Is Anyone Listening? The importance of engaging internal communications
There are a great many benefits that come from working from home. Increased family time and a 30 second commute have significantly reduced employees’ stress levels. Also, it’s far easier to mute that imperious colleague who keeps banging on about ‘synergy’ on a virtual call. Placing your hands over your ears in a live meeting rarely goes unnoticed.
Despite this, there are obvious drawbacks. Employees will naturally feel a disconnection with their workplace and colleagues as they continue to work remotely. Consequently, it can be common for staff to feel detached and unmotivated as they endeavour to work in isolation.
Gone are the days where employees stayed loyal from apprenticeship to the grave. Salary alone isn’t enough to keep employees engaged – they want to feel connected to their company and brand. The result of disengaged employees is generally mediocre work performance, low morale and poor mental health. According to Forbes magazine, “highly engaged teams show 21% greater profitability” and dynamic internal communications are vital to achieving this.
Be clear, be bold, be different
Poor internal communications can make your employees feel frustrated. Why would they battle their way through a labyrinthine quarterly review only to find the mere two sentences applicable to them on page 400? Short answer is, they won’t. It’s important to treat your employees the same way as you would a customer and seek to stimulate, inspire and capture their attention. Don’t assume that they’ll read everything that comes into their inbox. Indeed, in busy days with flurries of client emails, internal messages are automatically relegated and important messages may be missed. However, connect with your workforce through humour and relatability and they’re far more likely to engage with your material.
There’s a misconception that if a message is serious, it should be delivered in a dry and formal tone. Obviously, there will be a time and a place for a more sombre air. No-one’s suggesting you have to announce the CEO’s death with a cartoon and a limerick. However, broadly speaking, important communications will benefit from some added levity to pique the employee’s interest and willingness to read on.
Strengthen your brand’s reputation
Ineffective communications mean a missed opportunity to deliver key messages to your teams. At a micro level, unengaging emails or reports will end up, at best, skimmed over and, at worst, filed straight into the recycling bin. Simply stamping ‘IMPORTANT: PLEASE READ’ on everything is a nice try but won’t guarantee a receptive audience. Indeed, preface minor emails, with this often enough and, just like the boy who cried wolf, the sense of urgency will dramatically lose its effectiveness.
Don’t underestimate the link between internal and external communications either. Every employee represents your brand, especially the customer-facing ones. In order for them to deliver clear, accurate and impactful messages to your customers, they need to experience those messages themselves in kind.
One only has to glance at social media to witness the ire of a customer who has received confused, mixed messages from the same company. In an age where everyone has an opinion and that opinion is in the public domain, your brand’s reputation is on the line.
A knowledgeable, unified workforce with a clear idea of both the company’s services and its general ethos will radiate out into your customer base. Indeed, according to the Harvard Business Review, “50% of employees who think their company delivers on its promises use their personal social media channels to talk about their employer.”
We’ve compiled some research on how to create a strong and consistent internal communications approach which can strengthen your brand and improve commercial success:
- Have a clear communication strategy with dedicated ownership
When communications come from a variety of different sources, messages can be muddled and inconsistent. And when people have no faith in the reliability of these messages, they’ll stop paying attention. Clear and consistent communications, however, improve morale and are key to winning trust, confidence and receptivity from your audience. For the opposite example of this, see the current UK government.
- Use your internal communications to educate teams about different areas of the business
Help your employees to understand how their role fits into the wider focus and ambitions of the company. McKinsey reported how increased communication and collaboration raise the productivity of workers by 20 – 25%. If Ted in Sales neither knows nor cares what Jill in Marketing does and both have forgotten the existence of Steve in Products, this lack of co-ordination will almost certainly be reflected in your external brand.
- Ensure the right information is accessible to the right teams
In desperate or time-sensitive environments, there is a tendency to throw as much information as possible at people with the hope that the relevant details will be in there somewhere. This shows an endearing degree of optimism in the average reader’s attention span which the Harvard Business Review places at 2 minutes, 27 seconds. Make sure the correct messages are going to the relevant people. By ensuring targeted and clear communication, employees will have far more efficient access to the correct information, saving their time and sanity.
- Make sure your writers have a strong command of grammar and punctuation
You may have already hit your sales targets and be experiencing a year of record growth but if this is delivered in an email that confuses “your” and “you’re” and has a questionable use of the comma, your achievements will be diminished.
- Cut out the corporate jargon
Everyone despises business speak. Everyone ridicules it. But still it persists through the corporate vernacular. Take these examples: Literally every word in ‘on a going forward basis’ is redundant. The person touting ‘blue sky thinking’ has most likely never had an original thought in their head. Asking people about their bandwidth suggests an inability to distinguish between computer and colleague. Don’t be tempted by meaningless buzzwords – language is a tool and you can use it to your advantage.
- Question the purpose of your message
What are you hoping to achieve from the communications you’re sending out? Every message should have a clear goal in mind and a desired result. A report detailing the unprecedented financial success of the company may seem like news your employee would want to know. However, if they’ve just been turned down for a pay rise or promotion because of ‘budget constraints’, your well-meaning email might as well say “We’ll send you a postcard from the Cayman Islands, suckers.”
- Display clarity and consistency during a crisis or organisational change
Department re-organisation, Brexit, global pandemics – your employees will look to you for guidance and reassurance that everything is under control. If one message delivers a breezy disclaimer that the recent department restructure has gone well but your staff are living through a perpetual cycle of upheaval and chaos, they are going to feel unheard and resentful.
- Use your communications to connect with employees outside their everyday work
Are your employees aware of the corporate social responsibility initiatives they could join within the company? How about team social events or clubs? Could you share news articles they might find enlightening or beneficial? People can sometimes be cynical about getting involved in ‘extra-curricular activities’ in the workplace so it’s important to position them to show a genuine desire to enrich your employees’ lives outside of the day job.
- Try different mediums of communication
Royal Mail won awards for their campaign to overhaul Courier – their newsletter and magazine for employees. They digitally adapted it to an eye-catching tabloid design and allowed employees to read newsflashes about the company in short bursts as opposed to lengthy emails. Gamification is another great example. Most people enjoy embracing their inner child. Companies such as SnapComms provide software allowing employees to participate in fun quizzes about company topics educating users and reinforcing the brand’s message.
- Elicit feedback from your audiences and proactively engage with them
When employees read a generic email requesting their feedback on workplace activities, this translates to a lot of workers as unwelcome distraction that prevents them from doing their actual job. They also don’t believe the criticisms and suggestions they have will be acknowledged and, in most cases, they’re right. Incentivise staff to give honest feedback and then respond to it. Show a true commitment to improving and enhancing their work environments.
More important than ever before
Internal Communications is an extremely important role that is integral to keeping employer and employee connected and engaged with one another. Without this, staff productivity and morale are at risk. Strategy and overall management of communication can be an onerous process, freeing up little time for crafting the communications themselves.
At Financial Services Partnership, we have extensive experience writing both internal and external communications across a range of different FS industries. We’d be happy to work with you to discuss a brief, create a strong, consistent communications strategy and produce engaging, tailored messages for your audiences. Please do get in touch if we can help, or you can read more about our work here.