The time and effort that companies spend on internal communication is an investment in the company’s health. When internal communication is strong, employees see themselves engaged in the decision-making process and believe their opinions matter and their efforts are appreciated. Furthermore, strong messaging keeps everyone focused on the mission and dedicated to the company’s strategic vision.
Recent research indicates that management and staff both realize the importance of internal communications, and both groups feel their companies need to make improvements. For managers, the struggle with improving internal communication is finding performance metrics that demonstrate clear returns on the time and energy invested in communications programs. Lower-level employees complained that too much of business communication is unrelated to their job or ineffective in its messaging.
Improving Internal Communication
Great communication is a balancing act, even for the most sophisticated companies. Too much communication feels overbearing; too little and the company feels distant. Too much sharing and honesty may decrease morale in troubling times, but glossing over the reality of the situation is disingenuous. For companies to strengthen their internal communications, they need to follow seven steps.
1. Choose The Right Medium
Not every medium is appropriate for every type of communication. Posters and signs in the break room are a good reminder about company picnics, but may not be the most appropriate way to discuss ways to improve customer service. A good medium captures the eyes of employees and fosters a sense of intimacy with the employees receiving the message.
2. Include Interactivity
The proper medium for the message should always be coupled with appropriate ways for employees to engage with and comment on the messages. Effective communication moves in both directions, from management to staff and vice versa. Communications that do not allow interactivity or comment from staff members feel more like an edict or a command than an attempt at authentic communication.
Discussion boards and online forums are becoming an increasingly popular way for employees to interact with internal communications. Rather than seeing their inboxes flooded with messages, employees can log into the forums and interact only with the messages that apply to their jobs.
3. Communicate with a Purpose
The best internal communication is succinct and addresses a single issue. Communicating in this way accomplishes a few goals. First, it occurs regularly, rather than in one giant message each month or quarter. Second, employees are far more likely to read and retain a short message than a four-page email. Finally, managers are forced to re-evaluate the effectiveness of the medium and may need to consider a change from an email to a staff meeting or training session.
4. Eliminate Generalizations and Drive-By Accusations
Nothing makes an employee more defensive than an unfair attack against his or her job performance, and far too many pieces of internal communication include snide remarks or jabs at employees or departments. If there is a problem with performance, managers must address the issue one-on-one, in private, not in a public forum like a company-wide or departmental email. Getting rid of the unfair generalizations and comments about performance makes employees more receptive to the message within the communication because they are not immediately on the defensive.
5. Plan First
The worst meetings are those where it is clear from the first minute that the person who called the meeting has no plan; the organizer simply rambles on until he or she is finished talking, and most of the topics get lost in a disorganized mess. Meetings, and even written communication, require planning and forethought. There must be a clear progression of ideas, one leading seamlessly into another, so attendees feel a sense of purpose in the meeting, email, or newsletter.
6. Dedicate Time
Whether the communication occurs in a formal meeting or happens through an email, employees need time to process the information and ask questions. If the agenda for the meeting is so full that there is not adequate time for discussion, then the meeting organizer needs to re-evaluate the topics and plan on scheduling more frequent meetings in the future. In an online forum or discussion post, management must check the thread periodically for several days so that slow responders have a chance for their voices to be heard.
7. Follow Up
Most internal communications suffer from a lack of follow up. Management sends out a message or holds a meeting, then never addresses whether discussed changes have been implemented, if there have been improvements in performance metrics, etc. Communication must be ongoing to be effective in the long term.
Internal communications establish a company-wide message and ensure everyone on staff is working toward the same goals. These seven steps to improving internal communication can help facilitate more open and honest discussions between management and staff.
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Harvard Business Review, “Checklist For Planning a Meeting”
Institute for Public Relations, “Driving Employee Engagement”
Department of Advertising & Public Relations, University of Georgia, “Measuring return on investment(ROI) of organizations’ internal communication efforts, PDF”