Internal Communicationsby Val Lawson
- What business benefits do good internal communications deliver?
- Are internal communications only needed for important news?
- What’s the best means of communicating in our business?
- What sort of information should be included?
- Do I need to tell everyone?
- Are there any legal requirements for internal communications?
- Is top down the best way?
- Employees are flooded. How can I get through with MY information?
- How can I assess success? That is, how do I know the communication has landed and been assimilated?
- How do I deal with confidential information (especially if I think my team should know)?
- What if I get a message to cascade that I don’t agree with?
- Are there some golden rules?
1. What business benefits do good internal communications deliver?
‘Internal communications’ covers all aspects of sharing information within an organisation and its workforce. By helping people in the workforce understand the business vision and what’s happening, it involves them and engages their interest, inspiring them to ‘go the extra mile’. When change is happening, it gives clear information and acts as a counter to the ‘rumour mill’.
2. Are internal communications only needed for important news?
Regular information sharing should be part of an overall business communications plan and could happen daily, weekly, monthly, bi-monthly or quarterly. Consider the impact on the organisation of not communicating; assign a value to this impact and then produce a business case for better internal communications. Internal communications are important all the time as part of business best practice, but essential when there are any major changes in the business.
3. What’s the best means of communicating in our business?
Good communications involve everyone in an organisation, but, to be effective, they need to be well organised and take place in a systematic way. This is best ensured by having a communications and consultation policy and procedures, which should take into consideration different media and methods, based on organisational culture, structure and accessibility. Methods may be face-to-face, written or delivered using some form of technology, and sometimes more than one method needs to be used to ensure that everyone can receive/access the information being shared.
At some times a cascade approach will be best; occasionally, it is better to bring everyone together to hear a piece of key information. In the modern world of mobile phones, it is hard to keep news from spreading out of control if you adopt a cascade approach for delivering highly sensitive information.
4. What sort of information should be included?
Kipling’s seven loyal servants: What, Where, When, How, Why, Who, Which are a good framework for any communication. Companies often structure a regular team briefing to include a cascade of information from the board, division or directorate, about department and team. However, typically, people are most interested in what is closest to them and may pay scant attention to the highest level of information. For this reason, the briefing should have a pyramid structure, with more details about items at the bottom.
- Managers need to communicate information to employees about
- Contractual terms and conditions of employment
- The job and its performance
- The organisation’s performance, progress and prospects
- Changes to any of the above issues.
5. Do I need to tell everyone?
You may decide to have different information in communications for managers or other staff, but for routine internal communications, all the workforce should be included. When planning communications related to major change, these should be based on stakeholder and impact analysis. The key is that it should be you (the business management team) who tell people – rather than the gossip at the coffee machine.
You can use team meetings as a forum for regular updates, as it’s better to talk to the team as a whole and then ensure you update anyone who missed the meeting. Telling the same thing to people individually, or on an ad hoc basis, you may inadvertently use different words that convey different messages or miss some people.
You have to find a means of getting everyone together that can include an update on what’s happening in the business. Your people out on the road are ambassadors for your business – make sure they know what’s going on, and hear it from you rather than a customer!
6. Are there any legal requirements for internal communications?
Two pieces of legislation relate to communications:
- The new Information and Consultation of Employees Regulations (ICE)
- The Companies Act.
The requirements under these acts come into force when an organisation has more than a specific number of employees – the first applies when you have over 50 staff; the latter when the workforce is 250 or more.
7. Is top down the best way?
Most effective communication strategies combine top down and bottom up, enabling senior management to keep in touch with the people lower down the organisation. There should be a channel that allows communication from the bottom to the top, and everyone should know how to access different types of information.
8. Employees are flooded. How can I get through with MY information?
Categorise the information that people receive into Must know, Should know and Could know, then focus on Must Know. Make sure employees believe there is personal value in the information that is shared with them, in other words ‘What’s in it for me?’
9. How can I assess success? That is, how do I know the communication has landed and been assimilated?
The best way to measure success is by monitoring the situation you have tried to tackle with your communications and looking for positive movement. Listening is a good technique. Also, it’s good to build a feedback loop into the cascade process, so you find out what questions have been raised and how people have responded to the message.
Communication should be a two-way process in which information flows up the line from employees as well as down from managers, so employees are able to raise any concerns about their jobs or the organisation.
10. How do I deal with confidential information (especially if I think my team should know)?
This is an ethical dilemma faced by many managers. If this situation comes up, the best solution is to escalate your concerns to your immediate line manager or possibly to the HR Manager.
11. What if I get a message to cascade that I don’t agree with?
If the internal communications strategy and plan are well-considered, there will be a channel to reach the middle managers who are part of the cascade process. You may have to bite the bullet and present the corporate message, managing yourself just as much as you manage your team.
12. Are there some golden rules?
The golden rules are
- The message is more important than the medium
- Two-way communication is better than one way, so face to face is the most effective method
- Success depends on the quality of the information and message given
- Speed is important