5 Strategies for Improving Internal Communications
When a business or nonprofit is having problems it usually boils down to one of two things: Culture or Communication. Often it’s both. Unless your business does not rely on people, these are two areas that should be given a high degree of intentional thought. Without attention, culture and communication evolve on their own. And it’s usually not very pretty.
I previously shared about culture in this article and this article, so today I’m going to focus on Internal Communications. Here is a formal definition of what we’re talking about:
A group of processes or tools that are responsible for effective information flow
and collaboration among participants within an organization.
I like to think of Internal Communications in more basic terms:
It’s how people know what’s going on and what to do.
Very simply, if you are not being intentional about informing your team members about what is going on and what they should be doing to help reach company goals, it’s going make reaching your goals difficult. Most small businesses and nonprofit organizations do not have the financial resources to invest in a Communications staff person. Therefore, this article is going to go over 5 tactics for ensuring quality internal communications. Before we get to that let’s dig deeper into why it’s important.
- First and foremost, leaders need to communicate their vision or the organization’s mission. Every time they are in front of their team they should be articulating their vision. As Yogi Berra said: “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.” If you do not communicate the direction you are taking the company, there will be confusion – at best. At worst, your people may be actively driving your business in a different direction than you, simply because they don’t know where you’re going. I go into more detail on the importance of vision and vision sharing in this article.
- Staff training is a component of internal communications. This is important so that staff (or volunteers) know, not just what to do, but also how and why leadership wants the job done a certain way. Many companies succeed in training a staff person on what to do. Failing to explain how and why is similar to not sharing your vision. In those cases staff will come up with their own way of doing things.
My daughter just started her first “real” job. She’s helping set up for events and weddings. In training her, if they had just told her to set up chairs (what to do), she may have had them all facing the wrong direction. Or she may have put them way too close together. Or put them in socially distanced clusters. By clarifying the vision of how the event should look and the experience they want for the attendees, she was able to do her new job successfully.
- Communication reinforces culture. Employees can smell a “flavor of the month” leadership initiative a mile away. If you want something to stick, you need to repeat it. Over and over and over again. This is how your values become a deep seeded, integral part of your company’s identity. They become your culture.
If you are committed to vision (or mission); well trained staff; and creating a strong culture, read on for some simple techniques.
If you read many of my articles, you will notice that several of the strategies I suggest starts with your mindset. This one is no different. As the leader you need to be committed – 100% – to creating a culture that is built on relationships, trust, and growth. If that’s not where you’re at, you are wasting your time reading my articles.
Alright, it looks like you’re still reading, so let’s dig into some techniques you can implement, right away, to improve effective internal communications. Since I work mostly with small businesses and nonprofits, it’s important to me to share strategies that can be implemented without a great deal of expense or dedicated staff time. I understand very well that budgets are tight and everyone already has a very full plate.
1. Staff Meeting structure
No one likes to meet, just to have a meeting. That’s a waste of time and only increases frustration for busy people. We will get to ensuring your meetings are purposeful in strategy #2. Before that, let’s look at the value of a staff meeting structure. If your meetings are regularly scheduled, have an intentional agenda, and start and end on time, these can be the single most effective communications tool in your toolbox.
A strong staff meeting structure gives staff the support of knowing when they will be informed about important company information. It allows leadership to hear from other team members. It provides a team building, problem solving, and education platform. If the words – staff meeting – elicit fear or dread in your company, they are not being used as effectively as they should be.
Every company will have a different structure for their meetings based on size, number of departments, geographic locations, and more. You need to decide what is right for your teams. At a minimum, I suggest the following:
- Weekly 90-minute leadership team meetings
- Weekly meetings for next level/department leaders
- Monthly meetings for part-time or front-line staff
- Quarterly all staff meetings
- Regular one-on-one meetings between supervisors and their direct reports
Based on your needs you may add in additional layers or configurations. An annual meeting might be right for you and your business. If volunteers are part of your operations, they should be included in you meeting structure.
2. Plan for outcomes
Building on the staff meeting plan, it’s not enough to have a structure in place. It’s what you do with it that counts. I’m sure many businesses have regular staff meetings, but communication is still lacking.
Here is where the mindset piece comes in. Meetings are dreaded when there is no agenda, no expected outcome and no plan. So much time is wasted because people are brought together for staff meetings where everyone just goes around and shares what they are working on. Sometimes this is valuable, usually it creates a slippery slope of disengaged employees.
When planning your staff meeting structure, think about the purpose for meeting and bake that into the agenda. ALWAYS have an agenda. If building relationships between team members is important, include time for that. Is communicating project status important, put it on the agenda. Have problems to solve and issues to resolve, designate plenty of time for that. Again, every team is going to have different needs. Here are my suggestions for agenda items:
- Transition (from pre-meeting work to meeting mode) – this could be a “good news” sharing, opening thought, or other openers
- Review “to do” list from previous week/project updates
- Company updates – what are we hearing from customers or staff?
- Issues – identify and solve problems
- Create and review “to do” list for next week
- Cascading messages – what needs to be shared with other teams or staff?
As I stated before, effective staff meetings are your most powerful communication tool in your toolbox. It just requires structure and planning.
3. Staff training system
When training your staff, pretend that the new person is starting their first job ever. This is not because you’re assuming that they are stupid. It’s so that you make sure you consider all the things that will help them to be successful. When you have worked for a company for a while – all the things – become second nature. Those things might not seem like something you need to explain to people. That’s because you live it every day.
Take the time to consider the what, how and why of each position. Include that in the training. Assuming you are not the person training every single team member, make sure you put the same thought into preparing those staff who will be training others. Ensure that they know and are committed to training the what, how and why as well.
In addition to training new staff as they come on board, regular on-going training will help reinforce expectations and culture. Your Quarterly Staff Meetings can be very effective in delivering mini-trainings and keeping everyone’s skills and understanding sharp.
4. Consistency and reinforcement
Stating things over and over can be annoying. Some leaders feel like saying something once should be enough. However, we have all heard the marketing adage: It takes hearing a message seven times before consumers are aware of it. The same goes with internal communications. This is why leaders should share their vision/mission and values every single time they are in front of their team. Quarterly Staff Meetings are a great conduit for leadership messaging.
In addition to verbal communications, consider reinforcing messages with visuals or social media. Posters, flyers or social groups can be used to amplify the importance of strategies, reinforce processes and systems, and to communicate initiatives or changes.
5. Ramp it up during change or crisis
Anyone who was part of any organization when the pandemic hit in spring of 2020 knows the importance of internal communication. Were staff kept informed of how the global changes were impacting the company? Was everyone clear on changes that were being made and why? Did all team members have the information and resources to feel competent and supported in their role? Crisis tends to shine a very bright light on the quality of internal communications.
During a crisis, having a staff meeting structure in place isn’t enough. Consider adding weekly or even daily calls to bring everyone together. Even if there are no new updates, your people need to hear from you and connect with each other. Increase your one-to-one conversations with your direct reports (and expect it from everyone else). Even a 5-minute conversation will do wonders to help your staff to feel connected, included, and valued. Send out weekly communications with status updates and talking points. Your staff will be asked questions. Make sure they are well prepared to give good answers.
“We don’t grow when things are easy, we grow when we face challenges.” ~ Joyce Meyer
These same principles apply when you are driving a change process in your organization. If you’re implementing a change: plan it intentionally; repeat yourself on the what, how and why; and ramp up your communication throughout the process.
I have two last “bonus” points that I want to make. First, while this article is largely about leaders communicating to the rest of the team, internal communications are about both speaking and listening. Opportunities to gather feedback both formally and informally is equally important to a healthy internal communications system. Truly listening, then processing the thoughts, ideas and concerns of your staff will create a culture where they want to do the same for you.
Second “bonus” point: internal communications improves external communications. When your staff feel informed, valued and respected, the positive external communications they will spearhead are public-relations gold. Organic positive conversations about your business are priceless and cannot be manufactured or bought. Committing to a strong internal communications game will elevate your external communications without you having to lift a finger. Additionally, handling internal communications well during a crisis, will amplify trust both within your team and in the larger community.
Need help creating an internal communications plan that is right for you and your team? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a free 30-minute consultation to discuss getting started. Calm the Chaos and improve internal communications so you can find time to focus on what’s important to YOU!
Kim is a mom, wife, lover of being active and the outdoors,
and helper of small businesses and nonprofits.