Creating Effective Internal Communications

By Steven E. Sacks, CPA, CGMA, ABC

There are many openings for communication managers, usually focused on the internal aspect. Companies have realized that to have a content and motivated staff, they must keep their people “in the loop.” How many times do employees hear about an initiative after it has been implemented or announced in the local (or national) media? What does this do to morale? What impact does it have on the trust factor?

Often when companies tout their practice of “effective communications” or their practice of “comprehensive communication,” they will implement these programs effectively in their external missives but fail to match the effort internally. This will result in the absence of understanding the real story behind the company’s actions.  And if this becomes a regular practice, then don’t be surprised if you start to lose your people to other organizations.

Can this be avoided? Of course, it can. It depends on the philosophy of top management combined with the size of the organization, how it is structured, the industry in which it operates and how much resources the company is willing to allocate.

While you may consider a year-long study after key people have left, there are some plans that can be put in place in short order to improve the effectiveness of your internal communication practices.

Ask the Right Questions to Implement the Communication Plan

Any action a company endeavors to undertake, whether it is a specific project such as opening a new facility or changing the reporting structure, you still need a communication plan. Further, when you begin to frame out the plan, you need to consider the following questions:

  • What is the message to communicate? Consider whether this needs to evoke a call to action or simply to inspire.
  • Who is the audience for the communication? If it involves the entire company, then it has to address a broad spectrum of attitudes and biases.
  • Why would the identified audience be interested or influenced by the message? Knowing this will color the way the information is conveyed, particularly by piecing the more critical issues first to gain the reader’s attention and to set the tone for the rest of the communique.
  • What exactly is your motivation for the communication? This most likely is the first thing you want to consider, especially as it relates to gauging the level of awareness and the associated attitudes.
  • What should be the frequency and timing of the communication? There are times that work better than others take a look at the company’s activity calendar for the year and use pragmatism in working around various dates as you plan and monitor the messages.
  • How to most effectively convey the message? Should it be done through an internal email blast or a webinar/webcast or a conference call?

A broader consideration will be how receptive the audience will be to the message. You may want to make it a two-way approach by soliciting feedback through an anonymous (if necessary) online survey or sending an email to an address specifically created for this purpose.  When notifying your employees of a change, you may want to be subtle in your request that certain mindsets or behaviors align with the change.

Finally, you will need to create a mechanism to track how many people actually read the message or phone in to the conference call or log into the webcast/webinar.

Watch Out for: Is This My Role?

A communication plan can stumble right out of the starting blocks if you do not clearly articulate the responsibility(ies) for the communication. Someone needs to take ownership of the plan and then track its progress. It is important the right person be the lead otherwise the plan will collapse as soon as its announced.

After you have the individual’s commitment, make sure he or she can identify the key people to secure buy-in from, as well as their continued participation in the implementation. This means that the amount of time and effort is clearly explained to everyone and that their involvement includes all phases of the communication effort.

Here are some preplanning considerations:

  • Assess resource requirements, which includes individual needs, availability and commitment, as well as necessary components for each phase to work.
  • Discuss the plan’s execution with those responsible for it and ensure there will be sufficient time to assist in its execution. You want to avoid unnecessary potholes.
  • Determine what other departments or divisions, if any, will be dependent on the communication plan and obtain support sooner rather than later.
  • Commit to regular evaluation of each piece of the plan and be prepared to make the necessary adjustments.

The person you select to own the communication plan should be invited to any and all leadership meetings to ensure that the right message is created, resulting in the ideal reaction from the audience, as well as any required call to action. To ensure that the internal communication plan is implemented effectively, make it clear who will be the point person to receive and share feedback with. This will prevent any mixed messages and confusion among the employees.

The clearer and more comprehensive the communication, the greater the level of employee commitment will be cultivated. This may seem like overkill; the usual “proclamation from the mount” has been the age-old approach. Not anymore in this era of team culture and employee mobility.

About Steve

Steven Sacks is the CEO of Solutions to Results, LLC, a consultancy that specializes in helping individuals, firms and organizations meet the challenges of communicating with clarity and purpose. Visit his website at www.solutions2results.com.