Creating a Stellar Internal Communications Channel Strategy

Digital Marketing
<!––>

Communication is massively important for business success. After all, it’s essentially the cornerstone of marketing, sales and customer services.

For businesses to operate smoothly, there has to be an exceptional level of internal communication. In fact, this is possibly more important than nailing your external communications, at least to begin with.

Informing, enticing and entertaining your audience with solid outbound communication is great. It’s what gets your business the attention it needs while retaining customers and building a strong reputation. But that’s how a business succeeds in attracting customers. What’s the point in doing all that if you can’t deliver because your business practices and operations are in disarray?

Getting all your ducks in a row internally is the key to an effective business model, and to do that you need to have your internal communications dialed in.

Why is Communication so Important? (We Hear You Ask)

Well, failure to communicate properly can result in a failure to achieve your goals. If you don’t communicate effectively across all avenues of your business, you could find yourself trying to dig your way out of a hole of your own making because things have been missed, lost or simply not shared in the first place. 

Cool Hand Luke gif
If only Luke and the Captain had a well-structured comms strategy, it could have all ended so differently…

Communication is key because it allows your teams and departments to align and collaborate with transparency. Without effective means of communication throughout an organization, things can get a little chaotic. Not only is there the necessity for employees to be able to talk to each other, but it’s also important for the company to be able to lay out its plans, insights and general performance for workers to know what’s going on.

In recent years, the need for robust internal communication processes has become all the more evident. The shift that many businesses have taken toward digital and remote working has meant that keeping colleagues in close contact with one another is a different challenge to what it used to be — and one that is evermore important. Whereas colleagues could previously speak directly or break out into meetings in person, remote teams must now rely on whatever virtual communication solutions are available to them. With this in mind, it’s no wonder that companies using social technologies to improve communication reported a 20-25% increase in productivity in a McKinsey study.

What Do You Need to Communicate?

Much like the most delicious cakes — or onions, or ogres — there are multiple layers to internal communication types to consider. It’s only by recognizing and addressing all of them that you can create a strategy that covers all the bases. Here are the 3 biggest types of communications that should be considered:

  • Corporate communication — we’ll call them B2E (business-to-employee) — are ways for the company to disseminate important information to all staff about myriad aspects of operations, from the latest performance results, success stories and strategic decisions to policy updates, employee benefits and who’s birthday it is (including where to find the celebratory cakes).
  • Employee-to-employee communication allows teams to work together, share information and support each other. This promotes a positive culture of collaboration and should include communicating with managers and directors so information goes both ways through an organization.
  • Resource repositories provide a centralized knowledge base for anyone in the company to be able to access necessary internal information. This can include employee handbooks and policies, brand guidelines, legal requirement documents and templates, to name just a few.

Of course, how you do these types of communications can vary massively depending on the tools and strategies you use.

So how do you make sure you’re hitting all the necessary touchpoints of communication throughout your organization? By building out a comprehensive strategy for internal communication you can aim to address everything that’s needed and have a solid blueprint to follow as you implement them.

Creating a Useful Internal Communication Strategy

When it comes to planning your internal communications strategy, you’ll need to bear in mind the specifics of your business. The nature of the work, the departments and teams involved, whether you have remote workers, and what means you have at your disposal — these will all factor into your considerations and influence decisions about your comms strategy.

As every organization is different, it may be that some methods of internal communication will be more feasible or effective than others, but here’s a breakdown of what are commonly deemed the most important ways to communicate internally, with some recommendations on how to do them well:

1. Leadership Communication

Top-down communication from the C-suite is possibly the most essential type of communication to include in your strategy. At least, it’s up there as one of the top three. Think of this as internal marketing for your organization.

Senior management plays a big part in the formation and definition of the company culture, as well as in steering the business in the right direction. If 72% of employees don’t fully understand their company’s strategy (as is the case in this  IBM study), then clearly there’s a crying need for leadership to get talking and get everyone aligned.

Executive-level B2E communications can include business strategy and progress overviews, company updates and formal announcements, like awards or performance accolades. They tend to stick to some standard formats:

  • Regular email announcements or company news messages — these would usually come from the CEO, but can be done by senior managers for more departmentally relevant information, too.
  • Quarterly or annual company meetings that are set in the calendar to give high level performance reports.
  • Company-wide intranet updates.

Leadership communications play a vital role in improving mission clarity and cohesion amongst employees at all levels, so they need to be properly thought through to include all the relevant information in a digestible and accessible way. This is particularly pertinent in the case of communicating company changes. An effective internal communication regarding potential upheavals, for example, will preempt and address employee concerns and needs while avoiding the use of “corporate speak” and offering support.

2. Two-Way Communication

While “top-down” communication is vital for the alignment of company objectives and employee engagement, it’s important to not only have it going one way in an organization. The feedback, knowledge and insights that employees can offer is invaluable to making well-informed decisions about many aspects of operations.

We hate to use such a tired old trope, but the classic “open door policy” hits the nail on the head to define a good two-way communication strategy. Promoting a culture of open communication without the conventional hierarchical restrictions encourages a more collaborative environment — both when it comes to getting work done and in the sense of building relationships throughout the organization.

3. Information Communications

Information inaccessibility is a major bugbear for employees. The poor exchange and inability to find necessary information adds stress, which can negatively impact performance by 5%, Gartner found in its 2018 Employee Culture Study.

Employees need a lot of information to do their jobs well. Whether it’s about clients and accounts, orders, procedures or other internal information, having a well managed, centralized hub can cut down on employee stress and increase productivity — both because they’re less stressed and because they don’t waste a load of time trying to find stuff!

Think about the kinds of information and resources you can compile into a centralized data hub that can be easily accessed by staff and efficiently updated by relevant teams when necessary:

  • Policies, procedures and legal information.
  • Business process guidelines.
  • Training tools and content.
  • Organizational information regarding branding, products, services or general practices.
  • Colleague information, like organization charts and contact details.
  • Templates and other standardized collateral.

4. Crisis Communication

If the worst should happen…

The Office gif: oh my god! Okay, it's happening!

Should a crisis occur, you won’t have time to figure out what to do or put together a bunch of communications. You just need to react. So having a solid crisis communication plan in place before a situation arises is essential to being prepared for the unexpected.

Whether it’s a technical crisis, a PR predicament or a natural disaster, it’s crucial that you can get the right information and instruction to everyone in the business effectively and efficiently. To properly plan out your crisis communication strategy, you first need to reminisce back to the days of Dr Pepper commercials and ask yourself “what’s the worst that could happen?”

Seriously, what is the worst that could happen? Being ready for whatever may occur is the best way to be able to mitigate the damage. The list is likely to be a little different for each business, depending on what you do and how you operate. In addition to the few eventualities mentioned earlier, here are some examples of things to consider:

  • Employee misconduct.
  • An information leak.
  • Product faults or recalls.
  • Environmental crises, like a collision, pipeline leak or spillage.
  • External threats such as terrorist threats, fires or police incidents.
  • Cyber attacks and viruses.
  • Contention from political, social, environmental or cultural groups.
  • Financial crises.
  • Supply chain or process distribution.

Depending on the type of crisis you’re facing, you may need to have alternative or multiple channels of communication planned. If your servers crash, for instance, it could mean nobody has access to email — which would be exceptionally problematic for getting in touch with remote workers. Finding various methods of communication to overcome circumstances such as these is all part of why having a robust and comprehensive crisis communication plan is imperative for organizations.

5. Peer-to-peer Communication

Keeping colleagues connected is an integral part of a successful internal communication plan. This isn’t so much about having a solid plan or formalizing scheduled meetings as it is about putting the right tools in place to enable fluid communication. Employees who regularly communicate with each other are generally more productive, with 71% saying as much in RingCentral’s Connected Culture report.

There are many methods, tools and solutions available to empower employees to communicate effectively. Choosing the right ones requires an understanding of your particular business needs. Some common requirements include:

  • Collaboration on specific tasks or projects.
  • Community communication such as file sharing and group discussion.
  • Direct connection with a colleague who can help or provide expert knowledge.
  • Peer recognition.
  • Orchestration for immediate problem-solving.
  • Private and small group conversation.

Tools for Internal Communication Strategies

There are hundreds of communication tool options available to choose from, which is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it means there’s bound to be something (or more likely a combination of somethings) out there to fulfill your internal communication needs — on the other, it might take a long time to find it.

Getting a clear understanding of the options available to you is a good place to start, though:

Intranet

Intranets have been around for a long time, so you’re probably familiar with them — even if it’s only conceptually. They’re essentially a private website that’s exclusively accessible to staff. As such, they can act as a centralized communication channel and information storage location.

A company intranet is a great tool for top-down communication, allowing messages from the CEO and directors to be readily accessible to all staff, but it can run the risk of being overlooked if people aren’t actively logging in. If employees have no other reason to use your intranet, it can become neglected, which is why it’s good to fully utilize its other functionalities too:

  • Create dedicated sections for different departments.
  • Build repositories for files and other resources.
  • Use forum features for collaboration and insight sharing.

Internal Social Networks

Social media is a huge part of people’s personal lives, so why not emulate that in the workplace? Particularly pertinent for remote workers, we spend so much time at our screens while working that the “watercooler” aspect of work has started to fade out.

The social culture of an organization has a significant impact on morale and productivity — 57% of workers say that having a “work best friend” makes work more enjoyable, according to a recent Wild Goose survey — so giving employees a virtual social space promotes a healthier attitude and atmosphere amongst colleagues, even if they are working remotely.

Instant Messaging Tools

Sick of those back-and-forth email exchanges when you need to hash something out? Instant messaging (IM) tools are a great solution for colleagues to have quick conversations, with many allowing you to easily create group chats to bring others into the fold when necessary.

Team messaging tools like Flock allow you to have one-to-one conversations, create chat groups and sync your chats across desktop and mobile easily.

internal communications channel strategy - flock example

Some IM solutions such as Microsoft Teams or Google Chat are integrated into their developers’ email solutions (Outlook and Gmail, respectively), meaning they’re readily accessible whenever you’re logged in and working. You can also get app versions of these IM platforms to stay connected on the go, which is handy for remote employees or those who travel a lot for work.

Video Chat

Video conferencing became THE way to connect during the COVID-19 lockdowns, and it’s stuck around for businesses as an excellent way to increase efficiency and keep colleagues (and clients) communicating more directly without needing to physically be in the same space. Putting faces to names is hugely beneficial for relationship building, even if it is on a screen, which is why video chat platforms like Zoom and Skype continue to be stalwarts of organizations’ internal and external communication strategies alike.

Collaboration Tools

Thanks to cloud-based software, collaborating on documents, presentations and projects is easier than ever. People across the globe can all have access to the same files — even working on them in unison. One of the most prolific and well-known examples of these types of solutions is Slack, which offers multiple functionalities all within one online space.

slack example - internal communications channel strategy

Collaboration platforms can sync up with other apps and programs that your employees use to create a concise workspace. Employees are able to chat, work on files, track projects and build out automated workflows to simplify processes all in one place, cutting down on the extraneous legwork of using multiple programs and transferring data from one place to another.

Once you’ve established your company’s needs and the best tools to meet them, you’ll need to bring them together to create and implement your internal communication strategy. Remember that it’s likely going to take a combination of solutions to meet various requirements and that you may not get it right the first go-round. A flexible and holistic approach to internal comms is going to be your best friend when it comes to creating synergy across your organization.

Evaluating the Success of your Communication Strategies

"The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place." - George Bernard Shaw

You said it, George!

It’s all well and good putting an internal communication plan in place, but you need to know that it’s actually working. Even if you’ve got the best team communication tools in your arsenal, it’s important to gauge their efficacy. Employee engagement is key to truly effective internal communication, so expect that you’re going to need to do some work changing company culture to embrace your new systems.

Fortunately, the use of digital communication tools means you can track and analyze performance as you go. Use engagement tracking tools and features to determine if people are utilizing the platforms you introduce, as well as oversee the progression of work in new systems to see if workflows and collaborations are making an impact on performance.

It’s also important to ask for employee feedback to determine how well your new internal communications tools are being received.

Have they been adopted eagerly or grudgingly?

Are employees happy with how they work?

Are there any issues or hindrances people have found while using them?

Invite constructive and honest feedback to gain insight into the adoption of the different channels you’ve introduced so you can adjust accordingly and make your workplace communication as effective, efficient and enjoyable as possible. After all, what’s most important is that you can bring your teams together to work better through collaboration and support — and your internal communication strategy should keep this as its top priority.