Corporate communications

The practical guide to internal communications

October 2019 Written by Michael Pfeiffer

A company’s internal communications can tell you a lot about its culture, organisation and prospects.

Where all team members feel connected and part of a single, unified structure, it suggests a positive, efficient environment. Where they feel detached, it is more likely that deadlines are missed, tensions rise and company culture falls flat.

At a time where just 13% of employees worldwide consider themselves engaged with their employer, it appears that a greater emphasis on improving internal communications is in order.

Our essential guide breaks down the various types of internal communications, best practices for your organisation’s strategy, and how you can build a stronger bond between your workforce and your overarching brand identity. 

What is internal communications? 

At its core, your internal communications policy is how those in your organisation communicate with each other. The sharing of information for business purposes. The link between your leadership teams and your workforce across the globe. 

Unlike your external communications, the other half of your overarching corporate communications, this is not primarily concerned with how your brand is perceived outside of the realms of your company. Instead, the aim of your internal communications strategy should be on fostering a collective culture among your employees through your brand and its core values, from new recruits to seasoned stalwarts.

Internal communications is about keeping employees in-sync and in-the-know within your organisation. Not keeping staff connected or conscious about the direction the company is going or what your brand stands for can quickly lead them to become disillusioned and disinterested at work, as they don’t feel engaged with the bigger picture.

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Research conducted in 2015 by Geckoboard illustrates this, with one in four employees leaving their roles as a result of ‘Mushroom Management’, which they defined as a situation where employees are left to perform blindly without any indication of company performance. The priority for your internal business communications should be everyone feels included in what is happening in your organisation. 

There are several internal communications approaches that help accomplish this goal, including:

  • Top-down communications - the distribution of information from your upper management through to employees down the chain, typically informing staff of company plans, direction and brand values

  • Change communications - internal comms that inform employees of any notable changes your organisation is undergoing, such as a new office opening or the emergence of a new policy the company has to adhere to

  • Information communications - how your company equips your employees to perform their duties in the most effective way, whether that’s through a company handbook, training tools or peer-to-peer discussions

  • Crisis communication - alerting your teams to any problem or difficulty affecting the organisation, be it dangerous weather affecting travel into work to product recalls and cybersecurity attacks

  • Two-way communications - often referred to as ‘bottom-up’ comms, this is where your organisation taps into the knowledge, insight and ideas of your employees to discuss potential improvements and get a handle on company culture

  • Peer-to-peer communications - internal comms where workforces, often spread worldwide, connect and collaborate with each other for a specific project or to lend support, often achieved through email or social networking platforms

  • Culture communications - an often-overlooked facet of internal communications plans, this is where your organisation shares materials relating to company values, shares upcoming social events, highlights people to your CSR initiatives, congratulates good work and more in the pursuit of creating a collective identity

All of these strands of internal communications are highly valuable in engaging your workforce and bringing them under your unified brand umbrella. Today your internal communications team needs to be equipped to accomplish these, often on a global scale, in order to ensure staff feel motivated, connected and supported in their roles. 

Common types of internal communications

  • Employee newsletters or publications
  • Social intranets, forums and other online portals
  • Team collaboration apps (e.g. Slack, Trello)
  • Emails
  • Letters
  • Company handbooks or guidelines
  • Induction processes
  • Office displays and decorations
  • Team meetings
  • Group brainstorming sessions
  • Staff evaluations

Why is internal communications important?

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With the purpose of internal communications centred on giving team members a voice and a strong sense of belonging within their organisation, you’d imagine that the overwhelming majority of businesses would position this high in their priorities. But this sadly isn’t the case.

Instead, up to 60% of companies appear to not have any long-term internal communications strategy or vision.

21% of internal communicators claim they do not employ any level of formal planning.

Just 54% agree that their progress towards communications objectives are researched, measured, and evaluated.

There remains an under-appreciation or lack of understanding as to the importance of internal communications on a day-to-day basis, and an assumption that this is something that does not require any concentrated focus. 

This couldn’t be further from the truth. Your internal comms team is imperative to enhancing the culture within your organisation and ensuring the long-term retention of your valued employees.

Keep people calm, informed and engaged

Above all else, your internal communications plan is there to keep your workforce unified and up-to-date with the news, events and information impacting your brand. Whether it’s the launch of a new product, a charity event you’d like people to attend, or an internal issue that needs remedying, your communications keep everyone in the loop.

Nobody likes to be kept in the dark. Good internal communications get your teams involved and invested in the big picture for your brand, even if they are spread throughout the globe.

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Boost employee productivity

Internal communications tools have the power to increase employee productivity levels by 20-25%, according to research by The McKinsey Global Institute. When employees feel engaged and connected to the organisation they are working for, they will in turn have a greater emphasis to work hard and pull together to achieve your business objectives.

The best forms of internal communications give your employees a purpose. A drive. A reason to perform for your brand. They are more switched-on and clearer about the direction the company is moving, and an informed, valued employee is a motivated employee.

Establish channels for feedback and discussion

Communication is a two-way street, and an excess of top-down materials could cause strain, or potentially result in employees feeling repressed and undervalued. By managing your internal communications effectively, you can create an environment where your workforce feels empowered to voice any concerns and offer suggestions on company culture and developments. 

You may be surprised how much knowledge and insight your global teams can offer when they feel empowered to offer their thoughts. This could not only guide innovations and push your brand toward a brighter future, but by giving your team members a voice it makes it more likely they will want to stay with your organisation for the long-term.

Excite, inspire and empower people

Great news is a great motivator, and it should be shared with all members of your company. It could be congratulating a team member on some excellent customer feedback. Or inspiring them with an effective training session. It could even be that your charity fundraiser got featured in the local paper.

Whatever there is to celebrate, your internal communications strategy helps ensure you celebrate as a unit. People feel more connected and enthused with your brand, and morale is lifted going forward. 

Keep your brand message consistent 

A major aspect of having a clearly defined internal communications policy is ensuring your messaging remains consistent. Especially where your workforce is spread over countries and continents, maintaining your unique brand voice across these channels can be a real challenge without an organised plan. Your communications should always maintain harmony.

This is the reason why part of our BAM™ solution is directed to support internal communications teams achieve that all-important consistency, from providing a central location for brand guidelines and handbooks to empowering them to create their own materials to their co-workers at home and further afield.

Limit rumours and increase transparency

Hearsay and rumour can distort the information surrounding your brand. This can come as a result of poor communication, or from a lack of communication full stop. If people aren’t informed of developments, they’ll start filling the blanks with their own interpretations, which could bring down morale, breed unsettled or hostile feelings and create an uncomfortable environment.

By getting a handle on managing your internal comms and fostering a spirit of greater transparency, the rumour mill is slowed and employees replace it with trusted information. For a generation that is increasingly inquisitive and craving details, this is a vital benefit that this plan can offer you. 

Creating an internal communications plan

Now that we’ve established the importance your internal communications plan has on keeping your workforce engaged, invested and encouraged, how do you go about structuring this for your organisation? A fully-formed approach means a lot more than just regular email chains and annual performance reviews - it should be a fleshed-out, functioning process that covers all bases.

To help you achieve this, we’ve compiled seven effective tips to consider when developing your internal communications strategy:

Assess your existing tools and approaches

First of all, take an objective look over how you currently communicate with your employees: 

  • What are your most widely used channels? Do you stick primarily to email or offer a more diverse range of internal comms?
  • Which channel or approach is performing most effectively? Could you sacrifice others in order to place more emphasis on this?
  • What message are these materials sending to your workforce? Does it encompass the values and emotions you want to invoke?
  • Are your internal communications consistent? Do they deviate from piece-to-piece or from country-to-country?

A thorough assessment of your internal communications strategies, its strengths, weaknesses and opportunities, will lay the foundation for you to identify any issues that need to address and help you hone in on solutions.

Involve your leadership team throughout

Your internal communications team connects your entire workforce - it cannot operate in a vacuum. It is imperative that your senior management team not only buys into the development of a comprehensive plan of action, but is actively involved in this process. 

The direct link between your leadership team and your internal communicators helps ensure that the messages that are sent out correlate with your company’s core values and mission statements. That pursuit of consistency starts at the summit, and needs to inform materials that connect your employees to the messages, visions and personality of your brand.

This should be the beginning of a company-wide collaboration to guarantee your internal communications are meeting the needs of everyone it interacts with, from senior leaders and stakeholders to the far reaches of your workforce. 

Identify the personalities of your audience

In the same way your external marketing materials will need to be targeted around your ideal customers, your internal marketing communications have to be positioned based on your employee persona. Take the time to analyse and discover what your workforce wants from your communications:

  • What information are they interested in?
  • What are their likes and dislikes?
  • What channels do they interact with outside of work?
  • What cultural values and beliefs do they hold?
  • Who is most actively interested in communications?

Knowing your audience is the first step in finding ways to engage with them. Identify what they’re looking for from your brand and tailor your messages to best build that connection between the members of your global team.

Develop clear objectives to pursue

What do you want to get out of your internal communications strategy?

It is one of the first questions you will ask yourself, and one of the most challenging to answer. The goals of your internal communications plan will drive the direction you take and set a benchmark to work towards, allowing you to measure performance against these over time. 

Objectives will vary from business to business. Maybe you hope to realise better consistency across your global communications? Perhaps your current approach is inefficient, with a heavy reliance on email over more agile, innovative internal communications? Or you potentially are more concerned with driving that deeper connection between your employees worldwide with the values and visions your brand represents. 

So take your time settling on the objectives of your strategy, the timeline you’ll be operating within, and remember to think SMART:

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Craft your company’s tone of voice

Based on what you’ve learned about the personalities within your team, adjust your organisation’s tone of voice accordingly.  

There’s a good chance that this will differ to how your brand communicates its products, services and values to your customers. This tone should be geared on attracting and welcoming new staff to your ranks, as well as keeping your existing workforce motivated and attached to your brand. 

While the nature of your tone of voice will be unique to your business, to reap the full benefits of your internal communications plan, it must:

  • Present a totally clear and unambiguous message across your various channels
  • Embody the core values your company stands for
  • Maintain complete consistency at every touch point
  • Give the right impression to your audience based on the values they hold close

Once you have settled on your tone of voice, keeping the guidelines for this in a central, easily accessible location empowers your teams across the globe to craft their own internal communications while toeing the company line. If you’d like to find out how this can be achieved, explore our effective communications solutions.

Determine what channels you will utilise

With internal communications, many companies believe the only way is email. In fact, the breadth of channels that these messages can be delivered through is vastly different than just a couple of decades ago. Determining which platforms will best reach your employees will depend on your personas, your goals and your budget considerations. 

Examples of good internal communications methods you may wish to consider in your business include: 

  • Intranet forums and chatting tools - applications like Slack, Trello and other Intranet forums offer a great space for co-workers to communicate and announce important information to many people at once, and can often be branded around your organisation.

  • Face-to-face meetings - your members of staff might prefer a more personal form of communication to inform them of how they’re progressing, areas they can improve on and to discuss ideas that can benefit the whole company moving forward.

  • Videos - highly interactive, easily consumable and accessible for employees, it is no surprise that more businesses are using video for internal communications, whether it’s in the form of helpful tutorials for employees or a way of showcasing your social events and developments across your entire workforce.

  • Social media - with 53% of people interested in improving their application of digital channels for this purpose, employing social media for your internal communications can present engaging pieces that demonstrate your organisation’s events, values and celebrations to build a stronger bond with your employees.

  • Workplace displays - many brands are benefitting from incorporating internal displays, posters and designs within the workplace to consistently motivate and inspire employees, as well as keep them constantly engaged with your brand messages.

By applying all of these in a way that encompasses all members of your team globally (while taking care not to overwhelm them with too many channels at once), you are in a great position to reinforce the link between your workforce and the brand they work for.

Align your external and internal communications 

Finally, while there is no question that the messages, tone and audience of your external communications will differ from your internal communications, there needs to be a level of consistency between the two. If the communications you are sending between your team vary significantly from the content you are disseminating to your outside audiences, it can cause a disconnect among your employees or your customers, and in some cases both.

Particularly on the channels that you utilise for both forms of communications, such as your website, social media and emails, it is important to assess whether both sides are clearly following the values and personality of your brand. If they diverge too significantly, discuss both concurrently to identify where changes can be made on both sides to bring them in line.

This insight into internal communications best practice is just scratching the surface of what is possible and why they are crucial to the development of any organisation.  

Particularly in today’s workplace environment where staff want employers that share the same values as they do and are dedicated to an environment that’s transparent and collaborative, your internal communications policy plays a vital role in bringing everyone together under one unified brand.

For organisations with a worldwide reach, this is an even more pressing matter. Ensuring that the translation of your brand vision is achieved in your internal communications across borders, and that everyone feels a sense of belonging to your organisation regardless of what location they operate in, is a challenge, but not an impossible one.

To discover how you can enable your teams to play an active and valuable role in improving your internal communications into something that helps you realise total brand governance, check out our innovative BAM software.

by Michael Pfeiffer
Global Director, Corporate at Papirfly. Responsible for Sales, up-selling, consultancy and implementation of Papirfly Brand Portal/ Marketing Operation Management, systems.
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