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Internal communication - keeping staff in the loop30th of June 2014
With the evolution of digital technology, businesses have never had such a wide range of communication channels available to them. Email, texts, video conferencing and social media comprise just a sample. One crucial area increasingly gaining focus is internal communications. Hartley Milner looks at ways employers are keeping their people in the loop about corporate issues.
Employees are no longer content just to work their shift and leave at the end of the day. They demand to be kept informed in all areas of concern to them, including the wellbeing of the organisation they give so much of their time and energy to.
In difficult economic times when people may have job security concerns, an effective and targeted internal communication strategy can help to allay their fears and keep the workforce happy, engaged and motivated. It could even save money.
Recent research in the UK looked at how well businesses communicate staff benefits. It found an SME with 250 employees that offers good benefits but fails to communicate them spends 302,000 euros a year more on staff turnover and sickness absence than those that have comparable employee benefit packages, but also have good internal communication processes.
“The value of effective internal communications can’t be overstated for small and medium-sized businesses,” said Dale Williams, who advises European businesses on comms issues. “Employees who are better informed are more satisfied, feel more involved in their organisation and ultimately contribute more to its success. Companies that make internal communications a priority are more likely to have employees who are inspired to help their employer reach their objectives, resolve conflicts quickly and improve productivity.
“Good communication helps in all areas, whether it is increasing sales, finding more customers or dealing with company changes such as mergers, downsizing or new management. Employees also appreciate being kept informed about corporate issues, messages and campaigns that may not affect them directly but perhaps have implications for other departments or other work locations within the company. If people are kept informed, they are less likely to gossip about what is going on in a huddle around the water cooler.
“But it must not be just one-way traffic. Employees need to know that they have a voice as well that is heard across all layers of management, even at boardroom level. There has to be a channel for them to communicate their concerns, views and even ideas. You may think that an employee would be primarily concerned with improving their working conditions or benefits, but they frequently come up with innovative ideas that profit the company in some way, such as improving a product or simplifying or removing a stage in a production process. So there needs to be a recognition by management that staff have a stake in the company and should, therefore, have a say in how it is run.”
Larger companies employ communication managers or directors with a sizeable support staff, or turn to outside corporate comms providers for their employee engagement needs. Neither of these options may be open to smaller businesses with more limited resources. Where this is the case, the role of creating and implementing an internal communications strategy usually falls to the HR department.
If you are looking to beef up your internal comms strategy, or create a new one, the tools for delivering it include the following:
Open door policy
Good internal communication is about listening as well as talking. Encourage an open door policy for all managers so they are more approachable. Or consider getting everyone in senior positions to take desks on the main floor and use any offices for meetings only.
The company newsletter is an ideal medium for providing employees with information. You can include client testimonials, employee success stories and updates on company news, events and strategies. Try to get as much employee input as possible to ensure that not only managers are contributing material. Avoid making the newsletter come over as simply a management propaganda tool. Your newsletter is the democratic voice of the employee body and should avoid the ‘us’ and ‘them’ syndrome.
Creating an intranet site can enable you to put important information online and update it regularly. This is a more costly option and is better suited to companies that have at least 30 employees or those with geographically dispersed teams. An intranet site can be useful, for example, for publishing information on changed processes that everyone needs to use. Keep in mind that the intranet is a passive vehicle – employees have to access it to use it. It doesn’t replace electronic newsletters, emails or blogs, which are an inexpensive route to get out timely information.
This is a kind of software that lets groups of people work together on the same document. The document has no owner and anyone can add or edit it as they like. There are lots of versions (check out document.ly and doolphy which are great for marketing and other projects that thrive on creativity and shared ownership).
Google Documents is another kind of shared document, with the difference that it has an owner who can then invite comments by ‘sharing’ with other people. It’s good for things like board reports or staff rotas.
Companies with younger staff are becoming increasingly switched on to sites like facebook as a good, cheap way of engaging with the workforce. Watch the security settings, though, if you don’t want it seen by the wider world.
Small group meetings
Face-to-face communication is still the most effective way to reach employees. Smaller groups help create closer bonds and put employees at ease, encouraging them to speak their minds. Be sure you have a clear agenda, but always allow time for people to address ad hoc issues at meetings.
Suggestion boxes enable employees to raise their concerns and issues anonymously. Even if your company has only a few employees, this option gives them a confidentiality that is often reassuring, depending on the issue or workplace environment.
Even in this digital age, posters still pack a powerful punch. Posters are an excellent way to present information to employees because they can be put up in areas of high visibility within an office, factory or workplace, such as the cafeteria or meeting rooms. They are particularly useful when you have to make an impact and want to add value to an announcement. Be sure that your poster provides a contact for more information. Ideally, you should back up the message with more detail in another vehicle, such as a newsletter.
Crisis communications tools
Be sure you have a tool in place to help you deal with emergency communications or to share information on important priorities. You can consider video conference calls for geographically dispersed teams.
These documents are important references that help your employees contribute their best to the company.
In times of change, internal communications are of paramount importance. Whether it is dealing with accelerated growth or downsizing, or simply altering a customer service strategy, open communication helps employees understand the change at hand and what is expected of them.
“Successful comms strategies are not simply channels of communication between management and employees – they need to be organisationally driven, eg, aligned to, and serving, the organisation’s objectives,” Williams continued. “Employers need to ask themselves how they can use their communication channels to help the organisation achieve its core objectives as well as keeping their employees informed.
“Aligning communications and organisational objectives will also help to reinforce the importance and relevance of the overall internal communications strategy, thereby making a convincing case for the proper resourcing of communications activity within the organisation.”
In order to be effective, an internal comms strategy needs to be geared toward everyone who works within an organisation, which requires obtaining some basic information from them. How do they feel about the current level of communication, do they feel informed about changes, are they comfortable about sharing their opinions and how would they like to see communication improved. Ask for examples when they felt they could have been kept better informed.
Identify how employees like to receive information, eg, by email, newsletter, face-to-face or in other ways. Ask if the method depends on what information is shared. For example, a weekly announcement can be communicated via email, but a major staff change needs to be shared in person.
Employee feedback is crucial, so provide communication channels such as staff surveys, meetings, one-on-one sessions, casual chats and lunches. Encourage staff to ask questions whenever they do not understand or agree with specific messages. Create an atmosphere where employees really do feel engaged.
“It is all about your staff feeling they are being kept in the loop about issues that affect the organisation and, therefore, them, directly or indirectly,” Williams added. “This is not only good labour relations but it also creates a feeling of community, which can only be beneficial for everyone.”