By: Julia Figliotti Riley
What is an Internal Communications Strategy?
Internal communications aren’t always given the consideration that they deserve. After all, what’s so important about communicating the details of your organization with your employees? But the right internal communications strategy can lead to increased employee engagement and buy-in, which in turn can prompt increased productivity and decreased absenteeism. Not a bad package deal, is it?
So, let’s break the package down into its two components: internal communications, and strategy. Internal communications are the messages you send to your employees – via email, postcard, text message, poster, or any other format – to communicate all sorts of information, from important programs or changes to the organization to the monthly fridge-cleaning schedule, and everything in between. And strategy, of course, is how to do all of that in a way that is the most effective, efficient, and valuable to your employee base, and your organization as a whole.
According to IDG, less than 25% of employees are engaged or properly educated by the internal communications they receive surrounding HR programs like benefits or compensation. Also, less than 40% of those surveyed categorized these communications as accessible and adequately personalized to suit their needs or the needs of their position within the company. And those numbers only work on the assumption that employees are actually checking the communications from their employers. If we account for the incredible number of incoming and outgoing work emails the average person deals within a single day (over 120!), it becomes clear that to make an impact, your communications have to be second to none. We’re talking engaging content, a high-quality layout, personalized greetings, a tone and cadence that match your organization’s culture, and of course, timely delivery. As you’ve probably guessed, that’s where a successful internal communications strategy is worth its time and effort in gold.
I want one. Where do I start?
Now that you have a foundational understanding of what an internal communications strategy is and how it could benefit your organization, you’re ready to dive into building your own. It would be nice if creating a strong strategy was a simple process. But something this important requires – and deserves – more time and attention than that. Now, we know what you’re thinking: Time and attention – the two things that every decision-maker seems to lack. But trust us, it’ll be worth it. Let’s break down the steps involved in creating a successful internal communication strategy, so you’re prepared to take on the work ahead.
Step 1: Assess your Current State of Affairs
The first step toward creating an effective internal communication plan is to take a microscope to your organization. It may feel uncomfortable, but this first step is critical in understanding where you currently stand, and the problem or problems that you want your communications to solve. Without this introspection, you may end up building out a solution that doesn’t match your organization’s needs, and which is, therefore, less effective than it could be. To have the best chance at success, you’ll want to analyze each of the following aspects of your company.
Let’s start with your existing communications. Do you currently have a strategy in place for sending information to your workforce? If so, what does that strategy look like? Do you send emails based on an established calendar, or are messages sent reactively when a communication need comes up? Do you coordinate emails across teams or departments to ensure they feature the same cadence and accurately represent the company tone? Or, do you not have a communication strategy at all? Don’t worry if this is true for your organization. Acknowledging any shortcomings in your current communications approach is the first step toward creating a successful strategy.
In a perfect world, we could take a leaf out of Monty Python’s book and “always look on the bright side of life” when it comes to company productivity and achievement. But this is the business world, and to survive, we have to consider more than just the positives. Take a look at your company’s history. Where have you faced setbacks, especially in communicating important information? For example, have you noticed a high percentage of your employees not taking advantage of the benefits available to them through the company? These setbacks can be as recent as within the current quarter, or as far back as the company’s launch. By understanding where your organization had shortcomings, you may be able to pinpoint underlying issues in the existing approach, and therefore identify potential new ways to move forward.
Business world or not, it is still important to acknowledge what’s going well at your company. If you don’t take the time to recognize what’s working, you may end up taking a sledgehammer to some of the most effective aspects of the employee experience or your company culture. Understanding what your team is doing that contributes to employee engagement and overall business goals is critical – in addition to ensuring that you’re not cutting existing policies or strategies that are valuable to your organization, it can also give you a preliminary sense of accomplishment and a solid starting point as you begin your internal communication journey.
What Needs Improvement
So you’ve scrutinized your company’s lows and lauded the highs. Time to move forward? Well, not quite. It’s actually time to see where there’s room for growth. It may seem similar to the Setbacks stage, but this is a bit different. This is where you’ll take a look at the concepts that work on paper but fall short upon implementation, policies that might be outdated, or general practices that aren’t quite up to snuff. Aim to understand where you could have done better – from your sales to your internal culture to your employees’ benefits enrollment rate – and you’ll have a foundation on which to build organizational improvements.
It can be easy to assume that you know what you want to achieve, so all that’s left is actually achieving it. But take a moment and consider how true that is for your organization. Can you describe, in 25 words or less, the results you’d like to see as a direct consequence of the internal communications strategy you implement? If so, great! If not, now is the time to really nail down what your objectives look like. For example, maybe you’d like to see a higher percentage of your employees enroll in company-offered benefits. When you build an internal communication plan with a specific end goal in mind (or multiple end goals, we’re not judging), you’re more likely to create a strategy that drives results in alignment with your desired outcomes.
Alright, so you’ve got your goals lined up. You’ve assessed what works, what doesn’t, and what needs some shifting. Now it’s time to think about timing. Many leaders will take this as an invitation to decide on the date to launch their communication – with an emphasis on the singular.
But when we say “timeline,” we mean several months over which you can introduce, piece by piece, the details of the programs or changes you’re preparing to implement. How long has it taken you to prepare your programs or changes for implementation, and what’s the ideal amount of time you should spread that information across to ensure your employees develop an interest, become invested, and fully understand how their work-life will be impacted? Keep in mind, different communication campaigns will require unique timelines, so consider whether you’re planning to communicate your Open Enrollment season or a long-term company-wide change.
Also, reflect on your company’s existing timelines and calendar. Do you have a busy time of year where employees are inundated with customer emails? Do you have a summer schedule with shorter working hours on Fridays? Look at the aspects of your company that might affect your communication timeline, and use those to inform the approach you might want to take.
In order to most productively implement your new programs or other company changes, it’s important to consider who will be affected, and who should be involved in important decisions. Clearly your employees will be impacted by the changes taking place, and therefore you should set up the communication approach to ensure they understand and buy into the shifts. However, have you considered how you’ll communicate to higher-level employees, like supervisors or team leads? It will likely become their responsibility to model the changes as they are rolled out, and to accomplish that most effectively, you’ll want to make sure the expectations are clearly defined.
In addition to identifying the folks on the other end of your internal comms plan, consider who will be on the development side. You may have several people in mind that you’d like to have on your team, creating messages, framing the language to match your organization’s tone, or setting the communication timeline to align with your fiscal year. Just be sure you’re prepared: the more stakeholders you include, the greater the number of people you’ll need in alignment on your mission. Confirm that your stakeholders are on board to execute on the agreed-upon internal communication strategy, and be ready to delegate tasks and elect one to two final decision-makers within the team.
Step 2: Identify Key Metrics
You’ve made some pretty impactful decisions so far. Now, before you dive into creating a plan that will help your organization achieve its objectives, you need to decide on the metrics you’ll use to measure success.
If you are building an internal communications strategy around the benefits or programs you offer, start by identifying a target benefits enrollment percentage you’d like to see – essentially, the return on investment. How much of your workforce has to enroll before you can be confident that your strategy is working – 70%? 40%? Don’t worry if your numbers seem too high, or too low. What progress and success looks like is unique to each company and their workforce – if you currently have a 35% enrollment rate, hitting 50% could be a huge win!
It’s widely believed in the business world that employee engagement is integral to achieving organizational success. But what does it really mean, and how can you measure it? In this case, it refers to your employees’ engagement with the communications themselves. How many people open the email? How many click the link inside the email? What percentage of viewers watch 50% or more of a video? After viewing your content, how many of your employees take the desired action?
It may seem obvious, but consider the rate at which your employees leave the organization. Hopefully implementing a solid communication plan will contribute to workers feeling more engaged and happier in their roles, leading to lengthier tenures and more long-term commitment to the company. For both new hires and existing employees, how do you want to see retention shift?
Here’s an honest question: How do your employees feel about working for your company? Whether you know the answer to this question or not isn’t important – what’s important is that you aim to find out in the future. Sending employee surveys, polls, or rating requests to your workforce can ensure your communication strategy continues to align with employee needs and wants. How do you want your employees to feel about the organization at the end of your campaign?
This may seem like the most important metric, and for your organization, it very well could be. The reason it’s listed last is that the success of all of the previous metrics contributes significantly to your company’s overall performance. When your employees are more engaged, exhibit loyalty to the organization, and believe in the mission and culture they’re a part of, your company is likely to see the benefits.
Step 3: Set Checkpoint Goals and Timelines
Okay, you’ve got all of your baseline information laid out in front of you. That’s a lot of work! Now it’s time to use what you know of your current circumstances and stakeholders to achieve your end goals for this internal communication campaign. The launch of your communication campaign is in sight, so let’s get to work!
Defining Key Checkpoints
Creating a successful internal communications strategy is a journey, not a one-and-done destination. Even after your campaign is launched, your work won’t be done. You’ll need to check in on how your communications are reaching employees, and compare actual results and engagement to your desired metrics. That’s where checkpoints come in.
While certain campaigns have straightforward checkpoints (e.g. a benefits enrollment campaign will have an annual checkpoint at the close of the enrollment period), for a campaign that’s geared toward internal or behavior changes (e.g. introducing a new performance management or compensation program), your team – and the employee adoption rate – will benefit greatly from these check-ins.
If you don’t stop along the way, it’s very likely that your team will experience something we’re all completely familiar with: burnout. But, by deciding on key checkpoints along the way, you can use those opportunities to take a step back from the grind and assess your progress so far – and whether you need to shift your approach, or keep moving forward as planned. These checkpoints will give you a bit of a break from the hustle of internal comms, and will help to keep the rollout of your initiative on track.
Formulating the Timeline
You have a basic understanding of all of the information you’d like to communicate, and you know when your new program is kicking off, or when that fundamental change to your process is taking place. This is where you’ll use that information to build your communication timeline.
It’s important to consider time-specific programs, like benefits enrollment – you likely wouldn’t kick off your campaign in April if your company’s enrollment period starts and ends in November. A helpful approach is to start from the launch date of your new program or company change and work backwards from there. How many messages do you plan on sending out? What’s the optimal frequency for sending out company emails (spoiler alert: it depends on the type of campaign)? How much time do you want your employees to have to get acquainted with the new way of doing things before changes actually take effect? Consider each of these points and apply your organization’s answers, and you’ll end up with a communication timeline of your very own.
Step 4: Map out your Audience
Now that your communication campaign is ready to be built out, there’s one more crucial step in creating a successful internal communications strategy. This final step is by no means the most important, but without considering the segmentation of your messages to specific audiences, chances are high that your strategy will not succeed.
Think of it this way: say you have 2,000 employees at your company who will be receiving communications about the benefits available to them. Of those employees, 500 are non-union workers and 1,500 are represented by a total of three unions. Due to the specific differences between the unions’ and the company’s benefit options, it could be extremely difficult to ensure each employee’s union status is accurately and relevantly represented in the content they receive. You’ll want to build your campaign to cater to each of these groups on a more direct level, so your employees don’t need to sift through information that doesn’t apply to them.
Certain employee communications software platforms give you the option to segment your content release to different audience members based on who needs to have what information. This not only ensures that your employees are digesting the necessary content, it avoids the potential for information overload for employee subgroups that may not need to access to the nitty-gritty details. In this example, you won’t have to worry about Union A employees trying to sign up for benefits that are only available to Union C. Better to only share what’s needed than to risk active employee disengagement due to excessive communication
Bringing it All Together
Congratulations! You’ve decided on the why, what, when, and who of your internal communications strategy. Now, all that’s left is the how and the where – and you have some options.
Step 5: Decide on Communication Tools
Using the right tools to implement your communication plan can help the entire campaign launch more smoothly, and make it easier for you to adapt it as your needs and targets change. You want a platform that can personalize your employee engagement campaign to reach different employee populations in the most effective ways. You want to work with people who know how to communicate complicated topics, from your company’s benefits package to the culture of inclusion you’re trying to promote (pro tip: look into your different core values communication options). You want content that helps you adapt and grow with your organization and workforce, by proactively seeking feedback from your employees and sharing measurable results – like how engaged your employees are with different pieces of content, which communication channels are most effective, and how they’re feeling as they experience different pieces of content.
In short, you want to partner with a company that’s established in the market, whose priority is making life at work better for everyone at your company through the power of employee communications. And when you’re ready to get started, GuideSpark’s employee communication software will be here.