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.

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Introduction

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

What do we cover in this guide?

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.

What you’ll learn

We’ve centred this page around three key areas:

  1. What is internal communication?
    You’ll discover what internal communication means in the 21st century and why it’s crucial to the longevity of your business.
  2. How to create a strategy
    You’ll learn what an internal communication strategy should do, where to begin and how to select the best internal communication channels for your goals.
  3. Real-life examples
    You’ll see examples of internal communication put into action in actual case studies. Discover what works, and what doesn’t.

Internal communication definition

What is internal communication? It’s essential to tie down an internal communication definition if you’re going to really get to grips with the concept. Internal communication can be quite tricky to define. It means different things to different people, depending on their viewpoint and experience. For some it may just mean those monthly updates fired out from the CEO. For others, it will be an in-depth engagement process that operates across all levels.

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

This idea of influence is also seen in the definition proposed by Grossman, Government Communication Service Head. He believes that internal communication can be used to motivate employees in order to improve their overall performance.

"To help leaders inform and engage employees, in a way which motivates staff to maximise their performance and deliver the business strategy most effectively"

Russell Grossman

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.

Business Dictionary

Building on these three definitions, we can distil our definition to down to three essential points:

  1. Delivering the big picture: Giving staff a clear view of how their role relates to the overall company objectives.
  2. Creating a common purpose: Showing employees in different departments they are all part of the same endeavour, moving towards a common purpose.
  3. Providing practical solutions: Translating business strategies into practical ideas that mean something to employees on the ground.

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. Your internal communication definition should be about building trust and understanding with every worker. You aim is to connect them with one common vision and goal.

What are the differences between internal and external communication?

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:

1. Purpose

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.

2. Channels

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.

3. Audience

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.

4. Frequency

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.

5. Scope

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.

The benefits of internal communication

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:

1. Tackling the seven challenges

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.

EUREKA Internal Communication Infographic

2. Uniting your workforce

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.

3. Understanding your workforce

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.

How to create an internal communication strategy

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 strategy. You need to visualise how your plan will affect all your employees, from the office interns to the senior managers..

Key objectives and actions

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:

  1. Address business goals - ensure every communication is dovetailed to specific business targets.
  2. Provide clarity - employees should be able to easily grasp the company’s overall vision and their personal role within it.
  3. Deliver change - Make sure every activity leads to action that changes something.

In order to deliver on these objectives, you need to employ three key actions in the delivery of your strategy:

  1. Deliver targeted content and tools through writing, design, and digital.
  2. Forge partnerships across the business with individual leaders or teams.
  3. Offer strategic advice to leaders through collating feedback and results.

Five questions you need to ask

Whatever you need to communicate, these five essential questions can provide the foundation of your strategy:

Why? What is your overall business or project goal? This is the critical launchpad, defining what value you are going to add.

Who? Who is this specific piece of communication aimed at? What do you want people to do differently as a result?

What? What are you actually asking people to engage with? And why should they care? By defining the core content of your message, you’ll help to add clarity and focus.

When? Are other messages or events going to overshadow your timing? Do you need to get a message out urgently, or can you afford to wait?

How? Which channels will work best for the content and the audience you have in mind? Will you be able to reach every employee, even those working remotely? And what communication style should you use?

And a final question

Did it work? Are you making progress towards your target? Or do you need to tweak your plan and reshoot? This is one of the most crucial elements of defining your internal communication strategy. You always need to measure your success and be prepared to refine and adapt your plans accordingly.

Develop a robust internal comms strategy using our canvas

Mistakes to avoid in your internal communications plan

As you construct your internal communications plan, keep these five common errors in mind. They have the potential to ruin a perfectly good strategy.

1. Relying on guesswork

Don’t just assume your employee engagement plan is working. Monitor it carefully. All effective plans place a heavy focus on measuring internal communications.

Assess the priorities you identified by asking ‘Why?’ by carefully evaluating whether your internal communication plans are actually delivering.

2. Overloading your employees

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. Make sure you use suitable language and appropriate channels for your messages. Always bear your audience in mind when constructing communications.

3. Communicating irregularly

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.

4. Not understanding your staff

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. Spend time talking and listening to employees to find out how your organisation actually works from their perspective.

5. Assuming you are the priority

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.

Choosing your internal communication channels

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:

  1. The channel must match the task
  2. It must have a clear purpose
  3. It needs to reach as many employees as possible

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:

1. Email

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.

2. Intranet

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.

3. Print

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.

4. Social Media

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.

5. Leadership

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.

6. The star performer: Internal Communication App

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:

  • News: Promote company news in a dedicated feed, creating higher visibility, interest, and participation.
  • Information Hubs: Post information, jobs, knowledge, documents, videos and more to themed boards using easy to create cards.
  • Forums: Build awareness, understanding and the commitment to business goals and change across your organisation.
  • Notifications: Send push notifications to smartphone or email users to remind or update them in a timely manner.
  • Social: Encourage participation with familiar social tools including polls, likes, ratings, comments and tagging.
  • Groups: Create open or private groups to filter updates, personalise an employee’s experience and make it relevant.
  • Events: Reduce the administrative burden for employee engagement, HR and Innovation calendars, events, and meet-ups.

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Is your communication channel effective?

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:

  1. Reach: Reach every employee and create a real-time connection
  2. Engage: Encourage staff to get involved and take action
  3. Measure: Evaluate engagement levels and adjust your strategy to suit

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.

Putting it all together: Internal communication campaigns

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:

1. Use a teaser

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.

2. Get creative

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.

3. Be business critical

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.

4. Make it human

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.

5. Encourage participation

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.

The internal communications app

When it comes to internal communications channels, this is the star performer. The Internal Communications App is the perfect fit for the modern working world. It’s highly effective at connecting with a hard-to-reach workforce, which makes it the ultimate solution for the current status quo. Internal communication platforms are a powerful force in driving employee engagement, employee-generated continuous improvement and innovation.

Why is the internal communications app such a game-changer?

 It’s all the ultimate all-rounder. 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.

It's specifically designed to connect with remote workers. 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.

it encourages feedback and participation. Effective communication in the workplace relies on two-way channels. Essentially, you need to give your workers a chance to speak out. This is where an internal communications app really comes into its own. It offers free-flowing feedback channels, inviting responses and opening up new opportunities to interact. The app encourages participation by inviting responses and enriching information with real-time updates, multimedia and posts that promote clicks.

It allows you to measure impact and engagement. Most internal communications apps provide the tools to monitor participation and improve engagement. Real-time dashboards deliver an instant view of engagement levels, while built-in reporting tracks engagement and exports for external reports. You can also monitor the success of your roll-out, by closely monitoring onboarding rates as the app launches across the company.

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Internal communication examples for crisis management

Strong internal communication is particularly vital when your business encounters times of crisis and change. Here, we explore six key examples of internal communication where the challenge of business upheaval can be successfully managed and overcome by a solid internal communications strategy.

1. Improving clarity and transparency

In times of business disruption, your employees need clear guidance, without any hint of ambiguity. It’s natural for them to be worried and confused. Your internal communication plan needs to ensure everyone has access to the information they need and have all their questions answered. 

2. Delivering instant notifications

Timing is everything in a crisis. In order to avoid misinformation spreading throughout your company, you need to give answers and guidance immediately. An internal communications app that offers the ability to send out instant notifications to mobile phones. Everyone receives the same message at exactly the same time.

3. Making leaders visible

A strong leadership presence becomes even more important when the chips are down. Your senior team have a vital role to play in calming fears and reassuring employees. Video clips and audio messaging are prime examples. While it is important to provide written documentation, people need to see a familiar face and hear a familiar voice to gain that extra reassurance.

4. Segmenting messages

There are times when it’s important to ensure employees receive only the information they need and nothing more. One relevant internal communications example is the question of furloughed employees. You have a legal requirement to desist in asking them to complete reports or finish projects. An internal communications app will give you the flexibility to segment your content based on locations, teams and business units, as well as furloughed and working staff.

5. Providing feedback channels

Your employees will have questions. They will want to know about the impact of the crisis on their work and the company. You need to make it easy for those questions to be asked and answered. By using an employee engagement app, you can create a channel dedicated to the crisis situation, inviting employees to post and share their questions.

6. Measuring impact

In times of crisis, you need to know your messages are being received. One of the key examples is health and safety. When a crisis hits, you will be sending out messages containing safety procedures. With an internal communications platform in place, every employee instantly receives a text, and you receive a detailed report of who has opened the text, and who hasn’t.

The three methods of internal communication

There are three main methods of internal communication seen within organisations and your strategy needs to address them all with equal effectiveness:

1. Downward communication

Communication from managers or leaders to employees

This is a flow of information that travels from the top to the bottom i.e., from the CEO downwards. It may take the form of an email, a letter, a memo or a verbal directive. Downward communication is the traditional method that many people instantly associate with internal communication.

Get it right: When communicating with employees with this method, it’s crucial that information is delivered in a clear and professional manner that leaves no room for misunderstanding. The downward method is often used to communicate during times of change and crisis. The new ways of working need to be made a specific as possible to ensure no employee is left feeling uncertain.

2. Upward communication

Communication from employees to managers or leaders

This is the communication that comes from a subordinate to a manager or another individual higher up the organisational hierarchy. Often side-lined in favour of downward communication, this is an essential element of any internal communication strategy.

Get it right: Initiating internal communication channels that promote the two-way flow of information will instantly improve engagement levels amongst employees. When you give your workers a chance to provide feedback and offer suggestions, you are giving them a voice. In addition, for the process of communication to be truly effective, this upward flow should encompass all tiers and levels within an organisation.

3. Lateral communication

Communication between individuals on the same hierarchical positions

This method of communication proceeds in a horizontal manner and takes place amongst peers on an equal level. As it is such a commonplace method, it can often get forgotten in the bigger picture of an internal communications plan.

Get it right: Enabling employees to effectively share information and knowledge is crucial to business success. While email is often the preferred channel of communication, email overload has become a real problem. Providing alternative options via an employee engagement app will offer new channels that deliver more impact. Tools such information hubs, conversation spaces and peer-to-peer chats encourage employees to connect and share.

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