Why Authentic, Empathetic Internal Comms is the New Status Quo
Share

Authentic, empathetic internal comms: the new status quo

The world of internal communications is shifting rapidly. Learn why 2022 is the best time to authentically connect with the people in your organization.

Share

Internal comms have come into their own. At last.

Remember that time, not that long ago, when it was typically no more than an agenda item that rarely made it to the top? It may have been the elephant in the room, but we often just shushed it.

How things have changed.

A hot-off-the-press Gallagher report found that two-thirds of internal communication professionals believe their influence increased in their organization in 2020 alone, and the trend has only accelerated since then. 

Over the past two years, the elephant in the room morphed into a roaring lion. Organizations have had to catch up rapidly to put in place better intranet solutions, easy mobile access, and updated automated communication features. 

All that has made a huge difference. But we’re not there yet. 

With the adoption of technological changes, other aspects of internal comms have crashed into the boardroom. It’s become clear that it’s not just a matter of having the right tools — mindset is just as important.

The old mindset (‘inform’) has turned out to be quite fragile. For internal comms to work, your employees need to trust you. And what generates trust is authentic communication based on genuine empathy. 

Authentic communication can’t be faked, but it can be learned. Here are some key starting points for making sure your employees don’t feel talked at but feel part of the conversation. 

1. Initiate dialogue

How obvious does that sound? And yet, so much internal communication gets stuck in being top-down.

These outdated comms are part of the reason why 68% of internal communicators named low employee response as their biggest internal communications challenge in 2021. 

So how can you encourage your employees to engage with communications? Encourage an open dialogue. Remember, you are talking to people. What will they want or need to know? How can you make it clear that their input is welcome? 

That input includes both content and emotion. Gallup’s 2021 State of The Global Workplace report found that employees are experiencing more negative emotions daily than ever before. 

Gallup line graph showing the percentage of employees reporting daily negative emotions since 2009.

Welcome all sides of who they are to the table, so they want to contribute. 

Don’t underestimate the power of saying: “Did I leave anything out?” This opens up the floor to communication and gives your employees a chance to contribute things they consider important to cover. This stops misunderstandings before they can start. 

People may have a lot to say but volunteer little unless you make space for them. Don’t occupy all the communication space. Encourage people to practice sharing, put their message in writing, and express it. 

Beyond asking for a response, you have to create a space that is conducive to dialogue. According to the most recent Gallup report on the state of the American workplace, less than one in three employees find their opinions valued at work. 

To make sure your employees feel welcome to speak up, reward them for contributing and don’t penalize them for being open. Continually ask for their input. 

This includes times you’re scared to hear their thoughts — like when you have to deliver bad news to the team or give constructive criticism. Especially when dealing with difficult information, you need to open up the floor so your team doesn’t rely on speculation. 

Hearsay can take up too much valuable communication space, adding static and chipping away at fidelity. Communicate directly with the relevant person or people when you can, rather than passing the message through intermediaries.

2. Timing affects impact

If you want to communicate authentically, keep in mind you are talking to people. People have lives.

Communication often interrupts; sometimes, that’s inevitable. But if you press ‘send’ at the end of the workday, chances are it will be skim-read in a hurry. 

You don’t want to contribute to the 68% of workers who feel they’re working more after going remote than before, so keep your work communication to work hours. It’s more than just allowing employees not to respond. You have to uphold the example. Even if you don’t expect a response at midnight, sending a late-night message pressures your team to follow your lead. It signals that you don’t consider their work-life balance important. 

Consider your timing during work hours, too. Early Monday morning communication will often be trampled on by other things. Late Friday policy updates won’t ever get read. 

Terrible news sandwiched between two brighter points still leaves a bad taste in your mouth. It feels like the bad news is being buried, and the good news is being injected to change the mood. 

There may not be an absolutely right time to communicate something, but there is definitely a wrong time. If you keep that in mind, you will show as much as you tell.

3. Permission to be creative

Effective does not mean boring. One of the strengths of new communication infrastructures is that they are agile. They allow being true, and responsive, to the situation at hand and the people involved.

As Steve Crescenzo puts it, the territory of internal comms can be ‘dull as dirt’ if it confines itself to the deadly P’s –  Programs, Policies, Product, and Procedures. But add a 5th P (People), and new things become possible. 

Creativity means allowing yawn-stifling stuff to come alive. It means dropping the defence, getting to the heart of the matter, and welcoming voices and viewpoints even if they are rough around the edges. It also means finding freedom in choice. 

For instance, leaders are communicating more with recorded messages, which leave more room for their voices to be heard (and are less time-consuming than drafted text).

4. Make the most of different internal comms channels

The new internal comms is all about making the most of different channels. In the past, internal comms drowned in meetings and minutes. In 2022, it’s all so much more versatile. 

There’s a welcome relief in reducing calls and video-conferencing because some things can just go on chats or employee feeds. The trail is still there, but there is no need to interrupt.

According to a 2021 ContactMonkey study on the most valuable internal communication channels, video conferencing, collaborative apps, and emails come out on top. 

Bar chart showing the most valuable communication tools with video conferencing, collaborative apps, and email coming out on top.

Of course, meaningful discussions require a meaningful amount of time to unfold and space to be considered. Important topics deserve time-delayed communication so that you can craft complete thoughts. The points in a quick chat fade with time, never to be reread, while writing builds upon itself with each iteration. 

The key here is to use each channel at the right moment for the right message. Use video conferences to bring everyone up to speed on a complex topic. Use collaborative apps to efficiently leverage everyone’s individual expertise. Use email for messages that don’t need an immediate response. 

Something that starts as a suggestion on the chat may be an issue that requires reflection and judgment. 

Don’t underestimate the power of sending a written communication instead of calling a meeting. It takes minutes to read the same ideas that take hours to explain in a meeting. 

Use meetings sparingly. 

5. Experiment with mediums

A lot of communication relies on words — but other mediums can complement words. Many people grasp what is being said better if they can see it expressed in another way. 

In the absence of face-to-face communication, video is a powerful tool to lean on. According to the 2021 Global State of Internal Communications report by ContactMonkey, the employees said that webinars added the most value to their work. That’s above blogs, emails, and podcasts. 

So consider whether your monthly company update should be a video instead or explaining a new corporate procedure wouldn’t make more sense as a webinar. As the whole workplace moves more remote, communications need to capture the full range of expression and nuance missing in written form. 

The bottom line is that new internal comms technology is good at visuals, from graphs and photos to videos. Again, be agile. Don’t just ramble; consider your options..

This includes formatting what you put in writing. Let’s face it: most people skim writing, so you should make it easy to pick out what your employees must know. Organize information in an easy-to-follow pattern so your employees can find what they want. Traipsing through a long file in the hope of finding what you need to know, without navigation, can be soul-destroying.

6. Find consistent ways to measure internal comms results

You’re not a mind-reader, so how can you know if your efforts are making any impact at all? 

That’s where data comes in. 

In the past, it’s been difficult to measure the impact of your strategies. Static intranets and email blasts are only so trackable. That’s part of the reason 84% of internal communicators agree that it’s difficult to measure internal communications.

That’s all changing with the help of modern internal communications technology. 

Using an internal communications platform that measures the engagement, reach, and the file opens, you can see how your organization responds to your messaging. When you launch an internal campaign, you should be able to track whether it spurs a flurry of excited comments or sparks an interesting debate — or falls flat. 

It’s also time to shift your measures of success. 

Participation may have been the measure of success in the past, but today, simply showing up each day does not mean your employees feel truly engaged. It’s time to shift measurement from activity to genuine connection. 

Sentiment may be hard to capture in data, but regular feedback surveys and engaged, mindful participation in the conversation can give you insight into how your team feels. With an intranet and chat platform that stay live around the clock, you should keep a close eye on the pace and mood behind the conversation. 

Measurement helps on another critical front: proving your value to decision-makers and stakeholders. 

7. Leverage the increased internal comms buy-in

Genuine, authentic internal comms are not one and done. 

To build and maintain an engaged and communicative culture, you need ongoing and flexible strategies. You need to be able to read the room and respond to your organization’s needs on a daily, weekly, and quarterly basis. 

If one of your largest clients churns, you need to be able to respond to the resulting loss in morale and channel your employee’s focus to productive work. If your company posts record-breaking profits in one quarter, the tone of your communications needs to reflect that success and properly appreciate your employees. 

But to remain agile as an internal communicator, you need to secure the buy-in from business executives and investors. They need to trust in the value of your efforts. 

On the whole, business leaders are recognizing the tremendous benefits of investing in internal communications — so it’s time to leverage that. According to Edelman’s 2021 report on the future of corporate communications, 77% of internal communications professionals say their role in their organization has shifted during 2020, with chief communication officers reporting 30% more responsibility as business leaders. 

With more data on how your internal communication efforts improve retention, culture, and productivity, translate that to more trust, a higher budget, and more robust communications strategies. 

8. Internal comms solves business problems

Internal communications aren’t just a part of your business — it’s where your business happens. 

Your organization’s strengths lie with your people and their everyday conversations in brainstorming sessions, new colleague introductions, and problem-solving meetings. So it’s time to look at internal communications’ role in each of your business’s pain points. 

At a high level, we’ve repeatedly seen that employee engagement is strongly associated with good communication. And employee engagement is associated with a litany of positive business outcomes, from 18% higher productivity to increased profits and better customer loyalty. 

Edelman‘s study finds that communications professionals are becoming more strategic business partners within their organizations than before. 

Edelman bar chart on how business leaders regard communicators in their organization. 

Business leaders now recognize the power of their communications for their organizations. From the broad picture to the smallest pain points, directing your internal comms efforts with precision can make an impact on your business’s unique stumbling blocks. 

Are you struggling to keep up with rapid growth? Focus your efforts towards a comprehensive, repeatable, and supportive onboarding process that will help you bring on and train the additional workforce you need to grow.

Or are you among the many businesses struggling with employee retention? Look to your current employees for insight and feedback on what they’re missing and foster open communication.

If encroaching competitors and dwindling profits is your concern, it’s time to focus on innovation. Use internal communication to break down siloed workgroups and reinvigorate old discussions to mine for the next great idea. 

Authentic, empathetic internal comms: the new status quo

We’re in the midst of a tremendous shift in the workplace, with how people work and communicate at the forefront. Employees want their workplace to treat them as people first and employees second.

As fewer people share an office, they seek to share a digital space that welcomes their thoughts and experiences. 

Organizations are bringing communication leaders into the boardroom as strategic partners capable of shaping the direction of the business as a whole. 

As an internal comms professional, 2022 is the best time to use your new technology and greater leverage to create truly authentic, empathetic internal communications.