Last updated on February 2, 2023 at 06:42 pm
The internal communication industry is rapidly changing. Thanks to changing technology and changing needs and expectations of companies, we are seeing a major shift. And a big opportunity. Because of the constantly evolving demands of the internal comms profession, I wanted to share the top internal comms best practices for 2023 we learned from communicators at last year’s Connect PRSA conference.
Before we dive into our best practices for the new year, let’s tackle some frequently asked questions about internal communications best practices.
What is effective internal communication?
To set yourself up for success, you have to start with objectives. What does successful internal communication look like? What does it mean to be more effective communicators? The best practices we’ll share are going to help you get there.
Effective internal communication is when you are able to achieve the objective of sending the communication.
But this is often easier said than done. Effective internal comms requires you to set the right objectives for each communication you send, the ability to measure your results, and the right strategy behind your internal communications campaigns.
What are the four types of internal communication?
To really elevate your internal communications, you need to focus on developing best practices for all the types of communication at your company.
The four types of internal communication are:
- Executive communication: This is top-down communication from your leadership team.
- Peer-to-peer communication: This is communication between employees across your company.
- Manager communication: This is communication between a manager and their direct reports.
- Bottom-up communication: This is where you give employees communication platforms that help amplify the employee voice. Employees get to ask questions, share their opinions, and tell their stories.
What are the characteristics of good internal communication?
The characteristics of good internal communication are fairly simple. Great internal communication:
- Is clear to your target audience.
- Considers the employee experience. For instance, the message was on channels employees can easily access.
- Is shared at the right time for your target audience to be able to engage with and act on the message.
- Achieves a specific goal, often with a broader organizational impact (like time or money savings).
Internal Comms Best Practices
Now that you know the foundations of what internal communication is and what great communication looks like, let’s talk about the specific tactics and strategies that are best practices for 2023.
Embrace the employee engagement evolution
The way we measure and think about employee engagement is often wrong, inaccurate, or just downright unhelpful.
But we all still agree that an employee’s levels of engagement are still important, especially when considered in a larger context. Rather than thinking of engagement as how involved or committed an employee is to their work and company, it’s best to consider:
- How do employees embrace communities?
- How do our individual differences and personalities help us work better together?
- How does personality impact how we interact with others and want to be interacted with?
Why are these better questions to ask? At PRSA Connect 2022, Chuck Gose said it best:
“People are always engaged. It just might not be what you want them to be engaged with.”
By looking past if someone is engaged with work, you begin to understand their actual motivations and needs. And these questions are action-oriented. Just learning that half your workforce isn’t engaged doesn’t actually help you solve your disengagement problem. But if you learn more about the makeup of your teams, what drives them, and what makes them tick, you begin to understand why your culture might not be working. Or what benefits and flexibilities you need to offer.
And it might go without saying that to measure true engagement annual employee engagement surveys aren’t going to cut it. These surveys are simply too far apart and too stagnant. Engagement can change hourly, so how do you expect to capture employee engagement for your whole company with one annual survey?
Frontline managers must become a critical communications channel
Leveraging your managers is a critical internal comms best practice…but getting manager comms right is also one of our biggest challenges.
But companies with frontline workforces rely heavily on managers as a comms channel. We need to adapt strategies that help them be better communicators.
Joni Kirk of LifeCenter Northwest created her manager communication strategy by understanding that “You can’t expect a _______ to be a communicator.” By this she meant, you can’t expect a manager, a field technician, a doctor, or so on to be a communicator. They have not been trained. It’s up to us to give them the tools and continue to reinforce them.
To do this at her company, Joni:
- Shared tools and policies for how to communicate at their company.
- Made a leadership site where they published targeted manager comms.
- Created a weekly leadership newsletter that included specific CTAs for managers. Don’t leave managers guessing about what they have to do!
- Broke down the comms responsibilities by level within their leadership hierarchy. This ensures that even leaders at the top (above your middle/frontline managers) understand their role and are held accountable.
Embrace the authentic employee voice
It’s no surprise that when our messages sound authentic, they’re more trustworthy. More Inspiring. And more Impactful. One of the best ways to make our messages and campaigns authentic—especially if they’re about culture—is to tap into the employee voice. But pulling that off with a dispersed workforce can be challenging.
Susan Poole, APR of The Westervelt Company may have cracked the code though. At their company, they share the employee voice in two ways:
- Short videos
- An ongoing photo contest where employees share pictures that represent the company or their job
But you must be wondering how the heck they got employees to participate in an ongoing photo submission contest, right? Susan Poole breaks it down succinctly into three parts: establish the rules, implement, and sustain.
Establishing ground rules:
- Don’t forget your release forms!
- Share rules for submissions, but don’t make them too restrictive. You want to give examples, but not limit creativity or make employees unsure if they should submit.
- Keep safety top of mind if you work in logistics or manufacturing. Embed safety guidelines in your rules to keep everyone safe.
- Make it a competition and share the rewards upfront to incentivize participation.
Implementing your program:
- HYPE up the contest in messages and share regular reminders. PRO TIP: Include example submissions in these hype emails.
- Make it as easy as possible for employees to submit their pictures (dropbox, email, app, etc.).
- Get management buy-in ahead of time.
Sustaining your program:
- If participation starts to lull, try introducing a new contest theme or new rewards.
- Try to rebrand or update the contest.
The Westervelt Company also regularly collects employee interviews on-site to share as part of their hiring and retention campaigns. Even though some of their employees have been nervous to participate, the team pulls off some incredible 30-second videos. Their advice?
- Find a great crew and clearly articulate your goals and needs.
- Don’t share the exact questions ahead of time because people tend to over-prepare.
- Give your on-screen talent some media training.
- Remember to leave extra time for filming because it takes longer than you’d expect.
Don’t forget the communications loop in change management
Change management is a huge part of what we do as communicators. David Pitre and Cheryl Ross of Davis & Company shared their internal comms best practices for how to make change communication easy and effective.
They have a fantastic six-step process. We recommend you download their ebook on change comms to get all their tips and tricks.
But the part that really stuck with us was this idea of the Communications Loop. Cheryl Ross said, “With change communication, it’s never just one-and-done.” For complex changes, you might have to repeat steps and continue communicating a few times.
Adopt a “glocal” mindset
“We really need to think globally but act locally,” according to Sheryl Zapcic of Voith. And we couldn’t agree more. The idea behind glocalization is that we need to think about our global messages for our company and then localize them for our specific audiences. This is especially important for global companies, but can also apply to companies with multiple disparate units where you have distinct micro-cultures.
If we don’t “glocalize,” we risk our messages not feeling targeted and relevant. And as Sheryl puts it, “If our messages don’t resonate with employees, it’s pointless.”
So, how do we make sure our comms resonate? Here are her 8 internal comms best practices:
- Establish departmental leads.
- Update employee information.
- Update employee distribution lists.
- Set up and test your emergency notification system.
- Create a media inquiry protocol.
- Set up a monitoring service (employee listening).
- Identify your comms channels.
- Deploy employee surveys to learn and adapt.
Take Action With theEMPLOYEEapp
These five internal comms best practices are key to success in 2023 and beyond. And they will help you set the right internal communication priorities. But you don’t have to do it alone. The right internal comms tech can make a big difference. If you have dispersed and deskless workers, an internal communication app might be right for you. Let’s get in touch to learn if theEMPLOYEEapp could be a good fit for your company.
About the Author
Sydney Lauro is the Demand Generation Manager for theEMPLOYEEapp. Prior to joining the team at theEMPLOYEEapp, Sydney worked in internal communications for Chipotle Mexican Grill. She users her internal comms expertise and passion for improving communication and the employee experience to create content and share best practices to help other communications professionals.
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