Engage your staff, meet your organizational objectives
Originally published: September 2017
Internal communications is an essential tool for building trust, engaging staff and promoting organizational culture, all of which can work together to increase productivity. Just as you need a communications strategy for your external audiences, you also need one for your staff so they understand what your organization is trying to achieve and how they can contribute to that journey.
Still, research from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) suggests that many employees feel that they receive limited or very little information within their organization.
Although nonprofits with few employees are unlikely to need a formal internal communications strategy, even the smallest nonprofits must explain how each employee contributes to achieving the organization's goals and objectives.
What does a successful internal communications strategy look like?
CIPD's research report "Harnessing the power of employee communication" argues that successful communication:
- Is built on a shared sense of purpose
- Is aligned to business strategy
- Is recognized and supported by senior leadership
- Is driven by genuine, two-way dialogue
- Is part of the expectation of good HR management
- Uses a range of digital channels and tools
- Is reviewed and assessed for effectiveness
It's vital that staff feel involved, not only so they can help shape the strategy but also so they can truly engage in internal communications.
What should an internal communications strategy include?
According to internal communications expert Rachel Miller of All things IC, an internal communications strategy is like a map — it's an outline of your organization's journey and the big picture of what you want to achieve. When embarking on an internal communications strategy, answer the following questions from an organizational point of view:
- Where are we currently?
- Where do we want to be?
- How are we going to get there?
- Why do we want to be there?
- How long will it take to get there?
- Who should be involved?
- How will we know when we're there?
Miller advocates a research-based internal communications strategy that keeps employees at its center and, most importantly, is easily understood by anyone who reads it. To conduct the research, put together employee surveys or focus groups. You might also look for anecdotal feedback from skills gap or internal communications audits.
How should an internal communications strategy be presented?
The format of your internal communications strategy depends on your organization. Whether you choose a Word document, spreadsheet or presentation slides, it's vital that your strategy is a working document that's actively used rather than simply gathering dust on a shelf — virtual or otherwise. The length of the document will also depend on how much detail you want to go into. Remember, though, the longer the strategy, the less likely staff will engage in it.
Miller shares the headings she typically includes in an internal communications strategy:
- Issue or purpose. What business objective(s) is your strategy aligned to?
- Executive summary. How would you summarize your strategy?
- Structure. What does your strategy include?
- Communication objective. Why does the strategy exist, and what objective(s) is it trying to meet?
- Measurement. What metrics you will use to measure success?
- Key messages. Are they concise and memorable?
- Audience segmentation. How would you define and group your audience?
- Channels. What platforms will you use to communicate with your audience? How will you facilitate two-way communication and feedback?
- Process and responsibilities. What's the process for signing off the internal communications strategy and who will do this?
- Timeline. What's your deadline and are there any key dates to keep in mind?
- Appendix. What additional information helps inform the strategy?
What are some ways to measure the effectiveness of an internal communications strategy?
As with every strategy, it's essential to set clear key performance indicators at the start and know which metrics will be used to measure success. CIPD suggests measuring your overall culture of communication and success against specific objectives.
For example, a regular employee attitude survey can help determine whether your strategy is working or not. You might ask employees if they feel fully informed and satisfied with the regularity and consistency of communication, as well as whether they trust leadership and sense that their concerns are being heard. Then, once your objectives are established, you can measure whether the campaign makes a difference.