So, what is internal communication? How does it apply to your organisation? And how does it apply in today’s business landscape? Now, more than ever, it’s necessary to take a fresh look at your work. It’s always beneficial to step back and consider whether what you are doing is really effective. This is especially true of internal communications.
It’s all too easy to fall into a rut with your internal communications strategy, especially as it is rarely allocated top priority in either time or budgets. It’s tempting just to keep on doing what you’ve always done. But, when handled poorly, internal communication plans can actually do more harm than good.
Let’s get back to basics and really address what we’re trying to do. In this blog, we explore the definition of internal communications, the ultimate goals, and the seven elements you need to consider in order to implement a successful strategy. The next time you’re asked, ‘what is internal communications?’, you’ll have the perfect answer.
Two Definitions of Internal Communication
On a simple level, internal communication can be defined as:
The way an organisation communicates and connects with its employees
These communications can happen in a variety of ways, including emails, employee intranet, face to face meetings, team meetings, performance reviews and written documents such as policies and procedures. They can also have many different purposes, whether it’s delivering information, planning work, providing progress reports or setting standards.
However, there is an overriding element that is attached to all of these communications. Effective internal communication will also deliver in terms of engaging, empowering and motivating staff. Truly successful employee communication will give employees a voice in what happens within the organisation, leading to a feeling of empowerment. This raises the level of communications with employees to a relationship that involves honesty and trust.
Let’s take a look at the academics’ definition:
“The planned use of communications actions to systematically influence the knowledge, attitudes and behaviours of current employees.”
Crucially, this internal communication definition covers the impact of the communications on employees. It can be broken down into three vital concepts:
- Planned – communications with careful thought and consideration behind them
- Systematic – communications that follow a logical and organised approach
- Influence – communications that persuade, rather than command
Put all these three elements together and you’ll automatically improve internal communications.
The Goal of Internal Communication
What exactly is it we’re trying to achieve? Every company will have a different set of objectives, based on their individual circumstances. However, in all successful internal communication case studies, there are some aims that are always met. These over-reaching goals are:
- Share information - ensuring employees are kept fully informed
- Set company culture - imparting the values and ethics behind business decisions
- Give employees a voice - offering employees a platform to share ideas and concerns
These internal communication best practices form the heart of every strategy. While the primary function of internal communication is to keep employees informed, it is also crucial to ensure that the company culture is imparted and two-way internal communication channels put in place.
Consider using a canvas to help you draw up the perfect strategy. A canvas diagram will help you to visualise your approach by giving you a broad overview of your objectives, your channels, your risks and your challenges. It gives you the blueprint for a comprehensive plan both meets your objectives and engages your employees. When it comes to improving internal communications, this is a one-stop shop solution.
What Internal Communication is NOT
A good starting point is to clarify what you should not be doing with your internal communication strategy.
It’s not about making lots of noise…
Don’t fire out messages just to look busy. A constant stream of announcements, new priorities and news updates will have a negative effect. Information overload is a very real problem in the modern office and employees will cut off if you constantly bombard them with unnecessary messages. Communicating with employees is not, in the words of experts Liam FitzPatrick and Klavs Valskov, making noise for the sake of it.”
It’s not about imposing cooperation…
You can’t force feuding managers to like each other. Equally, you can’t pressure reluctant team members to swap information. Ultimately, your role is to introduce clear internal channels of communication, which will hopefully lead to greater understanding and cooperation between employees. But it is not the role of internal communication to enforce rules which could lead to additional stress and resentment. Don’t step over that line.
It’s not about fire-fighting…
One of the common internal communication mistakes is to view your messages as a tactical fallback when emergency strikes. For example: “We’re getting bad press about Directors’ bonuses. Can we encourage everyone to spread the word that this is a lovely place to work?” Communication in a crisis has to be long term, strategic and cooperative. Yes, your employees can be your best advocates in times of trouble, but only if you’ve already put in the work to gain their trust and loyalty.
The 7 important points to consider
So, now we’re addressed the basics, let’s take a look at what a strong internal communications strategy actually involves:
1. It is about explaining the big picture…
Your aim is to make employees feel like true insiders. They don’t just need to know how their department has performed against this month’s sales target. They need to know how the company as a whole has performed. Beyond that, they need to understand how this will impact on the company strategy moving forward. You can’t expect your teams to understand the big picture, unless you take the time to show them. The importance of internal communication really becomes clear when you bring employees on side.
2. It is about giving staff the tools to collaborate…
If you want your employees to work together, you’ll need to provide the means for them to do so. Practically, this means implementing internal communication tools that work flawlessly and seamlessly. Whether that means installing an intranet providing areas for sharing, organising meetings and away days, or introducing an internal communications app with built-in collaboration channels, you’ll find these opportunities are welcomed and well-used.
3. It is about remembering the frontline workers…
Frontline workers are amongst the most important employees in the business. Whether they are dealing directly with customers or patients, or creating or delivering goods, they all make things happen. However, they are frequently the most underserved employees when it comes to access to communication tools and technology. Wherever your frontline workers are, you need to be able to connect with them instantly. This is where an internal communications platform comes into play. An easy-to-implement employee app is the simple solution. It effortlessly improves communication with frontline workers, re-establishing channels and creating a network of team-building connections.
4. It is about translating strategies into ideas…
The language of business strategies can be complex and off-putting. If you want your teams to act on a new strategy, you’ll need to translate it into practical ideas that mean something to your teams on the ground. Communicating change in the workplace needs to be handled carefully in order to prevent confusion. Make it clear what is expected with a concrete plan of action.
5. It is about two-way conversations…
Your employees need to feel their voice has been heard. Too often, internal communication is a one-way message, such as an email from the CEO with fresh new orders for the troops. In order to gain buy-in, your employees need a chance to have their say. An effective internal communication process is a conversation where the organisation asks its employees for their views, takes their suggestions and constructive criticism into account, then shows them how it has done so.
6. It is about the three Cs…
The best methods of internal communication always involve the three Cs: be clear, concise and compelling. As specialists Liam FitzPatrick and Klavs Valskov say; “Essentially, the internal communications team has a duty to distil down the endless mission statements, strategic imperatives, call values and “must-win battles” into something that makes sense to the employee, helping them to actually do something that makes the difference.”
7. It is about focusing on outcomes…
It is all about outcomes. Your focus is the result of all the activity, not the activity itself.
Internal communication strategies often fail because they forget to measure the success of the messages themselves. Measuring internal communications is an essential, not a nice-to-have. This will differ according the challenges facing your organisation. For some it may be reducing costs, for others it may be retaining staff. The key is to identify your priorities and keep assessing the success of your internal communications accordingly.
What is internal communication? At its heart, it’s about informing and connecting with your employees, ensuring they feel part of the bigger picture. Whenever you explore examples of good communication affecting a work relationship, you’ll find that employee engagement is a fundamental element for success.