By: Caitlin Gibson
It’s overwhelming to think about how much communication has changed in the past decade. As we’ve rapidly adapted to astoundingly sophisticated technology, people, places, and ideas are more accessible, by more means now, than ever. This has ultimately yielded information overload, ironically making it harder to reach and connect with people. Employers and their employees, in particular, feel the strain.
There’s so much vying for our attention: emails that demand to be opened, notifications that seem too urgent to ignore, and more compelling, streamable shows than we’ll ever have time to watch. This leaves less room for the latest corporate email to make an impact. The message can quickly be buried in a cluttered inbox, preventing employees from engaging with important information. It’s clear that forms of internal communication that have worked in the past are no longer robust enough.
On top of that, employees are rapidly changing, too. As younger generations begin to comprise more of the workforce, the demand for increased collaboration, transparency, and feedback at work is at an all-time high. Now, more than ever, employees want to feel connected to their employer and united in the pursuit of common goals. When they don’t, half are unafraid to move on to the next opportunity.
This means that employee communications not only have to remain a top priority; they need to be made more intentional and strategic. The bottom line depends on it. Here are some of the key reasons why.
Why Internal Communication is Important for Success
1. It builds trust.
For an internal communication strategy to be successful in this technological era, it must first contend with the trust that’s been broken between employees and employers. Historically, we could count on exchanging our loyalty for job security, but that security is no longer a given. This is especially troublesome because more than half of employees insist that having trust between themselves and their employer is crucial to both their job satisfaction and investment in a company. In short, building trust in the workplace is crucial, and it can’t be achieved without strong communication.
2. It inspires employee investment.
Employees are becoming increasingly purpose-driven, which makes a lot of sense. It’s not enough to ask someone to do something or simply carry out a plan; as people, we want to understand why our effort matters. We want to make the most of our time in every area of our life, and work is no exception. When employees are on the receiving end of communication that helps them understand their company’s purpose and, by extension, how their role helps fulfill it, they’re 51 times more likely to be engaged at work. Many employees, however, feel directionless. As a result, many are seeking out purpose elsewhere, driving the national turnover rate to 20%.
3. It avoids costly turnover.
Turnover isn’t new, but it is on the rise, and it’s expensive. Replacing just one employee with a median salary of $45,000 can cost $15,000. Employees cite time and again that they want to work somewhere where they clearly understand their role and responsibilities and know that they’re progressing in their career. When employees feel these two elements are in place, they’re 20% more likely to stay at a company. In order to ensure employees understand their role and responsibilities, transparent communication about expectations must be in place. Similarly, for employees to know there’s room to grow their career, their company must clearly communicate both its performance management philosophy and associated programming. It all starts with effective internal communications.
4. It strengthens diverse organizational structures.
The global workforce is now a blend of remote staff, contractors, and shift workers who operate across various time zones, in different working environments, and with varying levels of technology access and usage. By 2020, it’s estimated that ¾ of the US workforce will be mobile workers. Such an organizational structure complicates a traditional internal communications approach, namely the top-down transmission of carefully crafted messages. This traditional approach can still be effective for relaying some information, but it can no longer be the only communication approach used. Particularly in times of business change, more dispersed workforces need internal communication that is diversified, timely, and consistent.
5. It creates alignment.
When a company has good internal communications, employees know what’s expected of them. This boosts morale, makes people feel more connected to their colleagues and the company’s vision and goals, and underscores how much everyone’s work matters. As a result, teams are more efficient, collaborative, innovative, and creative. Everyone is better aligned in a collective effort to pursue specific company objectives and achieve success.
6. It prevents the spread of bad information.
No one appreciates being kept in the dark. If employees aren’t looped in to consistent, reliable information, they’re likely to search for it elsewhere, such as conversations with their peers who might be able to relay pieces of information but without the necessary context. Effective internal communication mitigates misunderstandings, prevents contradictory messaging, and deflects skepticism. The key is to utilize instant, interactive, and reliable channels to reach all employees where they are, so companies can remain in control of where messaging comes from and how it reaches its people.
7. It cultivates a vibrant company culture.
When deciding where to work, more employees are evaluating a company’s culture. Once at work, the quality of the culture will determine if people stay. That makes consistent, ongoing, and honest communication integral to any cultural transformation. No effort to cultivate a positive, healthy workplace culture is truly complete without it. That’s why a growing number of companies are supplementing their strategies to improve workplace culture with employee engagement programs that drive change through effective communications.
8. It makes times of change easier.
When a strong internal communications strategy and approach is in place before change happens, companies are better prepared to manage situations of any size or scope. By extension, employees will have grown accustomed to established transparency. So, whether a reorganization goes into effect or a performance management program is positively revamped, employees will know they’re receiving reliable, accurate information. Consequently, they’ll be more likely to trust and buy into the company’s decisions and course of action.
9. It cuts through the noise and cultivates connection.
Effective employee communication promotes a two-way conversation, but this element of internal communication is routinely overlooked. It might seem that just getting important information out is enough, but it’s crucial to initiate a dialogue, too. People want to feel their input matters, and good internal communication creates channels for feedback, debate, and discussion. Plus, without a two-way conversation, companies can’t truly know if their internal communications are effective and valuable. When there are opportunities to learn how communications are being received by employees, companies can adjust and calibrate their strategy to suit their audience and long-term goals.
How to Improve Internal Communications
So, how do you go about improving your internal communications? First, you have to develop an internal communications strategy and set of specific goals that are tied to a common purpose.
Set up Your Strategy for Success
Next, you need to identify your target audience. Remember that organizational structures are now more diverse, so most companies need to segment their audience for communications in some way. This ensures that everyone receives the right information at the right time, through the right channel. Start by identifying each audience’s demographics and psychographics. It’s not enough to only identify factors like average age, gender, location, or profession. You also have to uncover the values, attitudes, interests, and lifestyles of each group. By understanding these psychographics, you’re better positioned to develop and send communications that feel personal and relevant to your employees.
Next, fine-tune your messaging approach. Decide exactly what you want to convey and either what action you want your employees to ultimately take or what behavior change you want to bring about. Personalize your messages to your segmented audiences by using the appropriate tone for the group, and keep your messages short, sweet, and straightforward. Be consistent about this. That way, employees know what to expect when they receive communication from a specific person or department.
Then, identify all of the available communication channels, noting which ones are currently being used and how. Match your segmented audiences to the channels that are most likely to reach them. For some audiences, consistent, occasional emails still work. For others, such as deskless workers, a text message or Slack channel might be the more effective route. You might not know which channels are best suited for your segmented audiences at the start, and that’s okay.
Refine Your Approach Using Feedback
You can quickly figure out what works best by collecting your employees’ feedback, using short surveys, polls, or ratings, and adjust your strategy as you go. This is key. Communications will fall flat if they don’t incorporate employee feedback. This makes measuring the effectiveness of your communication strategy and iterating on that strategy essential. A communication campaign with clear goals that strategically uses different channels can only work well if it’s adjusted along the way. How do you know what’s working and what’s not? Seek out an employee communications software that includes the functionality needed to see what’s going well and what can be improved upon each step of the way.
Because employees are being inundated with information every day, you must also be mindful about packing too much into a single communication, or sending messages too often. This can cause your employees to quickly tune out. Instead, choose the timing and frequency of your communications thoughtfully. Think about holiday schedules, time of day, and day of the week, and remain aware of other communications your organization is sending and how often employees will receive them.
Get Employees Involved
Once your communication campaign is underway, empower managers to reinforce its messaging in weekly meetings or one-on-ones, whether they’re held in person or via virtual conferencing. This keeps communication aligned across every level of the company and gives employees the chance to ask questions, get clarification, relay feedback, and share their ideas.
You can also get your employees involved in your internal communication strategy by giving them a creative role to play. For example, many companies, including Deloitte, Trader Joes, AT&T, and Chevron, create internal podcasts that showcase employees and their stories, values, and experiences. Or, you can ask team members to volunteer to give the company’s elevator pitch in a team meeting after giving them the tools needed to explain it in their own words. The possibilities are endless, and providing your employees with opportunities to get involved will make your approach more relevant and engaging.
Finally, keep your internal communications eclectic. Avoid only communicating essential business information; instead, share and celebrate all the facets of your organization. For example, you can recognize outstanding employee contributions or spotlight unique culture initiatives or programs. By ensuring your internal communications are connected to every aspect of the employee experience, your employees are more likely to be engaged with your communications and feel more connected to the company as a result.
The Bottom Line
As we continue to navigate this information-dense, technologically savvy world, effective, strategic internal communication is imperative. It sparks a chain reaction. Strong internal communications create a better work environment which leads to increased employee engagement. When employees are engaged, they’re more productive, efficient, creative, and invested in their work and growing at the company. Revenue and profits benefit as a result. In fact, effective internal communications can increase profits by 30%. No matter how you opt to improve your internal communications or what challenges you’re facing, a transparent, consistent, and thoughtful approach is guaranteed to strengthen your organization and bridge the gap between you and your most valuable asset: your people.