03 Aug Internal Communications: 5 Tips for Creating a Comms Strategy That Strengthens Your Organization
Internal communications are often the most underutilized piece in building a strong organization and culture. While the tactics, like newsletters, articles, emails, meetings, training sessions, instant messages, etc. may vary, and the channels, like an intranet, posters, post cards, meeting invites and phone calls, vary by organization and audience, one thing remains the same: putting internal communications on the back burner for “when you have time” often leads to a lack of a plan and communications that happen few and far between.
Yet, the strength of an organization’s internal communications is a direct representation of the strength of the organization itself. Having a contingency plan and being prepared for when things don’t go as planned—and being proactive, rather than reactive—not only sets the organization up for a smoother recovery from whatever setback is thrown their way, but also reassures employees that their employer has their back AND that they are working for a strategic, one-step-ahead organization that can weather any storm.
What’s more, confusion, misinformation and lack of transparency can lead to hearsay, negativity and frustration. And that leads to lack of engagement, lower productivity and higher turnover.
According to Mary Gietman Schellinger, internal communications leader at a 2021 Gallup Exceptional Workplace (Verve, a Credit Union), your communications are one of your most powerful tools for furthering your organizational strategy.
“Internal communications have such broad responsibility in the success of cross-functional initiatives, reinforcing culture and building brand—it’s not just one thing, it’s everything,” said Mary Gietman Schellinger, internal communications leader at Verve, a Credit Union. “Balancing those priorities, moment to moment, channel to channel, is a critical function of the role. The most successful tactical updates will also splash brand and connect to company culture.”
Continue reading to learn more about the importance of a relevant, timely and ever-evolving internal communications strategy.
Tip No. 1: Set or re-evaluate your communications goals (hint: these are likely tied directly to your engagement strategy)
First things first: start by reviewing your current plan. Whether it has years (or decades) of cobwebs on it, or it’s hot off the presses, make sure it closely aligns with your organization’s strategic plan. If a formal internal communications strategy is new to your company, start by reviewing previous internal communications, such as newsletters, emails, recognition events, etc. to get a baseline for what’s been done in the past, as well as identify any trends or themes you may want to implement going forward.
Be sure to look at how your current strategy has performed, both anecdotally and by the numbers (email opens, general sentiment, overall receptiveness to communications, how often additional info/clarifying details were needed, etc.). Then, identify where you are today, where you want to be, how you will get there, your timeline, who will be involved and what resources you will need to get there. As you are outlining your objectives, tactics and timelines, take time to review your organization’s SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis and strategic planning efforts to align your communications appropriately.
Tip No. 2: Determine your success metrics
Just like you measure your progress toward goals in other facets of your business, so too, should your internal communications efforts be tracked and measured.
Some common metrics to review include:
- Use of intranet (time spent, number of pages visited and shares/interaction)
- Time watched on videos
- Emails opened
- Survey responses
- Social shares
- Employee retention
- Intangibles, such employee satisfaction and productivity
Determine a cadence for reviewing your metrics (daily, weekly, monthly, etc.), as well as how frequently you’ll adjust your strategy based on the numbers. Keep in mind that the longer your strategy is in place and being measured, the better data-driven decisions you can make.
Tip No. 3: Create specific content for different audience types within your organization
This tip may feel like an oversimplification, but it’s crucial to the success of your internal communications plan. Different people are more receptive to different types of content.
This can be based on generational or gender differences, or even the length of time at an organization. A text message, alert-style notice may be appreciated by some, while it may alienate or offend others (by coming off as cold or aloof). In addition to the channel used to communicate with different audiences, be sure to choose your words carefully to be inclusive (especially when using gender pronouns), as well as sensitive to racial and religious concerns.
Taking time to identify and segment your audiences can help you ensure your messages are targeted and aligned with what each group needs to know. Work with key stakeholders to identify what types of content would be relevant to their teams, as well as what channels they are most receptive to.
“Communications need to fit audience needs, not organizational needs,” said Jaime Hunt, vice president and chief communications and marketing officer at Miami University and 2021 Forbes Communications Council member. “People tune out internal communications if you are not delivering them in a manner that suits their work style. You must meet people where they are at, and where they are at is continually evolving.”
It’s important to be transparent and tell people what they need to know, but they don’t need to know EVERYTHING! Provide high-level information to some teams and more granular information to those who need it. For example, your maintenance team doesn’t need to know about a planned upgrade to your technology ticketing system.
Another key consideration to keep in mind is how you can promote conversations to help foster a sense of connection and encourage healthy discussions. Afterall, teamwork and many minds truly DO produce better ideas.
“When I get the opportunity to craft a strategic communication, I ask my key stakeholders, ‘What do you want team members to know and do differently as a result of this communication? What’s the Why behind this update? How does this connect to brand and culture? How might highly engaged and actively disengaged team members respond differently to this? What are we sensitive about getting just right?’ These questions lead to transparency and clarity, which are both highly valuable in driving team member engagement and reducing friction in times of change,” Schellinger said.
Tip No. 4: Assemble a team of internal communications champions
Internal communications, no matter the size of the organization, is a big role, one that’s too big for one person (or one department) to handle. That’s where developing a team of internal communications champions comes in.
Identify a lead, which could be a dedicated internal communications role, or a committee chair. Then identify key stakeholders, typically team or department leaders, who will provide input and serve as internal communications champions. It’s important to have a cross-functional team to be representative of your organization, as well as bring in diverse perspectives, but keep in mind that too large of a team can make it difficult to make progress on your internal comms plan. Be sure to provide training and set expectations for how they can help move your organization’s internal communications strategy forward.
Next, outline what tactics and content need to be developed first and determine who will be responsible for seeing each one through. Be sure to identify key dates and include ample time for reviews and approvals.
Factoring in executive visibility is also a key driver of successful internal communications.
“Even though 70% of a team’s engagement is driven by the manager (per Gallup), team members still want a connection with their Executive Leadership Team, especially the CEO, regardless of their company size,” Schellinger said. “Executive visibility is all about connecting to the mission and purpose of the organization. People want to know that their work matters beyond the widget they make. When the voice of the CEO is used to reinforce that mission, team member morale responds with enthusiasm.”
Tip No. 5: Develop an internal system of checks and balances
Every communication plan needs regular love and attention. As a starting base, set recurring calendar meetings to block time on your calendar to review your internal comms plan. The key here is to treat this time on your calendar as one of your most important meetings and don’t let anything else take them over. In addition, you can set recurring tasks or reminders to prep reports and agendas for your regular meetings to ensure your time spent with your internal communications team is focused, and everyone knows what is expected of them. You can even consider making a rubric or scorecard that your internal comms team regularly uses to evaluate your strategy and the effectiveness of your tactics.
“Like all aspects of communications, it is important to do periodic check-ins to ensure that your approach is still effective,” Hunt said. “As communications tools evolve, your tactics may need to shift. We are currently in a time of massive work environment upheaval. Sticking to old tactics means you may not be leveraging new technologies that better fit into people’s work styles.”
Don’t forget to ask for feedback from employees on a regular basis. This can be done through surveys, meetings, feedback forms, etc.
How to create an internal communications strategy and plan
Ready to start building your own internal communications strategy (or give it an overhaul)? Do your homework by looking through internal communications trends specific to your industry, as well as best practices developed by workplace and culture thought leaders, such as Gallup, SHRM and National Association for Business Resources (NABR). Be intentional with your efforts, aligning internal communications goals with your overall strategic plan, as well as adjusting as you need to while avoiding the temptation to chase the next big thing without evaluating how it fits into your strategy.
Start with a goal and then develop objectives, strategies and tactics to deliver on it. Take some time to ideate with your team of communications champions and remember that it is a process—while it would be great to solve all of your organization’s communications challenges in one meeting, realistically, it’s going to take time. Then create templates and repeatable processes, and most importantly share the workload!
Whether you have a fully-baked internal communications strategy or you’d like help delivering specific tactics, such as an employee newsletter, regular emails, change management communications or intranet articles, Writing by Design can help! Schedule a free consult today, or check out our blog for more helpful tips on branding and positioning, the importance of quality writing and more.
Kayde Kempen is a senior account manager at Writing by Design. She has 9+ years of marketing communications experience and a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Kayde has written hundreds of blog posts and marketing emails, both for Writing by Design and its clients, is the lead content writer for Writing by Design’s website/SEO clients, and assists with press releases, concept writing, scriptwriting and more. Prior to joining the Writing by Design team in 2016, she was an associate marketing manager at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh where she worked for five years and managed the University’s online presence. She managed UWO’s social media accounts, led nearly 90 website redesign projects, wrote for the University’s alumni magazine and news website, and wrote and managed a variety of print and digital marketing projects.