Internal communication is often used as a blanket term but in fact, there are a huge range of different types of communication happening in your organization right now. Are you making room for them in your internal comms plan?
When we talk about internal communication, what do we even mean?
There are many different definitions out there, but the truth is, the term is a bit of a capture-all. There are a multitude of different types of internal communication: from top-down memos to peer-to-peer acknowledgment, from crisis comms to information campaigns and more.
Each is designed to serve a different purpose, a different audience, to deliver a different outcome. Many will already be happening in your business, with or without a dedicated plan. And while we may pay more attention to certain types as an organization, each has its own value and is important to your overall internal communications strategy.
Internal communication is the sharing of information for business purposes.Business Dictionary
For those charged with managing, driving, or overseeing internal communications, it’s critical to understand the different types. You won’t necessarily be responsible for every type: but you will be a key facilitator.
Identifying, nurturing, and promoting the different types of internal communication requires us to understand their different goals, what tools work for different types, where each type has its place in the wider internal communications strategy, and the appropriate tone or style for each.
Many types of comms will overlap, but all deserve a spot on your comms line up. We identify the common types as:
- Leadership and top-down comms
- Change communication
- Crisis communication
- Information comms
- Bottom-up or two-way communication
- Peer communication
- Culture comms
- Campaign comms
14 steps to great internal communications
Leadership and top-down communications
They’re first for a reason; when internal comms rises onto the business agenda, it’s traditionally to facilitate the distribution of top-down information from the business to its people.
Senior leaders play a crucial role in defining the culture and direction of a business, so getting them visible and heard across the workforce is essential. In larger organizations where many staff may never meet their senior leaders in person, internal communication has a challenging task and even more important role to play.
Hearing from the boss makes a difference to how staff define purpose in their work – one of the increasingly important components of employee engagement, according to Gallup.
Top-down comms are used to inform staff of the overall business strategy and direction, and therefore are largely company-wide and traditionally formal in their nature.
Delivery channels can range from a town hall meeting or video stream to a corporate newsletter; for the most part, they’ll tend to be scheduled or come with decent notice, with supporting input from Internal Comms, Marketing, HR or any other number of departments.
Under this category, we tend to see comms including:
- Business strategy overviews
- Company updates
- Performance or progress
- Formal announcements
- Company-wide accolades, awards, or recognition
Due to the senior level interest and input, it’s likely these types of comms are already firmly placed on your internal communications calendar. However, reviewing the channels used, the reach and response from staff, and sanity-checking for ‘corporate speak’ can help keep engagement up.
They’re closely related to the first type, but still deserving of a category of their own.
No matter what your industry, size or strategy, change is part of the natural evolution of business: whether that comes from within or something external that will impact your organization. And communication is perhaps the most fundamental ingredient for successful management of change.
Communicating change internally requires careful planning and an understanding of your staff concerns and needs. Manager cascades, small group face-to-face meetings and drip-feed campaigns of information over time are all powerful tools for this type of internal communication.
Tailoring change comms to distinct employee groups is also proven to be more effective than a company-wide blanket approach, as it enables us to focus on the ‘why’ or ‘what’s in it for me?’ (WIIFM) factor, securing greater buy-in from employees. Leaving room for staff to feedback, ask questions, and have their voices heard can also reduce negative response.
What sort of comms fall under the ‘change’ category? Examples include:
- Structural business change, such as a merger, acquisition, or internal restructuring
- Changes to organizational brand or offering, such as new/discontinuation of products or services, new branding/website, entering new markets or territories
- Office openings, moves, or closures
- New software, tools, suppliers, distributors or internal processes
- Industry-related change such as regulatory or compliance changes
- Political, economic or social change, such as a change in law or policy, shifts in financial markets or social campaigns (for example, the current ‘war on plastic’, which is leading to packaging and production changes in many FMCG organizations.)
14 steps to great internal communications
In today’s knowledge economy, we trade in information. This is true both within organizations and society as a whole.
Information ensures our employees are equipped with everything they need to perform their roles efficiently, safely, and to the best of their ability. It impacts on the service and experience they, in turn, deliver for our customers and clients. Access to information improves productivity and morale, reduces risk and improves employee engagement. It is – in a word – crucial.
It can also be messy to manage. Information tends to live in many different places: buried in folders in your company DMS, stored on your intranet, your HR or payroll systems, within emails, or on colleague computers.
Gathering, auditing, organizing, and distributing that information effectively is a central responsibility of the internal communicator, even if the information itself isn’t owned by you. You need to consider how to create a ‘single source of truth’, avoiding duplicates or the risk of outdated content, and ensure every employee – regardless of where or how they work – can access it when needed.
Who has responsibility for updating it and when? Who owns it, approves it or signs off on it? How do you pull information from across different systems or folders? What governance do you have around tagging up and naming of information? Do you have an effective search function, to ensure it’s found? Can staff access it from different devices, or without a company email?
All these questions need answering as part of your internal communications strategy, to ensure information comms is effective.
Information-focused comms will often include:
- Policies and procedures; for example, HR or IT information
- Legal or compliance information
- ‘How to’ information for common business processes
- Organizational information – about the business, brand, products/services, positioning and more
- Colleague information for when staff need to connect with others for additional support or help
- Training tools and content
Getting the right information to the right people in a timely, efficient and effective way, is never more important than during a crisis situation.
Unlike other forms of internal communication, crises don’t tend to come with much notice. However, having a solid crisis communication plan in place before a situation arises can mitigate risk, reduce impact, and keep staff safe.
Channel options are one of the biggest considerations for this type of internal communication. Simply put, can you reach everyone you need to, regardless of where they are? This includes front line or transient staff, who aren’t sat at a desk or don’t have easy access to a computer.
A multi-channel approach is normally the safest bet; however, in the pressure of a high-stress or timely situation, ensuring they’re all set up and that messages can be pushed out efficiently is crucial. A broadcast tool is invaluable as it will push a single message out through multiple channels, including text message, push notification, email and more. Ensuring you have a way to confirm staff receipt or safety is also vital.
Alongside this, pre-crisis protocols are a crucial part of the internal comms portfolio. Falling under the ‘information comms’ category as well, these cover the responsibilities and response protocols for staff in light of a crisis or emergency situation. What constitutes a ‘crisis’ is surprisingly broad:
- Natural disasters, such as earthquake, flood, or extreme weather
- Technological crisis: cyber attack, outage, virus
- Environmental crises, like a pipeline leak, or spillage of hazardous materials or waste
- Employee or management misconduct
- Leak of privileged or internal information
- Product failings, faults, or recalls
- An external threat to business or employees; which can range from a terrorist threat to fire, sabotage, or police incidents
- Conflict with interest groups, whether political, social, environmental, cultural or purpose
- Financial crises such as significant losses, fraud, bankruptcy, going into administration
- Organizational misdeeds such as deception, or collective management misconduct
- Process disruption, such as issues within the supply chain or distribution process
While responsibility for managing a crisis tends to reside with senior management, the act of information flow before, during and in the wake of the crisis is one of the most important jobs for internal communicators. If you haven’t already factored crisis comms into your internal communications plan, you need to.
Bottom-up and two-way communications
Information flow in an organization shouldn’t be purely top-down. To engage, retain, and tap into the knowledge and insights of staff, two-way and bottom-up communication is vital.
Internal communication is the way a company interacts with its people and they interact with it.Definition of Internal Comms by Rachel Miller, AllThingsIC
As employee engagement and the employee experience at work become more widely recognized as big contributors to the business bottom-line, we’re understanding the value of this type of internal communication more than ever. It’s the job of internal communicators to ensure staff have the right tools, support, and channels to get their voices heard and contribute employee-generated content.
Discussion forums, staff blogs and social tools such as the ability to comment, like or share are all informal ways for staff to contribute. Virtual ‘suggestion boxes’ and focus groups can get people innovating, while the rise of pulse surveys shows the need to tap into how our staff are feeling.
Bottom-up or two-way communication requires us to facilitate:
- Ideation, for staff to put forward suggestions or ideas
- Employee feedback: presenting something to staff and requesting their input, or creating a process and space for staff to air concerns and complaints
- Question and answers, when staff require further information or clarification
- Staff surveys and pulse surveys, to gauge employee sentiment, engagement, or mindset
- Polls or staff votes, to gather popular opinion or input on specific issues and decisions
Giving staff – all staff, regardless of role, seniority level, or location – a voice and active role in contributing to the organization and its direction can be hugely empowering. The best organizations don’t talk at their employees; they talk with them. This type of internal communication is arguably the one that can have the biggest impact on overall business performance.
14 steps to great internal communications
Connecting staff to one another in today’s workplaces comes with a range of different challenges.
Peer-to-peer communication isn’t something internal communicators do, so much as facilitate.
Our workforces are increasingly diverse and dispersed. However, being able to collaborate with others, find a peer who can provide help or share knowledge, or simply build connections with our colleagues all make for more engaged and productive workplaces.
Again, peer-to-peer communication isn’t something internal communicators do, so much as facilitate.
Making room for it on your comms plan includes offering staff a comprehensive and accessible People Directory – rich profiles that go above and beyond the standard job title and email address can help staff find peers with shared interests, specific skills, and more.
Different channels are suited to different types of peer-to-peer communication. Collaborating on a project or piece of work, for example, may call for specific project management platforms or a DMS; one-to-one and group conversations may be best suited to an enterprise social networking tool, such as Slack, Yammer, or Microsoft Teams.
When staff share their stories and experiences with peers, it can support positive company culture, facilitate greater ideation, improve morale and retention rates, drive greater problem-solving, and more. Peer-to-peer recognition is also a powerful tool in today’s workplaces.
Peer communication can cover:
- Collaborating on a specific task, project, event
- Connecting with individuals who can help or provide knowledge on a specific topic or task
- Team or community communication, including the sharing of information and files, discussion, imagery, events and more
- Storytelling or sharing of knowledge and experiences; for example, through blogging or within a discussion forum
- Peer recognition
- Problem-solving and ideation
- Private and small group conversational communication
Company culture is an often intangible yet hugely influential aspect of an organization, linked to everything from talent attraction and retention, through to engagement, financial performance, business stability or longevity, and more.
Organizational culture can be defined as the shared values, beliefs, perceptions held by employees within an organization.
Purpose-driven organizations are shown to outperform those that are profit-orientated and drive engagement among staff; 49% of employees would trade a portion of their salary to continue in their current role with an added sense of purpose.
But how is a collective mindset, that typically evolves over time, the responsibility of internal comms?
Defining and then pinning a set of values on the office wall doesn’t define or create a company culture. However, there are a variety of types of internal communication that can help nurture, communicate, and facilitate its foundations. It’s the sum of these multiple elements that help grow and embed a healthy common culture among staff over time.
78% of CEOS & CFOs believe culture is within the top five value drivers for an organization.(Corporate Culture: Evidence from the Field)
‘Culture comms’ can cover everything from:
- Company mission and values
- Onboarding communication
- CSR comms, including any initiatives, campaigns, events and policies – such as charity events, or your commitment to environmental initiatives
- Leadership comms: although we’ve pulled these out as a separate category, senior leaders play a central role in shaping organizational culture; hearing from those at the top helps communicate that to your organization
- Rewards, recognition and encouragement: recognizing individuals, teams, or communities – especially those demonstrating desired behaviours or the values of an organization – further embeds organizational culture
- Social communication; whether organized social events within an organization, peer to peer sharing and engagement, or non-business news and information
Often, communication that helps portray your company culture won’t come from those invested in creating it: it comes from those living and breathing it, your employees.
A campaign typically consists of a set of communication activities, designed to generate a specific outcome or objective in a specified period of time.
Many of the other types of communication we’ve mentioned can be executed as a campaign: delivered through a course of different methods over a period of time. From an internal communications perspective, campaigns are a valuable tool to deliver a message across multiple audiences, channels or audience demographics, because they provide a multi-faceted way to deliver a core message.
If you have a dispersed workforce, or perhaps staff who work on shifts or out on the frontline, one-off communications can be easily missed. When it’s important the message gets through, a well-crafted internal communications campaign covers all the bases.
Campaign communications are typically assembled around a defined goal, ranging from:
- Promotion, for example of an event, activity, or initiative
- Education, using the campaign as a drip-feed to provide bite-sized information or to embed a message through repetition: for example, of a forthcoming change in process, law, or procedure
- Awareness, using a multi-channel or multiple exposure approach to maximize the visibility of a particular message: perhaps of a company HR benefit, or a safety message
- Interest, buy-in, and engagement: ‘teaser’ campaigns that pique interest are a particular hit for these types of internal communication, providing staff with sneak peeks or hints of a forthcoming announcement, for example.
- Participation, for example, to garner staff support and participation for a survey, or to opt-in to the company pension – a campaign can provide multiple ‘touchpoint’ reminders
In today’s overcrowded, busy and high-volume digital workplaces, an internal campaign can help cut through the noise and capture attention: whether that’s to communicate change, gather support, build anticipation and more.
Their more diverse and flexible nature also allows for a little more creativity and fun than other types of communication. Try out a mix of media, a play with the tone of voice, and use of imagery, color, and outside-the-box approaches to hammer the message home.
A communication type for every business need
The process of passing information and understanding from one person to anotherDefinition of ‘communication’
Communication is perhaps the most powerful act we undertake every day: at work, and in our day-to-day lives.
As internal communicators, it can feel overwhelming to consider just how many different forms that can take. However, as these types show, it’s often not the communication itself – the ‘what’ – that needs to be picked up by internal comms, so much as the process, or the ‘how’.
When mapping out your internal communications strategy, make room and time for the different types available. A successful comms plan is diverse, agile and adaptive: providing a 365-degree experience of connecting your people, information, and organization overall.