Is Your Internal Communication Strategy Doomed to Fail in a Crisis?

Mark Terry - April 7, 2020

When the chips are down and you need every employee to rally to the cause, internal communication becomes more important than ever. Your internal communication strategy could literally mean make or break for your company.

In times of change and difficulty, the benefits of good internal communication become evident. If your strategy is working well, you’ll find your employees are ready to move quickly and adapt easily to moving goalposts and requirements. With an ineffective set-up, you’ll meet with resistance and fear.

In this blog, we’re taking a look at the structure and objectives of a successful internal corporate communications strategy. We’re also addressing some of the more common errors that could undermine your plans and set you back.

What you need your strategy to do

The best internal communications strategy will help your organisation speak with a consistent voice. It’s essential that every single employee has a clear view of:

  1. the overarching vision and specific business goals
  2. the individual part they have to play in achieving them

An effective strategy is particularly important in times of crisis when the messages circulating internally have to match what employees are reading in the press or on social media outside. Communicating with employees during a crisis requires your strategy to be infallibly robust.

Your core strategy should therefore be to:

  • Ensure every communication is dovetailed to specific business goals
  • Give employees what is known as “line of sight”: this is when they grasp the company’s overall vision and their personal role within it
  • Make sure every activity leads to action that changes something

A good guide to defining what your internal communications strategy needs to do is Quirke’s model[2], which charts the interest an employee has in a message against the impact it will have on them. You can use this table to work out what form your communications should take: 

Stuart-internal-communications-plan_-_2

Setting up an internal communication team

When you are setting up a team, it can be helpful to think in terms of a virtuous circle. An excellent model is provided by FitzPatrick[1], reproduced here, but you may develop your own:

internal-communications-plan_stages-1080

The recommended process is to start by defining what you need. Then adapting those needs to fit what is actually possible with your budget. By taking the time to identify your core purpose, processes and channels at the start, you’ll be able to refine and hone your team to your exact requirements.

It’s also vital to agree how you’ll measure the efficacy of your team. Measuring internal communications is an essential part of any strategy implementation. Communication is a two-way process so you will also need to be able to see how your audience is reacting so that you can amend, repeat or build on your message as required, and adapt your team to suit. An Employee Engagement App will have dashboards and reporting built into the system to help you keep your finger on the pulse at all times.

One of the questions that often arises is where the team should sit. This conundrum occurs because:

  • HR thinks Internal Communication is a natural fit with the central mission of people management, so should be incorporated with the HR department.
  • PR people want to own Internal Communication so they can align it with external messaging.
  • Marketing want to make sure their staff are delivering the right messages when they talk to customers.

However, where your desks and chairs are situated matters far less than understanding what you are trying to change and where you can add value to the business. Internal communication will happen no matter where the central team is sitting. Your priority should be how to make it count.

30 ideas to engage your employees and transform your business.

The common mistakes

 These internal communication mistakes are seen in many strategies, often based on assumption that everyone works and thinks in the same way. If only it was that easy!

  • DO NOT think you have to control or shape every communication ­– it’s a fallacy that will only waste your time and probably drive you mad.
  • DO NOT believe that a single message expressed in the right way will reach and be understood by every employee. There are 7 billion varieties of human …
  • DO NOT assume the change that galvanises leaders will be just as welcomed by those further down the pecking order. They may be afraid of the disruption it brings.
  • DO NOT try to communicate with factory workers through an intranet they probably never get to see, or use the company newsletter to try to talk to van drivers out on the road all day long. This is where are Employee Engagement Platform that connects across multiple communication channels really comes into its own.
  • DO NOT communicate the same upbeat message about axing an unsuccessful product to shareholders and shop floor alike.
  • DO NOT assume that one document/campaign will do the job for everyone. In an engineering firm, for instance, there will be PhDs rubbing shoulders with school-leaver apprentices. They are likely to need different amounts of information.
  • DO NOT believe that someone on the shop floor cares nothing for the organisation’s big-picture future. Likewise, higher up the hierarchy you may find timeservers with no interest in what’s going on outside their own job spec.

Five steps to success

 You will need to make sure your internal communications strategy can do five key things:

  1. Deliver brilliant content and tools through writing, design and digital. This is essential to getting information out there when and how it is needed, whether that be through an engaging staff survey, app or a clip on your corporate YouTube channel.
  2. Reach every single employee, whether they are working remotely from home, out on the road or situated in central office. It’s vital to connect with every member of staff, even the hard to reach. An Internal Communication Platform will remove barriers by improving reach and allowing employees to use their favourite means of communication.
  3. Forge partnerships across the business with individual leaders or teams to address specific problems. These business partners can:
    a) help local leaders communicate effectively and
    b) make sure that the organisation’s central focus is not lost in a blur of activity
    Don’t forget, good communication is the remit of everyone in leadership so it is contradictory to believe that a single team can control all that is said.
  4. Offer strategic advice to leaders. You can do this by compiling data-driven analysis of how employees are thinking and reacting, and so help to predict how they will behave in the future. This insight will set you apart from the guesswork of other senior people.
  5. Prepare for a crisis. Have a change strategy in place so that when the moment comes – probably unexpectedly – your employees are ready to mobilise, are excited about working in an uncertain climate with goalposts that keep shifting, and are keen to try out new tools and techniques. When it comes to communicating change in the workplace, you will find it helpful to have different strategies for different stages of change:
    Stage 1: Prepare for change
    Stage 2: Manage the change
    Stage 3: Re-connect with staff to sustain the change

In times of change and uncertainty, it’s more important than ever to have a robust internal corporate communications strategy in place. The best strategy will ensure that your employees are primed and ready to adapt to change and kept informed with a steady flow of consistent messages. Reaching every employee is vital to ensuring the company vision and aims are adhered to, no matter what their working situation.

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References:

[1] Internal Communications, A manual for practitioners, Kogan Page (2014)

[2] Making the Connections: Using internal communication to turn strategy into action, Gower Publishing Ltd (2008)