Are your people informed and inspired? Or, are they working in the dark? All smart businesses recognise the importance of keeping communication flowing between management and staff. If you don’t already have a clear internal communications strategy in place, it’s never too late to make a start.
In its latest employee outlook survey, CIPD (the professional body for HR professionals) states that more than half of employees feel fully or fairly well informed. Which represents a 5% increase on the previous survey, but still leaves almost half feeling they receive limited information when it comes to their organisations strategy and objectives.
The problem is certainly not a lack of communication. Most people (especially those who work for large, multinational organisations) have to carve a daily path through mountains of intranet updates, newsletters, news feeds and information packs. In this context, it’s the quality, not the quantity, of employee campaign design that counts. The issue, it seems, is that internal communications have to work that much harder to be heard through the general information noise. They have to be relevant and consistent. They have to be trustworthy. And, most of all, they have to be engaging. Successful employee engagement strategy require ongoing commitment and resources to be truly effective.
So what can you do to make sure you are really connecting with your workforce? Reassuringly, the answers don’t hinge on spending vast amounts of money with specialist employee communication agencies to ram corporate messages home. Rather, success comes from doing what you can do within your budget really well. Developing an effective internal communications strategy will provide the blueprint for your employee communication campaigns. If you have the requisite skills in-house to do this great. If not, a strategically focused creative agency can provide much needed external input.
One of the most important things to bear in mind when developing your internal communications strategy is that it’s about seeing those who work for you as people – not just ‘human resources’ – and communicating with them in a more natural way. And it’s about adopting a few simple, common sense habits that will make your employee communications more effective – which will ultimately make your organisation more effective.
Seven habits that will make your internal communications strategy effective…
Habit 1: Take it from the top
Decisions about a company’s direction and strategy affect not just its bottom line and its customers, but the people who work there. So it’s only natural to want to feel that those decisions are made by real, approachable people rather than faceless, inaccessible executives. Keep this front-of-mind when developing your internal communications strategy.
If the top brass aren’t ‘visible’, it can make staff feel demotivated and demoralised. On the other hand, senior management who communicate regularly with staff are seen as more caring, more trustworthy – and earn greater support and loyalty from their employees in return.
Where once the most you could hope for was an introductory column from the Chief Exec in the internal newsletter, the last decade has seen the emergence of blogs, webcasts and podcasts, making it much easier for company leaders to stay in touch. But – and it’s an important but – any top-down employee communications has to be believable and authentic; fake and insincere messages are easy to spot and will do more harm than good.
Habit 2: Make it a two-way street
Internal communication campaigns work best in an environment of mutual trust. It’s not just about talking at the people who work for you or cascading messages down.
It’s about sharing information with your employees and then listening to their take on it. And that means giving them mechanisms to respond – whether by publishing their letters in the newsletter, encouraging comments on the Chief Exec’s blog, using feedback forms and questionnaires to gauge reaction to new initiatives or just making sure your door is open for face-to-face discussions.
Equally, you need to act on what you hear – or at least explain why you can’t or won’t.
Habit 3: Stick with it
There’s no such thing as a captive audience – even an internal one. You have to work hard to build your audience and gain their attention and trust. And that doesn’t happen overnight.
So think of your employee communications strategy as a long-term investment rather than a one hit wonder.
Newsletters need to be published at set and regular intervals – not just when you have enough time to write them or enough news to fill them. Similarly, intranets and blogs must be updated often, or no-one will come back to read them.
Combine verbal and non-verbal communication methods, digital and traditional media, to ‘layer’ messages and make sure you connect with everyone, no matter what their communication style.
(But note Habit 7: beware of spreading your efforts too thinly.)
Habit 4: Paint the bigger picture
The most effective internal communication strategies link their messages back to the business’s wider goals, so that everyone has a clear idea of what the company is trying to achieve and what their role is in making it happen.
HR professionals call this giving employees a ‘line of sight’. Without it, your staff may find it hard to see any relevance to the messages you’re sending out and the jobs they have to do every day.
Creating a line of sight can be as simple as sharing customer feedback or success stories that demonstrate where key goals have been reached.
Habit 5: Segment or lament
When it comes to connecting with your workforce, through employee engagement campaigns, one size most definitely does not fit all. The most successful internal communication strategies view employees more like customers.
They learn from classic marketing techniques by breaking down those internal customers into groups, not simply based on location or job type, but on interests and motivations.
Some people, for instance, want power and the chance to lead. Others are excited by the social aspects of work and want work to be ‘fun’. And for every person who works flat out for a pay rise and a big bonus, there’ll be someone else who is motivated by achieving a good work/life balance.
The trick is to identify these groups and then tailor your messages and your method of internal communication to reach each of them. Digital communications, in particular, offer lots of opportunity for customising your messages to make sure each group will sit up and take notice.
Habit 6: Choose your weapons wisely
Face-to-face communication is arguably the best form of employee engagement. But it’s not always practical – particularly in large organisations.
Fortunately, today we can choose from a raft of alternatives, from traditional media such as newsletters, magazines, posters and desk-drops to electronic channels such as blogs, SMS, desktop news feeds, webcasts, podcasts and Wikis.
But, exciting and effective as some of these channels are, don’t forget that when people are bombarded with too much information, they tend to shut it all out. Electronic media, in particular, requires a clear internal communications strategy – with realistic objectives – to avoid becoming just more communications noise. Better to use a few tools really well (a great quarterly magazine, regular intranet updates and key news events delivered as a short video, say) than adopt a scattergun approach that lacks quality and consistency.
Habit 7: Get creative
Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin… From an early age, we love stories. They’re entertaining. They paint mental pictures – and so lend themselves well to strong graphical interpretation. And they neatly contain a clear message or moral. That’s why they work so well in conveying business messages, which can feed directly into your internal communication campaigns.
There are all sorts of ways to tell a story through, which can be brought alive with input from your employee communications agency. The right metaphor can work brilliantly (sport and nature are rich sources of inspiration). While personal stories can build a strong emotional connection – as Sir Seb Coe proved in helping to secure the London 2012 Games. He used his own story of how seeing the Olympics as a child spurred him on to sporting success.
But most of all, having a strong unifying creative concept behind your messages helps communicate the “what’s in it for me?” message that is such an important part of creating a positive connection with your staff. Could storytelling be at the heart of your internal communications strategy?
Does employee engagement really matter?
Many businesses (particularly smaller ones) still see employee engagement campaigns as nice-to-haves rather than need-to-haves. But the Government is urging employers to think differently.
The benefits are clear. Companies with a clear employee engagement strategy are more likely to see an increase in performance, loyalty and job satisfaction of employees. And, the performance and profitability of companies are transformed by well thought-out and well executed internal communication strategies and employee engagement campaigns. If more companies take the initiative, it would make the UK more competitive and help us better cope with downturns and the potential impact of Brexit. More reason to switch-on to the power of an effective internal communications strategy.