When it comes to internal communications, forward planning is key. This is one area of business where you simply can’t get away with winging it. Unless you put some serious time and thought into your communications, you’ll find your messages fail to meet their mark. Every organisation needs a carefully planned internal communications strategy in order to successfully connect with its employees.
This is especially important in times of change and difficulty. When the chips are down and you need every employee to rally to the cause, effective internal communication becomes more important than ever. Your internal comms strategy could literally mean make or break for your company. 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 take an in-depth look at how to implement an internal communication strategy template. We examine the structure and objectives of a successful strategy and highlight the key do’s and don’ts you need to consider when putting your plans into place.
What you need your strategy to do
The best internal communication strategy will help your organisation speak with a consistent voice. It’s essential that every single employee has a clear view of:
- the overarching vision and specific business goals
- the individual part they have to play in achieving them
An effective strategy is particularly important in times of change or difficulty when the messages circulating internally have to match what employees are reading in the press or on social media outside. Communication in 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 plan needs to do is Quirke’s model, 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:
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 of an internal communications strategy example is provided by FitzPatrick, as reproduced below:
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 internal communications 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.
Using an internal communications canvas
Not sure where to start? Consider using a canvas to help you visualise your approach. A canvas is a diagram which gives a broad overview of your current business needs. It will help you to select and improve internal communication channels, identify risks and challenges, and highlight areas to target. A canvas is one of the crucial internal communication best practices that shouldn’t be overlooked.
When you use a canvas to structure your internal communications strategy, you’re ensuring that you create a comprehensive plan that:
- Covers all aspects of the business
- Includes every employee
- Fulfils every objective
- Measures the impact
TalkFreely has produced a strategy canvas template along with a 20-page guide that will help you to define your internal communications strategy. The guidance notes will help you to complete the canvas, giving you a solid framework for defining goals and shaping communication channels within your organisation. Put simply, it’s the blueprint for success.
The five do’s
Looking for internal communication ideas to bring your strategy up to scratch? You will need to make sure your internal comms strategy can do five key things:
1. DO deliver quality content and tools
Your writing needs to be right on the mark if you’re going to connect with your audience, tailored precisely to their needs. The design of your communications needs to be top-class. And your internal communication tools and channels must be faultless in their delivery. 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. DO reach every single employee
Reaching the majority just isn’t enough. Your employee communication needs to reach everyone without fail, 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. DO forge partnerships across the business
Make it your mission to build relationships across the business with individual leaders or teams to address specific problems. These business partners can help local leaders communicate effectively and 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. An essential element of any internal communication definition is the inclusion of business partnerships.
4. DO offer strategic advice to leaders
The best way to deliver this crucial information? Simply by measuring internal communications. Compiling data-driven analysis of how employees are thinking and reacting will give you the information you need to predict how they will behave in the future. This insight will set you apart from the guesswork of other senior people. When it comes to improving internal communications, nothing is more valuable than solid, reliable data.
5. DO be prepared for a crisis
Recent events have made this one of the key internal communication trends of 2020. It’s essential to 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, 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
The five don’ts
Equally as important as the previous list, these five common internal communication mistakes should be avoided at all costs. While a strong strategy will propel your business to new heights, a poorly performing strategy could cost you dearly.
The following errors are seen in many strategies, often based on assumption that everyone works and thinks in the same way. If only it was that easy!
1. DON’T believe that one message is enough
It’s a mistake to think that a single message expressed in the right way will reach and be understood by every employee. There are seven billion varieties of human and everyone will interpret your message slightly differently. Don’t assume that one document or 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. Keep putting your message over, in a variety of ways through a variety of channels, and it will eventually make its mark.
2. DON’T assume change will be welcomed
The change that galvanises leaders is unlikely to be received in the same way by those further down the pecking order. They may be afraid of the disruption it brings. When communicating change, you need to always be aware of the invisible barriers that need breaking down before your message gets through. For example, beware of communicating the same upbeat message about axing an unsuccessful product to shareholders and shop floor alike. Change needs careful handling and it is a mistake to assume it will be good news for all.
3. DON’T depend on a single communication channel
Don’t 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. The main reason why internets fail to engage employees is that they don’t consider whether everyone can access it successfully. This is where an internal communications app that connects across multiple communication channels really comes into its own.
4. DON’T make rank-based assumptions
Many internal communications teams mistakenly 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. The role of internal communication is to engage with all employees on a consistent basis, ensuring everyone receives the same information at the same time, regardless of rank or status.
5. DON’T try to control every communication
Do not think you have to control or shape every message that goes out to your organisation – it’s a fallacy that will only waste your time and probably drive you mad. The secret to success is ensuring that your key communications are handled with clarity and consistency across the company. Not every email needs to be monitored. Give your time to the important campaigns and don’t sweat the small stuff.
In times of change and uncertainty, it’s more important than ever to have a robust internal 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.