How to communicate effectively with your workforce

In a separate post I have written about how employees are an asset that your company can use to help you achieve success, and not just by doing the job that you have directly employed them for. Ensuring you have excellent internal communications is a key part of this. It will help you get your team on board.
Here are some pointers on how to get it right.

 

Things to remember:

  • Your staff will want the business to succeed, it is their future as well as yours, so they will want to help where they can. If they know what is happening and the part they can play, staff will be more engaged and motivated
  • Every internal communication you send out says something about your business – not only in its content, but in its style, timing, who delivers it and the mechanism used to get it out
  • Like any communication, the language you use must be appropriate for the audience, understandable and unambiguous. It is worth testing in advance with someone who has not had any involvement in developing it, particularly if it isn’t being delivered personally
  • Depending on the size of your business and the message you need to get out, there may be different audiences to consider: a single team or department and the company as a whole. If you are communicating with more than one audience on the same issue, then you may need to tailor the message for each one
  • Sharing messages with a whole company audience is effectively making news public so, if it is big news, think about the timing of any media releases or anticipating media enquiries
  • If you are planning to talk about an individual or specific team in any communication, then make sure they know in advance and are happy with the tone of what is being said
  • It should always be two-way, with recipients invited to comment on information or ask further questions and an agreed route for this should be in place
  • Do check that the message that you have sent out has been received and correctly understood
  • If people don’t know what is happening then it’s easy for false assumptions to be made and rumours to spread, which can undermine your business

 

What you should communicate?

How much information you share with your employees should be a positive decision made by any business. In making that decision, I would encourage every company to think about the last point in the ‘remember list’… that in an information vacuum, it is easy for incorrect ideas to form and take root.

I would recommend thinking about the areas below as the basis for what to include in your communications plan. You may not want to include all of them, but they are things for you to consider.

  • The current state of the business
  • Where you are heading
  • Short-term priorities and targets
  • Current or upcoming initiatives or events- including marketing campaigns, offers, new straplines etc.
  • Success stories/positive feedback – for individuals and the company
  • New products or services
  • New clients
  • Customer complaints or challenges and what you are doing about them
  • What is happening in your industry/sector and what this means for you
  • Key staff changes or work milestones
  • What part individual people or areas play in the business
  • Training and development opportunities
  • What staff can do to help the business
  • Social events
  • Company values and how these are demonstrated in actions

 

Communicating the bad stuff

Don’t be afraid of communicating negative aspects as well as the positives. If you only ever send out positive messages, then the credibility of your communications can be undermined. People would rather know the position, particularly if they can do something to address the issue or if it affects them directly.

When there is negative information which you need to communicate, try to also give something positive alongside this, so what is being done about the problem or encouraging people to come forward with ideas on why this is happening and how it can be addressed.

Do think in advance about the impact the message could have on individuals or teams and how this can be mitigated.

Being open, within sensible business limits, will help build trust and engagement – and could lead to new ideas of how challenges can be overcome.

 

Routes for getting your messages out

With the excellent IT systems available today, it is easy to focus on using electronic communications to get your messages out. This passive approach, however, relies on people actually reading what you have sent or posted.

Like any communications activity, think about what you are trying to get across and the audience when deciding which route is best for you. Whilst passive consumption may be fine for some messages, more active briefings will be more appropriate for others.

Options to consider include:

  • All staff meetings
  • Team briefings, using a structured message
  • One to one sessions
  • Emails
  • Notice boards – physical and electronic
  • Regular newsletters
  • IT communication and collaboration systems – such as Slack or the less formal WhatsApp
  • Internal blogs

 

Ensure it is a 2-way process

Simply sending out messages is not enough. To work properly, there needs to be communication back from your employees, in response to specific messages or when they want to forward ideas or raise issues. Putting these mechanisms or procedures in place is an important part of your arrangements.

Feedback mechanisms can include:

  • Simply asking for feedback as part of every communication
  • Having a suggestion or ideas depository – electronic or physical
  • Hosting an ‘ask the boss’ session
  • Having a procedure for staff wanting to raise issues or concerns – potentially anonymously
  • Creating a culture which encourages feedback
  • Undertaking staff surveys
  • Inviting suggestions for topics that people would like to hear more about

Critically, make sure you are listening to the feedback you get, learning from and acting on it.

 

Have a plan and make it regular

If you want to make your internal communications work well for you then having a plan is essential. Without it you are likely to miss key elements or dates.

To develop your plan, draw up a list of what you know you want to cover at different points in the year, or over the next 3 or 6 months. Bring this together with the mechanisms you have available to get those messages out and who is going to be writing them.

Like any audience, there is a fine line between communicating too frequently and not often enough with your staff. Whilst there will be a need for ad hoc communications at times, it is best to have a regular slot and mechanism for getting core messages out. Set a routine and stick to it, whether it is weekly, monthly or quarterly.

Use all this information to draw up a schedule, in any format which works for you. I find a simple table works fine, with columns as below:

  • Date – could be month or week, depending on your frequency plan
  • Audience – all staff or specific groups
  • Content – topics to be covered
  • Method – newsletter, briefing, blog, etc.
  • Source – who will be writing it

 

Finally, and this is key, make one person responsible for ensuring it all happens. They need to be in a position to chase up the individuals who are producing the content, with the support of the agreed plan as their muscle.

 

Summary

Having an effective internal communications approach can be valuable for any business: in keeping staff on board, enabling them to contribute and in making them advocates for you. Make sure you take time to get this right.

Need help?

If you need assistance with setting out an internal communications plan or in preparing appropriate materials, then we can help. Please get in touch to find out more

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