3 Powerful Internal Communications Tips to Become a Better Business
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When I tell people that I work in communications, there’s often an assumption that my discipline is a soft skill. Look no further than every Hallmark holiday movie plot to prove my point. A disproportionate amount of female protagonists in these Christmas-themed love stories have roles in communications: There’s the journalist who’s sent to cover a holiday at a foreign castle; the dating blogger who takes a chance on love; the high-powered marketing executive who gets stranded in small-town Ohio; the TV anchor who admits she hates Christmas on-air (gasp!); and the two rival broadcasters who (spoiler alert) realize they’re soulmates.
Culturally, we don’t exactly portray a cunning profile of communications professionals.
But this portrayal of communications as a discipline is a disservice to business leaders, particularly when it comes to internal communications. In fact, every mistake in business stems from a failure of communication. We use communication to structure productive meetings, build the culture that informs our brands, bolster organizational efficiency, foster inclusion and belonging, increase employee engagement, inspire teams, move projects forward, sell our products and services, build trust, work through problems, make informed decisions, develop our teams and to teach important skills.
With so much on the line, it’s a wonder that organizations don’t spend more time and resources fostering these crucial competencies. 60% of organizations don’t have a long-term internal communications strategy, and upwards of 70% of employees are realizing the pitfalls – they fear they’re missing organizational news, and lack understanding of the company strategy. This makes it hard for employees to realize their organizational impact or otherwise participate in the strategy meaningfully.
Fortunately, communication skills are easy to acquire with some intention. Here’s where you might start.
Build a thoughtful communications infrastructure
When business leaders think about defining how teams communicate, the typical approach is to assess the available digital communications platforms. For example, should your business adopt Microsoft Teams or Slack? Will you use Mailchimp for email communications, or Dotdigital? Often, a decision about our internal communications infrastructure comes down to features and cost with little attention to how communications channels will function for your business in practice.
A better approach is to first align with HR and department heads to understand the various channels of communication needed to accommodate your particular employee makeup and culture and the intended purpose of each of the respective channels. Do you intend for project collaboration to happen over chat? On video? Via email? What formats will you use for sensitive topics? When you’re intentional about channels and their purposes, you define communications processes at your company that facilitate clarity, consistency and organizational efficiency which has the added benefit of fostering trust.
Be intentional about your communications processes and norms
Having an explicit communications policy is a great way to establish clear expectations. The communications policy should cover everything from social media best practices to running outcome-oriented presentations and meetings.
It’s also important to consider the communications norms you want to set in your company. Is it okay for team members to be off camera on video chat? Are there certain acceptable formats and communications templates for communicating with clients? Are there things that are absolutely not said, such as having zero tolerance for communicating prejudice? It might seem like common sense, but drawing clear lines around what’s tolerated and what’s not will communicate that you value equity and inclusion while establishing boundaries that will keep everyone safe.
Adopt powerful conversations
When you approach every communication with intention, each conversation becomes an opportunity to drive an intended outcome. In Powerful Conversations by Phil Harkins, Harkins suggests a model that I’ve found imminently effective in getting buy-in for new projects, avoiding costly communications errors, problem-solving, fostering trust and moving important assignments forward.
Harkins suggests a 4-step process for positive conversational outcomes: “what’s up, what’s so, what’s possible, and let’s go.” In short, his steps allow leaders to establish an emotional common ground around an agenda, foster situational understanding through fact-finding, discuss possibilities, and assign tasks and accountability.
That last step, assigning deliverables, might sound obvious but it’s crucial in moving projects forward and it’s often missing from the traditional meeting structure.
When it comes to fostering a healthy and productive company culture, there’s no more powerful means than effective communication. Establishing a mindful infrastructure and clear expectations will set a precedent for results-oriented conversations that build trust, solve problems and invite innovation.