It is impossible to overstate the value of effective internal communication yet it is all too easy to overlook. While PR often steals the spotlight and the budget, it’s what and how a firm says to its people – and when it says it – that promotes a healthy organisational culture and fosters a focused, united workforce, says Kathryn Kneller.

The internal communications function serves as an organisation’s central nervous system. It’s your IC team’s job to facilitate the seamless exchange of information about the firm among employees at all levels. Its primary role is to ensure that every member of the workforce is well-informed, engaged and aligned with the firm’s mission, vision, strategy, objectives and performance. Companies who do this well typically report a positive workplace culture, increased employee morale, enhanced productivity  and stronger business results.

If finance manages your organisation’s monetary resources, think of IC as the stewards of your employees’ emotional capital – which they can choose to share with, or to withhold from, your organisation.

When employees are kept in the loop about firm news, and they perceive that their leaders are trustworthy, they feel valued and connected to the organisation. This sense of belonging translates into higher job satisfaction, lower turnover rates, greater willingness to speak well of your firm as an employer and, ultimately, improved business performance. Furthermore, clear and transparent employee communications empower your people to understand their individual roles within the larger organisational framework, fostering a collective sense of purpose.

The perception gap

Internal communicators often find themselves overshadowed by their peers in PR. Companies typically allocate more resources to their external messaging, because it’s usually easier to map a short-term financial
ROI to that activity – or because the CEO enjoys a good ego massage when there’s a positive story in the press.

External communications may shape a firm’s public image, but its long-term reputation is built and sustained by the people inside the organisation. A firm with a united, well-informed and motivated workforce is far better positioned to convey a positive message externally. The best-performing companies do both external and internal communications well, and make sure they’re fully aligned.

Pitfalls in internal communications

Several common mistakes can hinder the effectiveness of employee communications within companies. These include:

  • Inconsistency: Inconsistent messaging can lead to confusion and frustration among employees. Whether it’s conflicting information from different departments or mixed signals from leadership, inconsistency erodes trust and undermines the firm’s credibility with its own people.
  • Bad timing: Timeliness is critical. Delayed or untimely messages can result in misinformation, leaving employees feeling disconnected and, worse, deliberately kept in the dark. Furthermore, in a rapidly evolving business environment, the relevance of information diminishes quickly. So, it’s vital to give the right message to the right people at the right time.
  • One-way communication: Many companies still rely too heavily on broadcast, or top-down, communication, where information flows from leadership to employees. A lack of two-way communication can stifle employee engagement and innovation, as it fails to meet the very human need to feel listened to – as well as to harness the valuable insights
    and perspectives of the workforce.

It’s also easy to assume that just because we all communicate in our daily work, that ‘anyone can do internal communications’.  But that’s a complete fallacy: it’s like saying anyone who can use a calculator is qualified to ‘work in finance’. Effective internal communication requires considerable expertise, and neglecting this work carries significant business risk.

The risks of poor internal communications

Over the long term, the consequences of poor internal communications can be severe and far-reaching. Leaders who are complacent about internal communication can soon find themselves with a disengaged workforce, decreased morale, and increased employee turnover. Moreover, a lack of information can breed rumours, undermining
the firm’s reputation both internally and externally.

A disengaged workforce is likely to engender diminished productivity and be more likely to leave. The risks of poor internal communication extend well beyond the internal sphere, potentially impacting customer relationships and shareholder confidence. In a worst-case scenario, poor employee communications can result in legal issues and bottom-line impact.

Effective internal communication

Good internal communications are characterised by transparency, consistency, timeliness and inclusivity. Transparent communication builds trust among employees, fostering a culture of openness and honesty. Consistency ensures that all messages align with the firm’s values and objectives, reinforcing a unified organisational identity. Timely communication is essential to keep employees informed, allowing them to adapt to changes and make informed decisions promptly. Inclusivity involves creating multiple channels for communication, encouraging feedback, and actively involving employees in decision-making processes.

Successful internal communications strategies recognise the importance of both top-down and bottom-up communication to create a dynamic and responsive communication environment. A strong internal communications  team will work closely with the firm’s leadership to establish a reputational strategy with employees that dovetails with and underpins the organisation’s overall objectives.

Improving international communications

For companies without a well-established internal communications function, the following steps will help you develop a robust strategy:

  • Conduct a communication audit: Begin by assessing the current state of your organisation’s internal communications using both quantitative and qualitative measures. Surveys will give you data, whereas interviews, focus groups and comments will help you make sense of that data. Identify strengths, weaknesses and areas for improvement.
  • Define clear objectives: Clearly outline the objectives for your firm’s internal communications. Whether it’s improving employee engagement, reducing turnover or fostering a culture of innovation, specific objectives will guide the
    development of targeted communication initiatives.
  • Implement a two-way communication framework: Establish channels that allow for open and continuous dialogue between leadership and employees. Town hall meetings, feedback sessions and digital platforms can facilitate a culture of collaboration and ensure that the workforce feels heard and valued. Your IC team should be proactively monitoring these insights and bringing those insights back to leadership.
  • Invest in technology: Leverage technology to enhance internal communications. The right intranet platforms, messaging apps and collaboration tools can streamline communication processes and provide a centralised hub for information sharing – a single source of truth.
  • Provide training: Equip leaders and managers with the necessary skills to communicate effectively. Training programmes on communication best practices, active listening and conflict resolution can contribute to a more communicative and supportive organisational culture.
  • Foster a culture of feedback: Encourage a culture where feedback is valued and actively sought. Constructive feedback helps identify areas for improvement and allows for continuous refinement of internal communications strategies.
  • Celebrate successes: Acknowledge and celebrate achievements, milestones and employee contributions. Recognition fosters a positive workplace culture, boosting morale and reinforcing the value of each team member.

In conclusion then, it’s essential to view internal communications not as a secondary aspect of business strategy but as a fundamental driver of organisational success. Companies that prioritise effective employee communications and resource their IC teams properly are better equipped to navigate challenges, engage their workforce, and ultimately achieve sustainable growth. As professional services leaders, understanding the strategic importance of internal communications and investing in it will equip you to establish a resilient and thriving organisational culture.

About the author

Kathryn Kneller is the founder of Internal Comms Mastery, an IC consultancy which advises clients on how to shape outstanding employee communication strategies. She has held communications leadership roles at companies including HSBC, AstraZeneca, Unilever and Shell. Follow her on LinkedIn for more insights.


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