Internal communication (IC) is vital to engage and connect your employees, to give them the information they need to work effectively and to successfully manage change.
The nowadays challenge: Employees receive a huge volume of communications from their companies every day, across a wide range of channels. To reach your employee in this noisy world you need an internal communication strategy. Without a well-defined plan key messages will be missed, ignored, or misunderstood, and the overall internal comms plan will fail to deliver results.
Developing a strategy pays off
People are central to the success of every type of organization. That makes developing an effective internal communication strategy a key element for all businesses, whatever sector they operate in.
An internal communication strategy and action plan will increase employee engagement by keeping everyone informed, therefore helping achieve corporate goals and objectives.
In addition, a well thought-out strategy delivers four key benefits:
- It provides a focus for activities, guiding the IC team in their work
- It enables IC to be a proactive, valuable partner to business, rather than solely carrying out reactive activities with little strategic impact
- It demonstrates the importance of IC to senior management, justifying resources, team development and spend
- It motivates IC teams, giving them clear objectives and aims
What should an internal communication strategy contain?
Your strategy acts as a high-level employee communications strategy that supports business aims, and documents a concrete, day-to-day plan for action, monitoring, and measurement.
Therefore an organization’s internal communication strategy should cover
- overall objectives of the program,
- how it will be delivered tactically, in terms of messages, channels and a calendar of announcements and
- how success will be measured through goals and KPIs.
How do you develop an internal communication strategy step-by-step?
Step 1: Analyze the status quo
Understand the current context
Before making any plans for the future you need to understand where you are now in terms of internal communication. What tools and channels are you using, what messages are you sharing and, most importantly, what is working (and what is failing to deliver)?
If you are already running an IC program, review it in order to understand its effectiveness. On the positive side, identify the elements that are working so you can build on them. Conversely, look at areas of weakness so that you can fix any issues. Get feedback from a cross-section of your different audiences through surveys, speak to managers and assess performance against current objectives.
Bill Quirke, a leading authority on internal communication recommends focusing on four areas when auditing IC programs:
- Customers: identifying your audiences and their needs
- Channels: looking at the channels that you can reach them through
- Capacity: do you have the resources (time, budget) to deliver?
- Capability: does your team have the right skills and experience in place?
Get to know your audience needs
It is important to understand the organization and employee needs. So, collect information on your different audiences and their requirements. For example,
- Where are they located?
- What languages do they speak?
- What channels do they prefer to use?
- What tools and technology do they have access to?
Someone working in an office is likely to have constant access to the internet so can be contacted through a range of channels. However, a factory worker or restaurant wait staff will consume IC messages through different channels. A software developer will have different needs and expectations to a store clerk. Understanding and segmenting audiences will enable you to design more compelling, tailored messages later in your internal communication strategy.
As well as collecting information on your audiences, you need to understand the factors that are influencing their behavior and concerns. For example, are they worried about job security and potential changes to their role or office? Have previous internal communication programs delivered messages that were unclear or that were not believed? If you understand what motivates different audiences and any barriers to reaching them, you can create a strategy that overcomes challenges to reach them effectively.
Step 2: Set strategic aims and objectives
Link the objectives of internal communication with your business objectives
When setting program goals, begin by looking at overall business objectives. What is the company’s mission and aims? How can IC support and underpin these?
Linking internal communication strategy examples to the wider business will ensure objectives are relevant and will demonstrate the value that IC brings, positioning it as integral to the organization’s success. It will also help gain buy-in from senior management – and ensure they are part of spearheading your strategy.
Internal communication plan examples that support business objectives:
- entering new markets
- increasing staff retention
- driving innovation through collaboration
Create understandable, achievable goals
Base your strategy on a small number of objectives that are achievable and measurable. There’s no point trying to do too many things or setting objectives that you cannot achieve within a set timeframe. Ensure that your objectives are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound). Decide early on how success will be measured. If you can’t measure an objective, then amend it – otherwise you will not be able to see whether you have achieved it or not.
It is advisable to use a range of KPIs and metrics to cover:
- Outputs – such as how many newsletters or communications you will create within a specific timeframe
- Outcomes – these measure the reach of your communications. An example could be open rates on emails or response rates to surveys.
- Impacts – how did your program drive change? For example, did it increase employee engagement by a set % or reduce incoming queries to the HR team?
Also, consider what response you are looking for from employees. Do you want them to act, or do you want the response to be an improvement in how they feel? This will affect the tactics you use and the language and channel that you choose.
Put the right resources in place
Once you have set your goals ensure you have the right resources in place to deliver on them. What budget do you require, what skills or technology gaps need to be filled and how should internal communication teams be structured? Based on organizational structures, IC could be delivered by a standalone department, as part of HR, or by the marketing team. Equally, it could be centralized in a single place, or involve all departments and offices, with a cross-functional/cross-departmental team working together.
Step 3: Create an effective tactical plan
The next stage once strategy and objectives have been agreed and signed-off is to develop a detailed plan for IC activities. This should include which communication channels will be used, key messages and specific tactics and timings.
Create an audience map
During strategy development, IC teams will have already collected the needs of their audiences. They should then use these to segment employees into different groups, based on factors such as their working environment, communication preferences or specific barriers that need to be addressed.
This helps with targeting different segments with focused messages, using the right channel and format to reach them.
Create a communication calendar
Plan IC activities through a structured communication calendar that includes all campaigns and tasks for the year ahead. Some of these will be fixed (such as company financial results or planned all-hands meetings), while others will relate to specific campaign activities and objectives. Ensure this calendar is used to drive all communications and that it is kept updated if timelines change.
Match each activity in the communication calendar to specific channels that will best deliver the right message. To ensure cut-through, it is advisable to use multiple channels to reduce the risk of communications being missed.
Plan for the unexpected
Changing business priorities or outside events (such as the COVID pandemic) can impact your internal communication plan. Therefore, create a contingency plan that covers what you will do if you cannot accomplish your original goals. This should include a range of different scenarios and crises, from dealing with staff shortages to having to shut facilities or factories. While you cannot cover every eventuality in detail, mapping the main risks and putting high-level plans in place will enable you to adapt and react more quickly.
Step 4: Take action
Only when you have fully planned your internal comms strategy can you then put it into practice. Follow your communications calendar and focus on the objectives you have set – don’t be afraid to push back and say no if extra, competing activities are added to the IC team’s workload.
When delivering your program, follow these internal communication best practices:
- Make communication a conversation, reaching employees on the channels that they use most and encourage them to respond.
- Keep content simple, clear and tell stories. Humanize your messages for the needs of different audiences – don’t be afraid to be light-hearted or fun when appropriate.
- Deliver messages through multiple touches. Even the best-targeted message can be missed. So don’t be afraid to repeat it, sending at different times and via different channels.
- Involve managers from the start. When employees have a query the first person they turn to is normally their line manager. Therefore, brief them ahead of any major communication campaigns, providing them with an understanding of the wider context and enabling them to answer any questions that their team might have.
- Personalize as much as possible. Don’t just focus on large audience groups but personalize and tailor messages based on preferences and previous interactions. So, if an employee comes back with a query, deliver a personal response, and use the experience to guide further communications with them.
- Act like a marketer. Adopt marketing tactics to cut through the noise to create compelling content. Look at using multiple formats (text, video, images), short and punchy introductory communications that can be easily digested, and high-visibility channels to ensure messages are noticed and understood.
- Use the right tools and channels. Match channels and technologies to the needs of specific audiences. Read our blog on internal communication tools to learn more.
Step 5: Measure effectiveness
Ensure that your internal communication plan delivers results by tracking performance in a timely manner. This enables you to make changes to your program as required to meet your overall IC objectives and to constantly improve effectiveness.
Don’t leave it until the end of the year to see if your program has hit its objectives. Instead, analyze the data your IC program creates to understand performance on a regular (at least quarterly) basis. Track how you are doing against output, outcome, and impact KPIs and share the results with stakeholders across the business. Measure which channels are most successful (and with which audiences). This enables you to understand what is working well, and where improvements can be made.
Going back to thinking like a marketer, harness A/B testing to see what approaches and messages work best with different audiences. For example, which one of two email subject lines drives the highest open and response rates? Does a video deliver better results than a static graphic or text for a particular communication? Learn what resonates and constantly improve your content, channel choice and timing moving forward.
Listen to your audiences
As well as quantitative data on performance, ensure you are gathering qualitative feedback from employees. What do they think about your program? Has it changed their behavior? Encourage two-way communication, through surveys and focus groups to get the employee perspective and insights on internal communication.
Tivian simplifies your internal communication
COMMUNICATE XI makes it easy to plan, manage, measure and scale your internal communication programs – based on your strategy, of course. The tool allows you to create dynamic and personalized campaigns in just a few steps and reach your employees with the right content at the right time.
Or find out more about internal communication and how you can improve it effectively.