When we think of business communication, typically we consider external audiences. After all, enticing others to buy, join, or donate is what drives an organization’s success.
But behind that driver are employees whose performance depends on having the knowledge and motivation to do their jobs well. Good internal communication—in both directions—is vital.
The National Business Research Institute cites poor communication as one of the leading causes of dissatisfaction among employees. With unemployment low and competition high, now is a good time to take a fresh look at how you communicate internally. We’ve put together some tips for keeping staff informed, engaged, and energized.
1. Let employees know how you’re doing
Good or bad, it’s important to communicate about the organization’s performance. If you’re struggling in some areas, being up front about it can dispel damaging rumors and let you present a strong message about your strategy for improvement. It can also open the door for employees to step up with suggestions.
In addition to being open about problem areas, be sure to celebrate your successes—not just sales numbers but also less visible areas such as project milestones, client feedback, and organization impact (an especially important metric for nonprofits). This information can both motivate employees and help them communicate your value to customers and the public.
2. Highlight company benefits and resources
Regularly remind employees of any exceptional benefits you offer and how to access them, including health, retirement, and other areas that affect your financial package. Employees are increasingly interested in how their investments, deductibles, and other financial transactions are handled; let them know your processes for understanding and controlling them.
Be sure to promote resources and opportunities for professional development, including internal training, relevant conferences and workshops, and reimbursement policies. If you offer unusual opportunities such as release time for community work, offer periodic reminders about how to take advantage of these opportunities.
3. Convey your culture (and the policies that support it)
According to Ink Magazine, having an unclear corporate culture is one of the fastest ways to alienate your employees. Do you value innovation, even if it comes with more risk? Are you all about letting the best ideas bubble to the top, regardless of their source? What do you count as success, and how do you reward it?
– Attr. to George Bernard Shaw
Equally important are the policies you have in place to support your culture. Let employees know what avenues you offer for bringing new ideas to the table, collaborating across functions, and gaining recognition. Also, if you aim to be a truly equal opportunity employer, highlight your anti-discrimination policies, including procedures for reporting and addressing any infractions.
4. Aim to inspire as well as to inform
In addition to celebrating organizational successes, it’s important to bring individual or group accomplishments to light. Offer public praise for employees who have made unusual or important contributions as well as those who have been promoted.
If possible, let employees know what actions they can take to achieve a similar level of recognition—remember, the point of communicating is to inspire action, whether general performance improvement or achievement of specific objectives.
5. Pay attention to prospects
Communication with potential employees is one area where many companies fall down. Even those that have superb outreach efforts often founder when it comes to the interview and on-boarding processes. If you have an automated application process, be sure to test it periodically to make sure it’s functioning well and is reasonably easy to navigate. An impersonal or needlessly complex process can discourage qualified applicants.
It’s also worth reviewing hiring procedures to ensure that those who know the most about a job can communicate directly with candidates. Incomplete or shifting information about a job posting can result in mismatches or costly delays in hiring.
One firm we know ran a national search for a high-level position that could be performed remotely. When management decided the job needed to be on-site, the change wasn’t conveyed to HR—which had sole control over hiring communication—until after the leading candidates had flown in for interviews. When all of the candidates bowed out, the firm had to start the hiring process over again.
6. Mind the medium
Using a variety of channels—including email, newsletters, team chat applications, and social media—can keep communication interesting and help you target your communication to the right audience. Remember that not everyone needs to hear everything, and keep messaging brief and on point to avoid overload.
It’s important to pay attention to how your communication looks as well as what it says. Good presentation, including use of visuals, can make communication more engaging and memorable.
7. Review the sum of your communication, not just the parts
Periodic reviews of all of your internal communication can provide valuable insight about how and what you’re communicating, as well as about deeper issues that you may not know exist. Are you talking just to your sales team, or to everyone? Are you balancing prodding with praise? Who gets recognition, and who doesn’t?
We know of one large company whose employees complained that emails about staff promotions all featured “single-syllable white-guy names.” For a company that cares about promoting the best ideas and people across a diverse spectrum, communications that praise only employees called Matt, Josh, Nick, and Vin are a red flag. This company learned both that it needed to work harder to expand its diversity efforts and that it should include photographs in its promotion messaging, as some of those Nicks and Vins weren’t white guys after all.