More often than not, negative impressions in the workplace can be directly tracked back to poor internal communications. When it comes to a business, many leaders see the value in tracking their external communications with shareholders, customers and the like, but fall short when it comes to the communication between them and their employees.
Often overlooked, this failure to nurture internal relations can cause an organization to deteriorate. These communication problems can manifest in a number of ways – you may be dealing with simple repercussions like unachieved goals and forgone tasks, or something much farther along the spectrum that can be a danger to your company’s health.
But what if it’s too late? You may have already begun to see the signs of this oversight – your employee sick rate is skyrocketing and employee retention is on the rocks. The good news is that this is not the end. Your solution comes in the form of an Internal Communications Audit (ICA).
This term can be daunting for most companies; not only due to the fact that the process can be expensive, but also because it raises the chances of facing a complete overview of their communications strategy. However, an ICA should not only help you answer questions like what’s working well, what employees think, and what has been effective, but it should also help you spot opportunities for future improvements and give you the chance to reinvent yourself in response.
Here are some warning signs that it may be time to reassess your internal communications strategy before it’s too late.
1. You are continuously missing the mark
A key part of an internal communications professional’s role is conducting ongoing research, ensuring that all activity is focused on achieving the company objectives. Tasks like analyzing information, outputs and channel use fall under that umbrella. If you are conducting the proper research and monitoring this information, you are bound to come across any oversights.
What does an oversight look like? Well, the most common form is the complete miscalculation of your strategy goals – which can be anything from a drop in employee retention rate to your top of funnel sales leads decreasing.
So, you’ve reviewed your quantitative data and the results remain the same – output is high, content is being pushed out, but somehow engagement stats are low. This means that somewhere along the line your tactics are missing the mark. It may be that you are no longer connecting to your audience.
Maybe you need to take an overall look at your strategy and revisit whether or not your goals are still the same. An internal communications audit can help you do just that. Your analytics may very well reveal that your channels need an overhaul. The ultimate goal is to use the findings from your audit to spur the development of an internal communications strategy that not only meets the goals and expectations of the company, but also listens and acts on the perspectives of your employees.
2. Your old problems are your new problems
We have all come across those moments of being overwhelmed with work, facing project after project with no time in between. As a result, your internal communications become reactive as you attempt to use the same well-trodden channels rather than being productive through innovation.
One of the biggest tell-tale signs of poor internal communication is when your old problems become your new problems. While falling back on old methods, strategies and even content may seem like a good idea in a time crunch, reusing methods that did not initially present the desired result only serves to limit the effectiveness of your communications.
As time goes on, many things within a business change and develop; whether it be amongst company values or employee perception. Your employees may not want the same things anymore. Your company may not have the same goals anymore. At some point, the old strategy must also be developed and revamped or it runs the risk of being detrimental to the progress of not only your communications, but your entire community.
An internal communications audit has the capability of helping a business re-evaluate their strategic positioning. With an array of statistics and knowledge gathered from different channels, the ICA allows business owners to create a communication plan that not only corresponds to the results of what is working, but also clears the old template of what didn’t. From this, they can re-align focus on achieving their strategic communications objectives.
3. Your approach is not working
George Bernard Shaw said it best, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” When the failure to communicate stems from the misconception that it has already been done, you run the risk of never seeing the necessity for change. Unlike the warning above, the error here is not in your efforts, but in the lack thereof.
Businesses that are under the impression that they are taking the proper actions in their communication plan not only make it hard to recognize issues that may be right under their noses, but also rob themselves of the opportunity to make a beneficial improvement for their company as a whole.
A faulty approach has the potential to manifest in ways that can negatively affect employees and, in turn, your company. Do you come across multiple people doing the same unnecessary tasks? Maybe you are constantly sending out reminders about the same unresolved issues? Your first instinct may be to blame your employees, but while they may be responsible for their jobs, this problem is more so the product of poor communication procedures.
Before leading yourself down a path full of wasted resources, manpower and efforts, consider trying an internal communications audit. The ultimate goal is to communicate your mission initially and frequently; it may serve you well to review your practices, goals and methods and find more efficient ways to establish leadership and modify perception.
4. Low employee engagement
As the end of the week draws near, you realize that more of your employees have called in sick and your online newsletter has gone unread. Now you may be asking yourself – what are you doing wrong? You’ve invested in everything from ads to social media and blogging, and yet engagement levels are lower than you’ve seen.
In any company, limited engagement is always a cause for concern. An internal communications audit will assess performance across a variety of channels that give you the numbers and means to put a reasoning behind employee behavior.
Methods like surveys can also be a valuable resource for determining causes for concern in your communication plan. Oft times this information complements the quantitative data in a way that allows the root problem to be seen and ultimately solved.
Gallup’s State of the Workplace 2017 report reveals some powerful ways in which highly engaged employees contribute to the financial health of their company. Positive stats such as 41% lower absenteeism, 24% lower turnover in high-turnover organizations and 17% higher productivity reinforce the necessity for more businesses to reevaluate their communications strategies with an audit.
5. Unreachable employees (You don’t know what medium to use)
It is safe to say that as your company grows and matures over time, so do the demands and needs of your channel users. Luckily, the constant development of new technologies and communication tools cater to this evolution.
However, not all tools are created equal. They often do different jobs and serve very different purposes within a community. The right communication tool will enable you to close the gaps in your employee’s knowledge, beliefs, and behavior. The wrong tool, however, leaves you with a number of ineffective communication mediums and largely unreachable employees.
An increase in gossip may be one sign that your channels are not being used properly. Research suggests that gossip makes up about 14% of workplace coffee-break chats and that it often leads to workplace cynicism. The opening of these informal channels is a sign that there are gaps in your communications strategy. Your employees feel the need to share unconfirmed or inaccurate information to make up for their lack of tangible knowledge.
This influence in employee behavior is one that can be remedied and ultimately prevented with the assessment of current communication channels and usage of proper ones. An ICA can identify the key messages needed to maintain a good internal climate amongst your employees and highlight which mediums are most effective in reaching and informing them.
6. Silo mentality
As we’ve seen, accidentally neglecting your employees can have disastrous effects. The situation, however, becomes much worse when the neglect is done purposefully. With the increasingly easy ways to gather and share information, employees now have a high expectation to be kept in the loop.
While some companies may possess values geared more toward confidentiality and withholding information, that mentality can create a tone of distrust and suspicion inside a community. When communion is lacking, even between departments, individuals begin to feel less like an integral part of the team and more like isolated units.
Today’s businesses require proactive communication; if you begin to see signs of this isolation it is time to take a step back, re-evaluate, and make a contribution to workplace success. If your communications plan does not place a significant amount of emphasis on keeping employees involved and informed, then it may be time for a complete overhaul of your communications plan.
While doing a top-to-bottom audit of your communications channels may be an intimidating task, the end result can be a blessing. An audit will reveal weakness and open your eyes to the futile tasks that yield no outcome. In the end you’ll find out where your communications are succeeding, and where to invest more time to ensure maximum efficiency and improve the culture of your company.