Crash Course in... Internal communications

You've found a cruel spoof of one of your staff memos stuck up on a wall. Maybe your mushroom management approach - keep your people in the dark and feed them s**t - isn't such a good idea. So is there a better way to do internal communications?

by Alexander Garrett
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Understand your audience. With a marketing campaign, you'd start off by finding out who your customers are and what they want, so why not do the same internally? 'Your people are not all alike,' points out Paul Middleton, MD of internal comms specialists Yellow Communications. 'It may be worthwhile to segment them - say, by seniority - as your managers won't expect to be communicated with the same as the person in the call centre. Find out what people want to know about and how they'd like you to talk to them.'

Who's in charge? 'When it comes to strategic messages, HR, marketing and the chief exec should all have an input into what's said,' says Middleton, 'although the message may be crafted by communications professionals.' Adds Paul Brasington, chair of the British Association of Communicators in Business: 'It's critical to engage and support line managers. They have to interpret messages put out, face-to-face with their team, so they must know what's expected of them.'

Walk the talk. Don't try to spin your own people; they'll know if you're pulling the wool over their eyes and won't put up with it. 'Authenticity is king,' says Middleton.

Live the brand. What you say to your people should be consistent with what you tell the outside world and with your organisation's brand values. 'Your people are the ones delivering your customer promise, so there can't be a disconnect with what the brand stands for,' explains Middleton.

Offer many channels. 'Make sure the message is seen by your people,' says Lee Smith, co-founder of consultancy Gatehouse. 'Use a range of channels, including team meetings, e-mail, voicemail and print, recognising that people have a choice - as they do in consuming media at home.'

Don't over-communicate. If you send out too many messages, it'll sound like a lot of noise and nobody will listen when you've something important to say. 'Create a dedicated channel - say, a newsflash in e-mails or on your intranet - for urgent messages,' suggests Middleton. But, advises Brasington, be as transparent as you legally can be.

Be creative. Use techniques from marketing, 'creating campaigns, telling stories and repeating the same message', says Smith.

Check outcomes. 'Measure the goals you want to achieve with your communications effort, rather than the channels themselves,' says Brasington.

Do say: 'There will be a Q&A with senior managers this lunchtime; we'll be posting it later on the intranet in a podcast, with a full report in this week's newsletter.'

Don't say: 'Details of our outsourcing deal and arrangements for transfer to the new employer will be in tomorrow's newspapers.'

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