You always have reason to pause and examine the mandates that deserve to be priorities of your formal internal communication system and strategy. That is true whether you are mounting an entirely new internal communications system, reviewing the effectiveness of an existing system, or identifying budget and other priorities to strengthen an already vital system.
How important is the role of formal internal communication? Most managers, and indeed most employees, take its existence—and importance—for granted. But it is healthy on occasion to articulate that role. A company’s culture and a formal internal communication strategy are inseparable. In fact, along some dimensions, at least, internal communications and culture are essentially the same. Every company’s culture is the product of informal or formal internal communication and the vitality of those communications is one measure of vitality of the culture.
Five formal internal communication mandates to consider:
Mandate #1: create, shape, and foster company culture.
Inescapably, then, when you have articulated the elements of your company’s culture—the shared understanding of mission, long-term goals, and ethos–and their stage of development–your first internal communications mandate is to create, shape, foster—and, if necessary, correct—that culture. If you’re interested in learning more about how to develop culture in an organisation, check out how IC Thrive lives and breathes ours.
Directors of internal communications are typically not responsible for defining the company’s mission, long-term goals, and ethos. But it is well within the job description of the director to identify and articulate those elements, and at IC Thrive, we believe it’s important to include them in the conversation. At some stages of a company’s evolution, it may be a further role to participate actively in giving birth to the sense of mission and ethos.
Mandate #2: introduce the most effective technology, systems, and routines to support formal internal communications.
No obvious means of communicating within a company—of providing information, facilitating discussion, fostering feedback and criticism—ever seems to disappear. Employees still meet and talk in offices and halls. Meetings are called. Memos are circulated. Company newsletters are published. No one would try to eliminate them in the name of “modern communications.”
At the same time, a computer sits on every desk, there is a mobile device in every pocket, television screens easily accommodate both video and feed from the internet. Telecommunications mean that daily, hourly communications no longer refer to separate geographical units. Any employee anywhere, anytime, is a node of the intranet. Not exactly surprising is the statement from Bill Gates: “I’m a great believer that any tool that enhances communication has profound effects in terms of how people can learn from each other.”
In our Drive internal communications services, we encourage all of our customers to determine a ‘single source of truth’ – as in one central and accessible location where all your internal communications must be stored. Whether you’re sending information through teams, slack, email, in person or print, make sure you also share that information in a readily available source.
Mandate #3: supports open, honest communication across departments and hierarchies.
Keep a supportive culture by encouraging engagement at work to improve retention.
It is the highest responsibility of internal communications professionals to listen as much as to tell, to actively promote feedback as much as feed-out. And integral to that process is to educate and motivate management, including the highest echelons, to that two-way process. (According to the Harvard Business Review, many of the top complaints from employees involve their leaders’ communication skills.)
If doors are open, truly open, people will use them. And that applies to technology as well as office buildings. Specific occasions and settings for across-the-lines communication can be productive in themselves, but also lead to relationships and connections of permanent importance.
Mandate #4: keep strengthening the link between information and action.
There may often seem to be too much of it, or too little that is actually needed, but a test of the value and priority of information is to ask: Who needs this information to make decisions? Who needs it to act? Who needs it to plan? Who needs it to produce?
When information has clear relevance to decisions and actions that must be taken, it tends to get attention. And where information is actively sought, it usually is because someone needs it to take “the next step.”
If such information, insofar as it can be “supplied” or “delivered,” always arrives at the same time, and in the same format—whether it is the morning memo or the 9:00 a.m. briefing on the intranet—people will learn to look for it.
Closely related, surely, is the power of information not only to inform but to inspire, motivate, and reinforce. How widely and effectively are stories of successes, “wins” for the company, signal contributions of departments or individuals disseminated in a company? Stories of success inspire, but they also instruct.
Mandate #5: Don’t let internal communications be the only department that ignores metrics.
Communications are words. We all know that. Words and images. Communications professionals do not tend to be math majors or statisticians. But that does not mean that critical aspects of communications are immeasurable. Far from it.
As pointed out in Internal Communications (July 2019):
“Our colleagues in marketing are able to target messages and information to individuals based on a variety of criteria, yet most of what goes out to employees is one-size-fits-all.”– Colin Bovet
The aspect of the communications process that perhaps teaches us most is audience reaction. In fact, quite literally, if a “communication” changes nothing—not the intended recipient’s information, opinions, feelings, or actions—then there has been no communication. And the measurement of information acquired, opinions changed, feelings moved, or actions taken is an increasingly refined science. Marketing, sales, customer relations, human resources, and shipping all—in one way or another—attend almost daily to the metrics of “delivery” to the intended target.
And so, of course, must internal communications. The more regularly any collective communication—from a newsletter to an intranet notification—can include some means of response, reaction, feedback from intended recipients, the more the effectiveness of communications can be assessed by the only ultimate metric of success: Not that we made sure to fire the right amount of change in the direction of the tollbooth basket, but that the coins got into the basket.
It can be anxiety-provoking to seek blunt quantitative verdicts on our painstakingly articulated and faithfully transmitted ideas. By the same token, it is enormously reassuring and motivating to watch a system of internal communications demonstrate an ever-increasing impact on the knowledge, self-confidence, and morale that are touchstones of genuinely healthy company cultures.