The A-Z of Internal Communications best practices
Table of Contents
- A: Audiences
- B: Bottom-up communication
- C: Change
- D: Digital
- E: Engagement
- F: Face to face (F2F)
- G: Gamification
- H: Human
- I: Intranet
- J: Jargon
- K: Key message
- L: Line managers
- M: Measurement
- N: Narrative
- O: Objectives
- P: Purpose
- Q: Q&A
- R: Remote work
- S: Strategy
- T: Two-way
- U: Understanding
- V: Vision and values
- W: Writing
- X: Employee eXperience
- Y: Youth
- Z: Zzzzz
10 mins read
Sun, Aug 15, '21
Developing an Internal Communication strategy can be overwhelming – you need to gather insights, plan your tactics, set objectives, create timelines, and make sure all of that aligns with the organizational strategy.
As for what your strategy should cover? We compiled this Internal Communications best practices guide to help out.
Before you create any sort of strategy, before you write any public-facing copy, before you communicate anything to anyone, you absolutely must think about who you’re talking to. The audience is key.
Make sure you research your target audiences - the intended recipients for your communication - even consider creating some personas, and continue to refresh that research on a regular basis.
And yes, you will have multiple audiences — communicating to one all-encompassing “employees” group will result in flat comms that miss the mark more than they hit it.
B: Bottom-up communication
No one wants to be lectured to, but that’s exactly how it sounds and feels when the messages are just broadcast from the top. Employees want to be heard, and the best Internal Comms practice here is to take their opinions and feedback straight to the top.
The opposite of top-down communication - bottom-up communication - is essential to your Internal Communications strategy.
One thing is guaranteed in business: there will always be change. There will always be new processes:
- New management
- New technology
- New services
- New challenges for employees to deal with, learn about and embrace
Communicating that change is one of the trickier things an Internal Communications specialist will need to contend with. It’s a matter of Internal Communications importance, though, that “change communications” is a specialist area.
Happeo is in the business of Internal Communications technology — of course we’re going to have D be for Digital, right?
“Digital” in Internal Communications best practices can mean anything from the broad-brush Digital Workplace, to the nitty-gritty of digital signage. Technology can enhance workplace productivity and collaboration, and can bring disparate teams closer together. It’s a beautiful thing.
Engagement is a word you used to hear a lot in discussions about Internal Communications best practices — it was a metric to prove employees heard and understood messages, that they were excited about their role in supporting the business to achieve its objectives. Today, though, employee engagement is starting to give way to the full employee experience (see X).
F: Face to face (F2F)
While digital is increasingly important to (and prevalent in) Internal Communications best practices, it will never be the only channel used by the profession. Internal Comms specialists still value the power of face-to-face communications, where leaders can look employees directly in the eyes and face questions directly.
Another term that was used A LOT more a few years ago: Gamification.
It’s a fancy word for a process so embedded in today’s society that we don’t even think about it anymore. Gamification plays on the psychology that drives human engagement - namely, the drive to compete, improve and out-do - and to be rewarded.
- Pop quizzes with special prizes
- Thank-a-colleague drives
- Engagement leader boards
- Weekly quizzes
- Reward-based incentive programmes
They’re all using gamification techniques.
Internal Communications best practices reflect the drive to “be more human” in communications. No more will the robotic missives from the top, full of corporate speak and riddled with jargon, be considered good enough — no, the Internal Communications importance of “real” messages based in authenticity, with actual humans as the intended recipients, is the only way to be now.
The humble intranet has come a long way from a basic on-screen notice board attached to the place you store files. Today, the intranet is a total digital workspace, a place where you can meet colleagues, exchange ideas and documents, collaborate on projects, take part in surveys, share news, and more.
Yes, we’re biased, but we think the Google intranet is the present and future of Internal Communications.
We’ll admit this list has had a few jargonic (totally made that word up) appearances, but, like any profession, Internal Communications has its own language. To get along here, you’ll need to know about:
- Cascades and briefings
- The difference between top-down and bottom-up
- Why all-hands may be preferable to town halls
- What the heck bog media is (A totally British term meaning toilet-based comms, such as posters on the backs of stall doors)
K: Key message
Just like in any discipline involving words, your key message is that one thing you want to get across in a communication. It’s what you want your audience to take away from hearing or reading the content, and Internal Communications best practice is to have no more than three key messages as any more than that is difficult to remember.
L: Line managers
Alternatively a bane and a boon to Internal Communications best practices, line managers are those who oversee the employees you are hoping to engage with your strategy. They are often used by Internal Communications specialists as a channel for delivering key messages, but, according to Gatehouse’s annual State of the Sector report, line managers are seen as an Internal Communications barrier as they can have poor communication skills.
There used to be a train of thought that Internal Communications successes could not be measured. That train of thought has all but died away, especially with the prevalence of digital workplaces. That digital footprint means we can get insights into all manner of employee behaviors, from how often they access the holiday booking system to the exact route they take around the intranet.
Measurement is absolutely key to proving the effectiveness of your Internal Communications strategy, especially if you’ve built it on S.M.A.R.T goals. Just make sure you measure what matters, not frivolous tactics.
There’s a real push towards taking a storytelling approach to Internal Communications, especially as the sheer volume of comms coming from the center can be overwhelming — emails that go unopened, posters no one reads, staff magazines that stay stacked in the kitchen. It can be totally disheartening for the Internal Communications specialists, but telling stories rather than issuing communications can be the answer.
To do this, though, you’ll need to understand your company’s narrative. Put your employees as the hero, tell compelling stories and create content with drama — challenges faced and overcome, winners and losers, anything to get an emotional response.
You need to be more strategic, but how do you get there? By creating objectives for your communications — objectives that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely, or S.M.A.R.T. Those objectives must be aligned to the company’s overall objectives, too, to ensure your employee engagement work is pushing with, not against, the tide.
Everything you do in comms (internal or external) must have a purpose. You won’t find any Internal Communications best practices that don’t revolve around setting a purpose, creating a sense of shared purpose, or telling stories to reinforce a purpose.
Purpose is the mission of the company, but it’s also the reason for the communications — keeping the purpose in mind will stop random acts of IC and help ensure everything aligns with the strategy. When it comes to Internal Communications, importance lies in the purpose.
We’re sure you’ve come across the phrase Q&A before — similar to an FAQ, a Q&A document is typically a single page containing questions and answers on a single topic. It’s a great tool in the Internal Communications best practice kit because it helps to preemptively tackle those curly questions you might get from your audience.
The Q&A if often attached to an intranet article or email communication, and is there in case it’s needed — it’s not the message itself.
R: Remote work
Not all workers are deskbound — especially not in the modern digital workplace, where cloud-based productivity and collaboration tools mean you can quite literally work from anywhere. And because remote workers make up an increasing percentage of the workforce, Internal Communications best practices must adapt to ensure they remain engaged. Remote workers want to make sure their voice is heard, so build in digital channels that allow them to have a say.
Essential. Imperative. Cannot be ignored.
Internal Communications places huge importance on developing an Internal Communications strategy because specialists must show they have business acumen and understand the bigger picture if they want to be taken seriously by senior business leaders.
As bottom-up communication is gaining in importance, and as the cry goes out for more human communications that give the audience a chance to have their voice heard, two-way communications are cemented as Internal Communications best practice. It’s called “two-way” for the very reason you think it is: think of your Internal Communications strategy as enabling a dual carriageway for the workplace.
It must feature traffic going from the top to the bottom, but also from the bottom to the top. Add in a little bit of left-to-right communications — that is, colleagues speaking with each other — and you’ve got a nice little 360° Internal Communications strategy going.
And what’s two-way communication for if not to enhance understanding?
The reason Internal Communications specialists exist is to ensure everyone involved in a business understands their purpose, what’s expected of them, and how they are supported to achieve their objectives. Without understanding, and without working towards greater understanding, the Internal Comms machine is just cranking out tired words like a robot.
V: Vision and values
You can’t have worked in a modern office and not been exposed to core values before. Y’know, those words that are often on posters around the office — things like “integrity” and “customer-centric”? Values are a set of words or phrases that demonstrate how an organization will achieve its vision, and all communications must be infused with the core values.
As for that vision? It’s the view for the future of your organization — what you want to be, not how you’ll get there. Think big and bold.
An essential skill for Internal Communications specialists, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. There’s a debate raging at the moment, asking if writing will still be a core skill in the next 10 years given the rise of AI and machine learning. However, Internal Comms experts are adamant writing will remain important for years to come, and we happen to agree.
X: Employee eXperience
The modern successor to pure employee engagement, employee experience reflects the new rhythm of organizational life that is emerging. A job is no longer a means to an end; it’s an extension of identity, especially for those generation Z kids about to hit the workforce, and so the experience of being at work is becoming increasingly important. Internal Communications specialists play a crucial role here, as they are the ones who help infuse and reflect the culture of the organisation.
Speaking of those Gen-Zers, the youth now joining the workplace have very different ideas of what work can and should be. But it’s not a reason for Internal Comms to panic; research suggests Generation Z will have a work ethic and loyalty similar to the Baby Boomers, the independence of Gen Xers, and the tech savviness and fluid lifestyle of the Millennials.
The best of all worlds, then? What’s clear is the same old Internal Communications strategy won’t cut it now there are four, sometimes even five, generations in the workplace. How will you adapt?
Yeah, yeah, this is a bit cheeky — but seriously, who can think of IC jargon starting with the letter Z? We’ve opted for the symbol of snooze purely as a reminder that Internal Communications cannot be an add-on, an also-ran, an if-I-have-time factor. If you do that, you’ll turn your employees off and they will become disengaged — the Big Zzzz, a sleepwalking workforce who are not connected to the company’s vision or purpose, and who are more likely to phone it in.
Counter the Zs through engaging, story-based Internal Communications best practices, and harness the power of the digital workplace to wake them all up.