Guide to understanding & improving Internal Communications in your business
How effective Internal Communications will benefit your organization by keeping your team connected, engaged and motivated.
How effective Internal Communications will benefit your organization by keeping your team connected, engaged and motivated.
November 11, 2020
Internal Communications is the business engine that drives productivity, collaboration, workforce engagement and even employee advocacy - that is, if it’s done correctly. Conversely, a poor Internal Communications strategy in place (or not having one at all) can harm your business. Research shows that up to 60% of organizations don't have any long-term strategy for internal communication in place. Further, 91% of employees say that their leaders lack communication skills and 72% of employees don't have a full understanding of the company's strategy. From ineffective and unproductive day-to-day operations to a lack of cross-departmental communications and disenchanted, disconnected staff with high levels of turnover, the impact can be wide-reaching. Continue reading and learn about the importance of Internal Communications and how to improve and measure it in your organization.
Unfortunately, for many companies, the chasm between Internal Communications best practices and reality can be extensive. However, we understand that making changes to your existing Internal Communications strategy, or creating an Internal Communications strategy from scratch can be a daunting prospect, and especially so without guidance.
But our step-by-step guide is going to help you execute a successful Internal Communications strategy and action plan for your company. We’ll also be addressing internal barriers of communication and provide tips on overcoming then.
Below are the points we’ll be covering in this guide. To skip ahead to a section, simply click on the section heading most relevant to you.
Internal Communications (IC) within businesses refers to the way a company interacts with employees bringing clarity to an organization’s objectives with everyone working towards a common goal. It is also about building a company culture that fosters its external business values internally too. The overarching aim of IC, is to leverage effective company communication to all staff members.
But what exactly does this entail and what is an Internal Communications team responsible for?
In summary, the main responsibilities of an Internal Communications team can be seen to comprise of three areas:
Alignment: creates lines of communication between employees and management
Voice: gives employees a voice and listens to feedback
Involve: encourages employees active participation in events or trainings
Read more about the most important Internal Communications skills in one of our popular blog posts.
The staff magazine is where the concept of Internal Communications truly begins. In fact, the UK’s Institute for Internal Communications was originally called the British Association of Industrial Editors, emphasising the early importance of internal newsletters. There’s even evidence of internal newspapers developed and written by employees dating back to the 1840s.
Publication: the practice is dominated by industrial editors between the 1840s and 1970s who published newspapers and magazines to tell management-led stories. Dr. Ruck says this reflects a “command and control” management mindset.
Process and Persuasion: the scope of practice widens in the 1980s and 1990s as more channels become available and planning and measurement gain importance. There’s also more focus from Internal Comms specialists on persuasion, which makes sense as these were times of industrial unrest and change – especially with the beginnings of the digital workplace.
Participation and Professionalism: the 21st century practice of Internal Communications continues to widen as technology transforms the way we communicate. There is more focus on giving employees a voice, and Internal Comms specialists can access specialist qualifications. The importance of Internal Communications strategy becomes a focus.
The first textbook on Internal Communications was released in 1942 - Alexander Heron’s Sharing Information With Employees - which took into account societal and cultural influences on employees and companies and defined a new way of doing business. But business didn’t really listen, and much of the 1940s, 50s, 60s and 70s centred on top-down and instructive comms. Things changed in the 1980s as the ad world infiltrated new parts of the business.
The employee started to get more of a focus in the 1990s as employee engagement emerged as an Internal Communications best practice, with a push for the workforce to express itself physically, cognitively and emotionally at work. The ideal was that employees’ self-worth would be tied up in what they did and who they did it for. Yet, layers and layers of middle management diluted the messages.
The new millennium brought with it new technology and new ways to reach the masses, and this infiltrated Internal Comms practice, too. No longer just a team to pass out information, Internal Communications began to shape the way to do business and the Internal Comms strategy became paramount. The concept of the employee value proposition (EVP) emerged, too, and IC worked hand-in-hand with HR to deliver value and attract the best talent.
Today, it’s more about “internal conversation” than communications in internal communication best practices: great businesses recognise the need to take the employee voice seriously.
Strong Internal Communications is the foundation of any healthy business, which is why it’s so fundamentally important to incorporate into your overarching business strategy. Here's why:
Research from Papirfly shows that up to 60% of organizations don't have any long-term strategy for internal communication. 21% of internal communication professionals do not use any level of professional planning for internal communication. Only 54% of internal communicators say that their process of communications objectives are researched, measured and evaluated
Employees want to be kept up-to-date with the company’s latest news – a Bambu report shows an overwhelming majority (79.8% surveyed) said they wanted to be kept in the loop, and Internal Communications is an excellent way of achieving this.
It also instils transparency within the business - which will strengthen your team too. For example, in the same survey, the majority of employees stated that knowing the latest company news would enable them to do a better job (66%) and even have better relations with other staff (66%).
That’s because higher levels of employee engagement have a positive domino effect on business performance.
Implementing an excellent Internal Communications plan is a surefire way to kickstart a thriving company culture. Why? Every announcement, blog article or message communicated to staff influences how employees will interpret your company's values and company beliefs.
But why does company culture matter so much? Statistics show that a positive workplace culture has a considerable impact on their enjoyment and levels of engagement with work, increasing staff retention. A Gallup survey shows that engaged employees are 59% less likely to search for another job with a different company within a 12 month period.
A strong internal communication strategy provides clear expectations to staff about what they are supposed to do and makes them aware of important company information with ease.
A clear IC strategy can also help prevent a possible disconnect occurring between employees and customers/clients, and improve customer service.
One of the main reasons why IC is so important is that if done effectively, it can facilitate feedback, discussion and debate. This can be a great way of helping the company improve and avoid making the same errors in the future.
Consistently modifying your Internal Communications is vital in order to stay competitive, to retain the best talent. This has become even more pertinent now that lifelong job security is a thing of the past, meaning businesses need to work even harder to keep on-board.
Great internal communication can help create a more productive and motivated workforce, but it's not without its difficulties. But what are the main internal communications challenges companies are facing today?
Email still remains the number one channel for Internal Communications for many businesses, despite the huge variety of communication apps and internal communication tools that can be used for far more efficient workflows. 29% of employees say their current internal communication tools do not work effectively, with 60% stating that employee communication assets are difficult to access, both can lead to a number of roadblocks.
For example, a study by the Danwood Group shows that it takes approximately 64 seconds to recover from an email interruption. When you consider that we usually receive 78 emails per day, - and (only 38% on average are important ) this means a considerable amount of daily distraction.
Not considering the different ways of communicating among generations could be an impediment to effective Internal Communications. For example Millennials and Gen Z Lean towards instant messaging and texts as their main methods of communication easier having grown up in the digital revolution. Meanwhile, baby boomers typically prefer traditional ways of communicating such as phone calls, emails and in-person conversations. These preferences need to be considered in a now multi-generational workforce.
A McKinsey study shows that only 3% of staff say they have enough information about their organization, department or industry. 72% of employees also say they do not have a full understanding of their company’s internal communication strategy.This is a big problem for effective Internal Communications.
A lack of information causes confusion and frustration for employees, which will have a knock-on effect on the work they produce.
What do employees typically worry about when there is a lack of information from Internal Communications? In fact a lack of internal communication can cause employees to worry or gossip for up to 2 hours a day. The biggest worry of employees is to receive a pay cut (33% of employees), followed by losing their job (30% of employees).
The consequences can be wide-ranging. A workplace survey by Smarp showed that as a result of poor internal communication:
If a lack of information continues over a long period of time, it can lead employees to leave the firm altogether – at a costly price. It typically costs a company 150% of their annual salaries in order to replace them.
Failing to track internal communication metrics is a major roadblock for a company’s ability to measure success. A recent study showed that approximately 19% of internal communicators do not track their metrics.
And even among those who do, there's an uncertainty about the metrics being used. Just 22% said in a report that they were confident they were tracking the right metrics to improve their Internal Communications, which suggests huge room for improvement.
66% of businesses now allow remote working opportunities, yet failing to incorporate remote workers into Internal Communications, or not knowing how to, is a big problem for many businesses and could have a negative impact on engagement levels.
When it comes to the relationship between remote workers and internal communication strategies:
Budget limitations can often pose difficulties for internal communication teams, impacting their ability to implement new communication tools or software on a wider scale. This is usually as a result of failing to align an internal communication strategy to their organization’s wider company goals.
Strong internal communication works both ways: listening is just as important as communicating information to employees. Statistics show that staff who feel listened to by their managers are:
In order for a company to thrive, internal communication needs to be interdepartmental. Yet more than half of businesses say they have siloed their workforces, and 40% said that their departments had their own agendas.
The reputation of the IC industry as being non-strategic is at times damaging. This reputation can mean the Internal Communications specialist has to go through middlemen to influence the business. Without a direct line to the C-suite, the job is made much harder.
Cultural barriers can be an issue for Internal Communications specialists, even if you’re not working across borders — the world we live in is a global one, and it’s likely a single office is home to multiple cultures.
Failing to localise communications and consider cultural nuances when necessary can have a harmful effect - it can be the difference between an employee taking the right course of action, or not.
We’ve discussed the importance of internal communication, and potential barriers to it, but how can you overcome these challenges? Let’s take a look at some of the Internal Communications best practices for a productive, engaged workforce, and the methods you can use for effective Internal Communications.
Prioritise updating communication methods that make collaboration, document and file-sharing easier, without the need for back-and-forth emails.
But keep in mind that depending on the message you want to get across, some communication tools or channels may be better suited than others. For example:
A multi-channel approach with an integrated system is the best Internal Communications strategy to use.
Updating your use of social tools has been highlighted as a great way of fostering connection in teams. A McKinsey study on the use of social tools and communication platforms shows that 80% of employees who have social tools at work communicate regularly with others on their team. Comparatively, only 65% of staff without social tools do so.
Feedback and regular evaluations of your Internal Communications from employees should be incorporated into your workflow for optimal IC performance, and to improve overall employee satisfaction. This could take the form of one-to-one meetings, group discussions or anonymous online surveys. Feedback questions could include:
Communication preferences vary between generations, and when the workforce landscape is so dynamic, there is simply no other way around it other than considering how you can best engage all generations in an efficient manner, and incorporate this into your internal communication strategy. This might mean using a range of internal communication tools, for example.
65% of employees say that Internal Communications aren't comprehensive enough. Make sure you break down information silos within your business’ Internal Communications.
A lack of transparency will impact employee morale and their level of engagement with your company.
Within an international workforce, taking into account cultural idiosyncrasies in Internal Communications is vital, to ensure that the intended message is delivered.
Try to incorporate localisation and transcreation — so that the overarching message is translated into the local context. Where multinationals can handle the resource, it’s worth considering regional Internal Communications specialists to help with this, or bring in local champions to help get the global message across on dedicated internal communication channels.
If you want to build a strong company culture, then your Internal Communications should also pay special attention to celebrating employees' successes. If staff feel valued for their contributions, this will go a long way in terms of motivating them to work even harder for your business.
If you're looking to revamp an existing Internal Communications strategy, the thought itself might be a little off-putting - where do you start?
Take a look at our list of internal communication ideas. Simply follow our 7-step strategy below to put in place a successful Internal Communications plan that will yield results:
Before developing a new Internal Communications plan, you should start with looking at your current one to determine what your new strategy should incorporate. Questions to consider include:
For an Internal Communications strategy to be successful, you’ll need to know your most important metrics. By doing so, you’ll be able to analyze which areas of IC in your organization require attention, or that can be defined as internal communication goals.
Metrics we advise looking at include:
Whether you have one overarching Internal Communications objective or a number of them, make sure that you have established a clear strategy and mapped out how these can be achieved. This might include stating the internal communication tools you will use to successfully complete the intended objective.
60% of companies do not have a long-term Internal Communications strategy, but thinking ahead, and planning a realistic timescale is an important aspect of an effective Internal Communications strategy. When doing so, make sure you have clearly defined roles and responsibilities beforehand, including what needs to be done, who is doing it, as well as who needs to sign off on it.
Audiences, too, are key to strategy. “Employees” is not a targeted audience; think instead about job roles, locations, or where they are in the employee lifecycle. Segmentation is needed before you start communicating, and stakeholder mapping can be an important exercise for your strategy, too.
When putting together an Internal Communications strategy, it's important to identify what exactly you want employees to engage with, and also define why they should. Try to think about the following questions:
A key aspect of any effective Internal Communications strategy is ensuring that it aligns with the company’s overarching business values and goals. Any Internal Communications strategy you develop must be aligned to the C-Suite’s business objectives for it to be taken seriously as a growth enabler.
Make sure you speak the language of leadership and understand what matters to them. Link back to their goals — they don’t care about intranet reads unless it led to increased productivity and profit.
Whether it be intranets, messaging platforms, video conferencing tools or project management tools: using the right internal communication tools has the ability to facilitate a strong communication strategy within a company, improving employee engagement and overall efficiency. But there isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula when it comes to using them - some tools may suit your company's needs better than others.
Nevertheless, with so many options available, how do you know what are the best internal communication tools to use? Take a look at our shortlist below:
Internal communication is all about facilitating open collaboration and idea-sharing and chat tools like Slack, HipChat, Chanty enable employees to do so, either in a private or group chat. Chat tools also enable live chat features, video chat and seamless integration with popular tools.
Video conferencing tools like Google Meet, Zoom and BlueJeans have become a necessity for many companies worldwide, thanks to the unprecedented rise in remote working. When used correctly, video conferencing software can have a positive impact on productivity and engagement, as well as enabling remote staff to feel more connected.
Popular team collaboration and management tools such as Trello, Asana and Google Docs allow teams to collaborate with ease, by enabling multiple users to plan and manage projects and tasks seamlessly. This is down to the ability to easily file share, provide access to important documents, add notes and track changes too. Such tools make efficient workflows far easier to implement.
Intranets function as all-in-one digital workspaces that facilitate better collaboration between teams, but what are the different types of intranet software for internal communication?
A traditional Intranet incorporates the features you’d expect from standard intranet software, featuring top-down communications of the latest news and updates, as well as access to important company documents.
A social intranet is more than just a desktop publishing platform — as an Internal Communications channel, it enables discussion and two-way communications, collaboration on projects, and streamlined productivity. Where a social intranet really comes into its own is not just as the disseminator of news, but as the go-to source for all internal processes and questions.
ESNs are business versions of popular social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, with the most popular ESNs being Workplace by Facebook or Yammer. Each employee has their own ESN profile, and these ESNs can be particularly useful for networking opportunities and instant messaging.
Setting clearly defined, realistic goals is the cornerstone of any internal communication plan.
Why? If you and your Internal Communications team are unclear about what exactly you are aiming for (as well as what their individual role is in producing these results) – then how are you going to reach your goals? Without defining measurable internal communication goals, you risk important information not being clearly communicated from management down to employees – and this could have harmful consequences for the success of your firm.
But how do you define measurable goals in the first place? Follow these 3 steps before defining your goals:
To start with, we recommend discussing with your IC team the following:
As we have previously mentioned, getting feedback from employees is also a vital component of an effective communications strategy, and one of the most important reasons for this is that it can be an excellent way of determining future goals. That means you need to genuinely consider and incorporate the employee feedback you receive - there is little point conducting employee feedback if you do not take it onboard.
Your Internal Communications strategy should include SMART objectives — those that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-based.
It’s no good to say you want to “help grow employee engagement” — what does “grow” mean specifically? How will you know if it’s grown — how will you measure it? Once you’ve been specific about how much you want to grow it and set a target against that, make sure the target is realistic and achievable — it’s better to aim small and grow from there. And finally, give yourself a deadline otherwise you’ll never know if you’ve achieved your strategic goal.
Measuring the success of your Internal Communications strategy is essential – otherwise, you have no way of knowing if you have reached your desired outcomes. By analysing your core metrics, you’ll be able to determine actionable areas of improvement and from these insights, take the necessary steps forward in order to reach your internal communication goals.
As we have explained in this guide, Internal Communications is inextricably linked to employee engagement, and an engaged workforce comes into work every day with excitement and purpose. This can also have a direct impact on the bottom line, which makes the strategic importance of Internal Communications even clearer.
Measuring the impact of Internal Communications is key to acting more strategically, but how and what to measure can be a tricky decision. Ultimately, this will be impacted by the tools you have at your disposal, and what your strategic outcomes will be.