The internal comms stigma: Nobody tells us anything anymore

Written by
Kat Searson

04 May 2016

04 May 2016 • by Kat Searson

So often we come across businesses that are looking for support with internal communications. Sometimes, this is driven by a need to encourage sharing information in a way that inspires and engages people and builds a culture of collaboration and trust. Other times, there is a desire to drive innovation, by building platforms and forums to create new things together.

The way we talk to each other in business is one of the biggest drivers of engagement, and has a huge impact on how a culture evolves and how certain behaviours are born. According to Gallup, having a voice to share and an opportunity to be heard is one of the biggest drivers of engagement.  

We know that an engaged workforce can make a business four times more productive (Macleod 2009). Yet, only 57% of employees say they have clear communication with their employer (Taleo 2009). So, why is it that talking to each other is so much of a sticking point for so many businesses?

Let’s have a ponder over some of the common pitfalls that make ‘internal comms’ one of the hardest nuts to crack…

Whose responsibility is it anyway?

More often than not, there is no clear owner for sharing and helping co create information. If there isn’t the resource for a dedicated person or team, then it can be passed around like a hot potato, to eventually land on HR’s doorstep.

For many, the responsibility seems to sit with no one, and so no one takes the initiative to share. As a result, information is lost, people feel a bit out of the loop, and it creates a sense of uncertainty that can leave people uneasy about where they stand and what on earth is going on! 

Alo, alo, aloits the Comms Police!

Where internal communication is taken ‘seriously’, a policing approach can ensue, in a bid to drive consistency. Telling people how to speak to each other or not to speak to each other at all is a sure fire way to shut people up.

For the messages that are circulated, personality is often lost in the storytelling, so they end up becoming mind numbingly boring, in order to stick to the rules. For fear of saying the wrong thing, in the wrong way, on the wrong platform, nothing is said at all, which kind of defeats the point. 

Why do marketing get to have all the fun?

So much money is pummeled into grand marketing campaigns with such deliberate choice of words, imagery and messaging to engage a targeted group of consumers. We all have our own filters that we use to interpret information in different ways, based on our previous experiences. Ultimately, one size doesn’t fit all, when it comes to engaging people. So, if we recognise this when it comes to marketing, why don’t the same rules apply internally? Surely if it works for a consumer, it will work for an employee too?

We’re all so familiar with the common pitfalls of internal comms, so here are a few things to think about to make it work:

1. Show and tell

Unfortunately the age old ‘you say it best, when you say nothing at all’ is lost on this audience. People will assume the worse if they don’t know what is going on.

"The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place." – George Bernard Shaw

Start by telling your team about decisions that have been made, or are in the process of being made, so they can see why and get behind them as a whole team. Share changes that are happening, so they have an opportunity to understand why, rather than question the uncertainty. Use campaigns for new launches or introductions to generate excitement for the journey ahead.

Tell them and they will see, show them and they will feel it. 

2. Invite interaction to engage

Why can’t everyone in the organisation have a role in ‘internal comms’ and be proud to share? 

With support through relevant tools and platforms to make sharing and receiving information possible and accessible, everyone can find their voice and can play a role to contribute and engage.

First, leaders need to listen, so people will talk. Communication should always be two way, and so people need to have an opportunity to speak their minds and feel comfortable doing so.

Foster a culture of innovation, trust and collaboration. 

3. Talk the same language

How we talk to each other is as much about building a consistent tone of voice, as being empathetic and getting in the shoes of the audience. Think about how they feel, and what they need to hear. Make it relevant, engaging and targeted.

A good place to start is talking to people like humans, and adapting your approach for different messages and groups of people.

Blanket emails just don’t cut it anymore.