As the saying goes, there are two certainties in life: death and taxes. But perhaps we should add another certainty to this list: people talk. To some extent, it is possible to use effective communication to control what, and how, people talk about you. Companies have known for years that they need to manage how their brand and culture is perceived by the outside world. Slowly this focus is shifting, with many companies – particularly large multi-nationals, banks and professional service firms – realising that how they communicate internally is just as important as how they communicate with the outside world.
You can’t portray an idealised image of your brand and culture to the world if your employees feel poorly communicated to, not trusted and isolated from those at the top. They will be quick to speak externally about this disparity between the reality and the projected. On the other hand, great internal communications creates great brand ambassadors, and this is the starting point to brand and culture creation. Happy, empowered, knowledgeable and trusting employees in turn promote this image externally, supporting and enhancing existing PR efforts.
Hierarchy will always have a place in business, but there is a changing focus on what’s important to employees as the millennial generation start to take rank in the work force. The digital age has created a generation that not just want to be spoken to, they actively seek it out. And communication to them is a two-way street. They want to be involved.
They are quicker to speak about what they feel is an injustice or something done in the wrong manner. And they have a number of social media platforms to share their feelings with the world instantly. Gone are the days of a couple half-hearted emails from the CEO having any impact. Messages need to reflect firm values, be creative, capture attention and spark imagination, whilst remaining relevant to the job in hand. They demand employers to say something meaningful, and to say it well.
At the heart of any good internal communications programme is the fostering of the employee/employer relationship. The goal is to make them feel part of what the company brand and culture is about. This can only be done by treating employees with trust and respect. Good internal communications should get employees onboard with the strategy and the direction of the company. It should support them through challenging times, such as structural changes, share price fluctuations or leadership changes. And it should keep them engaged and connected through the good times, celebrating news and congratulating company achievements, saying ‘thank you’ for the hard work.
Loyal, engaged employees will keep companies strong throughout the ups and downs. You don’t want to reach more prosperous times only to find half of your most valuable workforce has left. Or worse: to find they are still there, but that they are disengaged from the firm’s strategy and business decisions, simply there to collect a pay cheque.
Good internal communications shouldn’t be complicated. It’s about understanding what needs to be said and then putting this across in a manner that your audience will appreciate and understand. But before you speak, it’s crucial to listen. Make an effort to get to know your staff – this will go a long way. Ask your employees questions. What does their day look like? What issues do they face? What other comms do they receive on a weekly or daily basis? How many meetings do they attend each and every day?
If you don’t have a clue about what their working lives are like, this will come across in your communications. Your employees will know they aren’t being listened to. Remember, good internal communications is about understanding your audience, what they want and need to hear about and how they will react to it. One size does not fit all: never be afraid to try something new if it fits your company culture.
Get these basics right and you will be off to a good start. Continue to give the proper attention to internal communications and you will see the benefits good a internal communications strategy provides: helping to shape and promote the brand, the culture and the very life-blood of an organisation. Get it wrong, neglect or ignore your internal communications strategy and the brand and culture of your organisation may pay the price.