Effective internal communication can improve an organization and drive business success by turning strategy into action. Yet too often, executives measure communication through emails sent or town halls hosted rather than by the one metric that truly matters—how well key leaders and their employees understand and have acted on what’s communicated.
Clearly, there’s a real opportunity to make good internal communication great, and organizations would be wise to seize it.
While good internal communication gets the message out, great internal communication helps employees connect the dots between overarching business strategy and their role. When the communication is good, it informs. When it’s great, it engages employees and moves them to action. Quite simply, internal communication that’s executed well helps people and organizations be even better. The reality is that despite all the new and timely communication channels—flurries of emails, meetings, memos, intranets, video, internal social media, and more—research shows that the majority of companies aren’t getting through to employees to help them connect the dots. In an article for the Harvard Business Review, researchers Donald Sull, Rebecca Homkes and Charles Sull highlighted poor communication as one of the key reasons that strategies fail. As one researcher put it:
“In other words, when leaders charged with explaining strategy to the troops are given five chances to list their company’s strategic objectives, nearly half fail to get even one right.”
An Example of Poor Internal Communication
The researchers go on to say the issue isn’t with a lack of communication. Instead, it’s a problem with the communication not being great. The HBR report highlighted one example of poor communication that is all too common in companies today. The executives at a tech company went to great lengths to communicate the company strategy at the annual executive off-site, but they ended up bombarding employees with so much information that they completely turned off the group.
“They introduced 11 corporate priorities (which were different from the strategic objectives), a list of core competencies (including one with nine templates), a set of corporate values, and a dictionary of 21 new strategic terms to be mastered. Not surprisingly, the assembled managers were baffled about what mattered most.”
5 Steps to Meaningful Internal Communication
Step 1: Articulate goals, vision and mission
At this initial stage, you are thinking about your desired outcome in the context of the organization’s goals, vision and mission. This ensures that from the beginning you are thinking big picture: What are the outcomes that you want to achieve, how do they tie to what’s most important at this organization, and how do you need to shape your messaging to demonstrate the connection to achieve those goals?
Step 2: Message development that resonates with key audiences
Develop key messages that communicate with and speak to the right audiences. Messages need to be clear, credible and resonate with your audience. A critical part of the message development process is understanding where your audience is coming from so you can make your messages powerfully meaningful to them. That’s where research comes in. What data do you need to best understand your audience?
Step 3: Internal communication planning
Building on the core messaging you have identified and developed, your next step is to create a plan that articulates the approach for achieving the goals identified in Step 1 through communication.
As part of this plan, you must:
- Identify key audiences you need to reach
- Decide on best vehicles for communicating the message (e.g., in-person meeting, newsletter article, intranet, email, video, podcast, letter from the president, etc.)
- Select appropriate timing
Step 4: Implement
By now, you’ve reached the implementation phase of your communication plan. It’s now up to you to put the ball into play and to begin communicating with employees. Using your established plan as a guide, you should use the various communications tools available to reach your employees with your powerful message where it will have the most meaning to them. This will ultimately drive the outcomes you seek.
Step 5: Evaluate against goals created in the context of the current environment
You should start working on Step 5 as you are also undertaking Step 4. This is the evaluation phase. This last step is critical in ensuring that you drive the desired behaviors or actions in employees. If you learn that this is not the case, step back and re-evaluate your plan. It’s important to be able to correct your course along the way if you learn that something isn’t working as you had anticipated or intended.
At its core, Step 5 is about assessing whether or not your communication has helped you achieve the desired outcomes you identified in Step 1.
So What’s the Payoff?
- Employees understand the big picture and how they fit in: They feel valued, listened to, and like an important part of the team and the organization.
- Employees are more productive and there is meaning to their work: As a result, they contribute more and feel better about their contribution and the organization so they stay on the job and help move the business forward.
- Better leaders: Communication isn’t just tactical anymore; it’s about strategy. In this context, leaders are better able to understand employee needs and how to meet those needs to motivate, inspire and engage them.
- Vigilant managers who have an ear to the ground: For managers and organizations to attract, create and retain an engaged workforce, they must be committed for the long haul. Building the trust and credibility to keep employees engaged requires effort, but it’s worth it. It takes only seconds to lose employee connection and interest.
- A culture of communication: The employee engagement journey is a continuous one. Communication is not an “event.” It is a continuing process. You must work every day to ask the right questions, answer others appropriately, and communicate openly and honestly with employees. When they see you making that extra effort, they’ll do the same. By moving away from lip service and toward positive action, you drive positive business results.
Organizations that understand, prioritize and constantly strive to achieve better internal communication are a breed apart. They achieve trust and credibility. They enable employees to do their jobs better. They create a constructive workplace that encourages growth and a common sense of purpose. From all this, there can only be one result: Higher levels of performance and better business results.
How are you doing at thinking strategically and effectively about your communications?
[Original post written by David Grossman on the leadercommunicator blog.]