Effective internal communication is critical if a company wants to get the best from its people, boost productivity, and provide sterling service to customers. Poor information flows have been the downfall of many big-name organizations, so how do we measure effectiveness and make the best use of employees' valuable insights and opinions?
When you think about communicating in a work context, you probably first think about team communication with your immediate circle – the people you talk face-to-face with every day. Recently, I was discussing communications with a customer of ours that manufactures cardboard products. Just as in any other traditional industrial operation, there are office workers and management, and then the staff working on the factory floor.
In this organization, communication flows easily from the management side to the factory floor, but the other way around things are a little more challenging. On the factory side, things can get confusing and people feel like they aren’t able to engage with the management and discuss their opinions – in other words, it's hard to get their voice heard. On the one hand you have a management team who feels internal communications are working smoothly because their top-down message gets through, and on the other a dissatisfied group who feel they have no real channel to talk back.
In industrial operations, staff on the production side often have hugely valuable insights into how things really work at the grass-roots level, gleaned from years of experience. With no clear path or process to communicate these insights to the management, this valuable knowledge is at risk of being wasted.
So what is “effective” anyway?
Where could this story end? At the very least, it could be a sad tale of poor production performance and a terminally unhappy workforce. Effective internal communication is critical if a company wants to get the best from its people, and there are plenty of great tips available on how to get things working smoothly.
As soon as you mention the word “effectiveness”, the first question someone usually asks is, “But how do I measure it?” Again, there are endless different metrics you can use to determine how well your internal communications are working. If you have social tools for communicating, for example, you can measure so-called “busy metrics” like the number of posts, likes, and replies. Or you can conduct regular employee surveys to gather data on engagement rates. Whichever methods you choose, the key is to measure what matters to your organization.
It’s also important to remember that internal communications should be about much more than just pushing out management directives and corporate news to the rest of the organization. Top-down communication systems are great for these types of activities, but they’re a one-way street. Bottom-up communication systems give employees channels to voice their opinions about important issues and provide valuable feedback and insights.
Poor communication can lead to a sticky end
Failure to take care of information flows can have disastrous consequences, and there are plenty of high-profile examples of poor communication acting as a silent killer of big companies. As for the bottom line, the business impacts can include everything from increased employee turnover and absenteeism to poor customer service and failed project delivery.
Email is often where fingers are pointed any time the topic of poor communication comes up, and for good reason: it affects productivity and stresses people out. SnapComm, a provider of internal communications software solutions, estimated that poor internal email practices alone could cost a 10,000-strong organization $4 million a year. Now those are some figures that are hard to ignore.