When it comes to internal communications, we all need a plan

By Deanna Troust, principal, strategy & communications 

In working with organizations over the past few years I’ve seen the range of approaches for internal communications. For some, a team of folks handles employee communications across multiple channels. In others, internal communications is a hot potato of sorts, with HR, marketing and others chipping in as needs arise. Still others have no internal communications program to speak of. The size of the organization is a factor, but not the only one. 

If yours is one of the latter two realities, I get it. It’s hard to prioritize internal communications when the need for outward-facing PR and marketing is ever-present (and likely, better resourced). If your environment is billable, like the one in which I worked for many years, it can be extra hard to justify devoting resources to internal communications that could be used for client-facing work. 

Having muddled through the shift to remote work, organizations are finding that internal communications has jumped to the top of the priority list.

Except when everything changes. Having muddled through the shift to remote work, organizations are finding that internal communications has jumped to the top of the priority list. Suddenly, being intentional in communicating with employees is not just worth the time – it’s vital in helping them feel engaged and valued, and for diminishing stress in these uncertain times.  

From what I’ve seen, organizations are doing a pretty good job in getting all-staff communications out the door. Messaging of course ranges from very challenging to reassuring, depending on how the business has been affected. None of these messages are optional at the moment. 

It can be harder to discern how those communications are landing with employees, though. Is the tone warm and authentic? Are leaders being up front about both the good and the bad, acknowledging any missteps, even sharing personal perspectives and stories related to the pandemic? Are employees hearing consistently from one or more voices? These finer points make a difference. If organizations are thoughtful about them, it can go far in reassuring staff. If not, the result can be the opposite. 

A good ghost-writer who has access to leadership and an empathetic approach helps, but not necessarily with the how and when aspects. For this, a strategy and implementation plan can make the dive into more intentional internal communications a whole lot easier.  

In every cultural assessment I’ve conducted to date, internal communications has emerged as a significant need. And most have not taken place during a pandemic! To help clients address it, I have found that leading a mini-strategic planning process that yields an internal communications roadmap is helpful and appreciated. This involves working with the client to: 

1)      Identify key audiences, channels, and tactics/activities for the internal communications program;
2)     Think beyond email and embrace storytelling and other creative activities; 
3)     Develop a plan that schedules communications by audience, over time; 
4)      Drill down on who’s sharing what; 
5)      Coach authors in keeping employee realities and brand values in mind; and
6)     Ask employees for input and feedback on how the program is going.  

This process should not be overly complicated; loading it up with lots of people and reviewers will kill it altogether. Instead it should be tackled by a small, core team that includes someone who knows available channels and how they’ve been used to date. One person should be tasked with fitting the ideas into a planning framework on their own time. Using shared files can make things more efficient. 

Because employees want communications to be intentional all the time, not just when there’s a crisis. 

Finally — and at the risk of making my partners in HR and people ops wince — I’m not talking about change communications here. Even though enormous changes are currently at hand. This approach borrows from processes long used by external-facing communications teams that can be done at any juncture and should be done in an ongoing way. Because employees want communications to be intentional all the time, not just when there’s a crisis.