Internal Communications Plans
Just how do we start to write an internal communications plan and communications strategy?
Increasingly Human Resources (HR) or Organizational Development (OD) teams are being asked to drive and deliver internal communications, but what is an internal communications plan and how do you go about writing and applying one?
First we need to understand why it is important to have an internal communications plan. Traditionally these communications plans and activities has been undertaken by marcom or marketing departments. In an ever connected world it is more important to be a part of the way that HR & OD function.
According to research from Gallup, 69% of employees are either not-engaged or actively disengaged on the job. Further research from the organization estimates that over £185,000 million (£0.19 Billion) is lost annually due to lower productivity from actively disengaged workers alone.
It has been shown that the most effective way to increase employee engagement is through clear and effective internal or employee communications. Therefore internal communications is a critical HR strategy for both retention and increased performance.
Where are you now?
Before starting to develop any form of strategy for improvement it is important to know ‘where you are now’ or your starting point. The use of organizational diagnostics in the form of an audit is a useful place to start. This audit should be company wide and differentiate divisions and levels. Identifying blockages are important. The audit should help answer a number of important questions including:
- Are employees receiving accurate information?
- Are employees receiving the information they want and need?
- How are employees receiving regular information?
- How regular is regular daily, weekly, monthly, real time?
- Are messages consistent across the company?
- Do employees understand both the goals and the results of communications?
An effective approach to developing an internal communication plan starts not with what we need to do, but why we need to do it.
A common mistake that is made is that many communications strategies tell what is happening, but not why. This is a fundamental flaw.
One of the key principles of effective internal communication is not just to tell people the what. It is critical to tell them why something is happening in the way it is. If your people don’t understand the problem that you are attempting to solve, they won’t feel any ownership of the solution you are proposing, and as a result not be proactive in the solution, undermining your attempts at progress.
An effective approach in the development of the communications strategy is to identify:
- What are the goals, ambitions and it strategic aspirations for the future?
- What do the people in the organization need to think, feel and do in order to make those goals a reality?
- Where are employees now, and what needs to change in their current perceptions, attitudes, or access to basic information?
- What’s the role of the internal communication function in helping close the gap of what we want for the future, and what we’ve got today?
- What are the roles and responsibilities of leaders, managers, employees and communication professionals?
- What are the communication activities we’re going to need – and who will be responsible for what?
- What’s the resource levels we need?
- What tools and communications channels will we use and why?
Effective internal communication is a means to an end, not an end in itself. For your people to be fully engaged in their work and the organization you need to clearly demonstrate show the link between business problems and internal communication as a possible solution. Internal communication is not an end in itself.
It is really hard to over communicate. Most internal communications fail because the message is not repeated enough. Not repeated enough in different styles.
So what is Internal communications? Communication within any organization is a little like the human circulation system. It serves as a channel or network that links parts of the organization together. Passing resources from one place to another. Joining the dots.
Much of the communication that occurs in an organization is informal and uncontrollable. So only fools try to control communications between people.
Other communications are structured and intentional and carefully planned.
You cannot not communicate. So be careful what you do.
Even not actively communicating on a topic says a lot. If you are not actively communicating on a regular basis, your people will. Even if they have to make it up. And they will.
Who needs what?
The employees need to know the direction of the organization. How they can engage and participate (belonging) and need feedback. The progress that is being made.
Examples of employee communications include:
Intranet, website, newsletters, memos, notice boards, press, company magazine, blogs, employee forums, social networks.
Internal Communications Plan – contingency preparedness
Most effective organizations that operate structured approaches to internal communications appoint a dedicated communications manager. Because this person has a thorough knowledge and understanding of the company, its people and systems. In times when rapid and clear communication is required they provide the management team with a strategic advantage.
Having a dedicated roles means that preparations can be made for disaster or contingency management and the appropriate communications required.
During your crisis communication planning stage, the internal communications manager can collect contact information from all employees and other key resources. This contact information should be exhaustive and can include home, mobile, email, instant messaging and other contact methods and maintain the accuracy of this over time.
Creating your communications plan to include crisis and contingency plans can help reduce and avoid unnecessary crisis. Part of your plan may include the creation of an emergency notification cascade system. There are commercial systems which can in an emergency send SMS messages to 100’s of mobile phone numbers informing staff of critical factors
12 step communications strategy & plan
It is said that there are 12 steps required for an effective internal communications strategy and plan:
- Employee focused communications must be led from the top
- Consistency in message is vital
- Charismatic yet natural and planned communications are more effective
- Communication via the line manager is preferred and more effective
- Employee communications are not optional extras, they are part of business as usual and should be planned and budgeted for as such
- There must be integration between internal and external communications
- Timing is critical
- The tone of any communication is important if we want people to engage effectively
- Keep all communication focused on the WIIFM the ‘What’s In It For Me?’ factor
- Communication is a two-way process
- A single key theme or a couple of key themes is a means of giving coherence to a range of diverse employee communications initiatives
- Set your standards and stick to them
Example Communications Plan Matrix
The following table, shows how a company may plan and manage its internal communications.
|Strategy||Purpose||Intended result||Communications team role||Frequency|
|Home page||Business metrics/ dashboard||To keep employees up to date on progress||Update data that is not automated||Daily|
|Departmental page||Departmental dashboard. Contracts/ budgets||To keep employees up to date on local progress||None||Daily|
|Project page||Project KPI dashboard. Contracts/ budgets||To keep team members up to date on project||None||Daily|
||Inform, engage||Employees understand our purpose, progress, and how they connect||Consult, develop, publish||Weekly and as necessary|
|Activity reports||Inform||Employees understand what the rest of the organization is doing||Collect and publish||monthly|
|Coffee with director||Inform, clarify, exchange||Attend, notes if required||Twice a month|
|Brown Bag lunches/ info sessions||Inform, clarify, exchange||Plan, announce||Varies|
|Leadership team employee meeting (open to all)||Model open organization, inform||Take notes||Weekly|
|All-manager meetings||Inform, clarify||Note taking||Monthly|
|All-employee meetings||Inform, clarify||Planning, logistics||Twice a year|
|Staff meetings||Inform, clarify|
|Team meetings||Daily work|
|Cafe based conversations||Understanding|
|Monthly news e-zine||Connect people to colleagues, to organization and to to job||Employees connected and informed||Develop, publish||Monthly|
|Director staff meeting notes||Connect people to organization and to document organizational history||Employees connected and informed||Develop, publish||Weekly|
|Organization calendar||Provide visibility over organization activities||Maintain||As required|
|Meeting actions||Provide organizational accountability||Employees connected and informed||Develop, publish||Weekly|
|Decision log||Document organizational decisions||Organization has record of decisions||Develop, publish||As required|
|Field-guide to organization||Connections to organization||Employees understand how organization fits together||Develop, publish||As required|
|Organization support, infrastructure development|
|Develop communications plans for other parts of the organization||Consulting||Single organizational message; communications activities are coordinated||Develop, coordinate, publish||As required|
|Organizational distribution lists||Infrastructure development||Lists are current||Maintain all staff lists||As required|
|Organizational performance reporting||Employees connected to work||Performance is visible||To be determined||Monthly.|
|Information management||Single source||Information under configuration control||To be determined||As required|
|“Branding” and organizational identity||Common look & feel||Consistent use of name and logo on signage, websites, etc.||Coordinate and support||As required|
|Activity||Responsibility||Timeline||Resources Needed||Indicators of Success||Date Completed|
Increasingly Human Resources (HR) or Organizational Development (OD) teams are being asked to drive and deliver an internal communications plans.
How to write an internal communications plan and strategy – Page revised March 2016 originally created August 2007