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Internal communications: why it matters and how to improve it

internal communications

February 25, 2017

I was speaking to a client yesterday and he mentioned the challenge of improving internal communications within his organisation, believing that it is vital for the successful deployment of Lean. The drive to break down barriers between departments, foster collaboration and encourage people to embrace change are fundamental to the success of Lean, yet without good internal communications all efforts will be thwarted. So why is it so often treated with disdain; either ignored completely or added on as an after-thought? How do you ensure that internal communications gets the attention it deserves within your Lean project?

It could be said that internal communications is the Cinderella of the comms profession; where it is recognised for the vital contribution it can make, it can be truly transformational. Good internal communications improves employee engagement, satisfaction and retention, boosts company performance, helps to attract the very best talent, and drives innovation and productivity. Conversely, a lack of effective internal communications can be tangibly damaging to an organisation.

The first step towards improving internal communications is recognising its importance. You need to secure buy-in from senior leaders in particular, but also seek out advocates at all levels of the business who understand the role it plays. In many way, internal communications is the glue which sticks your organisation together and without it fractures will soon start to appear; fissures in the foundations are just as destabilising as cracks in the ceiling.

To be effective, your comms plan requires a clear strategy and purpose.  Set objectives for what you are trying to achieve and ensure that they are measureable. You will also need to think about short-, medium- and long-term goals as some communications challenges will require more time than others to accomplish. Equally, it’s important to plan a few activities which will have a quick impact, to demonstrate the value of your efforts. Think about how your programme will affect and reach people at all levels of the organisation too, so that everyone feels part of the project and sees the benefits.

Think carefully about your different internal audiences and how your message needs to be tailored for each of them. Long-serving employees can sometimes be the hardest people to reach and influence as they may be wedded to the old ways of doing things and won’t like being pushed out of their comfort zone.

Consider also external factors which may affect the staff’s openness to change; economic challenges, difficult trading conditions or uncertainty about the future can encourage them to cling to familiarity and make people more resistant to new initiatives.

The perception that you can tick the internal communications box by “sending out a few newsletters” entirely misses the point. Internal communications is a dialogue not a monologue, so encourage feedback and participation. Make sure the process is managed though, otherwise you may find your strategy being blown off-course by tangential input.  Don’t ignore any contributions, but set out a timetable as to how and when any matters arising will be dealt with. And make sure you tell people what the timetable is and keep them informed throughout the process.

Internal communications offers a great opportunity to break down barriers within an organisation and really get the most from your employees.  Encouraging people to share their expertise, collaborate and innovate in cross-departmental teams can really unlock the potential of an organisation, as well as the people within it.  Two-way internal communications can not only reveal problems that you didn’t know you had, but also help you to solve them in new and surprising ways.

Celebrating achievement is where internal communications comes into its own. Telling the stories of success within your organisation and fostering a sense of shared pride is a powerful way of creating a virtuous circle of accomplishment. Even when things haven’t gone to plan, talk about the lessons that were learned and how the organisation can respond better next time.

Internal communications is an on-going investment which requires continuous improvement. Make sure you regularly examine the effectiveness of your efforts and evolve accordingly. Don’t be afraid to drop or adapt initiatives which aren’t working and be open to new ideas.

Technology can have an important part to play in developing internal communications, particularly if you have multiple sites or flexible working practices. Many large companies now use apps and intranets to provide information and services to employees, as well as video conferencing, virtual reality and a host of other online tools.

It’s tempting when times are tough to cut back on an initiative which can be viewed (wrongly) as non-essential, but that is precisely when internal communications shows its true value in helping to pull everyone together and get them working as a team towards a common goal.

As always, I’d be very interested to hear your experiences of good and bad internal communications, as well as new ideas for breaking down barriers within organisations.

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