The world of work has changed beyond recognition in the last 12 months. So it’s no surprise that we need to adapt our ways of working to match. The pandemic has brought many aspects of the working environment into the spotlight, and internal communications is one of these key focus areas.
It has become increasingly clear that effective communication is an essential element of any organisation. As such, an effective internal communication plan is a critical aspect of your daily operations. Most organisations have carefully constructed procedures for communicating with clients, stakeholders and new hires. When you apply the same level of care to your employee communication plan, you will see a definite uplift in engagement.
In the pre-Covid world, it was common for companies to take a set-it-and-forget-it approach to their internal communications plans. However, times have changed. With so many employees working remotely, the need for effective communication in the workplace and beyond has become of critical importance. It has become increasingly clear that when you shift your focus back on connecting meaningfully with your employees, the benefits to your business are manifold.
In this blog, we take a look at the reasons why it is so important to concentrate on internal communication planning. We then drill down into how to construct a highly effective internal communication strategy that will deliver definite results in today’s business climate; the five key questions you need to ask and the five critical internal communication mistakes to avoid.
Why you need an internal communication plan for 2021
What is an internal communication plan and why is it so important in the current situation? A successful plan will clearly define your business goals in communicating with employees and sets out the activities required to achieve these goals. In essence, it’s the blueprint steering you towards internal communications success.
The benefits of good internal communication are many and varied. When a strong employee engagement communication plan is in place, it guarantees staff loyalty, motivation and productivity.
Your updated employee communication plan will need to address the critical issue of remote working. According to research by the Harvard Business Review, employees are seeking out communication more than ever. When it comes to the pandemic, over 90% of employees said they wanted at least weekly communication from their company and 29% said they prefer daily communication. By ensuring that even the hard-to-reach employees are connected, you’ll be back in control of your internal communication process.
In contrast, poor internal communication can have an extremely negative effect on your business. It can lead to lowered morale, confusion and reduced productivity and profits. Ultimately, it can seriously harm your bottom line. In fact, a Towers Watson study revealed that companies that communicate ineffectively are 50% more likely to report below-average turnover levels.
The five questions you need to ask
When you are focusing on how to improve internal communication, creating a detailed internal communication strategy and action plan is the place to start. Before you start, take a step back and ask yourself these five essential questions. The answers to these questions will lay the foundation of your plan and set you up for success.
What is your overall business or project goal? Have you defined what value you are going to add?
To get the most out of your internal communication planning, you need to define your end goal. This will be different for every business. For some organisations, the focus will be on staff retention levels, while for others it will be about improving productivity. As a result of the pandemic, you may be tackling the thorny problem of communicating change, or connecting with remote workers. If so, your strategy will need to focus on this as a priority.
To define your core target, you may need to work through different views with different stakeholders until you agree on a common goal. This is rarely a stage that takes place in isolation. Once you have strong, clear objectives in mind, the rest of your plan will fall into place much more easily.
Key point: If you cannot nail down what you want to change as a result of your communication, there is no point in doing it.
Who is this specific communication aimed at? What do you want people to do differently as a result?
Never forget to focus on who your communications are aimed at. How can you make it relevant to your target audience? Your staff have a lot on their minds already, from the details of the task they have in hand to worries about what the future has in store for their job, to personal matters and concerns. The role of internal communications is to cut through all this noise and get your message heard.
To get, and keep, your employee’s attention you will need to understand your audience and what information they will find interesting and important. It may be helpful to segment the audience into specific groups, for example:
- Age/stage: pensions communications will require a different approach for graduate trainees from those approaching retirement.
- Location/culture: employees in HQ are often easier to connect with than those working remotely.
- Teams/departments: the catering, accountants and customer service teams may all work in the same building but will have different concerns and priorities.
- Attitude/outlook: are they feeling well disposed towards the organisation or undervalued and demotivated?
Key point: Don’t expect a single approach to work for every employee. Incorporate a range of techniques in your plan to allow for individual differences.
What are you asking people to engage with? And why should they care?
Start by putting aside the finer details and concentrating on the core idea you hope employees will understand and be inspired by. You need to be very clear about the main point when you’re putting together your internal communication plans.
You also need to factor in the “why should I care?” question. Staff will see everything you are saying through their own personal prism. For example:
- Will I still have a job at the end of this?
- Am I going to have to change the way I work?
- Is this yet another brilliant idea from HQ that ends up going nowhere?
Your employee communication plan will work best if you have already honed down some outcomes that will interest them. Consider drawing up some innovative internal communication ideas to get them fired up. Ideally, their job is going to become easier and more enjoyable. But on the other hand, it’s important to accept that some communications will have no silver lining. Do not expect to be able to put a positive spin on everything.
Key point: Try implementing the Know-Feel-Do approach:
- What your audience needs to KNOW for them to agree with or understand the action/change.
- What they need to FEEL or believe, to be ready to do it.
- What you want them to DO as a result of the communication.
Are other messages or events going to overshadow your timing? Are you maintaining a regular schedule of communications?
Timing is crucial. Make sure your timing does not conflict with big news events already in the corporate diary. Timing is also a critical factor when it comes to a sensitive announcement such as job losses. There is a fine line between announcing too early with incomplete information and leaving it too late until the rumour mill is in overdrive.
Another factor to consider is the pace of your internal communications. The internal communications best practice is to maintain a regular, scheduled and consistent pace of messaging. This is especially crucial for remote workers who don’t have the opportunity for regular, casual catch-ups with their managers and peers. When your communications become intermittent, you will find engagement levels begin to suffer as employees feel forgotten and side-lined.
Key point: An internal communication app will give you the tools to schedule timely communications and deliver a steady stream of information to your employees
Which channel will work best for the content and the audience you have in mind?
It’s important to bear in mind that how a message is transmitted is as important as the message itself. When you are building your internal communication strategy and action plan, the channel you choose will be a key factor.
When faced with a huge selection of internal communication channels, you need to consider which one will best engage your employees. Will they respond to a company-wide email, a social media blast, or perhaps a daily news feed? Your best option is always to provide a choice of channels to allow for a personalised experience and break down any possible barriers.
When it comes to selecting effective internal communication tools, remember you’re looking for a way to support that all-important two-way communication. Rather than simply delivering information, you need to allow an opportunity for your employees, both office-based and remote, to reply and respond.
Key point: An employee app offers a range of channels and tools, providing a two-way communication flow for maximum engagement.
The five common mistakes to avoid
So now you have the answers to those five vital questions, you’re ready to start building your internal communication plan. However, as you construct your strategy, here are five common internal communication mistakes you will need to avoid making.
Don’t just assume your employee engagement communication plan is working. Monitor it carefully. All effective plans place a heavy focus on internal communications metrics.
Assess the priorities you identified by asking ‘Why?’ by carefully evaluating whether your internal communication plans are delivering.
Try this: Internal communications software makes life easy. Thanks to the built-in reporting, it will continually evaluate the success of your employee communications.
People find it hard to absorb multiple or complex messages, so keep it simple. It is a sad truth that employees often have far less understanding than the management team realise. A recent IBM survey revealed 44% of employees feel that managers don’t provide clear information about the company’s vision and 72% don't have a full understanding of the company's strategy.
Try this: Make sure you use suitable language and appropriate channels for your messages. Always bear your audience in mind when constructing communications.
One of the common errors is to transmit all your messages in a big information blast, and then put messaging on the back burner for a while. This stop-start approach will have a negative effect on your employee’s engagement levels. A steady drip-feed of news, reports, advice and surveys will ensure staff remain connected and motivated.
Try this: Regular messaging is made simple with an internal communications app. It allows you to pre-schedule news and updates, so you can get on with other business matters.
Keep a finger on the pulse of your workforce. It’s easy for senior management to experience a disconnect from employees, which then results in a failure to communicate effectively. This is even more of a concern with a remote workforce. Try to understand the daily reality of their jobs by connecting and listening to your employees.
Try this: Spend time talking and listening to employees to find out how your organisation works from their perspective.
Try to avoid the common ‘me, me, me’ pitfall. Obviously, you want your internal communications to be your employee’s top priority but this can’t always be the case. Remember to take into account their other projects and responsibilities as you construct your messages. Look for ways to cut through the noise and make yourself heard.
Try this: An employee app allows you to personalise your communications to suit your employee’s priorities and preferences.
Why you should use an internal communications canvas
It can be hard to know where to start when you’re constructing your internal communications plan. That’s where a canvas can be a lifesaver. It will help you visualise your approach and gain an overview of your plans.
What is a canvas? It’s a diagram that gives a broad overview of your current business needs. It helps you to select and improve internal communication channels, identify risks and challenges, and highlight areas to target. With a canvas, you’ll ensure that you create a comprehensive plan that covers all bases. It will make sure you cover all aspects of the business, reach every employee, meet your objectives and measure the impact of your strategy.
Here at TalkFreely, we’ve drawn up a strategy canvas template to get started. It also includes a 20-page guide to help you define your internal communications planning. With a canvas in place, you’ll have a solid framework for shaping communication channels and defining goals for your strategy. Download your free guide here.
An example internal communication plan
So, what does the perfect employee communication plan look like? In truth, it will be different for every organisation, as your overriding aims and goals will be unique to your individual business. However, as a starting point, this example inspired by Fitzpatrick and Valskov is an example of best practice in action.
Ask the five key questions, avoid the five common mistakes and use a canvas to help you define your strategy. You’ll soon be well on your way to creating a successful internal communication plan for 2021.