If you have ever been in a position of leading the internal communication strategy for an organization or team, you know that it can be a daunting task.
From ensuring everyone is on the same page to maintaining open lines of communication and finding new ways to engage with employees, there’s a lot that goes into creating and sustaining an effective internal communication strategy.
In this article, we’ll take a look at some key steps to planning a better internal communication strategy and why it's important to do so.
Why You Need an Internal Communication Strategy?
Imagine this: you've been working on a major project for months, emailing back and forth with colleagues, partners, and stakeholders, and everything is going smoothly. You are meeting your deadlines, and everyone is on the same page. Or so you think.
As soon as the project is finalized, you soon find out that some important details were missed, or that a crucial discussion was had but never communicated to all the parties involved.
And then the "Nobody told me..." messages from the rest of the team start rolling in.
This can be an incredibly frustrating experience - not only for you but for everyone involved.
But even if your processes are running smoothly, unorganized internal communication can impact your team's morale and productivity in the long run.
If some employees hear about the training opportunities and new initiatives first, while others are left in the dark until it's too late, this can lead to feelings of unfairness and resentment.
Or if some get information firsthand, because they happen to be in the right place at the right time, while others are stuck sifting through emails and memos to find out what's going on - this can be equally damaging.
The Importance of Effective Internal Communication for Businesses
It's scenarios like these that can easily be avoided with a well-crafted internal communication strategy. It makes sure everyone is on the same page and bridges the silos between departments, stakeholders, and even leaders so that no important information or conversations are missed.
By taking the time to plan out a solid internal communication strategy, you can ensure that everyone is up-to-date on information and projects, as well as create an environment of trust and collaboration within your organization.
The Challenges to Effective Internal Communication
But why can it be so difficult to pull off a successful IC strategy?
Effective internal communication can be difficult to achieve for many reasons - from language barriers and geographical distance to a lack of understanding of the organization’s culture or processes.
Company size can also play a role. Organizations with large numbers of employees may find it harder to ensure everyone is kept in the loop, while smaller teams may simply need to focus on streamlining their processes and creating a culture of openness.
But most of the time it comes down to these three things:
Lack of planning: Just leaving things to chance and hoping for the best is rarely a successful strategy.
Lack of transparency: When information is shared selectively, it's bound to lead to confusion and distrust, so workplace transparency is key.
Poor channels of communication: Even the best strategy will fail without suitable channels for sharing information.
So, how can you create an effective internal communication strategy?
The 7 Key Steps for Planning a Better Internal Communication Strategy
Your IC strategy does not need to be complicated. Actually, the simpler, the better, because consistency and clarity are key.
So starting with something simple, that you can stick to, is the best way to go.
Here are 7 steps to help you plan a better internal communication strategy, that will tackle the challenges we just discussed:
Step 1: Determine your communication goals
While aiming for better internal communication overall might be an admirable goal, it’s not really a realistic one. Goals such as "have everyone on the same page” or “increase collaboration" are simply too vague.
And how would you know when you've achieved them?
Instead, aim to set specific and measurable communication goals. Taking the SMART approach to goal setting will help you develop realistic objectives that are tailored to your organization’s needs.
What that means is, that your goals need to be:
- Specific - Clearly defined and easy to understand
- Measurable - Have set parameters that can be tracked and evaluated
- Attainable - Realistic and achievable
- Relevant - Connected to the overall mission and goals of the organization
- Timely - With a set timeline or timeframe
Here are a few examples:
- Increase cross-department collaboration by 30% within the next 6 months
- Get 90% of employees to feel that communication is open and transparent in the organization within the next 12 months
- Reduce miscommunication incidents related to projects by 50% within a quarter
These types of goals are easily trackable, and you can measure your progress as you go. Plus, they provide a great way to set and evaluate expectations of the internal communication strategy.
Step 2: Assess your current communication landscape
Once you’ve set up some realistic goals for your IC strategy, the next step is to assess where you currently stand with it.
If you've already set up an internal communication system, look at how it's performing. Which channels are being used the most? How often do employees interact and share information? Are there any pain points that need to be addressed?
On the other hand, if you haven’t really implemented anything yet – this is the perfect opportunity to start fresh.
You could either survey employees and get their feedback on what type of communication channels they prefer using, what type of interaction they would like to see more of, and what challenges they might be facing with the current system (if any).
Once you have all this information, it will be much easier to plan a strategy that takes all these factors into account.
Step 3: Identify your audience
So now that you have established your goals and assessed your current communication landscape, it’s time to identify who will be part of your internal communication strategy.
Who will need to be kept in the loop? Who should receive updates and announcements related to certain topics? Who would benefit from having access to certain resources?
Creating user personas and mapping out your communication channels according to different departments, job roles, and responsibilities will make the whole process much easier to manage.
Step 4: Choose the right channels for your audience
Now we are getting to the tricky part. Once you've laid out your goals and identified your target audience, you need to decide which communication channels are the most suitable.
A lot of factors will need to be taken into consideration here, like the size of your company and the number of geographical locations, your budget and the type of content that needs to be communicated, and even the age of your audience and how tech-savvy they are.
Let's go through the most popular internal communication channels and their pros and cons:
This is probably the most common communication channel out there. It has a lot of practical benefits – it’s easy to use, and you can target specific audiences with ease. But on the downside, messages can get lost in people’s inboxes, and it’s not always the best choice for more urgent or interactive messages.
Pros: Easy to use and manage, no technical knowledge required, great for mass announcements
Cons: Not suitable for real-time communication, could be overlooked or ignored, hard to filter and search
2. Instant Messaging (IM)
Instant messaging channels, such as Slack or Teams, are also very simple and great for real-time and informal communication. But again, the issue is that messages can get lost easily and it’s not always the best choice for more formal announcements or longer conversations.
Pros: great for quick conversations and urgent messages, deskless workers can access it from their phones, allows for easy file-sharing
Cons: could lead to information overload, messages often get lost in the shuffle, geographically dispersed teams can struggle with timezone differences
Intranets provide a centralized hub for all your internal communications, with multiple channels and departments.
Pros: great for organizing content, easy to search and filter
Cons: not always easy to use, could be difficult to keep updated, does not allow for direct communication or collaboration
4. Social Intranets/Employee Portals
The newer generations of intranets, also called social intranets or employee portals, provide an engaging platform that encourages employees to interact with each other, share content, and collaborate on projects. But not all of them are created the same, and choosing the right one can be challenging.
Pros: encourages collaboration and knowledge sharing, allows for direct communication and feedback, searchable and easily updated, user friendly
Cons: may be too complex or costly to implement, could lead to information overload, may require technical support
5. Video Conferencing
Video conferencing platforms have become increasingly popular as companies move to remote working scenarios.
Pros: allows multiple people to interact in real-time, face-to-face conversation allow for quick problem solving, more personable than other channels
Cons: may require additional training, synchronous communication can be difficult for distributed teams, information gets siloed if not recorded, not suitable for quick messages or urgent announcements, and time-consuming.
These are the main 5 channels and most companies use a combination of these, depending on the type of communication they are trying to achieve.
The key here is determining which ones you actually need and which ones complement each other. You should also think about which ones engage your employees best, as well as how much time and money it will take to implement them.
Adopting more than what is required would not only be unnecessarily expansive but the resulting context switching and fragmentation of conversation would actually be sabotaging productivity.
Step 5: Encourage engagement
Adopting the best channels won't make a difference if you don't find a way to encourage engagement. This is a crucial factor that will make or break your strategy, and therefore needs to be planned just as much as the choice of channels.
Some channels make it easier to both track and encourage engagement than others. Social intranets, for example, have built-in features that allow you to measure engagement and create gamification elements. But they are also more dependent on people actually using them.
Email or messaging will be used more frequently, as those channels are primarily used for strictly work-related tasks, but for informal conversations and collaboration, you will need to find ways to ensure your employees use the channels.
Encouraging engagement is a whole other topic, but here are some ideas to get you started:
- Create content that adds value and engages employees
- Encourage conversations around the content
- Use social recognition tools to reward active participants
- Implement gamification elements such as leaderboards
Also have a look at sending out surveys to your employees, having competitions or rewards for top contributors, and creating a sense of community by highlighting the achievements of your teams.
Finally, make sure your internal communication is engaging and interesting. People are more likely to participate if they feel the content is relevant, current, and interesting. Try to mix up text-based posts with multimedia such as images, videos, or polls to keep it fresh.
Step 6: Track IC metrics
In order to understand if your chosen channels are effective and if they are reaching their intended audiences, it is important to track internal communication metrics.
Track metrics such as engagement rate, open rate, time spent on channels, online responses, and content shared to understand what is working and what needs to be improved.
Using these metrics will not only help you can identify the most effective channels for each communication task and optimize your approach accordingly but also allow you to identify your engagement superstars - those employees who go out of their way to engage with the content others are sharing.