Back in the day, Public Relations departments devoted lots of time and resources to communicating with internal, not just external, audiences. Companies cared about how to improve communication with employees because it was viewed as an essential, smart, strategic investment.
Unfortunately, tactics sometimes fell short of meeting strategic goals. Maybe that’s why many companies abandoned house organs. (Yes, that’s what we used to call company newsletters.) Plus, writing for internal staff just didn’t seem as glamorous as crafting campaigns directed at the press, consumers, investors, and/or the community-at-large.
My, how times have changed.
Arguably, employees are a company’s most important audience in today’s labor environment. Given the new challenges of recruitment and retention, how to improve communication with employees again should be a top operational and strategic priority. Following are five ways to retool and reinvent internal communication.
Think of employees as one of your most important customer groups
Most successful organizations have developed effective, consistent strategies to attract and retain customers for their products and services. That same thinking and discipline should be applied to human resources strategies up-and-down the organization. Consumers of your services have choices, and so do your employees.
Stay close to how frontline staff are feeling
Most organizations field some type of employee engagement survey … every year or two. Especially today, workforce issues are moving way too fast to only check in occassionally. Plus, a quantitative survey should be only one of the lenses through which you view staff engagement. Qualitative studies using focus groups will yield a different, often richer view that goes beyond the number of the quantitative survey. These groups are best facilitated by an experienced outside professional who can assure anonymity for employees who are willing to candidly open up about their feelings.
Finally, leadership at all levels have responsibility for staying close to staff and encouraging open, transparent dialogue through regular leadership rounding, huddles, and interactive team meetings.
Ditch the sales pitch
In written communication, most organizations can’t resist the temptation to tell staff how great the company is, including a version of “people are our most important resource” line. Today, employees will judge how great the company is or isn’t through their own experience on the job. Platitudes have never been very effective. Today, employees may actually find them offensive because they appear that the organization isn’t in touch with frontline’s staff day-to-experience, feelings and real needs.
Develop a diverse media strategy for internal communication
Smart marketers know that the best media strategies usually include multiple channels, including broadcast, online, print, or point-of-sale. Smart internal communication strategies use diverse channels, too. Town halls, rounding, video segments, inclusive staff meetings in addition to online or print vehicles should all be in the comprehensive internal communication toolkit. Each venue offers different advantages, often to achieve different goals or deliver different messages.
Help frontline leaders be better communicators
Research shows that employees’ preferred source of information is their direct supervisor. Given that, communication has to be one of the top skills of leaders. Unfortunately, it is either taken for granted that a manager is an effective communicator or the skill is under-developed. Smart organizations recognize the central role that frontline leaders play in staying connected and communicating effectively with staff. An investment is their success as a communicator is an investment in staff engagement and the success of individual work groups.
How managers connect with their employees has to be at the heart of any comprehensive internal communication plan. This oft neglected means of communication is key because it is efficient, flexible, responsive. And most importantly, it’s the way that employees actually prefer to stay informed and engaged.