When organizations develop a communications strategy, they often focus on external stakeholders. Internal, or employee communication, frequently gets short shrift but it should really be the cornerstone of any communications strategy whether for a specific campaign or as part of ongoing operations.
Aside from the fact that better communication inside an organization is associated with better employee performance, satisfaction and retention, it’s also the easiest and least expensive way to promote your brand, campaign or new initiative to outside stakeholders and the general public.
Ideally, you would like your employees to talk to customers, donors, clients, friends and acquaintances about your organization in an accurate, positive way. You want them to be ambassadors for the company.
At best, when employees are not well informed, you miss an opportunity to promote your brand externally. At worst, you risk inaccurate or even harmful information being conveyed to the outside world—putting your brand credibility at risk.
How would the average employee at your organization describe your cause, product or services? What if someone asked him/her why your organization does something a certain way or how your organization performs better than the competition? Could that employee provide accurate answers? Further, are your employees motivated, or even encouraged, to talk to their networks about what they do and how it fits into the organization’s mission?
If you’re not confident that your employees are ambassadors, examining internal communication is the beginning of turning this around.
Be clear about the message
The first step is being clear as a board or management team about your mission and vision and the words used to communicate these ideas.
You will also want to survey your staff to get a baseline of information about communication flow within the organization as well as the staff’s knowledge of programs, services, products etc. This type of survey should be repeated regularly—ideally, yearly.
Start examining how communication flows
Even if your not prepared/able to undertake a full communications audit, you should at least examine the present methods of communication and assess if they are meeting your company’s needs. Communication is not limited to formal tools but includes informal ones as well. Try to evaluate all methods including the following:
- Staff memos/e-mails (who writes them, how are they distributed, when is this method used?)
- Meetings (general staff meetings, small team meetings, supervisor/employee meetings)
- Newsletters (are they conveying meaningful corporate messages?)
- Employee feedback mechanisms (suggestion box, access to the E.D. or CEO)
- Intranet site (is information easy to find and useful to employees?)
- Grapevine or office gossip (how much is this method used to convey info and how accurate is it?)
Make communication roles explicit
It’s very easy as a management team member to let internal communication slip. Often, you’re so immersed in the big picture issues and have discussed them with your board and senior staff so frequently that it creates the illusion that “everybody here knows this stuff.” As well, if communication roles are not planned and clearly defined, you may assume certain information is getting through to general staff when it is not.
Gaps can also occur when messages are lost because they are not well-suited to the medium used to convey them. For example, attempting to explain complex or abstract ideas in written form is often less effective then face to face meetings.
Unless you thoughtfully and consistently examine internal communication strategy, you are more than likely not accessing your organization’s best potential ambassadors and your company’s productivity may also be suffering.
I plan to explore employee communication tools/resources in future posts. Let me know if you have any thoughts or suggestions.