The days of gathering everyone around the boss’s desk to hear the latest company news are long gone. Modern Internal Communications strategy should make use of technology as the modern employee is no longer desk-bound or even in the office at all, and it should always be developed based on insight and aligned to the wider business objectives.
These are the views of Internal Communications specialist and Director of HD Comms Helen Deverell, who has spent many years developing Internal Communications strategies for clients in a range of sectors. Talking to us for our Internal Communications 101 report, Helen said the most important thing for any Internal Communications strategy is that it aligns with the strategy for the wider business. Without this essential alignment, the Internal Communications team’s work will be completed in a silo, with no tangible benefit for the business or its objectives.
“I always suggest that you set out up front what the current situation is - where you are now - so you have the background and context for what you’re going to be doing,” says Helen. “Then look at what you want to achieve and why, which is where you need to align with the organizational strategy. Be clear that everything you’re doing must be tied back into the business objectives; if it’s not, question why you are doing it. Internal Communications is ultimately there to support the business.”
Steps to creating an Internal Communications strategy
While there is no single way to develop an Internal Communications strategy — just as there is no single organizational strategy across the business world — there are a few steps that are essential to ensure a robust Internal Comms strategy is set. By walking through the following, Internal Communications practitioners can work to show business leaders that they are supporting the wider company goals and not committing random acts of Internal Communications.
Start with insight
You can’t develop a strategy unless you know where you are now, where you need to get to, and what might stand in your way. Consider creating a survey to ask employees what they need and what they think of the current ways of communicating, and make sure you talk to senior business leaders about their own demands and expectations of Internal Communications. The latter is especially important as it will help you to align your Internal Communications strategy with the goals of leadership. It can help to get an external view here, so if budget permits then bring in an Internal Communications specialist to develop an unbiased benchmark for your Internal Communications strategy.
Know your audience
“Employees” is not a target communications audience. Just as your marketing team would not spend millions on a campaign aimed at “women” or “retired people”, neither should your Internal Communications strategy attempt to engage everyone working in the business in the same way and with the same objectives. Think about the different job types in your workforce, the locations people work from, whether they are remote, where they sit in the organization chart, and so on. Segmentation is good practice, and stakeholder mapping is an important exercise. You should review this audience research regularly, too, to make sure you’re still on point with your Internal Communications strategy.
Set SMART objectives
Helen is a big believer in SMART objectives — those objectives that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-based. Instead of saying you want to increase intranet traffic by 50%, get more specific: maybe you want to increase the number of employees or posts on a specific channel by around 10% each month with a view to doubling engagement by the end of the year, or maybe you want to track how a dedicated Internal Communication campaign aimed at expenses management impacts workforce behavior by linking an increase in correctly filed claims with your internal content. It’s better to aim small and grow from there, and give yourself a deadline otherwise you’ll never know if you achieved your objective.
“We need to get better at measuring Internal Communications, and you can’t do that if you haven’t set objectives,” says Helen. “We’re good at saying we had this many hits on the micro site or responses to the survey, but not at what we were trying to achieve with those tactics in the first place.”
Consider your channels
While channels are technically a tactical decision, it’s worth bringing some discussion on channels into your Internal Communications strategy, especially if you want to use this strategy to get buy-in and budget from the C-suite. Think about the key Internal Communications channels in your IC toolkit, which of your target audiences are most likely to be there, and how you can use them to support your work and strategy. Each channel - be it your G Suite intranet, your Slack groups, your all-hands calls, your mobile app, your notice boards, your town hall meetings, and so on - will reach people in a different way and achieve slightly different engagement, so it’s important to carefully consider how you can use your Internal Communications channels.
Align with organizational strategy
Just another quick reminder here: all of the above must align with your organizational strategy. If the CEO wants to grow in X market, there’s no use in you setting all your Internal Communications to build awareness of D service unless that service is key to X market. Aligning with the wider business will also help you to clearly demonstrate the value of Internal Communications, which can in turn help you to build your team and budget for next year.
Create a timeline capturing delivery dates and roles
Consider adding a timeline or calendar for delivery to your Internal Communications strategy; this can help to clarify who is doing what, for who, and by when.
“Be clear who has to sign off and when so that’s taken into account in the strategy and the project doesn’t fall at the final hurdle,” says Helen. “Internal Comms is notorious for sign-off by committee, and things fall down because you can’t get hold of people or they’ve just forgotten about it. Be clear in your strategy about roles and responsibilities for overall delivery.”
Measurement should align with your SMART objectives — you considered how to measure those goals when you developed them, so make sure you set regular time frames for measurement, such as every month. Test new tactics and measure their success to decide if they’re worth continuing; likewise, keeping an eye on metrics can show you the channels and tactics that just aren’t working so you can stop wasting time and resources on them. It can also be good practice to create a measurement report and share it with business leadership to show how the Internal Communications strategy is progressing and impacting on the wider workforce.
How can technology support Internal Communications strategy?
“I always remind my clients to focus on outcomes rather than outputs in their Internal Communications strategy,” says Helen. “It helps to have intranet statistics, but it’s more interesting to look at changes in behavior and tangible impacts on the business.”
It helps with measurement, whether it’s Google Analytics looking at the user journey around your intranet or purely looking at page hits.
It helps with engagement, with intranet channels giving employees a central focus point for all communications.
It gets people talking, providing a framework and a house for two-way discussions and shared learnings.
It helps you understand your audience, as you can ask questions, perform research and watch interactions from the sidelines.
It helps to test the validity of the strategy, as you can segment messaging and learn from the success or otherwise of tactics.
Like we said at the beginning, the days of gathering everyone around the boss’s desk to hear the latest company news are long gone. Modern Internal Communications strategy should always be underpinned by technology, as the modern employee is no longer desk-bound or even in the office at all. Make sure your Internal Communications strategy considers the wider picture, aligns with business objectives, demonstrates an understanding of the audience, and harnesses technology to reach that audience. By doing so, you’re giving your tactics the best chance of sustained success.