Internal communications, the long-neglected sibling of marketing, PR and sales, is finally getting the attention it deserves. As the world embraces remote working (whether they like it or not), IC has been shoved into the limelight.
For many businesses, it's been a bit of a come-to-Jesus moment. Some have realised that their means of communicating with a dispersed workforce isn't up to scratch, and it's failing at the most important hurdle. It makes a difference. Research has shown that businesses with good communication practices see 47 percent higher returns to shareholders. For IC professionals, it's been an opportunity to deliver a long-awaited 'I told you so'.
Once the sweet, sweet schadenfreude has passed, the IC team (or person) has a pretty serious job on their hands. How do you bring your comms strategy back from the dead when it's needed the most?
Assess the damage
It's hard to know how to improve if you don't know what to improve. What's gone wrong with your current comms strategy?
According to the Gatehouse 'State of the Sector 2020' report, some of the most common barriers to success are:
- Excessive, un-targeted communication
- Poor collaboration and buy-in with line managers
- A lack of IC measurement
- Little to no planning and long-term strategy
- Technological limitations, and a lack of investment in IC technology
If you recognise your organisation's IC struggles in any of the above problem areas, take comfort in the knowledge that you're not alone. Once you've taken and processed said comfort, perform an audit of your comms strategy.
That same report found that only one in five IC professionals 'don't, or very rarely, measure their internal communications'. Now's a good time to become one of the twenty percent that do, if you aren't already.
Take stock of the tools you're using and average levels of engagement. Consider conducting a survey of employees to find out what they'd like to see. Evaluate the relationship that managers and the C-Suite have with internal comms, and determine whether or not they're doing their part.
Once you've got a formal report compiled, it's far easier to make the case for renewed investment in IC.
Head to the source
If your IC strategy has an engagement problem, you'd better make sure the figureheads of the company aren't the source.
Let's admit it. Internal communication teams can be a bit 'us versus them' - probably thanks to all the neglect! There's a 'fend for yourself' approach to the job that's the result of few resources and a misunderstanding of IC's importance. That Gatehouse report takes the issue head-on:
'Line managers are denounced as detrimental to IC every single year - yet, across the profession, we're still blatantly ignoring them in order to get on with other stuff...Just 39 percent of IC professionals provide internal communication coaching and training'
Invest time in training. Line managers are (understandably) deemed roadblocks, but taking the time to clue them in could pay dividends in the long run. Sharing the results of your IC audit could light a much-needed fire under them, especially as it looks like a good chunk of the population will continue to work remotely even after the pandemic.
Securing buy-in from senior management and the C-Suite is essential. Over 60 percent of business transformation efforts fail, and if the people at the top don't engage with improving IC efforts, nobody will feel the need to. Turn your executives into IC allies.
Engage the engagers
One of the key comms metrics is engagement, right? If no one is reading or responding to intranet posts or company-wide emails, something's wrong. 'Shouting into the void' is a decent name for a heavy metal band, but it's pretty shoddy as a communication strategy.
Renewed engagement has to be the driving goal behind your IC resuscitation. Can you imagine employees actually commenting on intranet posts? It's not as outlandish as you may think.
It's a bit of an obvious one, but talk to the people that your IC strategy is meant to serve. Getting a read on their opinions when it comes to the current strategy is useful, but follow this up with a real survey of what they'd like to see, and how they'd like to communicate within the company. Bake this into your long-term strategy by making it as easy as possible for staff to provide feedback.
Use what you find to shape your strategy. If employees are passionate about diversity, create a D&I campaign on your intranet and ask them to contribute content. A sense of ownership goes a long way on the engagement front.
Just as 'a writer's writer' or 'a comedian's comedian' don't always have widespread appeal, 'an IC professional's IC strategy' may not actually **serve employees that well. Find out what it'll take to get them interested, and give it to them.
Refresh your tech
If you're relying on an outdated intranet - or worse, delivering all IC via email - you're fighting an uphill battle. A lack of investment in IC tech may have been an issue in the past, but businesses are now investing in communication technology. Need proof? Zoom's stock chart looks like a graph tracking 'nausea versus proximity to Piers Morgan':
A successful IC platform will allow you to do a few things that IC professionals have until now been forced to live without. If your current tech can't do these things, petition for a change:
- Monitor engagement:
- Find out how content is performing, and tailor future communications to your findings. Less shots-in-the-dark, more data-driven planning.
- Organise content into campaigns:
- Long-term IC content strategies aren't yet widespread - less than one in two teams make use of a formal planning document. If you're already doing it, well done! We should all be more like you. If you're not, your tech should make it as easy as possible to start.
- Target content to groups of employees:
- You should be able to highlight the stuff that's important for everyone, and avoid inundating people with things that aren't relevant to them.
- Operate without the need for a background in quantum physics:
- Don’t overcomplicate things. Use the tool that is designed to do the IC job you need it to, and that does it simply and effectively. Bells and whistles aren’t useful if they get in the way of delivering an effective and sustainable IC plan.
- Monitor engagement:
Your patient awaits
Now is the time for IC professionals to prove just how valuable their work can be. All eyes are on the people that will make a remote future possible (you).
Resuscitating an unresponsive comms strategy is a big job. Open up the IC silo, and involve as many colleagues as possible in the effort, from the CEO down. Listen to the people that are on the receiving end of your hard work, and don't settle for sub-par tools.
You'd be a bit put out if a lone paramedic with a cut-rate defibrillator showed up to bring you back to life, so don't treat your IC strategy that way. Collaborate and update.