Rachel Brushfield explains the role that effective internal communication plays in building employee engagement, and provides a host of tips for employers.
You don't need to be in a large organisation with an internal comms department - any firm, small or large, can use these tips to improve their communication with their employees.
What score out of 100 would you give your organisation for internal communication? How your employees feel - about the company, each other and their work - affects what they do, or don't do.
Internal communication is a vital part of employee engagement, and it influences how people feel. Its absence can lead to employees filling the gaps, reading between the lines in a way you didn't intend or joining the dots to create the wrong line. It is of particular importance in times of uncertainty, as is currently the case post-Brexit referendum. Being clear about your key messages and managing them rather than leaving them to chance is vital.
Employee engagement is affected by a multitude of factors, including internal communication. It takes years to build and a moment to break. A clear, well thought out internal communication strategy helps stop it from breaking.
Transparency is key
People like to understand what's going on and feel nervous being in the dark. Internal communication helps employees feel involved and included, but it needs to reflect the organisation's culture and values, and the right media must be used for the target audience in order to create the desired response. Consider methods for reaching your employees - would they respond better to an internal e-newsletter, or all-staff meetings? Would they like a traditional notice board in your reception area with posters and flyers, an intranet, or an online social platform such as Yammer? The median age and technological ability of your employees will be factors in these decisions.
Hold some sessions with other senior managers to think about these two questions:
• What one thing could your organisation do to improve employee engagement via better internal communication?
• What imaginative initiative would make your employees smile and engage them to work harder?
You may also want to put these questions to your staff, who may have some great ideas you won't have thought of.
9 practical steps to effective internal communication
• Have a short morning meeting at the start of each week to connect with employees, make announcements and discuss the week ahead.
• Present your organisation's philosophy to all new recruits and have an extensive induction programme.
• Plan biannual 'away days' off site for all employees, and combine them with imaginative cross-department team-building activities.
• Encourage proactivity with an ideas and suggestions box for work ideas and improving working life, with prizes for the best ideas.
• Create accountability for senior managers to host lunches / meetings to get to know employees better.
• Create task teams to brainstorm business challenges and give individuals accountability for taking the task forwards.
• Introduce cross-departmental meetings to promote understanding and problem-solve.
• Introduce results updates and question and answer sessions with all employees, with different individuals and teams sharing case studies.
• Create employee forums and appoint engagement ambassadors to co-ordinate input into initiatives.
7 tips to engage through internal communication
• Personalise rewards - say it in writing, don't use impersonal templates.
• Make it a priority for senior managers to 'walk the floor', show an interest, and listen to employees' feelings and concerns.
• Define key messages to build the employer brand and values.
• Make organisation update meetings regular, fun and informative to enable connection and sharing.
• Celebrate successes - with an employee of the month award, or by highlighting things that have gone well in an all-staff email.
• Don't avoid bad news / difficult conversations - handled well, employee engagement can actually improve if you are open and address the tough stuff.
• Train senior managers in active listening skills.
Committing to internal communication as much as you do to external communication will reap dividends over time. Benefits include employee retention, a strong employer brand and positive word of mouth. The value of effective internal communication is hard to quantify, and the cost to the business in terms of opportunities lost if not done properly is immense.
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