PR professionals have a unique vantage point. We gain unparalleled perspective on the way companies and organizations communicate — both externally, with customers and constituents, and internally, with those who handle day-to-day operations. This eye-opening experience can all too often reveal the downside of a deficient internal communications strategy.
In one of my recent consultations, it didn’t take long for me to realize that the organization had little to no internal communications planning in place. Employees were no more privy to company news, organizational changes, plans or internal goings-on than the public. After this deficit became clear, my curiosity was piqued. I finally asked a department head how she stayed in the loop.
“We read it online or in the newspaper, just like you,” she told me.
Everything employees knew about their place of employment was learned from sources available to the general public. The more we talked, the more I realized this information gap led to more than frustrated, unaware employees. Over time, it had led to a dangerous erosion of trust. After all, if an organization isn’t striving to keep its own employees informed, then who are they supposed to listen to? And what are they supposed to believe?
While a lack of internal communication weakens an organization, a thoughtful, strategic comms plan can imbue it with strength on multiple levels.
1. Build “trust capital.”
In any relationship, open communication builds trust. It’s no different within an organization, where employees want to feel informed, engaged and empowered, especially when life feels uncertain.
The COVID-19 pandemic has left all of us searching for trusted sources. And right now, for employees around the world, the most trusted source is their employer.
The 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer found that 76 percent of respondents say they trust their employer above non-government organizations (NGO), government and the media.
At a time when trust in government leadership has taken a nosedive, Edelman reports that businesses are viewed as more competent and ethical than alternative sources. These days, an employee’s company is often the go-to source for information beyond company affairs — from health guidelines to vaccination updates.
PR professionals can embrace this surge in trust during an unprecedented time by developing internal communications plans that openly share information, encourage questions and strive to ensure that employees have the insight they need to move forward safely and confidently.
2. Align your employees with your mission.
Your organization’s employees are its driving force. They make everything go, and when they feel aligned with the overall mission and vision of the organization, that synchronicity can encourage momentum and success at all levels.
It’s one thing for team members to see posters with campaign headlines throughout the building, but it’s another for them to truly understand what they need to do individually to contribute to the success of the organization. A strategic communications plan should not only clearly communicate the overall mission and vision, but should also address the individual role each employee plays in making it a reality.
3. Strengthen company culture.
Even if your organization’s leadership hasn’t officially defined its culture, it’s there — an atmosphere shaped by your values and exhibited in communications and interactions both internally and externally. When you implement clear communication tactics at every level, it manifests itself into a stronger, more open culture, more confident employees and a more successful organization overall.
You can lead the way toward a communication-rich culture by creating an internal communications infrastructure that encourages dialogue — between leaders and employees, and between colleagues who might not otherwise connect on a day-to-day basis. This can lead to a culture that values stronger relationships, as well as an exchange of information and ideas that breed trust and growth.
4. Unite your teams when physical proximity isn’t possible.
Prompted by the pandemic, 2020 saw a huge shift in the way we work (and from where we work). While the number of remote workers gradually fell during the year as some workers began to return to their offices, Gallup reports that 33% of U.S. employees are still working from home — and nearly two-thirds plan to continue doing so.
With more employees out of the physical office atmosphere indefinitely, a well-planned internal communication strategy takes on a new level of importance. Emails, newsletters, communications from the leadership team, regular check-ins, virtual and hybrid events can all help remote workers stay in touch and feel connected, even when they’re miles away.
Looking ahead: A more social internal communications strategy
Going forward — as the way we work evolves and the role of internal communications transforms to meet the change — it will be interesting to see how organizations use internal social platforms to amplify the voices of leaders and employees. Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs) like Jive, Chatter, Slack and Yammer are already giving large companies and global nonprofits a way to easily facilitate internal dialogue and collaboration while shifting the internal communications model from a top-down approach to a two-way conversation between leaders and employees.
As PR professionals are faced with a growing number of remote employees and the vital need for a trusted exchange of information between employees and leaders, it could be just the tool to leverage.