Your marketing department and customer service team are growing: strategies are being set up to communicate with the ever-increasing number of customers. But if there’s not just as much attention for internal communication, things can go south rather quickly.
Internal communication is just as important as external communication, if not more. If your employees have no clue what’s going on, your clients will soon enough pick up on the chaos that creates.
Communicating might seem easy, but once you get stuck, it influences every aspect of your business. That’s why internal communication should consistently be an important area of attention and always on the agenda.
Let’s look at why internal communication matters in the first place and how you can identify the root cause of the problem. Then it’s time to start (re)building a great communication framework.
Why internal communication matters
Strong communication, strong company. If you’re a group of people working towards the same goal, it’s crucial to all be on the same page. By knowing who’s doing what, when, and why, people get a clearer idea of their role in the process.
Don’t miss out on great ideas
There’s always room for improvement. But to be able to suggest such improvements as an employee, you need a safe and solid base for communication. Do your employees feel like they can make recommendations—even when they’re not specifically asked?
When people feel heard, great ideas will surface. Someone might be doing their job just fine but sees it could be done more efficiently. If they don’t know who to talk to about this, or if they feel that speaking up wouldn’t be appreciated, you could be missing out on increased productivity.
Moreover, employees could get frustrated, leading to demotivation, unhappiness in the workplace, and ultimately lowered productivity.
Happy people work harder
Communication also influences how people feel on a day-to-day basis. Do they feel heard and valued—or do they feel as if they’re here to simply sit and listen to others? If you want to keep your employees engaged, don’t just speak to them—listen.
Improving internal communication can give your employees a motivation boost. They feel like their opinions matter, and they could make a change.
Together with the opportunities of identifying and speaking up about chances for improvement, this could mean a surge in efficiency: productivity can improve with up to 25 percent in organizations with engaged and connected employees.
It can also save you costs in your hiring process. Studies show that companies that communicate the most effectively are 50% more likely to report lower turnover levels than the industry average.
Internal communication travels beyond your office walls
Strong internal communication won’t go unnoticed outside of the workplace. Better said: your clients will definitely notice if there’s poor internal communication in your organization.
If they constantly get redirected, get asked the same question twice, or feel like a person is not confident enough to help them, bad internal communication could actually harm your business.
Many businesses focus only on external communication and marketing, while there’s so much ground to win if they’d just inform their employees with just as much gusto as they do for their stakeholders and clients.
If you only start looking at internal communication when your business is in smooth seas, and you feel like you have time for this ‘’support function’’, you’re missing out. It should be a priority from day one because it can help you navigate towards success, and through hard times as well.
Before we start: assess your current internal communication strategy.
You can’t improve something if you don’t know what the actual issue is. Is it the communication methods you’re using? Or is the messaging and tone off? Before we dive into some tips on improving the situation, let’s take a step back and look at what’s happening here.
What communication tools are you using?
Many organizations build up an arsenal of communication tools over the years. Whenever they find something that’s also great, they add it to the toolbox. This can lead to confusion. Messages get lost or have to travel through different tools to find the right person.
Make an inventory of all communication channels you are using in your company, and why they are working—or not. Include your entire staff in this research to get a complete overview.
How are you communicating?
Often, communication issues stem from the company culture, or the lack of it. People don’t know if they can openly communicate, feel that they’re not taken seriously, or simply aren’t sure who to speak to. They can feel like they lack feedback or praise.
These communication issues can all be traced back to structure and culture. To determine where your company could improve, don’t just guess. If you want communication to improve, start a conversation. Admit that you see there’s room for improvement, and actively engage all employees in this journey.
Talk to your employees about wanting to identify and solve issues, and ask them what problems they’re experiencing related to communication. Surveys, anonymous or not, can be a great way to open a dialogue.
Three ways to improve communication
There’s no quick fix for internal communication. It’s an ongoing process that will require work every day. Especially when your company is growing and new people come aboard.
To make it a less daunting task, here are three main pillars of strong internal communication, with examples of how to make practical improvements.
1. Create structure
Just bouncing ideas off each other, sharing ideas by the water cooler and post-its with announcements: great for a sitcom on startups, but in real-life it will create chaos. Make sure your people know who to talk to, what tools to use and they have access to information (that could possibly answer questions they have). Here’s how.
Include communication in the onboarding process for new employees
The first few weeks in a new job can set you up for success, or a lifetime of confusion and frustration. When onboarding a new team member, don’t forget to show them how to effectively communicate.
Show them what tools to use and where to find important information. But more importantly: show them how communication flows in your organization. With an infographic maker, you can visualize this. This can help them get used to the structure in your organization, and finding their place within it.
Step up structured moments for feedback—both ways
In effective communications, feedback is not just given to employees, it’s also asked from them. Feedback should be the oil for the motor throughout your entire organization’s hierarchy.
It’s important to reach out to your employees with feedback and praise regularly, but you can learn a lot from them, too. Actively ask for it. An open-door policy only works when it’s actually being practiced, and your employees might need some encouragement to say what’s on their mind.
To stimulate this form of open communication, set up appointments and meetings for this, where the main objective is for them to give feedback, ideas, and input. Make sure they know that those meetings revolve around what they want to say, and that you are listening.
Make internal documents and knowledge easily available.
Improving workplace communication means you should minimize the number of ‘’unnecessary’’ questions. Information that can be found in documents, for instance. Now, you just need to document that information, and make it available to the right people.
If your developers need info from software documentation, you don’t want them to be guessing. A lot goes lost in verbal communication. Document anything that’s good to know and save it in a place that everyone can access.
Streamline the channels employees should use to communicate
Less is more. Meetings, emails, and especially communication tools. If you’ve analyzed the amount of communication tools you are using and found you need to cut back, here’s an extra tip.
Set up specific goals for every tool you use. If you are adding Slack to your toolbox, make sure people know this is meant to reduce the number of emails: not to notify someone that you just sent them an email. Cringe.
2. Make your company a community.
Communication is what binds people together, and your clients will notice this. If internal communication is flowing smoothly, this will reflect in external messages. Make sure you are aligned, inside and out.
Set up an online social community
When your team is working remotely, or you have a rather large staff, it can be hard to feel like you’re actually part of a team. An online community can be a great internal communication tool.
Of course, you should probably not discuss clients on a Facebook group. But an online social community can serve as a place for ‘’fun’’ communication, as not to clog up the more official channels for work-related messages.
Align employees on your values
What your company stands for should be an important topic in your hiring process. But even further down the line, it’s good to remind employees of this every once in a while. Some mission statements can be open to interpretation, but you’ll want everyone to be on the same page.
This feeling of having a shared mission strengthens your company as a community and will make communication easier: you’re all working towards the same goal, and communication will get you there.
Show the world that you’re a team
Did I mention that internal and external communication are connected? I’ll do it again.
If a company has a solid internal foundation, this will reflect in how they communicate with the outside world. Keeping this in mind, make sure that everyone’s voice is being heard. Not just internally, but also externally—for instance on your social media channels.
Who do people see on your website and social media? This can feel like a reflection of who ‘’matters’’ within the organization. Don’t just let the CEO announce news: show who’s behind all that hard work. This will contribute to that feeling of being valued.
3. Invest in your company’s culture
Communication and culture go hand in hand. You simply can’t create great communication in an environment where there’s no steady, positive culture. You want people to communicate openly and for the right reasons. How they feel at work strongly influences that.
Don’t just tell people what to do. For a job well done, reward the right people. For some managers, this might seem like unnecessary communication: why celebrate someone who’s just doing their job?
Because it’s nice to be acknowledged every once in a while. It creates a positive environment when not only mistakes or chances for improvement are pointed out. This will make people happier, which directly contributes to the success of your business: 74% of employees say they’d work harder if they were appreciated and recognized more often.
If you can’t identify where the loss of productivity or slowed-down innovation is coming from, talk to your employees—and start listening. Chances are, communication is holding back great ideas or forms an obstacle in your path to success.