An effective Internal Communications Strategy helps employees connect their day-to-day contributions with the organisation’s purpose
An effective Internal Communications Strategy can reduce uncertainty and increase productivity, retention and participation in achieving organisational goals. We are more likely to be passionate, proactive and contribute when we understand how our contributions help the organisation succeed. IC professionals need to ensure colleagues feel informed, and that real dialogue on challenges facing the organisation is encouraged. Two-way communication increases buy-in and engagement.
Crafting or enhancing an internal communications programme can be daunting. This is due to the complexity of the modern organisation, the contextual nature of communication, and the impact of IC on engagement (mistakes can be costly). However, here are some key elements that will help you create a successful programme and avoid the typical challenges associated with enhancing your IC strategy.
1. Assess your “as-is” internal communications programme
Before creating your action plan it is essential to discover how effective the organisation’s current IC plan is. Is there any real communication happening, or just a data dump? If so, how effective is it in keeping people informed and engaged? For an enhanced internal communication plan to be effective it is important that all key stakeholders are consulted (including employees across the organisation). Discover what information they need, how often, in what formats. An anonymous survey can be important to get a broad picture of the status quo. We cannot improve a system without understanding where the current gaps and bright spots are.
Once your initial research is concluded crafting a strategic plan is vital to effective implementation. Analyse the raw data and use it to inform a new strategy that achieves your key internal communications requirements. This plan should include expected timelines, responsibilities and clear actionable objectives for each team member. Agreed outcomes need to be clear in team member’s minds. Define in measurable terms your specific outcomes, how you will achieve them, when you will measure them and what success looks like in terms of these measurements.
3. Link your internal communications plan to outcomes
Buy-in and adoption requires answering the “What’s in it for me?” question. Ensure you have answered the “Why?” Which specific business and communication challenges are you looking to solve and why should they care? What will happen if nothing changes? The plan should keep employees feeling informed and involved in problem solving across the business.
4. Engage champions
To be effective colleagues need to know that your Internal Communications Strategy is backed by the leadership of the organisation, and that it has a champion in the executive. Effective Internal Communication requires an enthusiastic, motivated decision-maker who can drive the vision forward.
5. Assess your available tools and consistency!
What tools do you have at your disposal? Do they allow you to effectively engage stakeholders and elicit feedback? How will you share the plans you make and ensure everyone is ready to participate? Do you have a process to stimulate meaningful, long-term two-way communication? Messages that are consistent in terms of tone and focus are more likely to engender trust than intermittent “ad hoc” messages. Aligned communication across a range of channels helps spread your message more effectively, as not everybody digests information in the same way. Employees should be able to choose how and in what form they engage with internal communications. Your IC plan will require some coaching of leaders across the organisation on how to share the message congruently. Some of us prefer face-to-face meetings, while others prefer more on-demand or digital channels – the key is ensuring your communication is relevant, authentic and consistent across all channels.
6. Make it two-way
An internal communication strategy should consider all stakeholders, not just management. Top-down only communication will generate very little sustained interest and often ends up being ignored. We want to be able to respond, express concerns and promote ideas without fear of reprisal. For many organisations this is a new concept and will require some work to earn colleagues trust before they will fully participate. When all stakeholders feel free to express their opinion, and can tell it like it is (vs. what they believe management wants to hear), we can get a real picture of the challenges and opportunities the business faces. This enables us to be more agile and proactive in managing these issues/opportunities.
7. Avoid overwhelm
Every day we are all exposed to massive amounts of information in the form of emails, meetings, etc. Internal communications messages should not become just another part of this noise. More information is not always better. We often need to break messages down into smaller chunks and only focus on a few ideas at a time. This helps us make our messages more digestible and memorable. Making use of a diverse range of initiatives and reviewing their effectiveness regularly is essential.
8. Align your external and internal communication plans
There should be no essential differences between your internal and external communications. Nothing creates more confusion or uncertainty than being told something internally only to hear different message presented externally. This is particularly important when it comes to organisational change or job security. When vital information is presented directly on the company website without any notice through the internal channels trust and good will are eroded, drastically reducing our ability to communicate effectively. Although the message, tone, focus and audience of your external communications may be different to your internal communications, consistency between the two is vital.
9. Repeat key messages five to seven times
Key messages need to be repeated a number of times (and in a variety of ways) to avoid being lost in the noise of the day-to-day. The first time employees hear about a change they are often wondering how it will impact them, and as such may not retain many of the details. Repeating key messages ensures that what you want to get across is heard and assimilated by employees. Share your key messages more often than you think you need to. However, to avoid overwhelm it is essential to prioritise your key messages – what do they actually need to know now though this channel?
10. *Crisis preparation*
A sudden challenge that directly impacts your people (e.g. political instability, extreme weather, sudden financial or legislative changes, etc) puts our internal communication methods to the test. Having an efficient, shared communications platform that allows all stakeholders to talk to each other in a crisis should be the backbone of your crisis plan. Test your crisis plan and see how well it works. Does everyone get the message? How quickly does the information reach the relevant stakeholders? Does everyone know what to do, or how they can help?
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