Internal communicators, HR professionals and senior management often dedicate time to planning out and preparing for the delivery of bad news to employees.
It’s understandable. Handled badly, a negative announcement can trigger a ripple effect on business: impact morale, productivity, lead to a surge in employee turnover. Worse still, if disgruntled staff take their feelings public, you’ve got a full-scale PR nightmare that can cause long-term damage to your brand and reputation.
(Just ask music retailer HMV, whose disgruntled employees took to the company Twitter following what they referred to as a ‘mass execution’ when the company went into administration.)
By contrast, delivering positive news internally should be easy – shouldn’t it?
Actually, this preconception may be causing more damage than many of us realize. Relying on good news to succeed on its own merits without a proper plan may limit its impact – or even backfire completely.
So, how should you communicate good news to employees?
#1: Ask the question, is it good news?
Are you sure what you have to communicate is actually good news?
Before taking to the wires, evaluate the impact of this news on the wider business. Perhaps your management are celebrating a new business acquisition that signals a lucrative return for the company, and want to spread the word. Could this news threaten existing jobs? Cause anxiety amongst particular departments?
Even scenarios that appear at first glance to be positive on all sides have potential to cause unrest. Let’s say you’ve landed a large account that promises to generate extra revenue for the business. Could there workload repercussions for particular individuals? Perhaps this will call for additional international travel, or will take away resource from existing projects. Be sensitive to the fact that different people will interpret and respond to news in different ways, and the impact won’t be the same for everyone involved.
Does your announcement even warrant a public announcement? If it’s to communicate that the photocopier has been fixed or there’s a new dish coming to the staff canteen, you may want to give it a miss. Internal communication loses its value when it becomes yet another source of digital noise. Be selective with what you choose to put out.
#2: Have a plan
As Benjamin Franklin put it – by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.
Don’t leave your news to chance. Creating a proper internal communications plan greatly increases your chance of employee engagement and positive action.
A successful plan considers the 5 major elements of any communication:
- Who needs to know this news, and who should deliver it?
- What is the key information that needs to be communicated?
- Why is this information relevant, important or worthy of attention?
- When should the news be made public to employees?
- How are you going to distribute the news?
Let’s consider each of those points.
#3: WHO: Line up the right people
One of the core responsibilities of any internal communicator operating in the digital age is to filter, target, and personalize communication.
Employees are continually exposed to digital noise, both as part of their roles and within their personal lives. Mass communication that is irrelevant or not tailored to their specific interests will be deleted without acknowledgement.
(Source: LookBook HQ)
Take the time to break down your employee base and identify:
- Who needs to know – those the news directly impacts, or who have personal involvement or connection to the news
- Who should know – for example, members of management or those with the responsibility of answering questions
- Who would like to know – those who have an interest in the news or topic
It may be appropriate to push news to those individuals, but make it publicly accessible for those you may have missed who want to seek it out themselves.
Ensure the news comes from the right person. If this is a positive announcement that will be importance or relevance across the business, line up a member of senior management to give the announcement gravitas and value. If the news needs tailoring to individual departments, consider a manager cascade.
#4: WHAT and WHY: Determine the message and the ‘WIIFM?’ factor
What do your employees need to know about this piece of news?
When it comes to delivering any type of internal communication, succinct is best. Attention spans are naturally short and if you overload employees with detailed information, you’ll lose them – and undermine the news itself. If necessary, include a call to action where
Pick out the main points from the information you have. Then, consider the ‘what’s in it for me?’ factor. You aren’t explaining why it’s good news for you, or for the company – you’re explaining why it’s good news for them.
How will this news impact employees? Why is this a positive announcement? What do they get out of it? By putting yourself in the shoes of employees and tailoring the message to their perspective, you’ll capture their attention.
The two words ‘information’ and ‘communication’ are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through. – Sydney J. Harris
Finally, when crafting your message, consider the language you use. Words are a powerful tool to generate engagement, and can be emotive, influential and captivating. If writing the news, capture the main point in a headline and develop the main points in the body of the content. Use inclusive language (“we”, “us”, “our”) and positive emotive terms where possible.
Consider the difference:
An additional key point – make sure to give credit where credit is due. If particular individuals, departments or external partners played a role in bringing this positive news about, acknowledge their contributions, name them, and give recognition. This not only makes the news relatable and personal, but avoids the danger of putting anyone’s nose out of joint and turning that positive announcement into a source of disgruntlement.
(A company-wide blog that @mentions the individuals or teams who have contributed to a particular success is a great way to not only give recognition, but boost overall morale and engagement within your business.)
#5: WHEN: Choose the right time
Timing is everything, so we’re told. This is especially true of internal communications.
There are a few considerations when marking out the right time to deliver good news to employees. First, consider any other announcements or events occurring within your business that could impact on how the news is received. Announcing that you’ve had the most successful year in sales to date shortly after a round of redundancies is unlikely to be well-received.
More importantly, good news is an opportunity – to engage employees, build morale, a sense of pride or enhance your internal brand. If business focus is elsewhere – for example, on a push to achieve quarterly targets, or to launch a new product line – your news may be pushed to the bottom of the priority list, disregarded, or simply not seen. Our instinct with positive news is to share it as soon as possible, but in may prove more effective to delay slightly, if you’re vying for attention.
Speaking at this year’s Interaction conference, Customer Insights Manager Nigel Williams presented usage data gathered from hundreds of Interact customer intranets to challenge the preconception of ‘peak times’ to publish content.
“There is no ‘prime publishing time’”, Nigel argued. “We are connected in a 24/7 environment; activity outside core business hours is on the rise; mobile device access is increasing. The key thing is simply to publish.”
However, give consideration to offices or individuals that operate in different timezones. Staggering publication according to the specific geography of the audience is more likely to be well-received and increases the likelihood of engagement.
#WHAT: Select your communication channels
How you choose to distribute your message will be determined by many of the previous points: who needs to receive the news, who is delivering it, when you’ll be making the announcement and more.
In our eBook on ‘Communicating Change’, we explored the results of an Interact poll where customers voted on a preferred method of communication for business change. Communications Manager for Ultra Electronics, Shona Wright, observed:
“We always face the same challenge; you simply can’t please everyone.
“If you choose a town hall, people may feel overwhelmed by the event. If you choose line manager cascades, the message may get diluted and the rumor mill will start. If you choose an intranet post, people may feel this is impersonal and cold.
“So the answer is, you need a tailored combination of communication methods in order to try and best meet the emotional and information needs of your audience.”
Map out your available channels and identify the people who use them. Which are most effective in the workplace for internal communication? Consider the needs of remote workers or staff on the road, who may not be able to access an on-site message or attend a town hall announcement. If your company has an intranet app, push notifications can flag the announcement to those out of the office.
(Push notifications are a powerful tool to ensure key information, news or updates are seen by employees, regardless of location.)
It may be appropriate to reproduce your message in different formats to ensure maximum visibility: for example, a blog to post on your company intranet and email out, alongside a town hall announcement that can be video-ed and later uploaded to the intranet for those who were unable to attend. This also addresses one of the greatest challenges facing internal communicators: delivering the sentiment of a message using mediums that remove those all-important non-verbal cues, such as tone of voice, gestures or facial expression. With video, you are also more likely to get engagement from staff.
Consider using social communication tools where possible. With positive news, you can embed the message by giving people the opportunity to engage: to like, comment, and share. From experience, we find that using a range of different methods, with content tailored and adapted for each channel, is most likely to see success.