Like many organizations, you probably have clear policies and procedures for communicating with vendors, partners, applicants, and customers. But do you have the same guidelines for communicating with your own team? Do you have an internal communications plan?
What Are Internal Communications?
Internal communications is an interdisciplinary process of promoting effective communications within an organization. It’s how you produce and deliver content (of any kind) to your team. The proverbial office memo is a basic (and poor) example of an internal communications system, but you can and should go a lot further to keep your team informed and engaged.
Internal communications can include anything. You might announce new programs and initiatives, report on the state of the organization, or foster your culture and community. It helps your team understand company goals and values.
With a clear internal communications strategy, you can create a clear voice of authority that dispels rumors, addresses concerns, and streamlines communication at scale. There’s no limit here. You can produce whatever messaging is right for your company.
In most cases, internal communications are handled by the human resources or public relations teams, but lots of people throughout the organization tend to participate. For instance, an internal podcast might produce episodes with a host from the HR team or interviews past and present employees.
What happens if you fail to communicate well with your team? Research shows a number of serious drawbacks:
- Employees spend up to two hours a day worrying and gossiping about their workplace.
- When employees have a lot of questions, the consequences are uncertainty, frustration, and lowered productivity.
- Confusion and frustration motivate your best employees to leave first. It typically costs 150% of their annual salaries to replace them.
- 55% of employees say their benefits materials are confusing and missing information.
- 33% of employees worry their pay will be cut.
- 30% worry about being laid off.
- 30% are worried their hours will be cut.
If you’re thinking, “Oh no, I don’t have an internal communications strategy,” don’t worry. You aren’t alone. 60% of companies don’t have a long-term strategy for their internal communications either. Which is unfortunate, because 74% of employees feel like they’re missing out on company news and 72% of employees don’t understand the company’s strategy.
In this article, we’d like to talk about why you need internal communications, how to create your own strategy, and some best practices to make your program effective.
6 Reasons Why Internal Communications Are Important
An internal communications program may seem like a “nice to have” feature for your organization, but it actually has tangible, measurable benefits. Here are the top reasons you should create and execute an internal communications plan.
1. It keeps your team informed
People crave information about the companies they work for. It makes them feel safe and included. 85% of employees said they’re most motivated when management updates them on company news.
Internal communications are powerful ways to inform your team of policy changes, upcoming events, engagement initiatives, and updates of the organization’s health and plans. From a management perspective, they also make distributing information much easier.
2. It increases employee engagement
Are your employees engaged with your company or do they seem disconnected? Internal communications can go a long way toward making your team feel like they are part of something (especially if you publish podcast episodes where they can hear people’s voices). Ultimately, you get stronger teams who care about the organization’s success.
And with engagement comes productivity. Employee productivity increases by 20% to 25% when employees feel connected with the organization. Imagine how much more you can accomplish with that much extra productivity!
3. It reduces conflict and misunderstandings
Workplace conflicts are inevitable, but they’re almost always the result of poor communication, especially from the top down. You can prevent conflicts by centralizing and broadcasting information so everyone is informed and using your communications to foster a culture of respect.
4. It improves HR productivity and effectiveness
Internal communications is a value tool for your HR team. It’s a convenient way for them to spread information throughout your organization. Health insurance enrollment coming up? Starting a wellness program? Implementing a new payroll system? Your HR team would love a direct line to everyone in the organization for these kinds of initiatives.
5. It enhances transparency
Nothing stresses your team more than a lack of information. If you don’t tell them what’s going on in your organization, they’ll just assume it’s bad. Internal communication is an important way to bust rumors and clear up misconceptions. 80% of Americans say employee communication is a key way to developing trust with their employers.
This kind of transparency also gives your team a holistic view of the organization, especially if you involve people from all over the company. For instance, instead of using one voice to make announcements, bring in your own reporters from multiple departments to publish their own content. “Next we’ll talk about our sales goals for next year. For that, let me introduce John Smith, head of foreign sales…”
6. It helps your team get through a crisis
You’ll have to deal with a crisis every now and then. Maybe a competitor stole your biggest client. Maybe you had to lay some people off. When people are on edge, your internal communications can reassure them. They’ll need their questions answered quickly before they start taking steps on their own (like sending out resumes).
Create A Winning Internal Communications Strategy in 6 Steps
Planning is key for any initiative, yet 60% of companies admit they don’t follow a strategy. If you want to take internal communications seriously, you need to form a plan. Follow these six steps to build your own.
Step 1: Review your current internal communications plans
If you have an internal communication strategy, your first step is to review it. If you don’t have an existing strategy, move to the next step.
The purpose of a review is to figure out what’s working and what’s not. How has your current strategy performed? What are its strengths and weaknesses? Which team members are involved and how have they performed?
For instance, if like a lot of companies your internal communication is a simple email list, you probably notice that few people read your messages. This is probably because they don’t offer much value and aren’t very engaging. Ask yourself why your emails are uninteresting and what it would take to make them better.
Then try to think about the future. What are your objectives? What type of people, resources, and content do those objectives require? What’s changing in your business in the short term and the long term? Does your current strategy plan for these changes? Will it apply to the makeup up of your future team?
Answering these questions honestly and critically will help you develop a new strategy that delivers the right messaging to your employees.
Step 2: Determine what kind of internal communications content you’ll produce
Your next step is to decide on the type of content you’ll produce. What do you want your employees to know? What kind of culture do you want to foster?
If you aren’t sure what to produce, consider surveying your team. Find out what they want to know about the company and how you can add value to their lives. Try to uncover their blindspots. Do they want to know more about revenue and profitability? Career opportunities? Company events?
Next, consider the channels you’ll use to distribute your content. Will you write articles? Host live events? Produce a video or podcast series? Maybe you’ll run an internal social media network, a private Facebook group, or an employees-only SnapChat account.
Keep in mind that your purpose isn’t just to inform. You also need to make connections. Consider content possibilities that bring people together. For instance, you might create a virtual collaboration space, design an employee recognition program, or schedule in-person meetups.
Step 3: Identify the success metrics and how to measure them
Just like any business initiative, it’s important to define some metrics of your internal communications strategy to help you measure the effectiveness of your work. This will help you dissect your strategy and make adjustments based on what works and what doesn’t.
Set up systems to measure how your employees use your internal communications tools and to what degree. For example, if you choose to publish a corporate podcast, make sure your podcast host overs analytics to track usage and engagement. If your strategy requires a company blog, integrate an analytics tool with your website.
Step 4: Decide who’s the right person to deliver the message
Your next step is to choose a face of your internal communications work. It helps to have a charismatic personality to deliver your message to your team.
This person does not have to be the architect of your internal communications strategy. In fact, it often helps to split up these roles so one person can focus on the process (tools, metrics, workflow, etc.) while the other focuses on connecting with people and building relationships.
Who should deliver the message? Ideally, a recognizable face, perhaps someone high in the company that everyone knows. This could be the head of HR, a C-suite executive, or upper management. If none of these people are available, consider an outside hire with experience growing and fostering communities.
Step 5: Devise an internal approvals process
Before you start publishing content, it’s important to establish an approval process. It doesn’t have to be complex, but you need some kind of system to ensure your content is appropriate, on message, and free of errors. Make sure you can answer these questions:
- Who plans the content and measures its success?
- Who creates the content?
- Who is responsible for the overall message?
- Who will read/listen/watch, edit, and approve the content?
- Which stakeholders must view/approve the content?
- Should the content be shown to other people/teams publishing?
- Who is responsible for hitting “publish?”
- Who alerts the employees of new content?
Step 6: Find the right tools to distribute your internal communications
Once you know what you need to publish and how you’ll do it, the next step is to gather your tools. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution here. You’ll need to find the right tools to develop, publish, and promote your internal communications content.
For instance, if you decide to build a collaboration space for your team, you might purchase a Slack subscription. You might need to design and build a company blog, open a Twitter account, or develop email content templates. If you decide to publish internal podcast episodes, you’ll need a podcast host like Castos to host and distribute your content.
Best Practices for Internal Communication Strategies
Now that you have an internal communications strategy in place, you need some tips to be successful. These best practices will ensure your internal communications are as effective as possible.
Understand the potential flaws
Before making your own strategy, try to understand what doesn’t work. Employees report that communications fail when the messaging buried by too much information, when it seems self-serving and dishonest, when employees aren’t included, and when remote workers feel excluded.
Make it honest and authentic
Your internal communications are for your people. It’s not for investors, customers, or outsiders. It should sound like it’s coming from your own community. Don’t be afraid to get honest, even when you address sensitive topics. Don’t be afraid to use jargon that everyone would know, like abbreviations for departments and buildings or nicknames for well-known people.
Incorporate your mission
Employees need to feel connected with the company’s mission, values, and goals. Make sure your content touches upon that ethos. For instance, if your company values communication, tell stories about employees who went above and beyond to communicate with other teams in your organization.
Maintain a publishing frequency
It’s important to have a regular publishing schedule so employees can look for your content. But that doesn’t mean you should publish too often. Your team probably won’t read a new blog post every day or listen to a new internal podcast every week. Try to get a handle on how frequently your employees will tune in. Monthly? Quarterly?
Make communication a conversation
It’s easy to talk at your team, but more effective to talk with them. Find ways to make your internal communications a conversation. For instance, you might pair a corporate podcast with a Facebook group or Slack workspace where your employees can discuss your episodes.
You can also invite employees to participate in your content production as a way to give your audience a voice. Have an employee write a guest blog, jump on the podcast or video, or participate in a Slack ask-me-anything.
Give employees time to consume and participate
While some of your employees will enjoy your content and consume it on their own time, some will consider it “work” and only consume it if they are allowed to add work. For maximum exposure, see if you can allocate a few minutes on everyone’s calendar specifically to enjoy your internal communications.
Find the balance between realistic and optimistic
It’s tempting to use your internal communications to be a cheerleader for the company, but don’t be so over-the-top positive that you come off as dishonest. It’s fine – even healthy – to address real hurdles and obstacles you need to overcome to succeed. Don’t be too much of a downer, of course. Use those challenges as a rallying cry to improve.
Design internal communications for every segment
The workplace is more diverse than ever across all demographics. You probably have 18 year olds and 70 years in the same office, all from different places in the world with unique experiences. Make sure your content doesn’t favor or isolate a particular group. For instance, millennials are comfortable with short SnapChat videos, but Gen X-ers typically prefer in-person events.
Ask for feedback and optimize on your internal communications
Conduct follow up surveys with your team to learn whether they like your internal communications content. Ask them what you can do to improve and what else they’d like to read, watch, or hear.
An easy way to gather this feedback is to bundle these questions with your typical review schedule so it’s part of an employee’s workflow when they’re reflecting about the job and the company.
Internal Communications Trends in 2020
Before you dive into your own internal communications strategy, take a look at these upcoming trends. This will help you see where communications are headed so you can design a system that’s valuable in the years to come.
Support for remote work
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a big impact on internal communication. Many employees are working from home indefinitely and permanently. On top of that, many employees struggle with a sense of pessimism and fear over the state of the world. They need to feel secure and engaged with their employers in order to produce their best work. Internal communications will need to adapt to new digital methods of communication to keep them informed and engaged no matter where they are.
Focus on employee experience
The employee experience describes the journey an employee takes within an organization, from the initial interview through their role until the day they leave. Jacob Morgan, the author of The Future of Work, said, “Employee Experience is largely determined by three elements: workplace environment, tools and technology, and corporate culture.”
As employers begin to take the employee experience seriously, internal communications always come up. Successful internal communication allows employees to integrate and engage with the company. This plays a key role in their success and their contribution to the organization.
Emails, phone calls, and intranets are fading away in favor of mobile-first communication apps. These communication tools integrate seamlessly within the organization to keep everything in the same ecosystem. For instance, an app can be configured to work closely with a team’s project management tool.
Focus on employee recognition
The research is clear here: Companies with employee recognition programs have a 31% lower voluntary turnover, 50% of employees believe a “thank you” from their manager improves the relationship, and 90% of employees say recognition programs makes them feel like their work makes a difference. According to Human Resources Today, employees who are recognized feel motivated and invested in the company.
Internal communications are the perfect place to recognize your team for their work. Showcase their exceptional work in your articles, videos, and podcast episodes.
A broader definition of “team”
Organizations are using more freelance and gig workers than ever before. Many of these people have short contracts or no contract at all. They often feel like outsiders – temporary help that will soon move on. But organizations are learning that these contributors also need information and engagement to be successful just like their other employees.
A balance between mediums
At one point, the office memo was a sufficient communication method. The memo was replaced by the email. But now emails often fail to capture employees’ attention. The solution, therefore, is a balanced approach of content distribution that uses multiple channels. You might use a company blog, instant messaging system, or town hall style videos.
Podcasting is the newest medium that’s seeing a lot of success in organizations. Podcasts offer a number of benefits:
- They’re easy to consume because you can do something else at the same time. This makes employees more likely to listen to them while they work, exercise, cook, drive, or perform any other activity that doesn’t require 100% of their attention.
- Hearing someone’s voice creates a human element that isn’t available with other mediums. It’s hard to connect with a blog post author or an email copywriter, but you can “get to know” a podcaster’s voice.
- Podcast episodes are easier to create than video content. You don’t have to worry about the visual component. You can handle the editing yourself with simple software or outsource your editing for an affordable cost.
Strong internal communications is a critical part of running a healthy company, yet many organizations fail to create a deliberate strategy. Use the steps we outlined above to build and optimize a communications strategy that boosts engagement, productivity, and profitability.