Internal Communications

by Val Lawson

Effective communications

The channels of communication may be in place and working efficiently from a technical point of view (see Options for delivery), but ultimately what matters most is the content. How do you make sure that the appropriate information gets to the right people and that they take it on board?

What should I include?

Kipling’s seven loyal servants – What, Where, When, How, Why, Who, Which – are a good framework for any communication. Companies often structure a regular team briefing to include a cascade of information from the board, division or directorate, about department and team. However, typically, people are most interested in what is closest to them and may pay scant attention to the highest level of information. For this reason, the briefing should have a pyramid structure, with more details about items at the bottom.

Managers need to communicate information to employees about

  • Contractual terms and conditions of employment
  • The job and its performance
  • The organisation’s performance, progress and prospects
  • Changes to any of the above issues.

Learning styles

Another key to effective communication is to remember that people approach information in very different ways. In other words, the information that one type of person will be looking for in your communication will be radically different to the information that will interest another type of person. A useful way to look at this is to ask yourself what questions the various types will want you to answer for them.

Research into learning styles during the 1970s established that people fall into four main categories:

  1. ‘Why?’ people: want all the reasons for doing something
  2. ‘What?’ people: want all the facts about it
  3. ‘How?’ people: want only the information they need to get on and do it
  4. ‘What if?’ people: are more interested in the consequences of doing it.

It was also found that if any of these kinds of people don’t get the type of information they naturally prefer, they tend to switch off. So every team talk, presentation, information booklet or other communication device you use has a much better chance of being heard and absorbed by everyone in your team if it contains all four elements.

Consider this example.

Example

Progress update

As you know Our Big Co and Possible Partner Co have been working together for several weeks regarding the details of terms, conditions and benefits in order to plan a smooth transition into partnership. We are pleased that significant progress has been made, however, there are still a few items for further consideration.

We recognise that you may be frustrated because we have not shared details of the progress to date. We believe it is better to wait until we can present the total picture to you. We are all extremely committed to reaching agreement and to this end, here is the programme we are working towards in the next two months.

The draft timetable is:  
Date Activity
Week 1 Meetings
Week 2 and 3 Detailed communications and presentations
Week 4 Complete partnership handover

The communications will take the form of presentations regarding what has been agreed. They will provide you with the level of detail you need to understand how this partnership will affect you. There will be plenty of time for questions before the handover and one to one meetings can be arranged if you ask your line manager.

The whole document in the above example provides information for people with the ‘What’ learning style. Paragraph one focuses on ‘Why the update has been issued’. Paragraph two on the ‘What if’ next steps; while paragraph three shows ‘How things will move forward’ in a clear tabular format.

How can I make sure my message gets through?

Too much communication can be just as bad as too little. Ultimately, we are all paid to do jobs, and these jobs do not consist of reading mountains of marginally relevant literature. So if employees are flooded, how can you make sure that your particular message gets through?

One of the keys is to categorise the information that people receive into Must know, Should know and Could know, and then focus on Must Know. Make sure employees believe there is value for them in the information that is shared with them, in other words ‘What’s in it for me?’

Golden rules

Here are a few simple guidelines to effective communication:

  • The message is more important than the medium
  • Two-way communication is better than one way, so face to face is the most effective method
  • Success depends on the quality of the information and message given
  • Speed and timeliness are important.