The Covid-19 pandemic brought internal communications into the spotlight in a unique way. Suddenly, organisations had to create a crisis internal communications plan on the spot. Internal communicators had to shift to strategies that allowed them to communicate the latest pandemic safety guidance and company responses to employees who may be working remotely or furloughed.
Additionally, with constantly changing rules and regulations, a decline in mental health of many employees due to isolation and anxiety, and a need to unite teams of employees who may not have seen each other in months, this was no small task.
Therefore, it’s impressive that early in the pandemic, research by the Edelman Trust Barometer found that people trusted their employers more than governments, NGOs, or the news media for the latest information about the coronavirus. Many employees wanted to receive more information about the virus and the wider current situation from their employer, preferring to receive communications via email or internal newsletter.
Those early days of the pandemic may now be over, but they taught us a vital lesson about the importance of internal communications. Today, a great internal communications plan is more important than ever to unite remote and hybrid-working employees and boost employee retention in a volatile labour market.
Yet, many organisations still struggle to use internal communications to their full potential. In this article, we’ll explore the importance of creating a great internal communications strategy and how to execute it successfully in your organisation.
What is internal communications?
In short, internal communications, also known as internal comms or IC, covers all the ways an organisation interacts with its people and vice versa. It refers to the processes and channels of communication within an organisation.
Vercic et al (2012) describe internal communications as the managed communication system of an organisation. In this, employees are regarded as key stakeholders or an ‘internal public’ of the company.
In a slightly longer definition, Wikipedia describes internal communications as:
‘the function responsible for effective communications among participants within an organisation. The scope of the function varies by organisation and practitioner, from producing and delivering messages and campaigns on behalf of management, to facilitating two-way dialogue and developing the communication skills of the organisation’s participants.’
Why is a great internal communications plan important?
Avoid confusion and misunderstandings
One of the most important functions of your internal communications strategy is to avoid confusion and keep everyone on track. Without effective internal communication, you might find that different employees have different understandings of tasks or goals, while teams might struggle to work effectively together because everyone has received different and contradictory information. Misunderstandings waste time and money while making employees feel frustrated; a great internal communications plan can reduce the risk of these happening and boost productivity.
Increase employee engagement
To be properly engaged, employees need to be kept up to date on their organisation’s mission, values, and progress towards its goals. Internal communications help provide a sense of purpose in the workplace; employees feel part of a team and are working towards a common purpose.
Engaged employees are also more likely to remain working for an organisation, so an effective internal communications strategy can also be beneficial to your turnover rate. With more than 1 in 5 workers around the globe planning to quit their jobs in 2022, internal communications is a vital part of your employee retention strategy.
Respond effectively to crises
In the unfortunate event of a crisis — be it a PR crisis, major industry event, or something like a global pandemic — you want your employees to find out about it first from internal communications instead of external sources. This allows you to control the narrative in the event of a publicity crisis and keep employees calm in the event of broader bad news. A good internal communications strategy is prepared for crises and supports the short-term and long-term management of the issue.
Boost company culture
Finally, an effective internal communications plan can do wonders for workplace culture. Keeping employees connected to each other and leadership, internal communications is an opportunity to share messaging that unites everyone under common goals and beliefs. With many organisations worrying about a loss of company culture while using remote work or hybrid-working policies that result in employees interacting in the workplace less, a communications plan is a good way to boost unity and belonging.
How to improve your internal communications
Identify areas for improvement and set SMART goals
First, analyse your existing IC efforts and identify areas for improvement. For example, are internal communications irregular or inconsistent? Are they boring? Are they going out on the wrong channels? Analysing the current success (or lack thereof) is a good way to start the process of improving the IC strategy.
You can do this using an anonymous survey or simply by asking around in the workplace. Soliciting honest opinions from these internal stakeholders is a useful way to find out how they can be better engaged and reached by these internal communications.
Once you’ve identified the weaknesses or areas for improvement in your communications strategy, the next step is to set SMART goals for improving them. These are goals that are:
- Specific: there is an exact end goal
- Measurable: the success of the campaign can be measured
- Achievable: the goal is realistic and possible
- Relevant: the communication campaign is relevant to a brand’s mission and greater goals
- Time-bound: there’s a set timeframe for achieving this goal
For example, a goal that isn’t SMART might sound like: ‘I want to increase the number of employees opening my emails’. Whereas, the SMART version of this goal is ‘I want to increase the open rate of internal communications emails by 20% in the next three months.’ You may also research the standard for this within your industry in order to benchmark your progress.
Establishing SMART goals will help you focus your internal communications efforts and measure their success against benchmarks for your industry.
Communicate where your employees will see it
There’s no point in crafting the perfect communications and sending them out on channels that employees never check. A great communication in a blog post on the little-checked internal intranet is wasted. Think about where employees are most responsive and use these communications channels instead. If you’re not sure what the right tool for communications is, ask employees which they prefer, or use multi-channel communications to test which ones get the most attention.
Linked to this, consider using communications applications such as Slack instead of email for internal communications. While email may be the more traditional form of communication, apps like Slack allow for clearer and easier communications. For example, Slack allows you to send a message to a specific channel or reply in a thread rather than a separate message. This makes it easier to keep the important information visible to all while also providing an opportunity for employees to respond and ask questions.
Make communications more regular
Employees value frequent and relevant updates over the occasional long email full of news. In addition to making it easier to keep all information up-to-date, short and frequent communications are easier for employees to read and provide an opportunity to repeat important notices multiple times.
Moreover, a regular schedule for these communications is ideal. Employees shouldn’t be left wondering when the next blog post or newsletter instalment will drop; they should know the communications schedule so they can build a habit of reading it. A clear schedule for your internal communications is likely to help improve readership — perhaps a weekly update on a Monday afternoon combined with a longer and more detailed wrap-up on the last Friday of the month?
Treat employees as your target audience
If employees are still not paying attention to internal communications, try treating them like a client or customer instead of an employee. Just like a customer, you need to catch employees’ attention and give them a reason to take notice. In some internal communications, this could mean engaging employees with an interesting story or anecdote, adding an element of humour or surprise, and simply trying to make comms feel more personal and human. Consider what the employees want to read and what they need to read, and find ways to incorporate both in an employee-centric internal comms strategy.
Communicate in a different from
If all your written internal communications are being ignored, why not try delivering IC in a different form? For example, you might choose to create videos or infographics to deliver the same information in a more memorable and eye-catching way. Employees may be more likely to spend a few minutes watching a video of the latest company news than reading a written report; try this to find out what employees prefer.
The best internal communications strategies are ones that are a two-way street. Transparency, authenticity, and a genuine interest in employees’ opinions and experiences go a long way to improve your internal communications strategy. To do this, provide opportunities for open dialogue, perhaps by allowing responses in a Slack channel or intranet comment section or by holding drop-in sessions for employees with the internal communications team or expert.
Provide communications training
To improve communication between managers and employees, one tip is to provide communication training for managers. This can be incorporated into wider management training programmes or as one-off workshops or lunchtime sessions. Managers with better communication skills are more likely to engage the employees working under them and provide a more supportive work environment. Employees who feel that their managers are good at listening to them and addressing their concerns are more likely to show high levels of employee engagement and productivity.
Create a content calendar for your communications strategy
Your brand’s content marketing strategy is probably planned in advance using a content calendar, so why shouldn’t your internal communication plan be too? One way to improve your internal communications strategy is to plan it carefully in advance, identifying the communications channels where it will be distributed and what type of content will be included. Of course, you can’t plan ahead for every new company policy or announcement, but creating a communications plan using a template for new and more evergreen content (celebrating employee achievements, interviews with C-suite, etc.) will allow you to make your internal communications speedier and more strategic.
In many ways, internal comms is the mirror version of PR. While public relations seeks to communicate an organisation’s goals, values, and actions to the public, internal comms seeks to communicate these things to the organisation’s own employee stakeholders. Especially in large organisations and remote-working or hybrid workplaces, a good internal communications strategy is vital to keep everyone on the same page and engaged.
Don’t forget that just because your internal communications are ‘internal’, it doesn’t mean that nobody outside the organisation will find out about them. As part of your internal communications strategy, remember that it’s very likely that any internal comm could one day become external on social media or the news media. This means that internal communications plans have to be aligned with your PR messaging at all times.
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