How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
Employee communication, or internal communication, is the discipline and practice of communicating effectively with employees across an organization.
For small companies, this is not a problem when you can get everyone together at a moments notice and have a quick chat. For large organizations, with tens or even hundreds of thousands of employees, it can be difficult to get the message across effectively.
Of course managed communication does not replace everyday interactions between managers and their employees.
The first step for any company getting serious about employee communications is to create a role or group whose responsibility is to manage communications to and with employees.
During the setup of this organization, a 'toolkit' may well be created for employee communications, including development of a 'house style' that covers fonts, layout templates, language style and so on.
The Employee Communications group will then be the main corporate instrument for formal internal communications. It is also not uncommon for employee communications to be done from within HR.
As with any organization, planning the communications as far ahead as possible helps to ensure there is sufficient resource and people available and that the work progresses smoothly.
An important aspect of planning communications is in developing a steady stream of messages rather than long dry periods followed by a burst of communications that will overload staff to the point where the communications get ignored. To do this typically needs communication beforehand with those likely to want to communicate with staff, such as corporate planners, HR managers and so on.
Another important aspect of planning is in listening to employees by various means (as below) and using this feedback to improve the content and style of communication. Typical considerations here include:
Planning also takes consideration of the media and channels to be used. People pay attention differently to different forms of communication and using a good mix of methods makes it more likely that more people will get the message.
Other details of the communications cycle are described below. All of these need to be considered in the planning phase.
Communication costs money, especially when some items are printed and where people's time is required. As necessary, estimating and budgeting will be required here, with appropriate approvals.
The work in developing the communications depends on the size and style of the communication. An email message can be composed quite quickly, while a glossy employee magazine can take a great deal of work.
Having said this, there can be a danger with 'quick emails' that are easily misinterpreted or result in people feeling offended. Depending on the sensitivity of the topic, it can be important to engage a communications professional.
Media can include:
Channels can include:
Do remember that the more senior the person whose name is at the bottom of the message or who is speaking it in person, the more the message will be scrutinized for hidden meaning. It can sometimes be helpful just to add a note that 'this is all there is - there is no hidden agenda' (although saying this in some organizations will make people immediately assume there is!).
Communications professionals own the style and manage the communication, but they do not own the content. It is consequently useful to have some kind of approval process. Care and detail in this activity will depend on the formality of the organization and criticality of the message.
There can be a temptation to delay negative messages, either in the hope that they are not needed or because of fears of recriminations from reduced performance to vocal opposition.
Delivery of the messages should be done to schedule unless there are extenuating circumstances, such as a hold due to a pending more important message. Of course messages should be complete and approved before delivery.
For physical items such as magazines and posters, there needs to be a printing phase before delivery. This will start in planning with contracts set up with printers as necessary.
An important difference in delivery is between push and pull messages. A push message is sent to the person so it arrives in front of them, for example by email. A pull message is one where the person has to collect, for example as posted on on an internal intranet.
Where physical action is required across multiple sites you may need the collaboration of a number of different people. Having one person per site responsible for coordinating corporate communications is often a good idea.
It is often a good idea to let managers know what will be said before employees get the message, particularly when this is about emotive topics such as downsizing.
Finally, after the communication has been delivered, it is important to check to see what was actually understood and, if action was required, whether this was taken.
Assessment of communication success can be done through several means, such as: