Productivity. Community. Shared Purpose. Recognition.
Who doesn’t want more of these at work? That’s why strong internal communications are so important. When a team communicates well, its members are more productive and feel a deeper connection to the mission and vision of their organization. Why? Put simply, they know what to do, when to do it, and most importantly — why. Conversely, when internal communications best practices are ignored, employees end up frustrated, disengaged and sometimes even work counterproductively.
A strong internal communications culture doesn’t happen by accident. It’s the result of diligent people who are always thinking about the potential impact of information (or lack of information) and who take the time to work proactively — nonstop. This isn’t a small group of anointed individuals — it is anyone who is responsible for managing a team or a workflow that involves other people. If that makes you think, “Well, you’ve just described almost everyone in our company,” you’re not far off. That’s why a culture of communication is a hallmark of successful companies.
Building any culture relies on leaders throughout the organization exemplifying the behaviors they want to see in their team members. In this article, we review nine internal communications best practices that can help you motivate your workforce and either build or reinforce a communications culture.
Best Practice #1
Be Consistent in Message and Delivery
For every communication ask yourself: What are we communicating? Who needs to know this? Why is it important — both for the company and for the individual? And finally, what do we want to have happen (or to prevent from happening) as a result of the communication? Once you’ve sorted that out, you need to make sure every person responsible for delivering messaging is aligned before they engage their teams.
There’s another alignment that will make life a lot easier — agree on which communications channel should be used when. That way, leaders never question how to get the word out, and all team members will know where to look for certain information, whether it is in e-mail, on the intranet, via Slack, posted to a communications board on a manufacturing floor, or delivered in person by their manager.
Best Practice #2
If It’s Important, They Should Hear It From You
One of the fastest ways to undermine trust about communications is to let your employees hear important news about their company from outside of their company first. Whenever circumstances necessitate planned external communications — for positive or negative news — you should be drafting internal communications at the same time.
Obviously, there are times that you cannot legally share information in advance of making it public, but thanks to technology you can time the release of information internally as soon as it is legally admissible. That way, if your employees learn news from outside sources, they can immediately turn to their trusted internal communications channel and find answers to their questions.
And on a sidenote — when you share information with your employees, make sure they know when it is something they can speak about freely or should keep confidential, and take those opportunities to remind team members of company policy about posting on social media.
Best Practice #3
Be as Transparent as Possible
There are times when information cannot be revealed for legal reasons. There are times when you may not know the answer or what’s going to happen next. That’s okay. You hired your employees because they were the right people for the company, and that includes their ability to understand the industry and the challenges you face. When you make decisions as leaders, you should be prepared to explain how you came to those decisions and why it was the right thing to do.
Many leaders feel they are protecting employees from stress and maintaining productivity by not sharing certain information with them, but the fact is, if your team knows you will share information openly when you can, they will worry less. And if there is information you know employees want that you don’t yet know, tell them a date when they will know. While ambiguity is stressful, knowing that there’s an end to it will help mitigate that stress.
Best Practice #4
Never Think Audience — Always Think Audiences
In internal communications best practice #1, we mention that you should consider why the information you’re sharing is important to individuals before you plan communications around it because it helps you develop concise messaging that will motivate and support understanding. If you follow this exercise, you will quickly realize that within any organization, even within individual teams, there is diversity. For example, if you’re announcing a new sick leave policy, why that’s important to a twenty-something, single team member may be dramatically different than why it’s important to an older team member who cares for both teenagers and aging parents.
This exercise doesn’t mean you have to develop custom communications accounting for all team members’ circumstances, it just helps you remember when you’re writing a message to an audience, you need to account for different reactions and choose the appropriate tone to connect broadly.
Best Practice #5
Don’t Bury the Message
Communicate key takeaways early in a message, so if someone stops reading, they will still get the most critical information. Better yet, deliver your message in a way that you quickly establish the reason to keep reading. Start by telling your reader what you’re going to tell them, and why it’s important for them to know.
From there, make it easy to scan for what’s important. If it’s a written message, use bold fonts for key takeaways and bullet points to ensure important information doesn’t get lost in long paragraphs. If you’re speaking, pause before you say something important (the equivalent to starting a new paragraph), raise your volume slightly (like bolding a font) and number the points as you make them (like bullets). These are cues for anyone listening that you’re saying something critical that they will need to retain.
Best Practice #6
Keep It Simple
Whether you’re writing or speaking, be concise. Ask yourself, when the audiences walk away from this communication, what is the most important thing for them to know and to do? That will help you identify when you might be sharing more information than necessary. This is especially important in a crisis because people under duress can only retain and process a few points of information. By the end of your message, everyone should know exactly what actions they should take.
If including complex or detailed information is critical to the communication, break that content down at the end of the message. Convey a complete thought about what is important and why, then let them read on for details.
Best Practice #7
Put Information Where Their Eyes Are
In internal communications best practice #1, we discussed being consistent in which channel you use to communicate different information. If you’re in the process of mapping that out, consider how quickly you need employees to get the communication. When time is of the essence, put the information where they will notice it without having to seek it out — that’s the email inbox for many employees, but don’t forget about team members who are on the road, at the bench or on the line. Sometimes calling a team meeting or town hall is the best way to ensure everyone hears the message in a coordinated manner.
Best Practice #8
Show the Breadth and Alignment of Leadership
Having the same few leaders deliver all internal messaging is a missed opportunity to show the alignment of leadership, to demonstrate the trust and confidence in leaders throughout the organization, and to allow team members to see how communication is a part of the company’s culture. The easiest place to start is with sharing good news — think about the information that is being announced and who in the company is close to it and let them share. This makes it a developmental opportunity as well as a way to recognize success. Bad news, on the contrary, should be shared by upper leadership. In those cases, employees will want to hear from the people in a position to steer the company through tumultuous times.
Best Practice #9
Give Everyone a Voice
A communications culture relies on two-way communications. As we’ve mentioned in many of these tips, to be able to effectively communicate with employees requires an understanding of who they are and what’s important to them — never forget that the work they do and the company they work for is a part of that. Your employees are living and breathing your business, interacting with your customers, ensuring the quality of your products or services, identifying issues and developing solutions. And in many cases, they don’t just represent your company, they also represent your customers.
When employees have a voice, they become more than the audience — they are a part of what is happening and what will happen next. When team members know leaders are interested in their ideas and opinions, they become more active listeners. They take in information in order to understand so they can contribute to the conversation and be a part of next steps. Listening to employees helps leaders maintain diverse perspectives, be open to new ideas and to see criticism as a means to improve.
If this rings true, make certain you’ve created effective channels for feedback, whether that is an open Q&A at the end of every town hall or team meeting, a regular survey to take the pulse of the organization and identify strengths and weakness, or a place on the intranet where people can post questions and ideas — there are many opportunities for feedback. What’s critical is, if you ask people to share their thoughts and ideas, you need to acknowledge all of it — the good and the bad. In order to give your team members a voice, you have to show that you are listening.
As we said in the beginning of this article, creating a culture of communications requires alignment and effort — but the return on the investment in this effort is well documented. Think of successful companies that you admire, especially those that have survived during difficult times, and chances are you will find they have implemented some or all of these best practices for internal communications.
Here is a great article on how internal communications is linked to success: Six Companies that Teach Us What It Takes to Communicate Exceptionally Well
Read more about Internal vs. External Communications in this article.