Internal Communication Strategy: Comprehensive Guide For 2021

Caroline Duncan - Jan 14, 2021 6:45:00 PM

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Every organization should have an internal communication strategy. It’s an essential document that outlines the organization’s objectives for communicating with its employees. The strategy sets out all the steps you need to take to insure your employees are informed and kept up-to-date with important corporate information.

>> Internal communications editorial calendar. Free download <<

The importance of having an internal communications strategy

An internal communications strategy sets a roadmap to achieve your internal communications goals. Without a strategy, employee communication is carried out on an ad-hoc basis. If it even exists at all. 

According to a Gatehouse survey, around 21% of internal communications professionals admitted that they don’t have any formal planning processes in place. 

Having a strategy has multiple benefits that help lead to overall business success. This includes:

  • Employees understand corporate goals - ensuring that your employees are on the same page and understand your vision, mission, and other corporate purposes and how the job they do contributes to this.
  • Increased productivity - armed with the knowledge that they need to effectively do their jobs and understand priorities, employees will be more productive,
  • Fewer mistakes - mistakes can be costly, and in many cases are avoidable. Lack of communication can often lead to errors.
  • Quicker response to issues and emergencies - when there’s a problem or an emergency, an internal communications strategy can help guide you on informing employees so that you save time.
  • Boosting employee engagement - internal communication is a proven way of increasing engagement levels within a company, leading to improved morale, increased productivity, better retention rates, and lower absenteeism levels. 
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Research from Gallup shows that companies with engaged workforces are outperforming those that don’t have them by around 147%

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  • Fostering openness and transparency - when your organization has a strong culture in terms of open and transparent communication, it means that employees can trust management and vice versa. Regular communication is a linchpin of this. Without hones communication, rumors can seed, spreading misinformation and dissent.
  • Improved working relationships - information silos develop in organizations where there is poor communication. Breaking these down is important so that different departments and teams have good working relationships.
  • Improved leadership - an internal communication strategy will help your corporate leaders to understand when, why, how, and to whom they should be communicating, increasing their visibility, and improving leadership outcomes.

Internal communications strategy example

In general, an internal communications strategy should include:

  • Your company’s vision, mission, and goals
  • Key objectives of your organization
  • Key messages
  • Identified audiences within the organization
  • How you will communicate, and what channels will be used
  • How often you will communicate
  • Who is responsible for delivering communication
  • Measurements for success

If you haven’t ever created an internal communications strategy before - or if you want to update the one you have to make it more effective - we’ve created a free internal communications strategy example template you can download here.

Steps to take to create your internal communications strategy

You will invariably have some unique communication needs depending on your company’s work and the industry you’re in. In general, however, these steps can help you develop and tailor an effective internal communications plan to communicate better with your employees.

 

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1. Audit your current internal communications efforts

Before you create an internal communications strategy, you end to take stock of what is already happening in your organization’s internal comms space.

 

Questions to ask include:

  • Do you communicate regularly with employees?
  • Do you only communicate on an “as needs” basis, such as when there’s an upcoming event, or you’re announcing a new project?
  • What internal channels do you use? 
  • Are these channels effective? Do you have any analytics?
  • Who is responsible for internal communications in your organization?
  • Do you have multiple teams who send employees information independently of the internal comms function of your organization? (Eg: HR, IT).

 

2. Establish an internal communications working group


Internal communications shouldn’t just be the communications department’s responsibility - even if they are ultimately the employees who have stewardship of it.  

By collaborating with other parts of the organization, you can better understand the breadth of internal communication needs within your organization, what gaps exist, and what is working well.  You will also gain ambassadors from other parts of the organization who can ensure your internal communication strategy is successful.

Representatives from other parts of the organization should be invited to the working group to provide insight into the strategy. In particular, you should include representatives from any teams or departments you identified at step 1 as sending regular internal communications within your organization.

 

3. Get buy-in from leadership

Your organization’s leaders have an essential part to play in ensuring an internal communications strategy’s success. However, traditionally leadership in many organizations has failed to see the importance of internal communications.

According to a VMA Group survey, just 17% of internal comms professionals feel that the senior leaders in their organizations are advocates of internal communications.  And another study by Lemonly found that only one third of employees feel that the leaders in their companies communicate efficiently.

For internal communications to be successful, you need a commitment to it from the top down so that everyone does their bit to foster a culture of communication and be open and transparent in sharing information with everyone else.

 

4. Set a baseline you can benchmark

What do you know about the state of internal communications in your organization from the employees’ perspective?  Are employees satisfied or dissatisfied? 

If you’re going to the effort of improving communications internally without asking the people who will be on the receiving end, you may not be hitting the mark.

There may be specific issues that they feel are not being addressed, and specific types of information they think they need access to aren’t. Or perhaps they are receiving information second or third hand, too late to be of use.   Without understanding any of these issues, you may fail to address them, and the same problems could continue to fester.

Talk to your employees. You can carry out a survey to benchmark how they feel about internal communications while also asking for recommendations.  Once you have your strategy implemented, you can carry out further surveys to determine if there has been an improvement.

Other ways to gather intelligence include providing a facility for anonymous feedback or running focus groups to get people to elaborate on what is working well and what isn’t with internal communication in your company.

 

5. Define your internal communications goals and priorities

Understanding where you are now can help you to work out where you want to go - and how you plan to get there.

  • What is your vision? What do you want to achieve with internal communications in your organization?
  • How does internal communication align with your organization’s business goals and KPIs? 
  • How do you want your employees to respond to your communications?
  • What outcomes would you like to achieve?

When setting out your goals, an excellent method to follow is the SMART system. These goals should be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic; and
  • Timely.

This system will help you to set out well-defined goals that are not ambiguous in a way that you can determine criteria to measure success or failure. They should be relatively easy to implement and be carried out at a specific time.

 

6. Set out your budget

If you’re overhauling internal comms or starting out for the first time, having a budget amount allocated to it can help you achieve more things.

Firstly, look at what resources you already have at your disposal. Are they still fit-for-purpose? Or will you need something more?

For example, email might be a “free” resource you already have within your company, but it might not be the right platform for sharing information. Do you need new software to disseminate information?  Do you need to invest in new channels to improve your internal communications functions?

Do you need new equipment to create different types of content? For example, video equipment, and lighting?

Do you need to engage a graphic designer to make your internal marketing content look more professional? Or do you have a designer that works in-house?

internal_communications_strategy_example

 

7. Define and understand your internal audiences

In addition to communicating with all employees at once, there will be other groups of employees you may need to communicate with about different issues within any organization.

This might include regional teams, specific work teams, employees within a certain age group or other demographic, employees who work remotely, employees with specific job functions, and so on.

Understanding your audiences can ensure that you distribute relevant content to those who need to see it - reducing information overload and irrelevant information being sent to the rest of the organization. 

In carrying out this step, it can be useful to create employee personas. An employee persona is a fictional representation of an employee with specific attributes and their “wants” and “needs” and their communications preferences. They can help you to understand how, when, and why different cohorts within your organization require information to be sent to them.

 

8. Select your internal communication channels

There are different factors to consider when it comes to distributing internal communication content. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution: you sometimes need to use multiple channels to cut across the digital noise within an organization to reach the employees you need to reach.

Define the different channel types for different types of communication. Common internal communications examples for your strategy include:

  • Emergency announcements.
  • Major issues or incidents.
  • Legislative changes.
  • Health and safety information.
  • IT outages.
  • HR information.
  • Internal events.
  • Training opportunities.
  • New policies, or updates to existing policies.
  • New products.
  • New external promotions.
  • Financial performance.
  • KPIs.
  • New projects.
  • Important dates such as deadlines or anniversaries.
  • Celebrating successes.

In addition to or instead of email, you may want to create intranet content, videos, pop-up notifications, scrolling tickers, wallpapers, screensavers, digital signage, newsletters, corporate social media posts, and more.

Given the rapid changes in workplaces throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, with many people working remotely and many front-line workers needing to have fast access to important information, your traditional communication channels may not be up to the task of providing effective internal communication anymore. You may need to consider other tools, such as an employee app, to send information to these traditionally hard-to-reach employee cohorts.

 

9. Set out the steps you will take to communicate with employees

It’s time to start developing the actual strategy itself.

An internal communications strategy is essentially a “to-do list” that will help you to:

  • Determine what needs to be communicated to employees. This can include developing key messages.
  • Determine when this communication needs to take place. Is it a one-off? Is it recurring?
  • Determine how the information will be shared. Will it be via one channel or via multiple internal communication channels?
  • Decide who will be responsible for writing, designing, and sending the information.
  • Determine any deadlines, including approvals.
  • Analyze metrics to determine success.


10. Establish guidelines for internal communications standards 

When it comes to developing content, you must follow internal communication best practices.  This means that your content should:

  • Be clear and concise and easy to understand.
  • Be open and transparent.
  • Be written in an active voice.
  • Be warm and engaging.
  • Be free from patronizing or condescending tones.
  • Be free from jargon.
  • Be professional, including correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation, and free from profanity (yes, it happens!)
  • Be sent in a timely manner so that it is relevant - outdated information is worthless.
  • Be aligned with any external messaging to avoid confusion.

Many organizations have an internal “style guide” setting out language, tone, preferred spellings, abbreviations, and so on. Creating one of these to be used in conjunction with your internal communication strategy can help when it comes time to create content.

 

11. Establish a schedule for content

An internal communications editorial calendar can be used in conjunction with the overall strategy to help you determine in advance any key dates and recurrent communications you know will be on the agenda for the year ahead.   

This can help you get a head-start on content creation, look for gaps that need to be filled, and ensure consistent commitment to implementing your organization’s strategy. 

 

12. Evaluate the effectiveness of your internal communications

It’s essential to know how effective your internal communications have been by gathering quantitative and qualitative data.

Analytics tools will help you to gather quantitative information - how many people have viewed an intranet page or seen a pop-up alert, for example. Some internal communications channels such as email may not be able to give you this data.

Qualitative data can come from surveys and two-way employee feedback. 

There are other ways to measure the effectiveness of internal communication as well. For example:

  • Has productivity increased?
  • Are profits up?
  • Are there fewer mistakes being made?
  • Has workplace health and safety improved?
  • Has employee retention improved?
  • Have levels of absenteeism lowered?
  • Have your employee engagement levels improved (measured by employee engagement surveys at different intervals of time).
  • Are your customers more or less satisfied?
  • Were you successful in a specific goal such as employee uptake of a training course or participation in an event?

The members of your internal communication working group from across the organization should be able to help you gather this type of data to determine whether your efforts behave been a success.

Having these measurements, of course, requires action. If your strategy isn’t effective, you need to examine where it went wrong and look at what you can do to improve future communications.

 

***

As the world faces ongoing uncertainty and constant change, internal communication is more important than ever before to ensure that your workforce understands shifting business priorities against a backdrop of constantly changing health and safety issues and economic issues.  By having an internal communications strategy and action plan in place, you can navigate almost any unforeseen issue while also building a positive culture within your organization, making it stronger.

 

Topics: Corporate Communication Strategy- Internal Communications

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