Internal Communications (IC) used to be thought of as just ‘sending out stuff’.
But these days, organizations realize the true value this business function brings, from staff retention to increased performance.
Here are five areas to focus on for best practice internal communications:
Developing a simple plan of where you are now and where you want to be is the foundation for best practice IC.
Start by determining what needs to be said, when and how.
First, include all the ‘known communications’ – such as financial results, big picture messages, plus general operational and regulatory updates into a one-year plan.
Then slot in your training awareness communications – such as compliance, health and safety, cyber security topics and others. These usually require a multi-channel, multi-touch drip strategy over a defined period of time.
Culture-related content has also become a communication priority. In your plan, recognize this is a ‘slow-burn’, and calls for a variety of formats and approaches to successfully build an organizational culture.
Reach out to other departments to see if they have any communication requirements (such as IT for software upgrades; marketing for new product launches, etc.).
Once you have listed these requirements, you can set about assigning who needs to receive what, being careful to avoid information overload.
Mass emails to ‘all staff’ no longer have the impact they once had. To get employee attention now, the focus is on targeting i.e. sending the right information, to the right people at the right time.
Best practice internal communicators have taken a leaf out of the digital marketer’s book. They recognize that to get cut-through, the content has to be directly relevant to the recipient, presented in an engaging format, and served up where that individual spends their time (just like Facebook has done so well).
Staff have a limit to how much time and capacity they have to read and absorb new information, so only send them content that directly relates to them.
Segmentation improves readership and response, and can be done by creating custom groups. You may want to categorize employees according to their channel preferences i.e. remote workers may be best served with SMS; Call-center agents may be more responsive to scrolling desktop tickers; Shop floor workers may prefer digital signage.
Also consider categorizing employees by department, location and grades.
Think carefully about the tools you use to create your communications. Your channel is as important as your message. And the nature of the message should influence your channel choice.
Some messages will be urgent (such as a weather warning, outage notification or unexpected crisis); some may be sensitive (such as a restructure or benefits review); others may be purely informational (such as a system upgrade or new hours for the staff canteen). It’s a good idea to create a matrix and plot preferred channel with message type.
But which channel? There’s been a mini revolution recently with a surge of new employee communication tools surfacing. Most of these focus on employee collaboration (such as Slack, Workplace by Facebook and Microsoft Teams). These newcomers play a different role to, say, ‘push’ channels (also known as top-down messaging), such as email, desktop alerts, tickers and screensavers.
Each tool has different attributes, and designed to meet a specific need. For example, full-screen desktop alerts are hard to beat for urgent notifications; whereas an entertaining video with engaging presenters is effective for emphasizing ‘big picture’, strategic content.
Create a list of anticipated IC scenarios, the desired outcome, and the preferences in the way staff want to receive your content, and align that to the ideal channel as previously mentioned.
Performance metrics can help you learn, shape and evolve your internal communications best practice. They should be linked to the overall company objectives, so you can report on the progress being made.
There are many ways to measure the impact of IC. For example, most employee software allows you to track open, click-through and download rates. You can monitor the number of unique visits to your intranet stories, and participation rates on collaboration sites. You can also monitor physical attendance at briefings; training sessions; and other company events.
For qualitative data, introduce mechanisms (such as surveys, quizzes and forums) to capture staff feedback and opinions. These allow you to input data for measuring engagement scores, and how well employees understand your communications.
When it comes to analyzing the data, don’t be tempted to cherry-pick the best results. Be prepared for some rises and falls – after all, internal communications is a fluid, often reactive function, with influences outside your control.
IC is one of the fastest changing functions within organizations. Creating best practice IC comes with experience, measurement and knowing when to use the right internal communication channels.
Not every message will get the cut-through you need, or the desired outcome straight away. Be flexible and open-minded in how your message could be improved.
The best results are often achieved using humor, eye-catching visuals, story-telling, employee-generated content and rich media, such as animations and video. Tap into your creative colleagues - such as the marketing or graphic design team - for help if you need it.
Remember, to inspire the ideal behavior from staff, focus on the ‘why’ this is happening/being explained, and not just the ‘what’. If people understand the reason behind what you’re asking them to do (behavioral change) or what you’re telling them about, they are more inclined to give their support.
To summarize, internal communications is no longer an afterthought for organizations. To do it well requires targeting, audience understanding, engaging multi-channel content, and a desire to continually improve.
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