Internal Communications: Best Practices that Drive Engagement and Increase Performance

The purpose of the discussion was to provide a practical review of how internal communication strategies can drive employee engagement and increase performance. Participants shared ideas around internal communications that exist in their workplaces, and strategies that could improve them.

Best Practice Review

Participants agreed to share ideas about aspects of communications that included strategy, roles and structure, methods, tools, leadership training, best practices, and measurement. To frame the discussion, Steve Dion presented this strategic communication model as a means to guide communications activities. Clearly, employees must hear and understand the message being communicated before committing to a behavior change.

Current Strategies

Participants agreed that actual face-time with employees is important, and that town hall-style meetings have valuable impact on ensuring messages are received. Electronic and paper communications, while certainly more convenient, are largely a secondary means to disseminate information and do not usually evoke behavior changes. With so many different communication mediums available now, it can be a struggle to know which channels to use for a company’s different audiences.

Roles and Structure

The question often arises as to who is responsible for communicating with employees, many times resulting in conflict between Human Resources and Marketing departments. Does one entity drive the strategy, while the other owns the communication? Overlap can certainly occur. One participant noted that the CEO sets the tone for the importance of internal communication strategy at his workplace. Confusion among other departments is helpfully eradicated when this level of support exists. In another company, the Marketing team is always the “vehicle” for deploying internal messages. Clearly set standards obviously help prevent conflicting or duplicate messages.

Internal Communication Methods

That said, one communication on a subject will not guarantee the message is received. Line leaders are often frustrated by the reality of having to send the same message multiple times. One company uses a change management model to govern internal communication strategies and ensure expected behavior change is obtained. Leadership briefing cards are devised at another company to provide pertinent talking points for managers, ensuring a standardized message.

Tools to Communicate

Aside from traditional company newsletters and written communiqués, participants have used voicemail blasts in certain situations to convey messages to employees. Another company uses streaming video (via Microsoft SharePoint) as a new vehicle to communicate. All agreed that having consistent messages with new and creative delivery methods for communicating keeps it interesting, and more noticeable by employees.

Leader Skills/Training

How important is leader-employee communication? One participant in an automotive environment noted that it is so important to his company that shop floor teams and supervisors meet daily, while the plant manager meets at least weekly with production managers, and then at least monthly with its VP of Operations. They have a formal process that is a true, two-way communication vehicle between line employees and management. Participants agreed that a mix of top-down and bottom-up communication is important; gathering bottom-up communication is challenging, though. Filtering superfluous information/comments from bottom-up communication adds to that challenge.

Establishing Best Practices that Drive Engagement and Increase Performance

Steve Dion cited a list of internal communication strategies from the Great Workplace® model, noting that many companies on the list of Great Places to Work spend a great deal of time communicating with employees. Droste has embraced the model for improving organizational performance and recognizes that it is clearly aligned with having a strong communications program.
Because everything spoken, read and heard is communication, what do all of your organization’s current means to communicate SAY about you and your company? Does your company provide training on the communication style it’s adopted? It’s so important, in fact, that participants agreed that measuring and scoring employee communication skills via performance reviews merits consideration.
Participants noted that some of their companies have created public web pages so that employees can view their “intranet” information at home, thereby taking advantage of web technology to engage employees during convenient hours for them. Speaking of leisure time, others suggested posting paper announcements in restrooms for blue collar staff. All agreed that it is important to think of all your different audiences and how to craft communications for all of them.
Giving employees a means to communicate openly and respond to various subjects can build trust, as well. Some companies create blogs that encourage employee comments. Consequently, creating opportunities for two-way communication without fear of retaliation can actually create a productive vehicle for processing mistakes. Participants agreed that transparency is a key part of communication. Making it open, genuine and accessible builds trust and aids in understanding and acceptance. Consider job shadowing within your company. Such rotations can improve communication as understanding of others’ departmental issues increases. And whenever possible, gather input and feedback from all stakeholders when contemplating company-wide change. It is much easier to communicate when all are involved in the process.
While some have had success with CEOs sending messages to employees via DVDs and streaming video, making sure all messages are consistent and thread from one to the next is more important than the medium used to convey them. In any case, it is important to leverage the strengths of your organization; if the CEO is well-liked, use him/her to communicate with the troops. If the company mission statement is embedded in the workplace culture, tie communications to it. Participants also agreed that considering the company’s brand and tying themed events (ex: Friday lunches, quarterly themes) to it can improve and create an expected schedule of communication with employees.
“Regardless of the exact processes in place in their own organizations, several different consistent communication vehicles are necessary to reach employees. When audience needs and responses are considered, and communicator messages are clear and consistent, behavior change is more successful,” said Dion.