internal publication
When was the last time real thought went into this key engagement document?
When did you last undertake some reader research to assess its effectiveness in today’s digital age?
As organisations become more complex and workforces become more diverse, the need to create something engaging that is the basis of a two-way conversation grows ever more pertinent.
‘The messages’ credit card
Do your staff understand your organisation’s ‘brand promise’? And their role in the delivery of that brand promise?
Key messages clarify an organisation’s intent and ensure that all employees, spokespeople and agencies stay on the same path. They should be clearly articulated with internal audiences in mind.
For companies undergoing significant changes, such as restructuring, a key challenge is how to translate the complexities of a business case into simple key messages for staff.
Create a set of succinct but essential points on a piece of plastic; keep it the size of a credit card to ensure that it is portable and accessible.
Producing a film that presents the company vision and involves employees at all levels in telling the story is a powerful tool for internal communication.
A tightly crafted film can be extremely effective in bringing to life your organisation’s aims and objectives in a way that holds employees’ attention.
Commit to sharing knowledge
Why not have a monthly knowledge-sharing forum at which selected employees are asked to present their divisions’ best practice to their colleagues?
This could be organised on a regional basis or broadcast globally across the organisation. Speakers should be given coaching to ensure that they are confident and capable presenters.
While this initiative would have considerable internal benefits, it could also be used to develop a new generation of client-facing spokespeople.