The 8 rules of internal communication

These industry pros laid down their fundamental rules for the profession. What would you add?

Talking to your workforce compasses almost every communications skill—and a few unique to employee communication. Writing, event management, message planning, design and advising leaders must supplement an understanding of line supervisors and coping with the darker corners of HR.

We recently wrote a book explaining internal communication. It’s the guide we wish we had when we started in the field. While we were writing it, we quickly realized what a massive task we’d taken on!

Painfully aware we were bound to miss something vital, we covered our backsides by writing what we thought were the rules of internal communication. We’d love to know what you think:

1. It’s about results and outcomes—not activity.

Every conversation in internal communication begins , “What do we want people to do?” No matter how exciting a beautiful brochure, leadership conference or intranet site, what’s the point if nobody works differently?

2. It’s about the business.

Why should the boss fund internal communications if it has no effect on the business? When you can show the link back to the business need or problem, expect the CFO to fall adoringly at your feet. ( sometimes)

3. Don’t drive with your eyes shut.

Communicators are a bridge between two worlds. They have to understand how the workforce thinks so they can tell a leader why it will be hard to communicate his latest idea. Internal communicators can only do this if they’re always on the move, talking and listening. No one else can do it, because your knowledge makes you valuable. Without it, how can you produce communication that will interest anyone or talk to their concerns?

4. People have two ears and one mouth. So should organizations.

You mom told you it was rude to shout and never listen, but that’s exactly how most organizations behave toward their staff. When people know leaders hear them, amazing things happen. People are more loyal, work harder and embrace change.

5. Come with data, and leave with respect.

Have you heard the story of the respected CFO who never looked at data? Neither have we, but we know loads of communicators who think they can entertain a boardroom with nothing but their wit and sparkling personality.

Senior managers live in a world of facts and spreadsheets. Show them data about process and outcomes, and present it simply. You don’t need a Ph.D. to show how communication helps with things that matter.

6. Line managers matter.

Some people claim supervisors and line managers are your best employee communication channel. It’s not always the case, but often is. When line leaders care about communication, can explain how events and plans affect their people, and know higher-ups hear their ideas, staff work harder and are more committed. You’ll nearly always get great results when you ask, “What do I need managers to discuss with their teams?”

7. There is no silver bullet.

Here’s a fun game: Count the number of emails or Web posts you see in a week announcing that XYZ’s product, service or tool will solve all your employee communication problems. There’s rarely a week when some wonder tool can’t remedy all your problems. It has never been true, and never will be.

8. Our job matters.

Our job lets us stick our noses where we like, and make a real difference. Who else actually changes things at work daily? That’s pretty cool, but it also behooves us to take our jobs seriously, develop our skills and treat our work with respect.

There are some great thinkers in the profession. People like Roger D’Aprix, Bill Quirke and Kathryn Yates are inspiring. Their message is that employees want someone to tell them what their jobs are, how they’re doing and how it relates to the bigger picture. Organizations want good staff to stick around, work hard, be flexible and be external ambassadors.

If you want to deliver communication that helps people do their jobs and adds value , these rules will allow you to use internal communication to make a difference.

Klavs Valskov and Liam FitzPatrick are the joint managing partners of the change communication consultancy Agenda Strategies. This is based on an extract from their latest book, “Internal Communications: A Manual for Practitioners,” published by Kogan Page. A version of this excerpt originally appeared on Communication World Magazine.

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