The rise of social media has made communication something of a global obsession. What’s perhaps not so apparent is the growth of internal communication – the discipline whereby employers, employees and colleagues share information and talk to each other, yet effective communication is vital to ensuring that there is mutual understanding between management and staff.
Company strategies and goals should be explained so that people can align their individual objectives accordingly. Effective communication is when a clear message is delivered through the appropriate channels and tailored to the audience. In a company, this should result in employees knowing how their own work contributes to achieving the company goals, which helps keep people motivated and engaged.
Internal communication has been growing steadily in importance and sophistication, embracing the latest technologies, publishing trends and thinking around face to face communication. But it walks a fine line – unadulterated honesty in hard times can lead to lower morale, whereas company spin and top down communication – where employees are communicated at, not with – often leads to cynicism. In short, poor internal communication can be extremely damaging, particularly when the main objective for the discipline is employee engagement.
Engaging employees through internal communication is about leaving the member of staff informed, educated and/or inspired.
Why is it so important to engage employees?
An engaged workforce feels valued involved and that they genuinely matter. Higher levels of engagement improve morale, boost productivity and lead to a better working environment in general. Effective communications ensure that employees fully understand the company, its values and purposes, what is expected of them to achieve the company goals and how to fully engage with their own roles.
In short, there are benefits for employees and employers. But how do you deliver and sustain great internal communication? The key is to research the audience (the employees), listen to what they say, tailor the communication, tone of voice and medium to their needs.
Good internal communication consists of…
- Open and objective communication
- Clear, jargon-free, succinct language
- Consistent and regular communication
- Two-way dialogue
- Understanding the audience and what appeals to them
- Using good verbal, non-verbal and written communicators
- A communication identity that people recognise and use
- An accessible medium.
It is also important to define your key audience. As a general rule of thumb, senior managers and directors have the greatest access to company information and the clearest understanding of the direction and strategy. Middle managers tend to, but don’t always, have this information cascaded down to them by those senior people. Whereas junior or frontline employees have the least access to information, despite the fact that they are often the most important audience to reach, as they are at the ‘coalface’, interacting with customers, delivering services and so on. They should be the ambassadors for your business, but they will not attain this status unless they are communicated with in a regular, meaningful way that allows them to voice their views.
The issue that faces many internal communications professionals is getting senior management to buy in to communication that is relevant to our frontline audience. Look away now if you’re offended by stereotypes, but proposing a tabloid style employee newspaper to your average FT-reading, tech-smart director will leave the latter cold. Conversely, there’s no point spending thousands on all singing, all dancing e-comms if the vast majority of your staff are out in the field, with little or no access to technology.
The power of communication lies in keeping your audience involved in its evolution, because it is their interaction and interest that will mean the difference between communication that goes nowhere and is read by no one, and communication that can motivate entire workforces.
John is responsible for the motivation division of p&mm ltd and a Director on the board of the IPM. Specialising in developing, implementing and directing many large scale staff motivation, recognition and employee communications programmes.