The Workers' Compensation poster is hung, the 2012 schedule of paid holidays is posted and
employees get it - they must wash their hands before returning to
work. Congratulations, you have successfully executed what passes for
internal communications in many organizations.
Of course companies aren't
going to see higher returns as a result of those efforts, but
that's no reason to underestimate the importance of well executed internal
communications. Managed properly, IC can be an effective strategic tool
to help boost engagement, performance, retention and yes, even the
bottom line. This is especially true for organizations with employees
spread out across far-flung regions.
i4cp's Effective Internal Communications Report,
released today, found that high-performing organizations have clearly
figured out that internal communications needs to be more strategic in
addition to being tactical. Overall, survey findings indicate that
while low performers are focused on internal communications as a means
to disseminate emergency, crisis and safety information, high
performers use internal communications to deliver higher level
information, including policy changes, company successes, company
financials and even pay-for-performance
It goes without saying that -
especially in times of economic uncertainty - employees want honest,
straightforward information from the top. Frequent, transparent
communication such as updates about the financial status of the
organization, M&A plans and the road ahead can help keep employees
engaged rather than distracted by worrying about what is going on.
Employee-generated rumors move faster and farther through an
organization than any official communication could hope to, so
preemptive messaging can help slow or stop misinformation altogether.
But what about the bottom line? How
does IC contribute? Sales and marketing teams are trained rigorously on
company messaging. Thanks to this training, a decent salesperson can
make an effective 30-second elevator pitch. However, most other
employees receive no such training. So what happens when they are
interacting with a vendor or a customer and are asked "what do
you guys do?" Making sure that every employee can make that
30-second pitch strengthens the organization's branding and
marketing exponentially. Effectively communicating the company's
vision, goals and objectives to employees boosts engagement, strategic
alignment and creates ambassadors throughout the organization.
In another move - away from the
lunchroom bulletin board as the primary conduit for information sharing
- effective communications departments are embracing new technologies.
Dead-boring financial information can be presented with (tasteful)
Flash animations. Information can be disseminated via blogs where
employees can comment and have interactive discussions. Executives are
producing video casts that employees can access through the company
intranet. Having already had success with an external Facebook
page and a YouTube
channel, i4cp member-company Black Hills Corporation has launched a
pilot group to explore various social media tools and how they can be
used to improve internal communications.
Companies need to recognize that
people have changed the way they get their information. A weekly email
is not going to cut it in a world in which many are buried in email.
Organizations are better served by creating internal web portals that
are designed with similar architecture to the sites employees access
for information outside of work. And it's critical to keep the content
fresh and engaging. The company intranet is a resource that can be used
to house all aspects of communication - newsletters, videos,
presentations, blogs, discussions, etc.
In 2005, retailer American Eagle
Outfitters launched AE Life,
a branded corporate intranet dedicated to sharing information. One of
the highlights of this project is that the content is contributed
entirely by the associates, with review and approval from the Internal
Communications group. By the end of 2009, the site was hosting more
than 250,000 posts and images, and the number and frequency of
associates accessing the intranet had increased significantly. The keys
to the success of the project are that it is branded, easy to use,
engaging and highlights interactivity.
In spite of long term economic
uncertainty facing most companies, we are seeing organizations continue
to expand their operations around the globe, which makes internal
communications even more critical. While it is one thing to keep a
group of people located in the same building engaged and aligned, it is
a completely different challenge to produce cohesive communications for
geographically (and often culturally) dispersed employees. Not only do
these far-flung workers need to be connected to the organization as a
whole, they also need information that is relevant to their positions
Internal communications is an
important function that should not be brushed off as a necessary evil.
Organizations need to focus on ways to make the information current,
fresh and engaging and invite employees to join the conversation. It is
also a good idea to bring people from other parts of the organization
into the communications fold, such as people with Website expertise,
graphic and design talents, and even good writing and editing skills,
which seem to be in short supply. Overall, it's important to
recognize the strategic impact of internal communications and the
function's ability to bring the company's vision and goals
to the workforce.
David Wentworth has been a senior
research analyst for the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp)
since 2005. He has published several reports and articles on various
human capital subjects with an emphasis on workforce technology. The
views (if any) represented in this article are his and his alone, and
do not necessarily reflect the views of i4cp or any of its employees -
except that everyone should wash their hands.