Internal communications: everything you need to know...
Gain a clear view of what internal communication is, how
to get it right, and the benefits you can start to enjoy.
Our workforces are continually evolving. Thanks to advances in technology, the spread of globalisation and recent global health crises, the working environment has changed beyond recognition. As such internal communicators face a new set of challenges and obstacles to overcome. But one thing remains clear. In todays business landscape, internal communication remains as vital to the success of your business as it ever was. Engaged, informed employees are your company’s best asset and effective internal communication is the way to achieve this. It’s the essential internal structure that holds your company together.
Like a human being, a company has to have an internal communication mechanism, a 'nervous system', to coordinate its actions.Bill Gates
In this comprehensive guide, we cover everything you need to know to drive successful employee communication within your workplace. We look at the key concepts behind efficient internal communication, but, just as importantly, provide plenty of practical guidance for you to apply in the real word. Essentially, we show you how to help your business influence the knowledge, attitudes, and behaviours of your current employees for the better.
But the biggest idea of all? It’s that the core purpose of internal communication is to identify and share company goals so that employees know what they are working towards. Always let that principle steer your approach. If you were to remember only one more thing, let it be this:
Every internal communication must bring change,
or you have wasted your time.
We’ve centred this page around three key areas:
So, what is internal communication? Kicking off with two authorities on the subject, the academics define internal communication as:
"The planned use of communications actions to systematically influence the knowledge, attitudes and behaviours of current employees."
Tench and Yeomans
That word “planned” is crucial. Indeed, in the landmark book Communicating For Change, Roger D’Aprix explained that taking the strategic viewpoint is critical. He shows how communications can be used strategically to connect an organization's vision, mission and business goals to the forces and opportunities in the marketplace.
Meanwhile, the Business Dictionary goes with a more simplistic but just as relevant explanation of internal communications:
The sharing of information within an organisation for business purposes.
Building on these three definitions, we can distil our definition to down to three essential points:
The key element to remember is that internal communication is about outcomes. It is not about activity. It is not shouting at staff with a constant stream of announcements, new priorities and random activity just for the sake of looking busy. Employee communication is about building trust and understanding with every worker, connecting them with one common vision and goal.
Before we move on, it’s essential to differentiate between internal and external communication. Let’s take a look at the five key elements that separate these two lines of communication:
Internal communication guides, informs, and motivates employees and helps them stay on track. External communication aims to shape society’s view of the company or brand.
Different channels give different results. For internal communication, this includes newsletters, presentations, and employee engagement apps; for external communication it incorporates advertising, websites and annual reports.
Internal communication speaks to staff from the newest recruit to senior leadership; in contrast, the audience for external communication ranges from customers to shareholders and government.
Internal communication is usually more frequent, delivering a constant stream of updates and information. External communication often only takes place when an important announcement or product launch is pending.
Internal communication flows within the business only. External communication reaches out to the society at large.
It’s clear that the two areas of communication are distinct in their focus and aims. However, it is also important to remember that they should also work in harmony to promote a consistent brand message across the board. It’s essential that your internal and external communications deliver a coherent vision that tallies across both areas: one core message for all.
It’s often said that strong employee communication is the backbone of every business. But why is this? We’ve broken down the benefits of good internal communication into three key areas:
An effective internal communications strategy will effectively address the seven main challenges faced by every business. These core issues are fundamental to the success of your company and can mean the difference between success or failure. Internal communications that are targeted and effective will address these challenges and ensure your organisation is robust and resilient.
Effective internal communication is a keystone for successful organisations; it binds the organisation together, gets colleagues collaborating around specific business goals and creates transparent and productive work environments where staff thrive.
This is all the more vital given the changing nature of the modern workplace. With people on the move, remote workers, and disconnected employees, the hard-to-reach workforce have presented a new set of unique challenges.
Communication in a crisis is an issue that has recently come to the fore, and this is where internal communications can really make a difference. By reaching and connecting with all workers, whether remote, furloughed or active, you can maintain that essential flow of information and support.
Information is power. Being able to advise senior leaders on what an audience group is really thinking will be highly valued. For example, if you’ve done your research by listening carefully to the workforce, you will know why some facets of a planned change are doomed to fail because employees will never accept them. Knowing your audience is pivotal to you being invited to play a part in strategic discussions.
This is why measuring internal communications is such a crucial element of any strategy.
By understanding what employees are thinking and how they are reacting to your communications, you can adjust your approach accordingly.
In many ways, empathy lies at the heart of successful communication. Therefore, always try and put yourself in your audience’s shoes when developing an internal communication plan.
And if you don’t know why you’re doing it, don’t do it.
For an internal communication strategy to be fruitful, each activity must lead to change and each employee must know where they fit in the overall vision. A robust internal communication strategy will have three main objectives:
In order to deliver on these objectives, you need to employ three key actions in the delivery of your strategy:
Whatever you need to communicate, these five essential questions can provide the foundation of your plan:
And a final question:
Selecting the best channel for your communications is a crucial step. In internal communications, how effectively a message is communicated is just as important as the message itself. If you’re looking to improve internal communication within your organisation, your aim should be to choose a channel that best fits both your target audience and your overriding objective.
Gone are the days when you just had to decide between a meeting or a newsletter. Now we have a huge selection of communication channels to choose from, including some very effective digital options.
When thinking about internal communication channels, keep these three things in mind:
We’ve drilled down into the most popular communication channels to help you decide whether they will succeed in meeting your objectives and resonating with your target audience at the same time:
Email is the main channel for internal communications in the majority of workplaces. But is it effective? The fact is, ‘email overload’ is a real problem in the modern office. A report from the Radicati Group revealed that 126 emails are sent and received every day. And it’s no surprise that 20% of these are never even opened. If you are relying on email as your main delivery method of important news and information, you should be aware that many of your messages will not be read.
An intranet is designed to bring all your messages and information together in one easily accessible place. The employee intranet is a popular tool for internal communications and many offices have one in place. However, there are numerous reasons why intranets fail to engage employees. Without hands-on management, the information on an intranet will quickly become out-of-date. In addition, many are hard to navigate and fail to provide that all-important two-way communication stream.
Newsletters and memos are still in common use, despite the drive for a paperless workplace. This tried-and-tested route is a popular way to share information. It is easy to keep the branding under control and ensure a consistency of approach in your internal communication planning. However, there are also considerable downsides to this channel. Information dates quickly, it relies on costly delivery methods, and crucially, it does not invite feedback.
Opinion is divided as to whether the internal communication tools provided by social media are suitable for internal communications. When you’re putting together an employee communication plan, it’s important to remember that close monitoring of two-way channels is imperative. While social media channels are great for encouraging information exchange and feedback, remember that private content is easily made public, whether you wish it or not.
The personal touch should not be underrated. In fact, recent research from Gatehouse found organisations are investing heavily in face-to-face communication.
Using leaders and managers to deliver information to the workforce is highly effective, especially when you are communicating change. However, presentations and team meetings are not suitable for all types of information. In addition, the success of these events depends almost entirely on the communications skills of the leader.
We’re focusing on this particular channel simply because it’s such an effective one for connecting with the hard-to-reach workforce, and a perfect fit for the modern working world. In fact, the adoption of an employee engagement app is one of the key internal communication trends of 2020. Internal communication platforms are a powerful force in driving employee engagement, employee-generated continuous improvement and innovation.
An internal communication app has been designed to specifically support every element of your internal communication strategy. It has been constructed with a comprehensive set of features designed to help companies connect and engage with their staff. These all-encompassing apps connect employees with your business, your leadership team and each other in a simple-to-implement software platform that can personalised to your unique requirements.
In an increasingly digital age, the workforce is no longer confined to the office and it can be a challenge to rebuild company-wide communication. Employee engagement apps can play a transformative role in improving both reach and engagement. They seamlessly connect every member of staff to create happier employees, greater productivity, satisfied customers and increased profit.
So, how do you convert a disengaged and disconnected workforce into an organisation where every employee knows their contribution is valued? Look for apps that foster internal communication through:
How can you assess whether your chosen internal communication channel is actually working for you? In order to assess whether your channels are working effectively, you need to consider whether they meet three vital objectives:
This final point is absolutely crucial, but often forgotten in the bigger picture. One of the most common internal communication mistakes is the failure to measure the impact your messages are having on your audience. A successful strategy relies on the ability to compare how your teams are interacting, and how your engagement levels are performing. Only with this data to hand will you be able to act on the incoming data and adjust your plans accordingly. Measuring internal communications is as important as the messages you’re sending out in the first place.
This is where an internal communications app really stands out from the crowd. Most apps will offer the tools to tools to monitor participation and improve engagement. Look out for real-time dashboards and built-in reporting to track engagement levels and export management reports. The employee engagement platform really excels at collating feedback as well. With ad-hoc polls and internal communication survey modules to gauge opinions and preferences, you can really keep your finger on the pulse of your company.
After you’ve got to grips with your internal communication strategy and selected the best channels, it’s time to put together your internal communication campaign. Here are our five top tips for creating an engaging delivery that really resonates with your workforce:
Get people interested by building a teaser into your internal communication campaigns. By the time you officially launch your announcement, employees will have already bought into the fact that something exciting/important is coming. You might build tension with “coming soon” hints, or a new logo or image that gets a buzz going around the business.
Be bold and try something that will tickle your audience’s imagination. A good example of a creative internal communications campaign came from insurance giant AXA. They used Valentine’s Day-themed cards to re-energise a disaffected workforce. The cards asked employees for one reason they liked working at AXA, and one thing they would change.
Make sure there is a clear link between your internal communication campaign and a business-critical decision. When you’re communicating with employees, it’s important to ensure everyone can understand the reason behind the campaign, as well as the senior leadership team.
Put a human face on what employees might perceive to be dull rules and regulations. You might create a cartoon character, an avatar or designate a named member of staff to front your campaign. This will work even better if you ae running and ongoing campaign and your human face can answer FAQs along the way.
Co-creation can be a powerful tool for internal communications. When it’s right for internal communication to be a joint effort, try to get a broad range of employees involved.
Here, we’ve hand-picked some famous internal communication case studies from the world of business. Some were great successes, but some failed to meet the mark. However, both successes and failures are invaluable examples of internal communication in action. When it comes to improving internal communications in your organisation, nothing speaks more clearly than a real-life case in point.
All the following internal communication examples are ordered under the ‘seven golden rules’ of internal communication, as proposed by Fitzpatrick in his ground-breaking publication Internal Communications: A Manual for Practitioners. This helps us categorise where the successes lie, and where the mistakes were made.
The starting point for every IC has to be: “What do we want people to do?”
Example of good internal communication: Nationwide’s BIG Conversation resulted in a refreshed strategy and new marketing campaign.
You will only be adding real value if your internal communications link directly to business needs.
Example of good internal communication: Logistics provider XPO wanted to leverage great ideas from hard-to-reach colleagues across 104 sites. A bespoke app delivered return on investment of 6.5:1.
Get out to talk and listen to employees.
Example of bad internal communication: AOL CEO Tim Armstrong fired an employee during a morale-boosting call with 1,000 staff.
Internal Communication is a two-way street.
Example of bad internal communication: PayPal President David Marcus told his staff to use their product or quit.
Understand the working methods of those you need to convince. If you need to tear up past precedent and innovate, again tailor your IC to the way users like to work.
Example of good internal communication: Seymour House
Seymour House runs ten outstanding childcare nurseries and wanted to get staff across the group engaging better with each other to share great practice.
However big or small your organisation, line managers and local leaders are your allies. But the message has to be right.
Example of bad internal communication: Yahoo’s Head of HR sent out a motivational memo full of praise for the company’s “positive momentum”, “the buzz and energy in our offices” … then told staff to quit if they disagreed.
The role of the Internal Communicator remains absolutely pivotal – and cut yourself slack in how you judge success.
Internal communication case study: XPO – what success looks like.