There are 12 essential elements of a successful internal communications strategy:
1. Employee-directed communications must be led from the top.
Effective communications require the active commitment and endorsement of senior managers. It is not enough simply to develop a “vision statement” or formulate in general terms the values by which the company lives. Behavior is what counts. Managers must behave in a manner consistent with the ethos they are promoting.
2. The essence of good communications is consistency.
At all costs, avoid following fashion and tinkering. If you try to improve communications and then fail—because your messages are inconsistent or are “good news only”—things will not quietly settle back into the way they used to be. You will inevitably have created expectations, and you may have to live with the consequences of having disappointed those expectations.
3. Successful employee communications owe as much to consistency, careful planning and attention to detail as they do to charisma or natural gifts.
We might not all be another Zig Ziglar, Tony Robbins or Bill Clinton. But even such communication “giants” slip up if they fail to plan, fail to pay attention to detail and fail to project a consistent message.
4. Communication via the line manager is most effective.
“Line manager to employee” communication is an opportunity for people to ask questions and check that they have understood the issues correctly. However, be aware that business urgency and reality may dictate the need, on many occasions, to inform employees directly rather than relying entirely on the cascade process. (Though managers will still need to answer people’s questions and listen to their views.)
5. Employee communications are not optional extras, they are part of business as usual and should be planned and budgeted for as such.
An employee communications plan—key themes, targets, objectives and resources—provides a context in which to deliver initiatives that arise at short notice.
6. There must be integration between internal and external communications.
There must be a fit between what you are telling your people and what you are telling your customers, shareholders and public. (By the same token, there must be a fit between what you are telling your people, and what the external media are telling them.)
7. Timing is crucial.
However clearly expressed and well presented your message may be, if it arrives at the wrong time you might as well not have bothered. Old news is often worse than no news. Consequently, it is important to ensure that the channels you use can really deliver at the time you need them to.
8. Tone is important.
Expressing gushing enthusiasm about a technical change of little real significance to your staff or the public is scarcely calculated to make people take your message to heart. If they don’t take that message to heart, why would they take the rest of what you say to their bosoms?
9. Never lose sight of the “What’s in it for me?” factor.
We are self-interested creatures. I may have invented the most amazing gadget ever, but unless I get you emotionally involved, you are likely never to listen to my message about it. But if I can show you how my gadget will revolutionize your life, add dollars to your wallet, free up your time, fix your smelly feet, wash your car for you, stop your kids from arguing with you, bring peace with your spouse, promote world peace…
10. Communication is a two-way process.
Employee communications are not a one-way information dump. Capturing feedback is of vital importance, and if you are not seen to be listening and acting on what you are told, why should people bother telling you?
11. A single key theme or a couple of key themes give coherence to diverse employee communications initiatives.
In recent years, the overriding theme of many corporate employee communications has been the impact on the business of competition, regulation and economic forces. Many messages and initiatives can therefore be evaluated according to the light they shed on one or more of these key themes.
12. Set your standards, and stick to them.
Determine which channels should be mandatory and which should be optional; establish quality standards for all channels, and review these at least annually.