Internal Communications

by Val Lawson

In a nutshell

1. What are internal communications?

‘Internal communications’ covers all aspects of sharing information between an organisation and its workforce. It includes

  • Telling people about the business mission, values and culture
  • Providing information about their employment
  • Giving details of services, structure, processes and procedures
  • Sharing business successes and disappointments
  • Explaining any future plans
  • Recognition – highlighting what people have contributed to the business
  • Feedback of information and ideas up the organisational hierarchy as well as down.

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2. The value of internal communications

Quite apart from the need to comply with the relevant legislation, there is evidence that effective internal communications can

  • Help people understand the business vision
  • Inform people about what’s happening in the business
  • Engage interest and motivate staff to be more productive
  • Involve people in what the business is doing
  • Provide clarity (as a counter to rumours)
  • Consult with staff about the need for change or during a time of significant change
  • Inspire people to ‘go the extra mile’.

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3. Legislation and communication

There are two pieces of legislation that relate to internal communications:

  • Information and Consultation of Employees Regulations (ICE), which apply to organisations with 50 or more employees
  • Companies Act 1985 (updated 1989), which applies to organisations with 250 or more employees.

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4. Communications policy and procedures

A communications and consultation policy is a particularly effective way of making clear the attitude of the organisation, defining the responsibilities of those involved in the process and detailing the means of communications and consultation that will be used.

  • The policy and procedures should take into consideration different media and methods. These will be based on the organisational culture, its structure (whether there are multiple locations, the IT system and so on) and the accessibility of various types of communication.
  • Blogs help ordinary employees show the human face of your organisation, but if they carry the company name they are also an extension of your brand, so employees must only blog with permission.
  • There should be a regular review of communications so that new media can be considered, either as an opportunity or a threat, and managed.

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5. Options for delivery

Most communications take place either face-to-face or via written methods. Other means – typically delivered through some form of technology – may be used either instead of or alongside one of the other methods.

  • Face-to-face communication is both direct and swift, and should enable discussion, questioning and feedback to take place. The main methods for delivering formal face-to-face communications are group meetings, cascade networks, large-scale meetings and inter-departmental briefings.
  • Written communication is most effective where the need for the information is important or permanent, the topic requires detailed explanation, accuracy and precision in wording are essential, the audience is widespread or large, a backup is needed to oral communication and/or there is need for a permanent record.
  • Attention should be given to ensure information is understood by employees whose literacy skills are poor and, within a multi-racial workforce, by those for whom English is a second language.
  • It is equally important to consider and include isolated groups of employees.
  • Other methods of communication include intranets, information points, audio-visual aids, electronic mail, texts, blogs and podcasts, and video-streaming.

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6. Effective communications

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

  • Kipling’s seven loyal servants – What, Where, When, How, Why, Who, Which – are a good framework for any communication.
  • Bear in mind the different categories of people: ‘why?’ people want the reasons for doing something; ‘what?’ types want the facts; ‘how?’ people want what they need to get on and do it, and ‘what ifs?’ are interested in the consequences.
  • Concentrate on the people who ‘must know’ your information.

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7. Communicating change

Internal communications are important all the time, but essential when there are any major changes in the business. Misunderstandings and confused messages always spread quickly; planned and controlled internal communications keep everyone in the picture by providing consistent and accurate information. Routine information sharing will

  • Help people feel involved and more motivated
  • Make sure people know the true facts
  • Improve staff retention
  • Help when recruiting.

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8. The manager’s role in communications

As a manager, your role is to

  • Ensure that you understand any messages in the agreed communications
  • Pass these messages on to any staff you are responsible for
  • Encourage and respond to questions
  • Listen to comments
  • Escalate any concerns so these can be addressed
  • Ensure that new people have all the information they need
  • Follow the correct procedures and do not deviate from the script when communicating change.

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9. Raising the profile of internal communications

If you want to improve internal communications in your organisation, you need to approach the matter professionally.

  • Find out how your business really works: how do you make money (and lose it); what drives cost; which markets are you in, and who are your competitors?
  • Talk to other people in the organisation, including people who deal directly with customers, customer, middle managers and senior managers.
  • Don’t hide behind jargon: talk about the attitudes and behaviours your communication will create, and about increased knowledge of the product range, cross-selling statistics and higher customer satisfaction.
  • Ask for explicit board support.
  • Deliver when you say you will, what you say you will and in a polished manner.
  • Make friends with an IT person, and with any luck, you’ll be on the inside track concerning IT developments, which will enable you to manage technology, not have it imposed on you.

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10. Engaging the board in communications

If your company doesn’t have an internal communications policy at present and you feel one should be introduced, here are some ideas on how to win over the board and directors.

  • The internal communications strategy should support the business strategy, and help an organisation compete more effectively.
  • Understand the business issues faced by the organisation and try to link communication with what is already at the top of the board’s agenda.
  • Senior managers can find the solutions to many problems by getting out and talking to people on the shop floor, so find a way to apply this advice in your organisation, and communications will be king.
  • To convince senior managers of the value of communications, focus on a clear business outcome which represents cost savings and quality improvements.
  • Talk in terms of business advantages and solutions, not communication processes, tactics and tools.

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11. Communications monitoring and review

Communication policies and procedures need regular monitoring and review. Monitoring is largely dependent on feedback from employees, through both formal and informal channels. In particular, monitoring should take place to ensure that

  • Communicators know their roles
  • Appropriate information is made available and reaches everybody
  • The information is accepted and understood
  • Your communications bring the desired benefits, particularly in the form of better industrial relations
  • Practice matches policy
  • You keep a check on cost effectiveness.

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