The success of a business rests on whether or not its employees are able to accomplish the objectives company leaders set out for them. Employees need to know what their priorities are, who to work with, how to collaborate, and what the chains of command are. And they need to do all this hard work while staying motivated and feeling like they’re part of a larger mission.
Employees receive that information from their managers and from other sources across the company, through internal communications. When internal communications are successful, the different teams that make up a company buy into a company’s vision and help make it a reality. Here’s how to understand internal communications, and why it’s so important to get right.
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What is internal communications?
Internal communications is the practice of sharing information about a company with its employees. It can include executives sharing information with employees, employees sharing information with their managers, or teams sharing information among themselves. That information can range from overall company goals and values to specific team initiatives, and it can come in many formats, including written in emails or shared verbally in meetings.
Understanding internal communications
Internal communications can happen in person or virtually and can take place across many channels. Formal channels can include:
- Email, such as an email from the human resources department about an out-of-service elevator or an email from the CEO announcing a big change in strategy
- Newsletters, such as a monthly newsletter from the product team about new product launches
- All-hands meetings, wherein company leadership presents to all employees an overview, such as a slideshow about recent progress, current goals, and the overall financial health of the organization
Informal channels for sharing information can include:
- Team chats, where all members of a team gather to discuss what they’re working on
- One-on-ones between managers and direct reports, in which employees share blockers they’re facing on a project
- Internal messages between coworkers on messaging apps such as Slack or Google Chat.
5 reasons internal communications matter
When used effectively, internal communications can break down silos within a company, provide transparency, and make employees feel like they are part of a larger community. Encouraging such an exchange of information can accomplish the following:
Clarify company objectives and priorities
Internal communications should let employees know what the company’s objectives are, including any quarterly Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) as well as larger North Star goals. When company leaders openly explain these topics, each team will have a better understanding of their highest-priority tasks, which are usually those that have a direct impact on those goals. They can then focus more time on those tasks and build up skill sets that ladder up to these goals, which allows them to more meaningfully contribute to the company’s bottom line.
Foster company culture
Internal communications can share and reiterate a company’s mission and values. Employees can then make sure they’re embodying the values in their everyday interactions with each other and with customers. Internal communications can also introduce colleagues to each other through, for example, a newsletter that features a questionnaire answered by one employee about what they like to do outside of the office. This encourages people to think of their colleagues not just as coworkers but also as individuals and potentially friends, which increases employee satisfaction and can lead to higher retention.
Build employee engagement and morale
When employees feel like they understand what the company’s priorities are, and feel like their leaders are behaving transparently, they are more likely to feel engaged, which leads to higher productivity. It can also lower feelings of stress: A study by Grammarly and The Harris Poll showed that communicating poorly leads to employees reporting that they are more stressed. Effectively communicating boosts engagement and the feeling that you’re all one team working toward the same goal: the company’s success.
When members of a business understand their own projects as well as those of other teams, they spend less time floundering or doing work that won’t have a direct impact on the company’s goals. This is one reason why forums such as one-on-one meetings with managers are valuable: Employees can ask questions to ensure they’re focusing on the correct initiatives in their work. They can also bring up any blockers to their work that their managers can help with. This type of internal communication can lift their productivity and ensure they’re executing their tasks effectively and efficiently, rather than spending time worrying about whether they’re performing their job correctly.
Make collaboration easier
When teams talk regularly to each other in both a formal way (as in a weekly stand-up meeting) and an informal way (such as in a Slack group), they know what others are working on. It becomes easier to establish processes for important elements of collaboration, like when someone hands off a project to another person. The result is a stronger end product that is truly the brainchild of several team members rather than one person working alone.
The impact of effective internal communication
Effective communication within a business aligns all employees, from those at the very top to the most junior employees, around core business issues. It builds organizational cohesion and company culture, and it helps employees feel like they’re all on the same team, which can boost their motivation, their engagement, and ultimately their desire to stay at the company.
Additionally, there’s an important connection between internal communication and external perception. To outsiders, everyone who works at a company is an emblem of it. The way they talk about it to friends and family can impact the wider perception of the company. That, in turn, can affect people’s likelihood of buying from or engaging with the company. Effective internal communication makes employees feel more connected to the company, which makes it more likely that they’ll be happy and speak well of the company outside of work.
Barriers to effective internal communications
It takes business leaders implementing a thoughtful strategy to have effective internal communications within a company. When it’s done poorly, employees may be left confused and unsure of how to perform their jobs. Here are some examples of common barriers to effective internal communications.
If team leads are not sure what the company line is, you can be sure their direct reports will also be confused. Studies show that poorly written materials waste time and lead to workplace failures. To avoid this situation, be specific and coherent, both verbally and in writing, about the message you want delivered and be clear about what the leads should and shouldn’t share with their teams.
Lack of official channels
Internal communications are not effective if there aren’t designated channels for distributing information. If information travels between teams solely via gossip, employees will not know what the official line is and may hear and spread falsehoods. It’s more effective to have something in writing, like an email, sent by an executive or a company leader so that employees know the approved message and can recheck it later.
Unclear hierarchical structures
Information in a company ideally flows from the very top, the CEO, to others in the C-suite in various departments. They then communicate to their team leads, who pass the memo down to managers on their team, who then pass the information down to their direct reports. In a company without a clear chain of command, it may be confusing who should be communicating what to whom.
Too much information
People can only process so many pieces of information at one time. Providing too much information in any one meeting or email will make it hard for employees to grasp what, of all the information they’ve been given, is most important.
6 strategies for overcoming communication challenges
Communication challenges arise when the information you want to deliver to your audience is not heard or understood. This could be because of information overload, or because the information was too vague or poorly formatted. There are best practices for effective business communication that apply when devising a strong internal communications strategy. Here are a few techniques that can help you communicate important topics that your recipients will actually listen to and retain:
Be clear and to the point
Decide on a few key points you want to communicate, and then share them. Try not to get stuck in jargon or mumbo-jumbo. That can obscure the takeaway of your message and cause employees to stop listening or reading. If there are many points you want to get across, consider splitting the information up into several different emails or presentations so that the key messages don’t get lost in a muddle.
Summarize the information
If you must have a memo or newsletter that is particularly long, include a TL;DR (which originally stood for “too long; didn’t read” and now means a brief recap). Assume that your team may only skim the communique, and help them out by summarizing the main bits by using bullet points or a numbered list. Remember to keep it short and focused on the key points.
Transparency involves telling employees hard news, like if the team missed its targets one quarter, or if a C-suite executive made a wrong call about a new market to enter into. Being transparent engenders trust, and when employees trust you, they’re more likely to listen to what you’re saying, accept it, and support it.
Be timely and kind
If there’s difficult news about a company, such as the need to lay off personnel, employees should hear it from company leadership first rather than through another party, like the press. It’s important in any communication, and especially when you’re sharing difficult news, to be human and be kind. A company’s employees are, after all, people first, and they may have emotional reactions to certain news.
Practice active listening
Employees don’t just want to be talked to—they also want to be heard. So solicit their opinions and their feedback. This is especially important for policies that impact their daily routines, such as a return-to-the-office policy. It’s also important to make sure that the content you distribute to them is content that they find helpful. So use anonymous surveys to collect their feedback on that presentation you recently gave, or to ask what other topics they’d like to read about in the weekly newsletter on company events.
Have clear processes
Employees should know when to expect official information about the company. An effective internal communications strategy should include frequently sending out emails or posting updates on internal channels such as Slack, and cross-functional meetings should happen at regular intervals, such as weekly or monthly.
Examples of internal communications
Successful internal communications can come in many forms on different channels. Here are three examples of what that could look like:
- Weekly emails from the CEO: A casual email from the CEO about what they accomplished that week and what different teams are working on has the two-pronged result of sharing relevant company information with employees and helping employees feel closer to an executive they likely don’t interact with very much. The team that writes it can look at metrics such as click-through rates to gauge how successful the strategy is.
- A newsletter that highlights internal events: A newsletter from human resources can let employees know about events taking place within the company that month. It can also highlight important dates all employees should know about, such as days the office is closed, or the deadline for completing internal training videos. The team that produces this type of newsletter can send out anonymous surveys to make sure that it provides value to employees.
- Quarterly meeting of senior employees: A regular time for senior managers to meet allows them to receive new information from company leadership and exchange cross-departmental information. That can be especially helpful in agile companies where strategies and priorities shift quickly. These meetings then allow senior managers to cascade relevant information down to their teams and direct reports.
Internal communications are imperative for a company of any size to thrive. It is the practice of ensuring employees at all levels know where the company is going so that they can focus on the work they need to do to contribute to that growth. When done correctly, internal communications can be measured, and its impact can be felt—in employee satisfaction as well as in more revenue and clients.