11 ways to botch your company’s internal communications

To ensure failure, send frequent, lengthy messages that have nothing to do with the company’s bottom line. Also, use jargon whenever possible, and neglect the power of great storytelling.

Plenty of blog posts tell how to succeed in internal communications; let’s talk about how so many communicators fail.

By brushing up on ruinous internal communication mistakes, you’ll be better equipped to diagnose—and overcome—any obstacles you might have in your organization. Being mindful of common blunders will help you be more vigilant, shrewd and effective.

A study I conducted with Michael Ambjorn of Align Your Org analyzed how internal communicators fail; it used data from more than 100 companies (with about 1 million employees) across 10 countries.

Based on those findings, here are 11 common ways internal communicators miss the mark:

1. Too many messages.

Average-performing organizations are 40 percent more likely to cram too many messages into communications; high-performing organizations are much more judicious with messaging.

Do you filter and focus your messages on what’s genuinely important, or do you inundate your workers with inconsequential fluff?

2. Irrelevant communication monologues.

Communicators at high-performing organizations produce a balanced blend of employee-centric messages and tend to be better at listening and using two-way channels.

How much do you talk about yourself, rather than listening to others? Internal communication should be a dialogue—not a monologue.

3. Too much jargon.

Just 53 percent of internal communicators admit to keeping their language simple and jargon-free. Top-performing communication professionals are better at simplifying messages and keeping them clear and concise.

Does jargon slip through your editorial net? If so, will your employees understand what you’re trying to convey?

4. Lack of understanding (or catering to) the audience.

High-performing organizations (71 percent) are much better at tailoring internal communication to targeted audiences than average organizations (45 percent).

When was the last time you thought deeply—and strategically—about your colleagues’ needs, preferences and interests? That should shape your messaging.

5. Outdated tools and processes.

More than 50 percent of high-performing organizations invest regularly in new tools to improve communications.

If you cling to outdated tools, technologies, software and platforms, your internal communication will probably become irrelevant and ignored.

6. Channels spread too thin.

Internal communicators often chase “shiny new tools” and adopt too many distribution channels. Pumping out content from a multitude of platforms creates confusion, distraction and fatigue.

Judiciously choose the best channels for your messages and audience. Don’t feel obligated to try every new platform or program. When it comes to channels, less is typically more.

7. The know-it-all leader.

Just 20 percent of the communicators surveyed believe their leaders are good at messaging. One respondent wrote: “Executives think they know how to communicate with employees, but they don’t!”

Do you provide communication training to your leaders? Do managers have any sort of communication accountability?

High-performing communicators consider who the best interlocutor for their audience is—which isn’t always an executives or manager. Not everyone’s a natural, so this might require investing in training for senior leaders. This is where internal communicators can become trusted advisors to those at the top.

If you want to fail, keep your expertise to yourself.

8. The lackey internal communicator.

In half the benchmarked organizations, corporate messages were generally devised by senior executives, with internal communicators relegated to a delivery role. Are you essentially a paperboy or papergirl, just conveying the CEO’s message? If so, how did you end up in that position?

Perhaps it’s about understanding—or lack thereof. Just one in five communicators from average organizations admitted that they “thoroughly understand the business.” We also found that 96 percent of senior leaders believe they are already “good communicators,” which makes people less likely to seek guidance or input.

For an internal communicator seeking to gain respect, credibility and clout, it’s crucial to gain a deep understanding of your company. If you want to become more than a mere message deliverer, you must also be able to tie your activities to meaningful metrics and business outcomes. That’s how you get a more significant seat at the table.

9. Ignoring the power of storytelling.

High-performing organizations are 80 percent more likely to have a process for creating great corporate stories. Outstanding communicators are undeterred by boring topics or dull subject matter. All communication roads should lead to compelling, enjoyable content.

10. Emotional disconnections.

High-performing organizations are twice as likely to establish genuine emotional connections with workers through internal communication. Your colleagues are people, so communicate with them accordingly—not like robots spitting out dry corporate messages.

11. Misalignment between internal communication and business strategy.

Eighty-nine percent of the high performers surveyed align internal communication efforts with overarching business strategy. Just 58 percent of average-performing organizations reported doing so.

If you want to fail, focus on ancillary projects or issues that aren’t connected to the mission or wider business strategy. Unless your message has a direct impact on helping employees execute the organization’s strategy, reconsider why you are communicating it.

Stephen Welch is a communication consultant based in London. A version of this post first appeared on the H&H blog.


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