Internal communication is sometimes considered a ‘soft’ subject – something that is a nice-to-have rather than a must-have in organisations. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Anyone who thinks internal communication is only about telling employees stuff so they feel a bit better informed, or happier, is missing the point.
Internal communication is about ensuring that employees know what they need to do to deliver the company strategy. In that respect it is a ‘hard’ subject that can add as much value as any other professional function, such as finance, marketing or HR.
It seems obvious that if you communicate effectively with your employees, they are much more likely to be engaged with your organisation, to have a more positive attitude towards their work and to be willing to go the extra mile. The work of organisations like Engage for Success, a voluntary movement promoting employee engagement, enables us to be even more precise about exactly what the value of this is and what is required to attain it.
Communicators have an important role to play in defining and communicating organisational culture. This applies not just at the implementation of a new culture but as an ongoing reinforcement, celebrating the right behaviours and reminding employees of what is expected of them. This is another way that you add value to your organisation, and once again it is something that can be measured in bottom-line benefits.
To avoid the cookie-cutter approach, you must put yourself in the employees’ shoes, so you can tailor your communication to them. Ideally you should make each employee feel like the communication they receive is directly relevant to them. In digital marketing, they call this ‘mass personalisation’ – it’s the opposite of ‘one size fits all’. You can only do this properly if you really know and understand your audience.
Internal communication adds real value by changing not only employees’ opinions but their behaviours too. It’s not a soft and fluffy activity that organisations do to make their employees feel happy, and it shouldn’t just be something that leaders and managers do so they can tick the communication box. As the Institute of Internal Communication outlines in their mission statement, ‘Successful internal communication creates an environment of mutual understanding. It forges connections between people, allowing them to perform at their best, both individually and collectively.’
A useful thing about behaviours is that they are observable and therefore measurable. Behaviours are what you see your employees doing or hear them saying. They are not just what employees are thinking or feeling, they are a visible manifestation of those thoughts or feelings. As a result, this is an important part of the communication planning process. Get this right and you’ll have defined your success measures.
It’s often said that a picture paints a thousand words, and that is certainly true when it comes to internal communication. Impactful imagery, great graphics and meaningful materials can help your message cut through. Pictures will often become visual shortcuts for your communication – they stick in your audience’s minds, triggering recognition, encouraging conversation, and aiding understanding and buy-in.
But beware. Those benefits apply only to the right images. Get it wrong and you risk distracting or even annoying your audience. Whether you’re considering using still images (such as slides, pictures, diagrams, charts, infographics, photographs, illustrations or icons) or moving images (such as videos, gifs or animations), you need to put as much careful thought into their creation as you do for your words.
A key part of any communicator’s role is to create content. You are expected to craft the perfect written or spoken words to convey information, ideas and instructions effectively. You will find, however, that it is not always best to create content yourself. Involving employees in co-creating content will make them feel more connected to the message and, as a result, they’ll be more likely to understand and act on it.
And increasingly, the communicator’s role is not to just to craft content, but also to curate and moderate the content and conversations of others. As a curator, you will want to allow, and indeed encourage, as many people as possible to contribute their own content to fuel the conversation. Any natural storytellers in your organisations should be encouraged to tell their stories and champion others to do the same.