Creating a strong organization, with a unified workforce that is engaged in a common mission, can only be achieved with a quality two-way internal communications plan.
Perfecting your internal communications plan to ensure it is efficient and honed, using all available avenues of communication, has many benefits for employees and the organization as a whole.
People are more likely to be passionate, proactive, and contribute to their jobs if they understand where their work fits within the guiding mission, and understand the purpose of their work. When staff feel that their contribution is valued and that they are a part of a true dialogue on the problems facing the organization, it inspires greater engagement.
Happiness results in a 12% spike in productivity: unhappy employees are 10% less productive.‘Happiness and Productivity’, Andrew Oswald, University of Warwick (2015)
This, in turn, drives down attrition rates and makes for happier, engaged employees. Happy employees are also more productive, as the University of Warwick’s ‘Happiness and Productivity‘ experiment shows: in short, good internal communications can boost the bottom line for your business.
So, what can you do to perfect your plan?
Tasked with improving your internal comms?
1. Research your internal communications plan
Before an ‘action plan’ of where you want to go can be devised, it’s important to understand where your organization is now.
Is internal communication happening at all? If so, how effective is it?
For a 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. You may also want to consider focus groups to dig a little deeper into the challenges, or delve into the analytics of your current internal communication tools, if available.
After all, how do you plan to improve or perfect a system when you have no idea what the problems are?
2. Create clear objectives and plan
Once you’ve done your research, it’s time to create a clear plan. This means taking your raw data and using it to inform a new plan that achieves clearly 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 on clear outcomes.
The internal communication plan needs 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. Address the business problem as part of your internal communications plan
To get buy-in to your internal 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?
Approach your internal communications plan as though you are making a business case: identifying opportunity across the different areas of your organization, and the potential ‘return’ for the different stakeholders.
These returns can range from financial – for example, an internal communications plan will improve how our staff find information, saving time and therefore improving productivity – to ‘softer’ gains, such as improved morale or organizational culture.
Ensure that your internal communication planning makes room for the why. What problem or problems are you looking to solve?
Your internal communications plan can also 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. Identify and assemble key stakeholders and champions
To be taken seriously and deliver results, the message delivered by your internal communication plan needs backing from the highest levels of the organization: and someone to manage it or act as a committed driving force.
Tasked with improving your internal comms?
This may be one central senior figure; it may be a team of middle managers; it may even be a grass-roots employee who shows enthusiasm and commitment as an internal communications champion.
Traditionally, senior stakeholder buy-in for internal communications has come under the remit of the marketing department, as they already deliver information to specific audiences as part of their job function. If your organization has a dedicated internal communications department, they’ll likely be the ones to pick up the responsibility.
However, it can vary from one organization to the next. Marketing is, by nature, externally facing in its viewpoint; Human Resources may provide a better place to seek senior buy-in for an employee-focused initiative. If your internal communications plan is centered on a digital tool or platform such as an intranet, it may be logical to enlist the support of IT, or someone with an interest in your digital workplace.
Senior stakeholders may give their backing and lend gravitas to your plan, but often can’t be depended on for regular contributions to the tactical, day-to-day business of internal communication. So, why not identify someone who is already an engaged and vocal part of your company?
The ‘Influence Score’ on your intranet can be used to look for people who already take opportunities to engage with colleagues. Identify your existing champions, and use that passion and desire to communicate to implement an exceptional internal communication plan.
One of our favorite examples of this came from Interact customer Mattress Firm, who identified a grass-roots internal influencer in the form of Randy, a member of retail staff. Noting his contributions and responses on their intranet BEDpost were being well-received by staff, the internal communications team gave him additional training and support to drive better two-way conversations and support their overall internal communications strategy.
5. Understand the available tools
You understand where you are now, and have clear objectives for where you want to go. You’ve identified the business problem and opportunity, and have willing champions and stakeholders behind you. Now, it’s time to look at the logistics: the tools available for internal communication.
It is important to not only assess all the tools you have at your disposal, but what you need them to actually do.
How will you engage stakeholders and gauge people’s opinion? How do you intend to disseminate your plan and ensure everyone is ready to participate? What tools are available for you to create meaningful, long-term two-way communication?
Do you have an intranet (or do you need one?) If you already have one in place, how are you using it? Does it offer the features, functionality and user experience to deliver on your internal communications plan, and are you making the most of what it can offer?
- Can employees contribute content, giving the organization as a whole a view of the everyday challenges, successes or insights they experience?
- Can you run surveys, pulse surveys, or polls?
- Are employees able to self-serve in finding the content, information, and colleagues they need to do their jobs?
- Can staff make their voices heard and give ideas, feedback or raise concerns through forums?
- Is there capacity for the different types of internal communication you need to be doing in your business: from formal top-down announcements to peer-to-peer recognition and more?
Different tools are suited to different forms of communication. It’s worth considering what already makes up your digital workplace and how those channels or platforms are already used.
Are there any gaps? What are the channels available for small group or team communication, compared to company-wide, for example? Is there a better option for a formal announcement, compared to the office bake sale appeal?
You are more likely to engage and interest employee from across your organization with a range of channels: because quite simply, not everybody wants to converse in the same way. Some prefer the face-to-face meeting, others the less exposed option of communicating on an intranet forum.
6. Create consistency: build an internal brand and ensure a single version of the truth
For employees to have trust in internal communications, the message must be consistent. By developing an internal brand across your intranet, newsletters, and internal communications, you can establish a common identity, build a sense of ownership among staff, and help link content together.
Employees also need one single version of the truth, so they can make informed decisions and convey their opinion or ideas with confidence. However, as we explored in point 5, an employee should also be able to choose how they engage with internal communications.
In the context of your internal communications plan, this means considering how you’ll manage consistency of the information being dispersed across different channels: avoiding duplication, siloes, or outdated communication, which all raise the risk of misinforming staff.
This is where an intranet comes into its own as a method of communicating internally. Using integration functionality, single sign-on or simply using quick-links, you can establish your intranet as the center of your digital workplace. By bringing together your different tools, document storage solutions, and applications, you can ensure consistency of information across your organization.
A good intranet can also impose a process on authors to ensure pages are checked before they are pushed live, or use permissions to limit where content authors can add content.
An intranet CMS with version control and content review, expiry, and publication end dates ensures content is current and relevant, thus helping maintain the internal communication plan: and preventing your CMS from becoming a dumping ground for outdated information.
Tasked with improving your internal comms?
7. Cater for two-way communications
An internal communication plan should not just consider information coming from the business to its employees: it should also cater for bottom-up, or two-way communication. You will get very little interest from staff in communications that are top-down only.
Our employees need to be able to respond to information, express concerns and promote ideas without fear of censorship. If this is a new concept for your organization, 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 wants to see it.
Most importantly, provide the tools and channels to empower staff with a voice.
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.
Make room for water cooler talk. Informal communication among peers happens in every organization: trying to silence it is counterintuitive. Instead, create a culture where it is not only allowed, but encouraged: this builds better connections among staff, improves morale, and has a positive impact on ideation and problem-solving.
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 ‘Rumor Mill’ forum, for example, allowing management to address rumors before they make it to social media and can be very effective in getting people to communicate.
8. Don’t overwhelm employees
Our staff has a huge amount of information thrust at them on a daily basis. Emails, meetings, bulletins, notices, mandatory reads: that’s not even accounting for non-work content pushed on social media, news sites, and more. You don’t want the internal communications messaging to be just another part of this digital noise.
The Information Overload Paradox understands that while the information available is increasing, our capacity to consume it isn’t. Think about what is important and focus your messaging.
Break your plan into smaller themes or focus on a few at a time. Consider – and make room for – the different types of internal communication that need to happen within your business, and prioritize.
Refer back to the objectives of your larger internal communications plan and ask: what’s the value in this communication or piece of content? Does it support my goal? Is it necessary? (Does the entire organization need notifying that the photocopier is broken again, and is that really the role of internal comms?)
When producing comms, ensure important or high priority information features first: the ‘inverted pyramid’ structure favored by journalists to grab attention. Mix up content formats, types, and channels, utilizing video, imagery and more to avoid burning out employees. Finally, review communication campaigns regularly to evaluate their effectiveness.
Tasked with improving your internal comms?
9. Ensure your internal communications plan is inclusive
To be truly effective, your internal communications plan must include and reach everyone in your organization: regardless of how or where they work.
Within any organization, you’ll likely have a diverse demographic of staff who likely have different challenges and preferences when it comes to getting information. A good internal communications plan will consider each audience and the avenues to reach them.
For example, do you have remote, frontline, or offline staff who won’t have easy access to digital platforms?
Up to 75% of staff on average aren’t based in an office. 71% of non-desk workers are not actively engaged with their business: making internal communication even more critical.Gallup
Consider the options available for those staff and create an offline worker strategy to enable their involvement in the communication plans. These can include SMS or mobile apps, face-to-face briefings or town halls, and print communications such as newsletters, flyers, or magazines. In today’s Bring Your Own App (BYOA) culture, are staff already using apps you can tap into for internal communication?
Tools including email and IM can still be used to broadcast your internal communications in an engaging way, with a little planning and effort.
In addition, you need to consider the accessibility needs of your users: are your communications suitable for those with auditory, visual, or cognitive needs? Do you have non-native speakers, or offices across different countries requiring translation functionality?
Your research will empower you to make decisions about those you are talking to and ensure that everybody can access internal communication, and have a voice.
10. Align your external and internal communications plans
There is nothing worse than being told something internally and finding a different message presented externally: or worse still, that vital information has skipped the internal communication route entirely. This erodes trust and goodwill, drastically reducing your ability to effectively communicate.
While the message, tone, focus, and audience of your external communications are very different from the internal, it is important consistency runs between the two.
When considering internal and external communications, there will be cross-over: in fact, CIPR has argued there should be no difference between internal and external communications. In today’s social media-driven world, the line between the two is increasingly permeable: arguably, there’s no such thing as ‘internal’ anymore.
If the message differs in any way, the internal communications should include what is being said externally and an explanation. Providing opportunities for staff to ask questions or raise concerns is also important.
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.
Creating a crisis communication plan enables you to anticipate and prepare for an emergency situation; ensure the correct policies and protocols are in place and understood; minimize or even mitigate impact and risk; establish a two-way employee alert system, and manage the situation.
When creating your plan, a trial run can identify any gaps or red flags. 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 a 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.
Internal communication is already happening in your organization
Internal communication is the foundation of a successful, productive, and engaged workplace. A diverse range of communication is already happening within your business: whether that’s water cooler talk among employees or line managers disseminating plans to their teams.
However, having a clear, structured and considered internal communications plan enables you to maximize the effectiveness of your communication efforts. It establishes strategic direction, removes duplication of effort and reduces the risk of incorrect or outdated information.
Deployed correctly, a successful internal communications plan will unite your staff behind their organization, drive productivity and deliver significant returns for both individual and the business. Is it time to do yours?