It’s hard to not know what you know – let’s talk internal comms
by Rebecca Roberts
Yes, let’s state the flipping obvious but it IS really hard to not know what you know and often as marketing and communications professionals, you (should) know all there is to know about your organisations’ strategy, key challenges and opportunities that both external and internal audiences should be across.
The ‘curse of knowledge’ is a phrase which perfectly suits the challenge of making headway on an internal communications strategy (and I’ve coined it from language guru Stephen Pinker).
When it comes to communicating with internal stakeholders it’s tough to assess where the genuine knowledge gaps exist and where messages are really just not getting through – particularly as you will often know the messages yourself having been privy to them or having made it your business to know.
Internal networks don’t always flow the way we think they will. Messages don’t necessarily cascade down to teams despite whatever management structure is in place. When internal groups and relationships are relied upon, you can guarantee that there will be a variance in clarity and messages will either get stopped in a bottleneck or take on a life of their own.
As communications professionals we’ll often be asked to get a message ‘out’ to a particular internal group and where we don’t have chance to plan, one-hit wonders are the norm, with a message pushed out on one channel and ticked off the to-do list. However, we have to persist in our drive for a plan to ensure we actually achieve both impactful outcomes as well as internal understanding of what ‘good comms’ looks like.
In essence then, no matter how repetitive or simple a plan needs to be for a particular ‘get it out’ request, if we have a clear structure of how our internal channels operate and a plan for how content is mapped across it – we’re already part of the way there to instilling a two-way process and getting content owners to think about how they want to engage with staff.
Having worked on a couple of interesting internal communications projects recently, a number of findings from the audits I ran and subsequent campaigns might be of use for your next internal project;
- New Channels and Tools Take Time: a sense of fatigue among staff and a feeling of internal communications being ‘done to them’ is an easy by-product of rushing out lots of new updates and systems, even when they are under the banner of ‘making your life easier’. You might have spent time assessing the market and identifying the perfect tool, or IT may have the best new system, but for most staff, they will take a little longer to adapt. Be realistic and consistent.
- Lower barriers to entry: with new systems, internal staff social platforms like Yammer, or two-way ideas like peer-to-peer praise or awards, staff are still likely to wonder what on earth this means for their day-to-day role. Don’t just launch something and throw it out there – chances are people will sign up and then things will go very quiet. As well as thinking about how you can use something for your own messages, spend some time thinking about how to stimulate engagement and lower the barriers to entry. If it’s easy, fun, regular – it’s more likely to succeed.
- Once is never enough: sometimes you’ll feel like you’ve told people too many times, this is never the case with internal communications, consistently saying the same message (hopefully in different ways across different channels in a creative and engaging way!) will help to actually resonate with your internal audience – even if you feel like you know it, remember the curse of knowledge effect!
- You don’t always have to spend big: a great push across some internal channels quite simply involved some free chocolate and a bit of fun across a complex staff base at a number of sites. Staff said they felt it was ‘nice’ and ‘fun’ – plus used the right channels to share in that, again helping to boost two-way engagement over a stagnated platform the organisation had been using. Sometimes it’s the meaningful small things that makes a difference to the working day; a cup of tea, favour, cake sale, a simple ‘thank you’, although obviously a big Easter Egg hunt is also pretty fun.
- Forget fussy corporate speak: whilst you may have brand guidelines for external stakeholders, when it comes to speaking with your own staff, you may need to challenge the public profile guidelines and re-evaluate how you’re speaking with staff. They’re not your public, they are important to you, particularly as they often represent you. Work with your HR department if you need to – find a tone that has key ingredients like being friendly, clear, fun, respectful – it’s way more likely to land than a jargon-full corporate email.
- Integrate offline and online: go on, I dare you! Whilst I’m all for repeating the same message (see previous point) don’t just take that as 101 emails with the same phrase in, that’s boring. Thinking about how to seed a message and disrupt the usual day to day deluge of internal emails, ‘dump it all on SharePoint’ approach, or throw it on scraps of paper on a noticeboard (bless), will get you thinking about the whole environment your staff operate in. List what you’ve got from the usual, standard channels and spaces and any that might be worth trying. When it comes to planning you can then map out what needs to run across offline and online, which is better for one over another and who the best gatekeepers are.
Rebecca Roberts is founder of threadandfable.com
image via the National Archive of the Netherlands