5 Ways to Improve Internal Communication
The Institute for Public Relations recently released a white paper entitled Organizational Clarity: The Case for Workforce Alignment & Belief. It details a multi-country, multi-industry survey examining how successfully businesses communicate across their organizations. IPR defines organizational clarity as the extent that “employees recognize a line-of-sight between their job and the marketplace they operate in, against the backdrop of the company’s strategy.”
The results of the survey are pretty shocking: among all countries and industries, all but one received an “F” score for employee loyalty to the company (termed the “market” dimension) and perception of the organization as a market “reactor” instead of “shaper.”
India was the one exception, graded a “D.” By and large employees don’t feel a sense of ownership in their organization (this is substantiated by the number of workers identifying as “free agents”) and believe that their work is reactive. They perceive that there are too many ongoing initiatives and that work priorities oftentimes conflict.
Countries and industries fared somewhat better (averaging ‘C’ grades) in the other two dimensions that constitute the IPR’s organizational clarity model:
- “Job” dimension – The extent that an employee understands their organization’s strategy and its applicability to their job. Employee perception of how their job influences organizational success.
- “Strategy” dimension – The extent that an employee understands their organization’s strategy and believes that it will result in a positive endstate in the market.
So, why is organizational clarity important? Because it describes the extent that we’re effectively able to communicate with employees about how important they are to the company (job dimension), why we’re positioning ourselves in the market (strategy dimension) and the employee’s purpose and career progression within the organization (market dimension). Key insight about companies is not properly communicated from the C-Suite to employees.
Here are five key takeaways from IPR’s white paper about how to improve internal communications:
1. Treat your internal publics like your external publics
“Internal communications should not be treated as a one-size-fits-all proposition.” – IPR’s Organizational Clarity paper
What do you do with an email list? Do you compile it in a CRM solution that allows you to contact the person on multiple platforms? Do you segment that list based upon available criteria that match your customer profiles? Of course you do.
But when you want to get information out internally how do you do it? Mass email, distribute it in a meeting, post to a group on Slack, fax it in a TPS report?
The point that IPR makes is that we spend much more time personalizing our messaging externally than we do internally. The reason we personalize externally is to communicate better, so what can we infer when we don’t segment our internal communication as well?
Here are some recommended categories for segmenting internal communications from the IPR white paper:
- Variety and Access
We segment externally because it helps people to receive our message more effectively, so it may make sense to do the same thing with our internal communication as well.
What do Picasa, Wildfire, Talk, iGoogle, and Piknik have in common? All of these programs were strategically discontinued by Google so that they could focus on more important things. One of the primary complaints from employees regarding IPR’s “mastery” dimension of organization clarity was that there are “too many initiatives” on-going.
My first reaction was to try and understand why people were overwhelmed by this until I realized the root cause of the overwhelm: there really are too many initiatives (generally speaking).
There’s a whole discipline devoted to change management, and one of the common tenets is timing and communication. If there isn’t singularity of focus to communicate, implement and monitor, then the initiative is likely to fail. So it’s incumbent for leaders to determine which changes are most important and to implement them with an appropriate amount of time and resource.
If employees think there are too many initiatives, there probably are.
3. Communicate continuously
A common theme throughout the white paper is to leverage technology for better communication. Of course we probably have most of these platforms in place and simply have to plan and implement. IPR recommends technology-enabled “continuous conversation” – finding ways to continuously involve employees to discuss strategy relative to their job, to the market and to the organization.
The benefit of habitual conversation is that retention increases and cognition and initiative are more likely to occur. It’s also advisable to change how you communicate, change your “voice” (politicians will sometimes use surrogates in their communication to break the monotony of fundraising requests) and vary your platform.
4. Eliminate disconnects from top to bottom
The issues around internal communication are largely the result of top-level information failing to filter down to everyone in the organization. The challenge of scalability is no different than playing a game of “telephone” where each iteration of the message obfuscates from the original. For a concept as elaborate as corporate strategy, the communications challenge from top to bottom can be daunting.
IPR recommends communication from the C-Suite via a “consistent and iterative story design.” In other words, communicating regularly and repeating key aspects to improve the likelihood that people will hear and internalize. Again, this is sound communications strategy applied to internal communication from the primary source.
One other recommendation that they make is that the narrative is “non-promotional.” From this we might infer that top-level internal communications should convey a level of authenticity.
Whatever we hope to accomplish, we need to measure. If you put an ad on Facebook, you measure it, or if you send out a communication, you measure it, but how do you measure internal communication? The same way that you measure external communication.
Maybe you read the IPR paper and are so enamored by their three dimensions that you use them as the basis for your measurement, or maybe you find tangible, measureable endstates for your internal communication.
The point here is that just as we should treat segmentation, frequency and mix for internal communication as we do external, we should have metrics to provide feedback about how we’re doing.
Internal communication is not as sexy to discuss as social media communication or content marketing, but this study shows that when internal communication is neglected breakdowns can ensue. Specifically, the people doing the front-line work have no insight into why they’re doing what they’re doing. We could probably assign costs to this if we wanted to, but in the big picture the misalignment that poor internal communication causes is damaging and preventable.
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