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7 Actionable Techniques to Improve Internal Communication

As work becomes flexible, teams become remote, and companies spread across the globe, so internal communication becomes an increasing challenge. From the newest startup to the largest Fortune 500 company, every business relies on employees as their most valuable asset. In addition, team communication is vital to managing and keeping those employees engaged and on a mission. That’s why we’ve prepared this deep dive on internal communication problems and how to address them.

Part 1

Analyzing Internal Communication

You can’t fix something until you understand it. While internal communication seems simple enough, the concept is actually incredibly broad. Internal communication covers everything from ‘formal’ communication such as memoranda, manuals, and templates to ‘informal’ communication such as chats by the water cooler and team brainstorming sessions. A useful way to conceptualize it is to see communication flowing in three directions:

  • Downward communication

    is where information flows from the top management level down to the company’s employees. Examples include instructions, performance appraisals, and CEO internal addresses.

  • Upward communication

    is where information flows from employees to someone higher in the company’s hierarchy. Examples include report submissions and employee feedback on programs or policies.

  • Horizontal communication

    (or employee communication) is where information flows between employees at the same level. Examples include project collaboration and team gossip.

Furthermore, managing all three flows of internal communication in a way that creates a good team culture and achieves your company’s goals is not an easy challenge. This challenge is compounded by a number of factors:

  1. Lack of priority:

    Your company already has to look after customers, juggle finances and manage stakeholders and vendors. Hence it’s easy to see how team communication can sink to the bottom of the priority list. However, given how tightly employee engagement is linked to group communication, a lack of priority and buy-in from top management can be a real problem.

  2. Lack of finances:

    Following on from a lack of priority, group communication also suffers when teams don’t have the necessary tools or infrastructure supporting their communication. In a world flooded by email threads and people who hit ‘Reply All’ to everything, probably becoming mired in content and missing vital information is a common scenario.

  3. Lack of skills: 

    How many people put ‘excellent communication skills’ on their CVs? How many of them actually have excellent communication skills? Communicating well in business isn’t something that’s taught at school, and communication styles vary across different teams, cultures, and individuals. If internal communication is not prioritized or financed by a company, it’s likely that its employees’ communication skills are suffering.

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So what happens when companies get group communication wrong?

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On one end of the spectrum, there’s inefficiency. When there is no free flow of information in any of the directions, team members work in silos and may accidentally waste resources, miss their targets, and double up on work already done. More generally, internal communication problems can lead to employees becoming disengaged when they don’t understand how their work is contributing to the team’s overall goal.

And disengagement costs a lot of money; the consulting company Gallup found that an average 17.2% of a company’s workforce is actively disengaged, and that this disengagement costs a company 34% of that employee’s salary. That means that a company of 50 people on an average salary of $60,000 each is losing $175,440 every year just from disengagement and employee communication problems.

That’s bad enough, but the other end of the spectrum is even worse. Internal communication problems mean a general lack of visibility within a company. This increases the chance of innocent, costly mistakes and slows down every company function, from customer service to product design and approval. But it also leads to an environment where it’s easy to hide wrongdoing, meaning that mistakes don’t get fixed and employees can get away with fraud.

So those are the real and sobering consequences of internal communication problems. On the flip side, companies who have faced their team communication challenges and addressed them benefit from:

  • Better Execution:

    When employees have all the information they need, they can do their work better, whether they’re making crucial business decisions or servicing customers and promoting the company. On another level, open and transparent team communication helps employees feel valued and trusted and therefore more engaged in the company’s mission and success.

  • Faster Troubleshooting:

    Open communication lines are critical when it comes to solving problems. When employees feel engaged and have all the information they need, they can contribute and help the company respond faster.

  • Fewer Distractions:

    When people are left in the dark, it’s natural to speculate or try to make decisions based on limited information. But open and timely group communication dispels rumor and gossip, allowing everyone to get on with it.

  • Improved Teamwork and Culture:

    It’s always easier to face challenges with people you know and trust. Creating a genuinely open culture where employees can make friends and share ideas is a good step to creating a company where people are engaged and innovative.

 

So how do you get there? By treating internal communication like every other important aspect of your company and creating an internal communication strategy.

Part 2

Crafting Internal Communication Strategy

Like any other strategy, the key is drilling down to what you want to communicate, and why. Here are three quick steps to get you started.

  1. Analyze your company’s current situation:

    What are your current team communication challenges? Does information flow freely in all three directions, or is there an imbalance? Remember that you cannot answer these questions from behind your desk; if there’s a communication problem at a different level, you won’t be able to see it. So, survey your team members.

  2. Set your objectives:

    Once you analyze your company, create a list of your internal communication problems or challenges. Pick one or two to start off with – it’s better to target your efforts so you get results – and then shape your internal communication strategy to tackle them.

  3. Identify your audience:

    Now that you’ve got your objectives, decide on the audience you’re targeting. For example, if your company’s downward communication is anemic, you’ll have to understand and target your top management. On the other hand, if upward communication is the issue, you may want to implement two different plans to simultaneously empower your employees to provide feedback and encourage your top management to become more receptive to suggestions.

Now that you have your strategy, it’s time to focus on your internal communication plan.

  1. Craft your key message:

    Make it relevant, clear, and also compelling to the audience you’re targeting. This includes choosing the right tool or channel to send your message, while maybe even sending it across multiple channels to increase accessibility and visibility. It also includes figuring out when is the best time to send this message, and how often you want to repeat it.

  2. Plan your KPIs:

    Identify your key performance indicators for your internal communication plan. So how will you track and monitor the communication of your key message? Also, what does success look like?

  3. Implement, monitor and evaluate your internal communication plan:

    You’ve done the hard work of strategizing, finally, it’s time to implement. Keep track of your KPIs and ask for constructive and measurable feedback. Learn what went well, what didn’t, and then go back to Step 1 of your strategy and see what else you should be improving.

Part 3

7 proven and actionable techniques to improve internal communication

  1. Check-in with your employees regularly:

    It’s easy to get caught up in other tasks, but managers and team leaders must take the time to check in with their team. The best way to do this is to schedule it like any other recurring meeting or also have your team provide daily or weekly reports. Whichever way you choose, take this time to listen to their concerns and challenges and use the opportunity to provide coaching and feedback.

  2. Create operation manuals and knowledge libraries:

    Reduce confusion and inefficiency by consolidating your team’s knowledge and also learning in one spot. Standardize and document your company’s work processes in manuals that save time and fast-track orientation of your new employees.
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    Also, encourage your team members to share notes on seminars or workshops they attend. There are a lot of things that can be recorded and archived for future reference, in addition providing a central source of information for your employees lets them learn at their own pace.

  3. Regularly update your team:

    It’s always good to lead by example! So set up a regular update or employee newsletter to share the company’s latest news. Also, this includes topics ranging from new products and hires to sharing general reflections on how the company is performing throughout the year.

  4. Involve employees in your discussions:

    Actively invite your team members to give their feedback and also ask clarifying questions. Not only do you get the benefit of increased upward communication, your employees also get to feel valued and respected for their contributions.

  5. Encourage employee communication across teams and departments:

    Break down team and data silos and encourage your employees to share their goals and information widely, even if it’s not directly relevant to other departments.
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    This will help everyone understand how each team is working together toward the company’s overall goal, and put their own work in context. Not to mention, you never know when the answer to someone’s problem is sitting just a few desks away.

  6. Organize social activities:

    Everyone groans at the idea of team building or group activities, but when done right, they can be a great social glue that keeps the company together.
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    So it’s easier to work better with people you know well. And when a deadline’s coming, it’s easier not to snap at the receptionist when you know they’re also a kickass basketball player and a great Dad and be less intimidated by the accountant when you’ve seen them belt out Celine Dion during karaoke.

  7. Create a place for public appraisal and recognition:

    Lastly, between all the deadlines and quarterly goals, it’s often easy to forget to celebrate your successes. So that’s why it’s important to carve out a space for celebrating achievements and recognizing team members who have gone above and beyond.

Companies can focus so much on communicating outwards to external stakeholders and customers that it can be easy to forget just how important internal communications are as well. But group communication is the adhesive that binds everyone together. That’s why you need to manage it also as carefully as you craft your external marketing.

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