By Benjamin Haslem
Internal stakeholders are an often neglected part of a company's or organisation's communications efforts.
As Janet Chihocky and Melissa Bullard have observed, managers and leaders often fall into a trap of assuming their employees understand the organisation’s vision and values, as well as staff requirements to help advance the company mission.
But if an organisation lacks a properly-designed and implemented system to communicate with staff those assumptions remain just that - assumptions.
Employees and managers that communicate well are an essential ingredient in a properly functioning organisation.
Organisational failure is often a result of a lack of a strategy reaching internal stakeholders at critical times.
To avoid this, key messages that align with organisational goals should be developed and shared with employees across the organisation from the CEO down.
Open, informative, honest and continual communication creates champions among an organisation’s workforce, which then advances the organisation’s mission and programs both internally and externally.
Platforms used to carry key messages can be varied and used to reach different internal stakeholders.
An intranet is a powerful and effective tool to communicate with staff but it is only useful if all staff have regular access to a work-based computer or tablet.
Staff who work outdoors or drive machinery will find an intranet’s utility lacking and many also have only sporadic access to emails and even text messages.
Older workers can find digital mediums intimidating and difficult to navigate.
The humble poster; newsletter, one-on-one face-to-face meeting and old-fashioned toolbox talk should never be overlooked.
Bruce Berger, Professor of Advertising & Public Relations at the University of Alabama, argues face-to-face interactions should be emphasized in internal communications, “especially to resolve conflicts or crises, communicate major changes and celebrate accomplishments”.
Dr Berger argues communication content must be timely (that is relevant to what is occurring at the time) and relevant to each employee and in a language they understand.
Effective communications channels increase message absorption and understanding. Employees are informed and can then identify with the organization’s short- and long-term goals as they perform their jobs.
Argentine-based internal communications specialist, Alejandro Formanchuk, uses a terrific analogy to demonstrate this point.
Formanchuk tells the story of three bricklayers. When asked about their work, the first replies that he is “laying one brick on top of another”. The second says, “building a wall”; the third “building a church for the people”.
The different answers are due to the different “strategic communications” that each brickie received from the organization.
Formanchuk postulates that we can assume that the last man will be the one who will give his all to the job because:
- He feels focused: He knows where he is going to. He knows the path, the goals, the vision and mission of the organization.
- He feels committed: He knows what his personal goals are and how his effort will help achieve the global goal – building a church for the people.
- He feels respected: He is no longer a simple “bricklayer”. He is a builder of a church for the people.
- He feels valued: Someone explained to him the importance of his work and told him the final goal.
- He feels motivated: He works for a greater and more important cause.
- He feels integrated: He forms part of a team and knows what the impact of his task is on the rest.
- He feels content: Knowing the goal of the task helps to lower conflict and bad feeling created by uncertainty, among other things.
Formanchuk argues that people who don’t receive strategic communication can end up considering that many things they do are useless or the organization gets them to do them out of whim, malice or stupidity.
Enhancing employee understanding of the organisation’s missions, values and goals equips them with the knowledge to interact more effectively and confidently with important external stakeholders, leading to greater satisfaction amongst customer, suppliers and others.
It breeds employee confidence, cooperation and retention.
However, even the best laid internal communications plans will come to little if they fail to provide an opportunity for information to travel back up to an organisation’s management. If they lack reciprocity.
The best communicating organisations have a three-way internal communication flow.
Successful internal communications require feedback or a two-way flow. An opportunity for employees to provide feedback.
However, it is best to conceptualise a three-way flow, adding a response loop, because, in order to be credible and meaningful, feedback often requires an effective reaction.
You need to acknowledge you have received the feedback and respond to that feedback.