How to create an internal communications strategy
Larraine SolomonOctober 6, 2020
An impactful internal communications strategy enables organizations to communicate compelling and authentic narratives with all employees, helping people to engage and align around a vision, purpose and values.
Connecting employees across your business and building a shared understanding of the future creates a cohesive culture, empowering employees to make decisions in line with the organization’s goals and brand. This, in turn, leads to greater productivity and improved customer service, both of which positively impact the profitability of commercial organizations.
The importance of an internal communications strategy
Fail to plan, plan to fail.
Communication is not an ‘event’ – it is a continuous process, which is why creating impactful communications is critical.
An internal communications strategy focuses on aligning your organization and it creates value for the customer and stakeholders, helping employees understand how their work links directly to the success of the organization.
In many organizations, ultimate success is measured in terms of employee ‘engagement’ – a willingness and desire to go the extra mile. Engagement is a vital ingredient to retention and productivity – an enabling ‘super fuel’ for your strategy that also helps to create your company culture. With a great communications strategy in place, engagement can flourish and organizations can achieve their business goals.
6 ingredients for an impactful strategy
Your internal Communications strategy should be your blueprint to guide you and your organization towards successful communication. Here are 6 key elements to focus on:
1. Well-articulated desired outcomes
Imagine you have decided to go on vacation. Do you begin by getting in your car, heading to the freeway and travelling north because the traffic is light? Probably not! Instead, most of us spend some time deciding on a destination, and we don’t leave the house until we know where we want to go. We have an end goal in mind. Likewise, once we have arranged a hotel, we plan how we are going to get there, we choose an appropriate route and use technology and tools to guide us along the way.
A communications strategy is a similar undertaking. You need a goal for your communications strategy in order to decide which tools you need to execute it. What do you want employees to ‘know, feel and do’ as a result of your communications? This is a critical first step.
As the American educator and businessman, Stephen Covey famously said ‘you need to start with the end in mind’. Impactful communication strategies start with your employees.
2. A company narrative / story
Aligning employees around the vision and direction of the organization, plans to get there, and what this means for customers and other stakeholders is fundamental to business success. An authentic, compelling narrative helps to emotionally connect people with an organization and its brand.
In a rapidly changing business environment, a narrative creates important context for plans and priorities, building connections between business strategy and everyday reality. A corporate story provides a framework for unity and strength, bringing leaders together and ensuring that the company speaks with ‘one voice’.
3. An internal communication channel strategy
From emails to town halls, videos to webinars and newsletters and more, the array of communication channels at everyone’s fingertips is extensive and often confusing. Employees can feel overwhelmed by information coming from all directions, leaving company leaders frustrated that key messages are lost in the noise.
Matching a communication channel with the desired communication outcome will achieve better results. For example, a corporate email is generally a ‘push’ channel, designed to cascade immediate information. While it’s simple to use, workers may not prioritize reading it or understanding it, or even open the message. They either don’t care about the information, or know they have no way of asking questions or sharing their views on a “push” email. They want a sense of community and collaboration.
A face –to-face team meeting can be a much more ‘involving’ way to share information, listen to people and to agree on actions. However, while the outcome is likely to be more positive in terms of employee buy-in, team meetings may not be practical for global organizations with employees working remotely across different time-zones with different languages.
Tools such as Digital Workplace are becoming a critical and practical ‘heart’ of an internal communications channel strategy at many organizations. By connecting employees across your organization in a simple way, a digital workplace empowers people to build communities of interest, drives knowledge management and promotes collaboration.
It enables the organization to share information in one place, empowering workers to ask questions, share their views and take action. Most importantly, employees no longer need to spend hours searching for information – instead the information that they need to do their work is likely to find them.
4. Visible leadership
Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “A leader is a dealer in hope.” Whether it’s within the political arena or within organizations, people often admire leaders who are able to plant seeds of hope and awaken a sense of expectation inside of us.
During times of change, employees want to hear from and trust business leaders. They want to know that the people in charge have a plan to succeed and that they care.
Ensuring leaders are visible to all employees is an essential element of any internal communication strategy. This could include video, town halls or simply ‘walking the floor’ in offices.
Internal communications tools such as Digital Workplaces are increasingly popular as they enable leaders to share and discuss ideas with workers across an organization instantly. Creating a forum for a CEO to have an open, online conversation with a front-line worker can create an open and inclusive culture.
5. Engaging managers
No matter how good a leadership team is within an organization, line managers tend to have the biggest day-to-day influence on the messages that employees hear and any subsequent actions taken.
Managers have a key role to play in translating the strategic direction of a company into local actions, providing a line of sight between employee goals and business aspirations. Their motivation and positivity is likely to be infectious. Digital tools can be essential enablers for managers to engage remote and dispersed teams.
6. Success criteria and the ability to drive continuous improvement
Obtaining both quantitative and qualitative feedback is key to understanding if a communication approach is successful. As business leaders invest more time and energy into communicating with their employees, they increasingly want to understand the ROI.
A communication ROI should be aligned with the business goals and outcomes that an organization set out to achieve. For example, if your strategic business goal is to expand globally, your metrics need to test how your communication is supporting employees through collaboration across time-zones. If your organization aims to encourage innovation and creativity, your metrics will need to correspond to the way your communication approach supports idea generation.
Metrics should also test the impact of your communication channels, including how to measure the ROI of your digital workplace.
Implementing your internal communications strategy
In 2020, as businesses have needed to pivot and innovate in order to take advantage of a new global reality, internal communications has been at the forefront of essential business operations and crisis management. From sharing new corporate priorities with global employees to providing mission critical information, welcoming employees back to offices, and establishing new technology, over the last few months, communications plans have been in the corporate spotlight like never before.
When done right, a well-designed internal communications strategy will build consistency, community, collaboration and confidence within your organization. In an increasingly uncertain world, creating and implementing a powerful communication approach is crucial for business success.