Kickstart your internal communications strategy with these best practices
Picture this. You’ve been running point on a major process change at your company. After sending out email updates and meeting with key stakeholders, you’re finally ready to roll out your plan. The day after the switch is made, you begin to receive messages from disgruntled colleagues, all featuring the same three words:
“Nobody told me…”
This is a frustrating yet all too common experience at companies of all sizes. Without a well-executed internal communications strategy, necessary information can get lost, missed or ignored.
Internal communications requires the same level of care and planning as customer, partner and recruiting communications. Still, designing or revamping your internal communications program can be daunting. That’s why we’re here to show you how to create a successful program while avoiding the typical roadblocks to enhancing your employee communication strategy.
Why you need to rethink your internal communications plans
Effective communication in the workplace is more important than ever. As more companies opt into long-term remote work, it’s increasingly clear that corporate work environments will not be returning to pre-pandemic norms.
April 2020: working from home sucks
April 2021: if we have to go back to the office full-time I will quit
— Sophie Vershbow (@svershbow) April 27, 2021
While remote work has its benefits, it’s also left some employees feeling disconnected from their work and their employers. One study found that 55% of people in the US workforce intend to look for a new job in the next 12 months. This “Great Resignation” is putting a renewed emphasis on employee engagement and, in turn, internal communications.
In this new landscape, your internal communications strategy can’t rely on a set-it-and-forget-it approach. It needs to be proactive, comprehensive and creative to foster the connection that was lost when in-person touchpoints went away.
The good news is, most internal communication leads are embracing this change in their roles and responsibilities. According to the Gallagher State of the Sector report, just 5% of organizations will maintain the practices they had in place in 2020. The rest are planning major culture, process and system changes.
An intentional internal communications plan can help organizations manage the ever-growing impacts of a changing work environment. This is a tremendous opportunity for businesses to rethink how they communicate to an often forgotten audience—their own employees.
7 steps to form your internal communications strategy
Creating an internal communications program is an ongoing exercise in collaboration. It requires prioritization and buy-in from leadership, as well as frequent check-ins with managers across your business.
So, how does one kick off an internal communications strategy?
Here’s our seven-step guide to launching a successful internal communications program:
1. Assess your current internal communications strategy
You likely have some internal communication processes already in place, so it’s always best to start with research. It’s time to assess what’s working and what isn’t.
Internal communication is the heartbeat of an organization. How’s your company’s health? #internalcomms
— David Grossman (@ThoughtPartner) October 18, 2021
Some of the things you should immediately address when revamping your internal communication strategy include:
- Your current performance: How effective is your current strategy? What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses? Who is currently involved in shaping and executing your plan and who can you add to improve it?
- Where you’ll eventually be: What are your goals for your internal communications program? Who is your audience? the entire organization or a select business unit? The answers to these questions will be your north star as you design your strategy.
- How you plan to get there: What is it going to take to achieve your objectives (in terms of resources, budget or tools)? What type of content will resonate the most with your staff?
- How long it should take: What’s the difference between how long it should take vs. a realistic timeline for your team?
- Who’s involved: Is your current team too small? Are there too many cooks in the kitchen? Assessing your current strategy should indicate where you can add to or streamline your internal comms team.
Answering or at least planning to resolve these prompts is important to reevaluating your strategy. Your answers will illuminate your big picture vision before diving into tactical details.
2. Set realistic goals and timelines
Your new internal communications strategy won’t magically transform employee experiences overnight. These things take time, so it’s important to keep your goals realistic.
One way to set smarter goals is by looking to internal benchmarks and noting where you think you can make an immediate impact. You may also want to send out a survey to get a better understanding of what employees want from your program.
Some initial questions you might ask to get this conversation started include:
- What do you want your internal communications strategy to do for your company?
- Which areas are working well, why are those areas working well, and what needs improvement?
- How quickly do you want to reach your goals?
- What communication tools or platforms are available given your company size, priorities and expectations of what employees should be doing with information shared?
Answering these questions will paint a clearer picture of what you want your internal communications strategy to actually accomplish. These goals will serve as your blueprint for establishing your strategy, and then growing and maintaining it over time.
When creating your goals, try to ensure they follow S.M.A.R.T. logic—in other words, are your goals:
- Specific: Define what you want to accomplish in clear, simple terms that your entire team can understand.
- Measurable: Create milestones and targets that can help you see your progress toward each aspect of your goal.
- Attainable: It’s good to have lofty ambitions, but you need to know that your goals are manageable and realistic.
- Relevant: In this case, you’ll need to create goals that are linked to developing your team, and connected seamlessly with your business model.
- Time-based: Create a specific timeframe for reaching your goals to maintain accountability and create an opportunity to reflect on your performance.
3. Identify your key metrics to track for success
Just like most other facets of your business, your internal communication strategy can and should be measurable. To do this, you need to choose the core metrics that will show you if your strategy is working.
These stats will help you determine if your colleagues use the resources that are being provided. This means you can dissect your strategy and learn about what areas need more attention and what can be skipped. For example, you may find that your team overwhelmingly prefers one channel over another, or that certain departments pay more attention to communications from executive leadership rather than peers or team managers.
Some things, like anecdotal feedback, can’t be measured. Still, it’s important to build on your understanding of employees’ experiences with data. Here are some potential metrics to consider:
One metric many organizations overlook is the amount of social shares your content receives. Studies show that employees have an average of 10 times as many connections on social media as a standard brand. Empowering your employees to share business updates can do more than make them feel connected—it can help achieve your business goals.
With an internal comms tool like Sprout’s, you can analyze total shares by network, content or user to better understand overall reach.
Employee engagement metrics
How often do employees read your internal content? Do they comment, like, share or start a discussion with your content? Measuring your overall content engagement metrics can provide insight into what your staff uses the most.
Your human resources and people team might also have additional insights on employee engagement, depending on how they’re collecting information for their own programs. If you aren’t collaborating with them regularly, reach out. They may be able to complement your internal communications reporting with their own data.
Project management issues
The transition to remote and hybrid work sparked massive changes in team planning norms. Project management has gone digital, which streamlines communication in some areas, but can cause obstacles in others.
Tech adoption at an organizational level has always been a challenge. If remote workers aren’t kept in the loop on how a project is progressing, it can lead to disconnection and frustration. In some cases, it can even drive them to look for new jobs.
To keep employees engaged, talk to teams about project management bottlenecks proactively. There may be a benefit to establishing standards of communication by tool or platform.
4. Segment and map out your audience
Once you have an idea of what could bolster your internal comms strategy, it’s time to determine who to target. Your content should always target a specific audience, even when it’s internal. It’s important to figure out what messages and formats will resonate with different employees in your business.
Another major misconception is that to have a successful internal comms strategy, you have to include everyone in all messages for transparency—that’s just not true. While your employees want to be in the loop on news and company information, overwhelming them with too much detail could cause them to ignore updates as they come through.
Strategically mapping out your approach to communications can minimize information overload. Partner with leaders and internal subject matter experts to discuss what type of content would be necessary or helpful for their teams. Rather than sending the same information to everyone (regardless of role, location or department), your internal communications strategy should focus on delivering relevant information to the right people, at the right time.
5. Build an approval process
A key part of planning out your internal communication strategy is creating an approval process for your content. This will prevent any unnecessary errors, confidential comments or news from accidentally being published to the wrong segments of your team.
First, you need to determine who or what team owns your internal comms strategy. If you don’t have a dedicated internal communications resource, who will read, write or approve the messages you send?
Next, you need to know what stakeholders from each department can contribute to the content approval process. In most cases, this responsibility falls on marketing teams—and for good reason. These are the team members who are most confident in their ability to convey company voice, brand and overall image.
Your marketing team has a hand in almost every company update and campaign, meaning they can easily curate the most current content and point coworkers to industry-specific resources that speak to relevant trends. All of these capabilities are critical to have when leading employee advocacy efforts. Another important ability—and one that often comes naturally for marketers—is crafting social messaging that’s concise yet impactful, and relevant to the platform it’s being shared on.
6. Identify your internal communications tools
Certain messages are best suited for specific channels. Internal process changes might be better suited to an email update, whereas a quick announcement might get more traction on an internal messaging platform.
Slack is a great internal messaging and chat service that can integrate with tools you already use for a more streamlined work experience. Whether you’re sharing internal documents or looking to plan specific events without starting an endless email chain, Slack may be your go-to.
That being said, internal communications is more than updates and announcements. It’s how information flows through a company, whether that information be from the C-suite, a department manager or a project manager.
If you don’t have technology infrastructure in place to support your internal communications initiatives, now’s the time to act. A recent study found that 77% of remote workers believe they are treated fairly at companies with best-in-class technology solutions. On the contrary, only 32% of remote workers believe they are treated fairly at companies with unsatisfactory technology solutions.
The technology you use may hold the key to creating more equitable experiences for remote and in-office employees. If you want to help maintain employee satisfaction, you’ll need to make the investment.
7. Evaluate your progress and optimize
Your key performance indicators shouldn’t be used just for tracking progress. Learn from them and continually optimize what you are doing for the best results possible. Conduct quarterly or even monthly evaluations of your communications strategy and build these into your workflow.
Sending out routine pulse surveys can help you track how employees are feeling about your communication content and cadence. Be sure to leave a few questions for open feedback, so they have an opportunity to candidly share their thoughts. Some questions you could ask include:
- How well do you think we are communicating internally?
- Are we doing everything we can to keep our company vision transparent?
- What setbacks limit you from working with others on projects?
- Do you believe we could increase our communication across departments?
- What barriers prevent you from communicating internally each day?
- Where can we improve the most on company communication?
As you continually reevaluate your internal communications strategy, let people know you’re listening. Share what you’ve learned and how you’re planning on adjusting your strategy to promote transparency and trust.
Best practices for communication in the workplace
Today, more companies are beginning to recognize that one-way communication is a thing of the past. Employees who feel as though they’re being listened to are more likely to stay with their employers and contribute meaningfully to the team.
An engagement strategy that’s rooted in communication should leave every employee feeling educated, informed and motivated.
These best practices will help you continually improve your strategy and make sure you’re using your internal communication channels effectively.
1. Keep up with your audience
In the old days, you might have heard about interesting company initiatives in a shared lunch space or while connecting with coworkers in other departments. Now, these casual touchpoints are hard to come by. To stay informed on what’s going on across your organization, you’ll need to get creative.
Here a few hybrid-friendly ideas to get you inspired:
- Join Slack or Teams channels. Whether they’re for work talk or casual chit-chat, they can be valuable tools for seeing what employees are interested in and what projects they’re talking about.
- Start an internal communications committee. Members can be tasked with providing updates on major initiatives and upcoming celebrations (like birthdays and work anniversaries) so they can be properly celebrated at companywide meetings.
- Create a virtual suggestion box. Ideas for internal communications initiatives can and should come from all over. Creating a virtual suggestion box can empower anyone to step up and propose new ideas to keep your company connected.
2. Make communication a conversation
Workplace communication, whether it’s internal or external, should never be one-way. To create a more inclusive workplace, it’s important to promote productive and meaningful conversations among your employees.
This can be done by leaving space for question and answer sessions at the end of company meetings, letting employees know who they can reach out to with additional questions and regularly requesting feedback on internal communications initiatives.
Employee engagement programs and workplace communications are two of the most important factors to focus on when growing a business. If you want to encourage evolution, you need to encourage your colleagues to join the conversation.
3. Give managers a heads up
If you have a question about a company decision or initiative, who do you ask?
Chances are your manager is your go-to. Managers are the first in line to field questions from direct reports, making them key players in distributed workforces.
When making a companywide announcement or rolling out a new program, always be sure to provide managers with talking points ahead of time. This will help them prepare for any potential questions their direct reports may have, which in turn cuts down additional work for you and your leadership team. This also helps ensure that your sharing a single, unified message at every level of the company,
4. Try a new approach to building company culture
Attitudes toward company culture have shifted. The allure of ping pong tables and free drinks has lost its shine. Now, what people want is a work culture that values respect, balance and accountability.
While these new culture requirements may seem like table stakes, they’re all much easier said than done. Luckily, strong internal communications practices can foster a culture of accountability. By sending clear, consistent updates that clarify internal processes like performance reviews and promotions, you create the top-down transparency needed to ensure everyone is respected and informed.
Communication goals need to be shared and embodied throughout a business, and new trends should be embraced by everyone from executives and managers to lower-level employees. The more natural your internal communication and employee advocacy strategies feel to your workforce, the more likely they’ll end up identifying themselves as part of the team.
5. Empower employees to become brand advocates
When it comes to effective communication strategies, it’s important to consider how you’re empowering your employees to amplify your message. Millennials and Gen Z-ers both in and out of the workforce are demanding a higher level of authenticity from brands, making employer branding more important than ever.
Employees will continue to emerge as the most important voice of a company, ensuring authenticity when connecting with new hires, prospects, customers, peers and everyone in between.
By transforming your employees into content marketers, you introduce a peer-to-peer dynamic into your internal communications strategy. This strengthens your employer brand and increases your chances of better leads, more qualified hires and stronger business results.
To embed advocacy into your current communication goals, it’s important to consider how you can help employees spread content that directly interests and affects them, while making the process simple with access to the right tools.
Developing your internal communications content strategy
Internal communication programs run on content. To keep your employees up-to-date and engaged with their workplace, you need to create and share content that piques their interest and entices them to read.
If you’re not sure what that looks like, here are some tips on deciding what to share with your employees and when.
Pick high-value content
Before you share an article, video or infographic, ask yourself if you’re curating content that’s truly meaningful to your audience—or if you’re just filling a gap.
Nearly two-thirds of employees ignore emails at work, and about a third say they have ignored emails from human resources. To make sure your messages get noticed, you need to find content that resonates with your colleagues. If you’re not sure what that might look like, try asking the following questions:
- What would it take for an employee to proactively devote time out of their day to reading and sharing content in your employee advocacy platform?
- What would it take for an employee to enjoy a personal return on their investment in the program? (Some examples may include incentives, career development opportunities, recognition, social engagement and influence.)
Switch up what you share
Your internal communications content strategy should seek to motivate employees to read, engage and share. To maintain their interest, curate a diverse selection of content that speaks to people at various experience levels. For example, a new hire might tear through brand content to get to know their new employer, but a manager might be more interested in industry articles or leadership tips.
Here are few ideas you can use to shake up your internal communications content:
- Brand content from your website, blog and other owned media keeps employees stay abreast of business developments and news. They’ll feel more connected to your company and more confident to talk about it with their networks.
- Job listings demonstrate that there is opportunity for growth and empower employees to take advantage of any referral incentives your company offers.
- Events show your company’s commitment to its community, education and market position (in the cases where team members are speaking at trade shows).
- Recognition of new hires, promotions, earned media, guest blogging and team profiles reinforces your company’s commitment to the growth of its employees, and instills a sense of pride in each other’s accomplishments.
- Industry articles provide opportunities for personal development (without the hassle of searching the web) and brand building, positioning your employees as a trusted resource for sharing quality information.
Create a company newsletter
If you have a lot of information to share, you may benefit from publishing an internal company newsletter. Employee newsletters can help bring distributed teams together with an all-in-one hub of useful information. Plus, they take what could have been multiple emails and condense it into a simple, easy-to-read format.
If you’re interested in creating a company newsletter, here’s how to do it in six steps:
- Gather employee feedback. To make sure your team gets as much out of the newsletter as possible, send out a content preferences survey. For instance, you can give your teams a choice on how they’d prefer to access the content available, which reduces the risk of disengaged or under-informed employees.
- Provide the right news and information. Overload your team with too much too fast, and you increase the chance that they’ll simply ignore your newsletters. Carefully consider the kind of information your employees need access to at the end of each week or month. Remember, the information you share should be concise and relevant to the team receiving it.
- Remember your calls to action. A CTA isn’t just about driving your customers to make purchases. Employee newsletters can also use CTAs to encourage employees to take a next step, such as sharing information on social media, filling out a company survey or signing up for training or new initiatives.
- Strengthen your subject lines. Just as you wouldn’t send out a customer email with a bland subject, make sure your internal corporate newsletter is worth the click in employees’ busy schedules.
- Keep your newsletter clear and jargon-free. Make sure that your employee newsletter content is scannable and easy to consume. That means adding bullet points, blurbs, pictures and plenty of white space.
- Get your team involved. Think of your employees as customers. Give them the same immersive and in-depth newsletter experiences as you would if you were trying to convince them to buy or refer another customer. This could include curated social content to share, departmental spotlights and requests for feedback.
What’s next for your internal communication strategy?
It’s time to renew your focus on an often overlooked audience. A powerful internal communications strategy drives higher employee engagement, which in turn leads to stronger productivity, profitability and reduced turnover—all things that can help your business thrive as you navigate remote and hybrid work.
As you rethink your internal communications program, be sure to brush up on the basics of employee advocacy and employer branding. These resources will help you build a strategy that informs and delights your colleagues, from new hires all the way to your leadership team.
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