Internal communication is an essential part of an organization – this is the information and communication arm of leadership and human resources (HR) which ties so many other areas of the organization together. Internal communication has come a long way in recent years, and there are many ways to run an internal communication function and lots of different tools to use. This article covers the importance of having an internal communications strategy, and which tools could be of most use.
Why is an internal communication strategy crucial?
Internal communication is an arm of HR which is predominantly focused on imparting information and news to its employees. Typically, internal communication has been an afterthought of originations, with a ‘stick it on the noticeboard’ approach trivializing the importance of this area.
1. Promoting Collective Intelligence
Effective internal communication is a fantastic way to empower employees through enhanced knowledge and awareness. An effective internal communications strategy should aim to share as much information to employees as possible. Doing this keeps employees informed and might also get them thinking about ways to share information between themselves as well. Some internal communication tools are set up to leverage this hivemind approach.
Collective intelligence results in effective decision making. Employees can solve problems quicker and to a higher standard, they are less reliant on their managers, and as a result they become more confident and more engaged.
2. Maintaining Strong Employee Retention
An effective internal communication strategy is a powerful way to retain great employees. As discussed above, one of the best ways of doing this is through empowering your people and making them more confident. However, there are many other ways internal communication tools can retain employees.
Internal communication will increase collaboration and teamwork through openness and consistency. Leaders can use internal communication tools to increase their approachability. These socialization benefits will make employees happier and therefore increasingly loyal to the organization.
Another retention benefit to internal communication is that an effective strategy can help the organization handle change management and drive innovation. Both these work processes need delicate approaches and can easily cause conflict at work, leading people to leave. Internal communication tools can be used to discuss the change and give consistent and positive messaging. Innovation is challenging to make happen, but internal communication tools are designed to bring people together. This in turn can promote collaboration and creative thinking.
Finally, employees can be retained by simply being reminded about all the good things happening in an organization. Internal communication can be used to communicate benefits and the employer value proposition, which are the main reasons employees have for joining an organization. Sometimes, these workplace benefits are alive and well, but require internal communication tools to be enlivened and refreshed in the minds of the employees.
3. Aligning with Business Values and Objectives
The core values, purpose and objectives of an organization are essential information, but often not part of any employee’s day to day responsibilities. Nevertheless, these values and objectives are the method and meaning behind every role and task; they must be understood and kept in mind.
One of the largest and more prominent roles of an internal communication strategy is to communicate these core values. This is best undertaken through training interventions and ensuring values and other philosophical elements of an organization are prominently and visually displayed in every workplace. These values serve as aspirational yet attainable behavior and benefits for every employee.
Objectives and goals must equally be communicated. Most organizations cascade goals, which mean strategic objectives received or developed by senior leaders are broken down into operational goals through the organization. Communication of top-level goals will help employees contextualize what they are working on, serving as a reminder that their tasks are contributing to the critical purpose of the organization.
4. Eliminating Confusion
Let’s face it, organizations can be very confusing places. There are numerous teams, multiple hierarchies, and the pace and scope of what needs to be done is increasing with every passing day. An effective internal communication strategy should be positioned to ensure that everyone in the workplace is on the same page. This is realized through the creation of communications, briefings, policies, and guides to ensure everyone is getting their information from the same place and in the same way.
Confusion can also be eliminated through programs to enable discussion and collaboration, such as seminars, town halls and messaging applications, which allow people to discuss anything which might be causing confusion, as well as empowering people to clarify or solve the issue. Ultimately, if people are more certain of information and what needs to be done, then they will be happier at work, and this leads back to retaining great people and keeping them engaged.
What internal communication tools should my business get?
There are many different internal communication tools to choose from. Some of these can be incredibly simple and easy to implement, such as visual communication around the workplace, policies, procedures, newsletters, noticeboards, and meetings to enable open and free discussion, such as town halls, employee engagement meetings or coffee mornings with senior leadership.
Below are some additional internal communication tools you can implement in your business, ones which have a high impact and can make a significant difference to your internal communication approach.
1. Intranet Software
Intranet is a closed website or websites which are accessible only to people within your organization. Intranets can contain a huge amount of information and can be set up and customized in an infinite number of ways. Typically, an employee will have access to a company intranet through his or her own login. This login means that the employee can tailor the intranet to display specifically what they need to know (for example, if you work in HR, then HR-related news and information will be highlighted). Employees can also access intranet to complete training, register for courses, and look up benefits and payroll information.
The most comprehensive company intranets will lay out information by department and have directories where the employee can learn whatever they like about their organization. This might include pages on company values and culture, company news and information, leadership and hierarchies, investor relations and annual reports, and departmental information which might be specific to locations or other geographical regions. Some intranet systems also have forms of internal social media where more casual or ad-hoc news can be posted. Some companies prefer to use these sites more than external social media, as they are easier to control and keep track of work-related matters.
2. Instant Messaging
Instant messaging is being used increasingly frequently at work these days and comes in the form of applications such as Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp, and so on. Most employees will have smartphones and therefore access to these applications and might be part of numerous work groups which focus on various matters. Instant messaging can therefore be a highly effective way of keeping up with news related to the organization, a certain department, or a certain project. Messaging applications are collaborative in nature and are easy to use, thus eliminating many communication challenges.
To a certain degree, instant messaging must be controlled by managers. The topics discussed should be kept relevant, with any jokes or ‘banter’ monitored to ensure they don’t detract or cause any offense. Sometimes, messaging applications can afford a sense of anonymity in conflict, so it’s better off to take disagreements offline, to be discussed in person.
3. Video Communication Tools
Video communication tools are being increasingly used in the last few years, but really took off with the emergence of COVID-19 in 2020 and the rapid rise of working from home. Video communication is a great resource as it brings geographically diverse teams and organizations closer together. For example, if you work for a multinational corporation, then it’s very easy to have the CEO – who might be based in the US – give a speech to employees working in the UK, or elsewhere. Video conferencing and webinars can reduce the cost and hassle of arranging face-to-face meetings and can include more people at lesser expense.
Video communication is a lot more versatile than it used to be. Modern programs allow for online voting, virtual whiteboards, breakout rooms, and other interactive elements that keep people engaged. Consequently, video conferencing brings a lot to internal communications, but because of this, these tools can be overused and relied upon a little too much. Some internal communication and messaging is best left until people can physically get together in a room, for example some types of training, or where people are working in the same building and can easily meet in person.
Although the power of visual and collaborative internal communication tools cannot be overstated, there is a lot of power and meaning in communicating data and analytics. Analytics gives meaning and context to the hard work people are doing. Employees like to see numbers, in order to understand the business results and perhaps see how their job is contributing to their organization’s bottom line. Analytics are rarely verbally communicated. Instead, they are often shared in summary emails or on slides in town halls.
The key to sharing analytics is to not overdo it. Rather than showing slide upon slide of spreadsheets, managers should pick out the key numbers and focus on these instead. Managers should also add context, draw comparisons, and use clear indicators and cues to help less numerical individuals understand what is being said. Finally, always inform the team that any financial data or figures shared through internal communication must stay on site and never shared externally with people not connected to the organization, in case the data is sensitive or confidential.
5. Collaboration Tools
Collaboration tools are modern suites of online resources which are aimed at bringing people closer together. There are many examples of these on the market, such as Slack, SharePoint, and Trello, a project management software.
The idea behind collaboration tools is that they allow employees to simultaneously work on them and update information, saving information as they go. Most tools allow for real-time reporting and updating, meaning that managers can get information almost instantly as a project progresses. There is enhanced reporting and tracking of projects using collaboration tools, which makes it easier for leaders and project teams to track what is happening.
Collaboration tools need a lot of training and are best used in conjunction with other internal communication tools, such as virtual meetings or scrums. The virtual nature of these tools mean that it might be easier to complete projects online rather than in real life, leading some people to claim they have completed tasks before thy have actually done so! Therefore, managers must ensure they are up to speed with all progress and are able follow up in more detail where needed.
Internal communication tools can offer a huge amount to organizations, both large and small. A great way to bring teams together and sometimes referred to as the ‘heartbeat’ of the organization, internal communication connects employees with senior leadership and organizational values and can facilitate the completion of work. As such, it’s never enough just to assume that internal communication will sort itself out naturally. Developing a strategy to drive internal communication is essential and will make a substantial difference to its quality and reach.
There are many different tools to do this. Virtual tools such as video conferencing, instant messaging, and collaboration programs are fantastic ways to connect people easily and smoothly. The key to internal communication tools is to use as many as you can, all together. Internal communication, like communication in general, is almost impossible to overdo. Focus as much as you can on driving internal communication, and this in turn will start to positively impact other key measurements in your organization.