How to use internal communication to improve transparency

Use these savvy tips, tools and tactics to build trust and boost engagement in your organization.

Transparency in comms

Retaining talented employees is—or at least should be—a top priority for organizations today.

In the United States, for example, 27% of employees voluntarily left their jobs last year. There are many reasons why employees jump ship, but a key factor is that they don’t trust their organizations. According to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, 48% of Americans surveyed say they don’t trust for-profit companies. Also, 69% think building trust should be a top priority of businesses today.

Building trust with and among employees is no easy feat, but improving transparency is the smartest place to start. Let’s explore two tactics that organizations can use to relay full, accurate and timely information to employees: leader town hall meetings and internal social media.

1. Leader town hall meetings

When managed well, town halls are a valuable employee communication tool for increasing transparency. Here’s why:

  • A town hall presents one of the few opportunities employees have for interacting (live) with senior leaders.
  • As a result, town halls build employee confidence and trust in leaders.
  • Leaders can be more candid than they can in written or recorded communication. That makes a town hall feel authentic.
  • The best town halls share content employees can’t receive anywhere else.
  • Town halls bring people together from various locations and functions, creating a sense of community.

Start by defining your desired outcomes and goals. Here’s how:

  • Set tangible, specific objectives such as these:
    • Increase confidence in the company and trust in leaders.
    • Educate employees about an issue that’s vital to the organization.
    • Motivate participants.
    • Prepare employees to take action.
  • Work hard to gain buy-in from key stakeholders. Gain commitment that future town halls will change to achieve those objectives.
  • Design and customize every research tool—from post-event surveys to an annual communication audit—to measure how well employees think you’ve achieved your objectives.

Focus on encouraging participation

At nearly every traditional town hall, there’s a moment of silence that comes when a senior leader utters four scary words: “Are there any questions?” A hush falls over the room. Nobody moves. People avoid making eye contact. Finally, some brave soul raises her hand, and everyone starts breathing again.

Town hall participation doesn’t have to be painful. Here are seven ways to encourage employees to play a role:

  • Find out why employees don’t speak up. Conduct focus groups or interviews to explore what stops employees from participating.
  • Limit the number of topics. If the content being presented is too complex, abstract or boring, employees will quickly tune out. Focus on one or two key topics of crucial importance, and leave out the rest.
  • Set expectations. Ask your leader to state up front that the town hall has been designed to include participation. The leader should articulate how the session will work (especially if the format is different from previous town halls).
  • Allow plenty of time. Most town halls are too heavily weighted toward presentations, which often leave only a few minutes at the end for Q&A. Once employees start to watch the clock (“just 10 more minutes”), they’re discouraged from participating. Include enough time to set up the discussion, facilitate dialogue and build momentum.
  • Take a vote. The safest, easiest way for employees to participate is as part of a big group. An effective option is audience response devices or text polling to ask employees their opinions on key issues. If you don’t have access to technology, you can still ask employees to share their viewpoint. The simplest approach? Call for a show of hands.
  • Eliminate the spotlight. Even the most extroverted people find it difficult to raise a  hand in front of colleagues, so create a way for employees to share their questions or thoughts more subtly. Facilitate a break-out session at tables or in small groups of two or three, and ask employees to generate a couple of questions or concerns on cards. Then ask a spokesperson from selected groups to share a thought generated by the group.
  • Instead of calling for questions, coach leaders to pose a question. Even in the most open, supportive culture, it’s risky for employees to expose potential ignorance by asking a question. However, if the leader poses a question such as, “What are the obstacles to achieving this objective?”employees have the opportunity to participate from a position of strength.

2. Internal social media

Many organizations still struggle to make internal social media tools an essential part of their employee communication program. Yet a Pew Research Center survey finds a direct link between social media use and trust:

“We asked people if they felt ‘that most people can be trusted.’ When we used regression analysis to control for demographic factors, we found that Facebook users are more likely to be trusting. A Facebook user who uses the site multiple times per day is 43% more likely than other internet users and more than three times as likely as non-internet users to feel that most people can be trusted.”

Why should trust be affected by connections made via social media? Fast Company writer Adam Penenburg explains: “We humans are hard-wired to comingle with one another offline and on-, and the web and its platforms like Facebook and Twitter make it more efficient than ever. That’s because virtual relationships can be as real as actual relationships.”

So, the biggest advantage of internal social media is its potential to encourage employees to connect, share ideas and solve problems. Here’s how to facilitate an employee-centric internal social media program:

  • Learn employees’ demographics to understand their communication preferences.
  • To find out which social media tools employees will use at work, ask what they prefer to use outside of work.
  • Understand how employees do their jobs, and introduce social media tools that support their work.
  • Conduct focus groups, and ask questions such as: “Based on your personal experiences, how can and should we use social media inside the company?”

Promote the benefits

Busy, distracted workers won’t instantly flock to your new platform, no matter how well designed your program may be.

That’s why you must inform, educate and convince workers about how and why your cool new tools are necessary.

Here are eight quick ideas for getting started:

  • Snack and chat. Create a social media breakroom where employees can grab a free snack and have an online conversation.
  • Use success stories. Highlight employees who use social media to work smarter and more efficiently.
  • Emphasize the benefits. Remind employees of the benefits of quick collaboration, easy knowledge sharing and being in the know.
  • Overcome the obstacles. Why aren’t your employees using social media? Ask them, gather feedback, and use their answers to tweak your program accordingly.
  • Have fun. Run a contest, and give out small prizes to celebrate participation.
  • Reach out and touch someone. Ask employees to send out five hellos to co-workers they don’t know but would like to.
  • Make it an event. Have a social media post-athon. The more employees participate, the bigger the donation to a favorite charity.
  • Buddy up. Recruit social media ambassadors to answer colleagues’ questions, and encourage them to use the new tool.

How have you used internal communication tools and tactics to increase transparency? Please share your suggestions in the comments below.

Alison Davis is CEO of Davis & Company.

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