Mandate and method: building your chain of command around internal comms

By Samantha McCabe
May 18, 2021
5 min read

When you, as an internal communicator, need to send a message out to employees, who signs off on the content? Who is making the strategic decisions surrounding your timing, audience, and more? In case of emergency, who decides what needs to be most urgently communicated?

All these questions tie into the chain of command surrounding your internal comms efforts. If you’re still fine-tuning the order of events before you send information to your employees, we’re here to help.

In this blog post, we’ll guide you through the first steps of building an approval process and clear chain of command for getting messaging out at your organization. Remember, practice makes perfect—some trial and error may be required to make sure that your chain suits everyone’s work and communication styles. Don’t be afraid to be honest and open to feedback throughout the process.

Let’s get into it!

First things first: solidify your mandate at your organization

A mandate from your leadership team is the best way to clarify the purpose of an internal communicator (or multiple internal communicators) within your organization.

So what exactly is a mandate? It explicitly confirms that the political will exists for the internal comms function within the organization and confirms the organization’s support in achieving a set of goals. A mandate can mean the difference between simply taking orders at your  organization as the designated internal communicator and having a strategic seat at the leadership table. If you need help with this piece of the puzzle, we have a questionnaire made for you to take to your leadership team to explain what you’re looking for.

With a clear mandate and a defined role for yourself, you now have the authority to execute that mandate and exercise your best judgement on how best to communicate with employees.

Step two: identify which type of chain of command works best for you

A chain of command describes the way in which organizations traditionally structure their reporting relationships. As we get into the finer points of chains of command, keep in mind that they could apply to your organization—and the internal communicator’s place in it—as a whole, or they could be used within a department, such as a multi-person internal comms team.

According to The Balance Careers, “Reporting relationships refers to an organizational structure in which every employee is placed somewhere on an organizational chart. The employees report to the employee who is listed above them on the organizational chart.”

This“traditional” chain of command style, where decisions and communications are controlled and flow directly down the chain, is probably familiar to you. AsThe Balance points out, there are some real benefits to this style, including that responsibility and accountability are clearly assigned and employees are not confused about where to find assistance or feedback. Cons include that it does cut down on the agility and speed of decision-making, and sometimes strangles the creativity and growth of employees.

But a move to more egalitarian workplaces is part of our new normal, and it might be a good idea for your internal comms team, too. More team-based, collective structures are decreasing micromanagement and increasing flexibility. If your internal comms team has multiple people on it—lucky you!—it might be worth considering whether a “flat” organizational structure works best. Perhaps each person takes care of certain types of messages, or one person schedules the timing of content while the other person writes that content.

Step three: developing an approval process for your internal comms

Once you have established a chain of command for identifying key messaging—say, a merger—and executing that within your team, you need an approval process to run alongside it. A chain of command is how the people on your team are structured; an approval process is how tasks move through that team. Having an approval process for your internal comms work will prevent unnecessary mistakes, like sending out a message to the wrong employees or bottlenecks of content waiting for approval to get sent out.

Sprout Social has a great guide for where to start here. Here’s their advice:

“First you need to determine who or what team is control of your internal comms strategy.Who will read, write or approve the messages you send to your team? Next, you need to know what stakeholders from each department can contribute to the approval process for content. …

Is your current team too small? Are there too many cooks in the kitchen? Assessing your current strategy should indicate where you can add on or trim fat on your internal comms team.”

If it’s just you running a one-person internal comms team, it’s still worth considering an approval process for messaging. Perhaps a member of the leadership team or a marketing or comms colleague can look your work over and occasionally advise on any issues.

An internal comms software could help you take the next step

Now that you’re armed with a mandate (or at least the know-how to create one)and an idea of your preferred chain of command style, you can be confident that the process of approval surrounding your internal comms is coming along nicely. Again, being flexible and open to change will help your team adapt to the new way of doing things and perform as well as possible.

If you’re still feeling overwhelmed by the tasks ahead of you as an internal communicator, we’ve all been there. Perhaps you need a purpose-built software to mend the gap between your capacity and the internal comms you’re working towards. Our own software option might be worth exploring—it’s driven by our own methodology and values to help you organize your internal comms, engage your employees, and measure your successes.

Book a demo today and see for yourself what Reach can do.

By Samantha McCabe