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If you work in internal communications, you’re pretty much the beating heart of wherever you work.

Seriously. We’re not just flattering you.

You can tell if a company has a strong internal communications team. People know where they’re supposed to be, accidental missed shifts are rare and everyone has at least some idea about their organization’s goals

Equally, you can tell if a company doesn’t prioritize internal communications because...well, to put it politely, everything’s a bit chaotic. Things might work (in a ‘we somehow struggle by’ way), but productivity drains and inefficiencies run wild.

And, ultimately, a solid internal communications strategy leads to a more engaged workforce - which can have a huge effect on how well your organization is doing. So there’s a fair chance that you’ll be able to tell which companies are particularly good in this area by their profit margins.

How internal communications and employee engagement are linked (credit: thesocialworkplace.com)

To maximize the impact your internal communications team can have, it’s essential to put in place a well-thought-out internal communications strategy that is tailored specifically to your workforce.

Obviously, you know your workforce better than us, so consider this guide a template for creating the best internal communications strategy possible, which you can apply to your own circumstances. We’ll cover:

  • Planning your business goals for your internal communications strategy
  • Examining how your current internal communications channels work and how to improve them
  • An example internal communications calendar and how to create your own
  • How to tell whether your internal communications strategy is working

1. Plan Your Goals For Your Internal Communications Strategy

Like any project you’ll ever do in a business setting, it’s fairly important to know what you want to achieve before you set out to achieve it!

Consider why you want to create an internal communications strategy at this point. Is it because:

  • Your company has expanded, and can no longer rely on word of mouth or everyone seeing each other most days at work
  • You have one already, but people don’t adhere to it and this is causing operational issues (for example, employees accidentally missing shifts)
  • Your customer service is suffering due to employees not being informed of key events, promotions or campaigns
  • Your employees feel disengaged as they come to work and go home again, and don’t seem to know and/or care about your organization’s brand values and reason for existence
  • You feel your senior management team needs more of a presence among your on-the-ground staff

These are just a few examples of why you might be reviewing your internal communications strategy.

Notice how they’re not all to do with operational concerns?

That’s because your organization’s internal communications strategy should be as much about employee engagement as making sure that everyone has the right information to do their job well. Potential customers and investors won’t love your company if your employees don’t - because happier employees are more productive, better ambassadors for your brand and, crucially, deliver better customer service.

So, before you move onto the next step, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is essential operational information getting through to every team in the business?
  • How are our employee engagement levels looking, and how could our new internal communications strategy improve them?

Once you’ve got some clarity on these questions, you’ll be ready to move onto step two...

2. Examine Your Current Internal Communications Channels

Next on the list is doing a thorough audit of your current internal communications channels and who uses them.

You’ll need to compile a list of every single method you use for communications, including how frequently you use it and who’s in charge of running it. If you’re a smaller company, this could be a relatively short list. For bigger organizations, this might include several methods:

Channel Used by Who runs it Frequency
Intranet Office-based workers; remote salaried employees IT/HR No real schedule - as and when
Break room noticeboard Frontline employees Mostly line managers, though anyone can stick things up No real schedule - as and when
Employee app Everyone who has a smartphone HR and management but everyone has the ability to communicate Daily
Email newsletter Unknown - most people who check their email regularly Marketing/PR Weekly
Notes with payslips Anyone on a weekly wage HR/Payroll Weekly
Team stand ups Every team in the business Team leaders Theoretically weekly (though don’t always happen)
Department all-hands Every department Department heads Monthly
Pulse surveys Everyone HR Monthly

Let’s be honest, no-one loves an audit. Take your time here - rushing will only cause oversights which could really scupper your strategy further down the line.

As well as ‘general’ management-to-employees comms, you should also include points at which staff will have individual, one-on-one contact with someone representing the company. Impressions of what your company culture is and how much your organization cares about its employees are often made or broken here, so it’s important to understand how well these work.

Your employee journey map is a good place to start here. This will obviously vary between organizations, but at the very least it should contain:

  • New employee intros: the welcome you give new employees when they join. This usually includes a brief about the organization and its values, a ‘who’s who’ of senior figures, key information about fire safety, introductions to people they’ll be working with regularly , and maybe a free company hoodie if you’re being trendy about things.
  • Performance reviews: you might do a traditional annual review with their line manager, or you might opt for a system that’s more modern and flexible. Either way, it’s important that your employees have regular, expected contact with their line manager to reflect, receive praise for good work and flag any issues they’re having.
  • Disciplinary action procedures: obviously you hope it never comes to this! However, in the event that things seem to be going south with a particular hire, it’s important to have an established procedure in place to get them back on the right track.
  • Exit interview: they’re leaving, so you want insights into how they found their time here. This is an opportunity for you to identify issues that might be affecting other employees, but also to leave a final good impression with the departing member of staff - they might come back, or recommend your company to others, after all!

3. Analyze How Well Your Current Communications Are Suited To Your Strategy Goals

Once you’ve got a good oversight of exactly what channels your company uses for internal communication, it’s time to analyze.

Then analyze some more.

Then do a bit more analyzing.

What we’re trying to say here is that drilling down into your results is important and we can’t emphasize this enough.

Your plan of attack here should have three elements:

  • Considering whether the communications channel is useful in a general sense (and who better to ask than your own employees?)
  • Considering whether the communications channel is useful for the goals you laid out in step one.
  • Assessing whether the communications channel could be improved in any way.

The noticeboard in the employees’ break room might be useful if checked religiously for shift and traffic info, but is updated erratically at best when it comes to general company announcements and it is easy to miss changes. Are your drivers generally aware of the announcements on the board or are they missing updates and revised shift schedules?

Once you’re clear on this, it’s time to decide whether it’s worth keeping as part of your new strategy. Three options here:

  • Keep it
  • Improve it
  • Replace it

As a general rule, you’ll be wanting to reduce the number of communications channels rather than increasing them, as well as looking for the most effective options. “Could we possibly replace this with another channel we have?” is always an important question to ask.

So is “Would it be more effective to move most of this onto one single platform?” and “Is it time to upgrade our internal communications technology to reflect the times we live in?” You could think about a mobile-first solution for your employee intranet, for example, or upgrading to a self-service HRMS.

Making investments here can make things so much more efficient in the long run, and save your HR team a lot of hassle with the day-to-day maintenance of your internal communications strategy.

Finally, for those channels you’ve chosen to keep and improve, set some KPIs to track - otherwise how can you tell your efforts are working? These could include:

  • Reduction in unplanned absences
  • Increase in reported engagement with company goals and values over next few pulse surveys
  • Base percentage of workforce engaging with new channels six months post-implementation
  • Improvement in employee satisfaction

You’ll have your own ideas too - just add them to this list! And one more thing: don’t forget to take baseline measures of the status quo before making any changes so you can decide if your switch was effective or not.

4. Create An Internal Communications Calendar

You’ve done the hard work...now it’s time to put it into practice.

Building your internal communications calendar can feel overwhelming. Don’t worry - with a bit of planning and a practical, realistic approach, it doesn’t have to be.

Below, we’ve included an example internal communications calendar so you can get an idea of what to aim for:

Day Comms
Monday 06:00: weekly email newsletter

06:00: update app

07:00: daily briefing (factory, drivers, catering)

09:00: weekly stand up (marketing, IT, finance)

13:00: daily briefing (factory, drivers, catering afternoon shift)

Tuesday 06:00: update app

07:00: daily briefing (factory, drivers, catering)

09:00: new starter company induction

10:00: weekly stand up (sales, HR, ops)

13:00: daily briefing (factory, drivers, catering afternoon shift)

14:00: all-hands (pre-book conference room)

Wednesday 06:00: update app

07:00: daily briefing (factory, drivers, catering)

11:30: send out pulse survey (first Wed of each month)

13:00: daily briefing (factory, drivers, catering afternoon shift)

14:00: all-hands (pre-book conference room)

Thursday 06:00 update app

07:00: daily briefing (factory, drivers, catering)

11:00: weekly CCPA training (sales, 6 weeks commencing 25/11)

13:00: daily briefing (factory, drivers, catering afternoon shift)

Friday 06:00: update app

07:00: daily briefing (factory, drivers, catering)

11:30: Friday Q&A with C-suite member (pre-book small meeting room)

13:00: daily briefing (factory, drivers, catering afternoon shift)

Saturday 06:00: update app

07:00: daily briefing (factory, drivers)

13:00: daily briefing (factory, drivers afternoon shift)

Sunday 06:00: update app

07:00: daily briefing (factory, drivers)

13:00: daily briefing (factory, drivers afternoon shift)

The key to creating a successful internal communications calendar is to approach it methodically. If you rush, and put everything on without proper forethought, you could end up with a calendar that isn’t possible to maintain in the long term.

Of course, this is a very basic version for illustration. If you’d like, you could keep your content calendar in an Excel sheet with each day of the week as columns and the different channels as rows or you could even break it down hour by hour. Alternatively, you could create a shared Google Calendar with all comms visible ahead of time for department heads.

Following the steps below will help you work out what should go where:

1. Decide Which Channel Each Type Of Internal Communication Will Use

It’s useful, before you start, to decide which of your internal communications needs will be met by in-person meetings and which will be met electronically.

Consider the most common internal communications examples:

  • Weekly work schedules (top down)
  • Internal reports (bottom up)
  • Daily announcements
  • Policy changes
  • Employee satisfaction polls
  • Onboarding and training documents
  • Performance reviews
  • Social events
  • CEO announcements
  • Employee award nominations
  • New product launches
  • New performance incentives
  • Internal vacancies
  • New starter documentation

This helps you anticipate the practical side of each entry into your calendar. If you want a monthly in-person all-hands led by the CEO, for example, you’ll have to make sure you’ve got a room you can book out regularly which will fit everyone in, and book time in their diaries well in advance.

2. Start With The ‘Bread And Butter’ Of Internal Communications

These are the regular methods of internal communication that are essential for your organization to function safely and effectively. Pencil in these regular catch-up meetings first and work everything around them. Your strategic department all-hands can wait. Your daily factory floor safety catch up absolutely can’t.

One thing that’s essential to keep in mind here is that there’s no point making things difficult for yourself.

Some departments will have their own preferences for their regular catch-up meetings - get in touch with department heads to understand what this might be. As long as these don’t contradict what you discovered in the ‘analysis’ phase, try to accommodate them as much as you can.

It might be that, for whatever reason, IT want their weekly stand-up on a Tuesday but you’ve scheduled ‘team stand-ups’ as a Monday morning thing. If it works, let it slide - doing otherwise will only breed resentment, and ultimately you have better things to be getting on with than passive-aggressive email exchanges with upset department heads.

3. Assign ‘Slots’ For Regular Meetings

You might have types of in-person meetings that happen regularly, but not always for the same people.

An example of this is a department all-hands. It might help, organization-wise, if you scheduled an all-hands in the same place at the same time each week, but alternated the department each time. Other examples include:

  • Open Q&As with C-suite members
  • New starter induction sessions (it’s good to couple of group sessions a week so that new hires get to know new starters from other departments and get a sense of the organization in its entirety)
  • Regular training sessions for new software/regulatory changes etc.

4. Add In Regular Electronic Communications

Once you’ve got the backbone of your in-person communications schedule, you can add in your electronic communications.

It’s worth putting some thought into the best times to schedule these. If you send out a weekly email newsletter, for example, consider when most of your employees can access their computers to check their emails. For non-office staff, this might be on their lunch breaks or when they are at home.

Ditto if you’re using a social media style employee app for internal comms - if you know that most of your employees check for updates before they come into work, schedule them to go out at 05:00 so that they’re there, waiting for your employees to wake up.

Most modern tech offers scheduling tools that allow you to queue emails and other forms of electronic communication in advance - so there’s no need for someone to be awake to press the button at some unholy hour in the morning!

Here’s a quick checklist of all the channels you should think about at this stage:

  • Regular intranet updates
  • Email newsletters
  • Employee apps
  • Pulse surveys

5. Consider Where To Put More Occasional Announcements

You’ve now got a working model for your weekly internal communications calendar - congratulations!

It’s important to visualize your internal communications strategy weekly, because employee engagement is boosted by a ‘little and often’ approach. As well as using your strategy to tell your employees what your organization stands for, use it to demonstrate it. Like everything else your company does, how you communicate with your employees should reflect what your organization stands for, and what good it wants to do in the world.

You’ll know that there’s more to internal communications than a weekly calendar. You’ll need to adapt your strategy to fit around big, one off announcements, like:

  • New product launches, campaigns or sponsorship deals
  • Mergers and acquisitions
  • Changes in senior management
  • Restructures
  • Redundancies
  • Social announcements (Christmas party dates and venues, large charity drives)

Whether they’re good news (acquisitions, expansions, unveiling the Christmas party venue) or negative (redundancies, being bought out), you’ll need to let as many people know at the same time as possible.

Having all your electronic communications marked on your calendar makes it easier to understand where these should fit. If you want to announce to the company, in person that the CEO is retiring, it’s useful to be able to place this just before, or just after, employees would be checking their apps or emails for a regular update.

(Obviously, in the case of special announcements, you can and should plan separate comms around them - but it always helps to reinforce messages using your regularly-scheduled updates too.)

6. Share Your Internal Communications Plan

An internal communications team shouldn’t be producing and delivering messages in a vacuum. If you want your internal communications strategy to work, you’ll need to get every department in the organization involved.

There’s a sliding scale here. The communications team will probably be more involved at a strategic level than others, but everyone has their part to play - team leaders need to know when they can expect key information, and when and how they can pass it on.

Ask department heads to confirm that your calendar works for them, and try to be reasonable in making accommodations to requests to tweak it - it’ll generate a huge amount of goodwill that will be invaluable in getting everyone to buy into your strategy.

That’s why it’s important to think about the formatting of your internal communications calendar. It’s important to remember that people will need to follow it easily. Don’t make it over-complex and keep the design simple. Color-code communication types to make it easier to distinguish them, and make sure that there’s plenty of white space and that text is large enough to read.

If you have the luxury of having a designer on hand, or anyone else that’s handy with InDesign/Photoshop, it’s a good idea to get them to knock you up something that’s well laid-out and easy to follow. Or there’s always Excel or a handy Calendar tool with shared calendar options.

5. How Can You Tell If Your Internal Communications Strategy Is Working?

The final stage in building an internal communications strategy is to let it run for a bit, and see whether it works. That’s all there is to it.

Give your strategy some time to ‘bed in’ - with the best will in the world, it’s not going to run 100% smoothly the week after you launch it. It’s important to establish how long you’re going to allow for things to settle down and for your calendar to become part of everyone’s routine.

Scheduling an initial review three months after launch date, with a more extensive one six months down the line is a good framework to work with - though you might want to adjust this to suit your own timescales.

The Importance Of KPIs

Above, we discussed how it was important to identify a few KPIs to track to measure how well your internal communications strategy is working.

These should be your first port of call when reviewing how well your strategy is working.

You might not be hitting all your targets at your first review. This isn’t necessarily any cause for alarm. It might simply be that your targets were too ambitious, or that with a little tweaking, you can get yourself back on track.

Would more training with your internal communication technology (for example a new mobile app) help? Are line managers clear on the responsibilities they need to take on under your new scheme? Analyze, make some changes and track what difference they make.

There seems to be some sort of myth that KPIs are absolute and must never change. Nothing could be further from the truth - adjust your KPIs with the changes you make along the way. Or, if you don’t want to change them, why not take ‘progress towards goal’ as a performance indicator in itself?

Say in the first three months you achieved 30% of the target you were aiming for, so put your department heads through extra internal communications training and send out important email updates at a better time of day. If, in the next three months you hit your target by 65%, it’s a good indication that something’s working and you’re gradually overcoming the issues you encountered initially.

Moving Beyond Metrics

As well as directly affecting your KPIs, which will be based around employee engagement and ironing out any operational issues or miscommunications, a well-executed internal communications strategy has wider-reaching benefits.

We’ve discussed how a better internal communications strategy leads to more engaged employees, and how engaged employees offer better service - and how, in the current climate, customer service counts for a lot in the minds of customers.

It’s not just a boring, back-office function - good internal comms are the gateway to your organization’s success, whether you choose to measure that in profits, the happiness of your service users or any other metric you choose to measure by.

Of course, it’s not a given. The happiest, most switched-on employees in the world can’t make up for poor financial planning, a leaky supply chain, questionable strategic decision-making or over-reliance on out-of-date operating models, even if they delivered service The Ritz would be proud of.

Still, having a well thought-out, effective internal communications strategy is a prerequisite for doing well as a business. It’s not the only thing you’ll need, but you won’t be successful without one.

So, if business is booming and your profit margins keep creeping up, your internal communications team is doing something right. It’s as simple as that. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do to make it better, but even so, take a moment and give yourself a pat on the back.

You’ve earned it.

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