James Humes, a noted author and former presidential speechwriter once said, “the art of communication is the language of leadership.” In essence, clear communication helps build trust. In business, I’ve had the fortunate experience to work in a variety of cultures, from uber-corporate climates to low-key creative agency settings to a total free-for-all (and as fun as the latter sounds, I don’t recommend it). There are advantages and disadvantages to all of them for sure, and I’ve had the opportunity to learn a great deal in those different environments, especially when it comes to internal communications.
In almost all business situations, there’s a huge focus on client messaging. From strategy to marketing to retention and beyond, we build communications plans that engage our client/customer/end user. We build our businesses around who is going to use our tool, product or services. But there’s another constant, and often overlooked element, that exists in every business, yet one which plays an equally important role. That element is employee and stakeholder communications. Yep. I said it. We get so focused on our messaging to clients and customers that we forget to practice those same messaging standards with some of our most important stakeholders, our employees. You know, the ones who make the company’s wheels turn?
Let’s take a look at some basic strategies to consider when creating internal communications. We won’t dig into the nitty-gritty, but we should talk about some basics that create transparency and allow for clearer communications, or what I like to call delivering the right message at the right time in the right way.
Whose line is it anyway?
One of the first and probably most important decisions to make in a communications plan is where and from whom are the messages coming. Whether you have a boutique 20-person agency or a national corporation, internal messaging ought to come from a select group of individuals or departments. If that means HR, then designate one person; if you want marketing involved, assign an individual. Larger companies will often have a communications department, but that doesn’t always mean messaging will come from them. Frankly, communications don’t always have to be only one person for the whole company, but create the expectation that internal messaging can’t come from Dan in IT because he decided to go rogue and email everyone.
You might also consider writing the “rules” into your employees handbook, which matches the culture of your company. If you work at a hip start-up or creative agency, everyone might want to see the email Lindsey sends of her vacation to Mexico, but if your culture is more along the lines of a conservative law firm, you may not want to see Lindsey’s husband in his, ahem, “European-style” swim trunks. Simply put, designating a select few to put out messaging builds an organic system of checks and balances, streamlines communications, increases accountability and creates an expectation from your employees.
“Good timing is invisible. Bad timing sticks out a mile.” -Tony Corinda
Timing is everything. In fact, people have created algorithms that study what times during the day and which days people are most likely to respond to posts on social media, emails and other online communications, down to the minute. In addition to these stats, it’s crucial to determine which times of the day are acceptable to send out internal communications. Many companies, especially those with billable employees, have chosen to establish a “groove time,” say, between 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., which means virtually all communications must be sent either before 9:00 a.m. or after 4:00 p.m.
Similarly, it’s wise to adapt to the ebb and flow of your employees’ schedules. For example, if you adhere to a summer schedule where many of your employees are out of the office on Friday afternoons, it might not be the greatest idea to unveil a new HR initiative or a keynote message from the CEO at 3:00 p.m. Friday afternoon. Not only did one company I know of actually do this, but the companywide email linked back to the employee Intranet, which was not accessible externally. Needless to say, the message was not well-received and confusion ensued.
Square peg, round hole
Remember earlier when I talked about “groove time” and determining when to send a message? Equally important is where you put your messaging. Sure, email is immediate, especially when it’s a high-impact or time-sensitive message, but for all non-essential messaging, other areas like an employee portal, network server or employee Intranet may be the best solution. The key here is to create an expectation that important, but not urgent company messaging can be found at one point-of-contact.
Setting a precedent with messaging tone and style should match your company culture to some extent, but don’t be afraid to be slightly more casual with your employees, specifically when there’s a call-to-action, or you’re trying to enlist the help of your employees. How you say something is as important as when and where. If your messaging lacks engagement, is overtly long-winded or inconsistent, you’ll lose readership. Consider the power of images, infographics, video and bulleting your paragraphs, and don’t forget to stick to a standard font style and color. Also, be sure to proofread your communication thoroughly and even ask for a second set of eyes. And just because a message is coming from Cindy in HR, doesn’t mean she’s the point-of-contact for questions. Always add a sentence at the end specifically addressing to whom questions should be directed.
The overall goal in creating effective employee communications is to instill trust, show transparency and leadership and alleviate confusion, because an informed employee is also a happy one. And happy employees make for happy clients.
If you need help with your internal communications give Absolute a call at 701-478-1111 and ask to speak with a marketing advisor or visit absolutemg.com/contact. We would be happy to help.