The goal of creating a strong organisation, with a unified workforce, engaged in a common mission can only be achieved when a quality two-way internal communications plan is executed.
Perfecting it, so that your internal communications is efficient and honed, using all available avenues of communication, has many benefits for employees, who will feel empowered and included.
People are more likely to be passionate, proactive and contribute to their jobs if they understand where their work fits within the guiding mission. To feel that their contribution is valued and true dialogue on the problems facing the organisation is encouraged as to inspire greater engagement. This in turn drives down attrition rates and makes for happier, engaged employees, and if happy employees are more productive, as the University of Warwick’s ‘Happiness and Productivity’ experiment seems to show, then good internal communications can increase productivity.
So what can help you perfect your plan?
1. Researching your internal communications plan
Before an ‘action plan’ can be devised, researching where the organisation currently sits is of utmost importance.
Is internal communication happening at all? If so, how effective is it?
For the new internal communication plan to be adopted and implemented with energy and commitment, it is important that key stakeholders are consulted. This includes employees themselves.
How would they like internal communications to work? What information do they need? An anonymous survey on people’s thoughts is important to get as broad a picture as possible. How do you plan to improve or perfect a system when you have no idea what the problems are?
Once research has been conducted, the planning stage is vital; that is, taking raw, basic data and using it to inform a new plan that achieves the identified internal communications aims.
Along with the normal planning of timelines, deadlines, responsibilities and setting of actionable objectives, all members of the planning team need to have agreed outcomes clear in their minds.
The internal communication plan needs a way to define, in measurable objectives:
- What will your plan achieve?
- How long will it be before you need to measure your objectives?
- What will these measurable objectives achieve?
3. Your internal communications plan needs to ensure that the business problem is presented
To get buy-in into your communication strategy you must be able to answer the question everyone asks – What’s in it for me?
Ensure that your internal communication planning makes room for the why. What problem or problems are you looking to solve? Why is it important?
Your internal communications plan should be used to present the reasons why something has or has not happened, to keep employees feeling informed and to engage them in problem solving across your business.
4. A committed driving force
To be taken seriously, it needs to be known that the message delivered by the internal communication plan is backed by the highest levels of the organisation and that someone will manage it. Like many communications and opinion-driving activities in business, there needs to be an enthusiastic, motivated individual who can push the vision forward.
Traditionally this task has been under the remit of the marketing department, as they deliver information to specific audiences as part of their job function – but does this always make sense? Marketing are, by their nature, externally facing in their viewpoint, however, would Human Resources provide a better place for someone to manage internal communications? Or better still, how about someone who is already an engaged and vocal part of your company?
The ‘Contribution Score’ on your intranet could be used to look for people who already take opportunities to engage with colleagues: could that passion and desire to communicate be channelled into creating and implementing an exceptional internal communication plan?
5. Understand the available tools
It is important to assess all the tools you have at your disposal. How will you engage stakeholders and gauge people’s opinion while you are doing the research? How do you intend to disseminate the plans you make and ensure everyone is ready to participate? What tools are available for you to create meaningful, long-term two-way communication?
If you have an intranet, this would be a very good time to leverage that tool and give serious consideration to how you are using it.
- Can key employees write blogs, giving the organisation as a whole a view of the everyday problems they face?
- Can you instigate an employee forum for asking questions or raising issues?
- Can you run surveys or polls?
A well run intranet could offer a wealth of opportunity for engaging internal communications.
If you don’t have an intranet, good quality communications are a little harder, requiring more effort but are still possible. Initiatives like ‘coffee with the director’, newsletters, company magazines, briefings or even email and IM can be used to broadcast your internal communications in an engaging way.
Initiatives mean you are more likely to engage and interest the organisation with a range of channels, because not everybody wants to converse in the same way. Some like the face-to-face meeting, others the less exposed option of communicating on an intranet forum.
6. Ensure consistency
For employees to have trust in internal communications, the message must be consistent in terms of tone and focus. By developing a consistent theme across your intranet, newsletters, etc, company branding is used to help link the content together.
To reach your entire audience make sure your communications address the ‘what’s in it for me?’ ethos. You will achieve more and have a more powerful effect if people know how; listening to, considering and then having meaningful debate on the issues and dialogue raised as part of the internal communications, is going to benefit them for example, by improving their working environment.
An employee should be able to choose how they engage with internal communications. The information and ‘message’ they receive should always be the same. Employees want one version of the truth so they can make informed decisions and convey their opinion or ideas with confidence.
This is where an intranet comes into its own as a method of communicating internally, allowing easier monitoring on internal communications, especially across larger organisations. A good intranet can impose a process on authors that ensures pages are checked before they are pushed live, thus helping maintain the internal communication plan.
7. Cater for two-way communications
An internal communication plan should not just consider management. You will get very little interest out of communications that are top down only.
People want to be able to respond to information, express concerns and promote ideas without fear of censorship. If this is a new concept for your organisation, then ensure people know how they can communicate, that they are free to express their opinion and that they can tell it like it is, not as they believe management want to see it.
Intranet Forums are a great place to start employee engagement. Build them into your plan, ensuring they are monitored and that comments are responded to quickly and accurately, by all levels of the organization. It is better to have a few, well supervised forums than lots of neglected ones: less is more.
If it fits within your culture, an anonymous forum can give the workforce less fear about speaking up. This has been used to stunning effect in some companies as a ‘Rumour Mill’ forum, for example, allowing management to address rumours before they make it to social media and can be very effective in getting people to communicate.
8. Don’t overwhelm employees
On a daily basis, people have a huge amount of information thrust at them in the form of emails, meetings, bulletins, notices, mandatory reads and the like. You don’t want the internal communications messaging to be just another part of this noise.
The Information Overload Paradox understands that while more information is available for consumption, what we can consume does not exponentially increase to meet the supply. Think about what is important and focus your messaging.
Breaking your plan down into smaller themes or focusing on a few at a time, will help you make use of the diverse range of communication initiatives that you have in your plan. These themes should also have goals that form part of your larger internal communications plan and should be reviewed regularly to evaluate their effectiveness.
9. Ensure your internal communications plan is inclusive
To be truly effective, your internal communications plan must include and reach everyone, allowing them to respond on a level they are comfortable with.
There should be no part of the organisation that is ignored or considered unimportant, although there may be areas that require different tools to enable involvement in the communication plans.
For example, if some employees do not have access to the electronic polls, or intranet forums, consider installing suggestion boxes for them.
Your research will empower you to make decisions about those you are talking to and ensure that everybody has a voice.
10. Ensure your external and internal communications plan is standardized
There is nothing worse than being told something internally and finding a different message presented externally, or you find that vital information has skipped the internal communication route entirely to be presented straight on the company website. These sorts of situations will erode trust and good will, drastically reducing your ability to effectively communicate.
While the message, tone, focus and audience of your external communications is very different to that of the internal, it is important consistency runs between the two, in broad terms they should agree. When considering internal and external communications, there will be cross-over, in fact, CIPR have argued there should be no difference between internal and external communications.
If an agreement is not possible, then the internal communications should include what is being said externally and an explanation given as to why this message is different.
11. Plan for contingency and disaster
Your internal communication methods and structure will be put to the test in a crisis, so make sure that is not the first time. Try running a scenario and see how well your methods work. Does everyone get the message? How quickly does it disseminate?
Having a shared, efficient, robust communications platform that allows all areas of your business to talk to each other in a crisis as well as senior management should be the backbone of your crisis plans.
Think about the questions you need to ask, before imparting a crisis communications contingency plan to the wider business:
- Are there situations where your normal or most used method of communication is too slow or at risk from threat?
- Do you have an alternative?
- Does everyone know to use it?
- Does it have redundancy, or is it robust to most crisis scenarios?
The more time and effort you put into planning for these sorts of situations, the calmer and more prepared you will be if they happen.