Internal communicators have long known how important it is to talk – and listen – to our employees and volunteers. The current global pandemic has given many of us the opportunity to prove it. But more than that we now also have the chance to provide longer-term strategic benefit, not just in the moment communication solutions.
What’s happened so far
As the crisis unfolded, it became clear that it would have an unprecedented impact on every aspect of our lives. In many organisations, high quality internal communication was recognised as being central to preparing employees for the changes.
Under pressure, many internal communicators did their best to consider the needs of different audiences – people working from home; frontline and furloughed staff; those with other responsibilities.
Teams looked at their existing channels and often found they were not fit for purpose in the current environment. New channels better suited to home-working were quickly set up.
Throughout our sector internal communicators earned the trust of their senior teams by delivering communications that gave direction in uncertain and frightening times. In a rapidly moving environment, success depended on clear and up-to-date information.
It’s a cliché to say this is a marathon not a sprint, but it is nevertheless true. So it can be helpful to consider things in terms of three phases of internal communication:
1. Immediate crisis, where communications are about changing ways of working. Against the backdrop of relentless, often negative, communication from sources outside the organisation. Individuals’ fear and personal circumstances may have impacted how much they could take in.
2. Ongoing communication to support working in different ways. Employees’ responses to the current reality are as varied as they are. Internal comms must continue to offer support and reassurance. Through regular, reliable communication it is possible to provide some sense of ‘new normal’ in a world that is anything but.
3. Recovery and getting back into the office. We don’t currently know when or how this will happen, but there will be a future need. In the same way that internal communication was central in moving everyone to the current reality, it will be important to the next stages too.
If not now, when?
Now is the time for internal communicators to be planning their strategy to keep adding value in the long-term, and no doubt most Internal Communication Managers know the strategy they would ideally adopt.
In an ideal world many would love an in-depth, minutely researched strategy, but when that’s not possible, something is better than nothing. Spending even a bit of time thinking and planning will be worthwhile and ensure all your hard work is not lost.
Start with something, no matter how brief, and you can always build on it later.
Areas to consider:
• Purpose – what’s internal communication for. E.g. empowering people as ambassadors; providing them with the info they need to do their jobs.
• Audiences – who are they and what matters to them
• Messages – what needs to be said, what’s the story
• Channels – what do you use and why. Mapping them can show you where there are gaps or duplication.
• Processes and sign-off loops – who does what
• Meaningful measurement and evaluation – the what and why of employee responses and behaviours
• Priorities and actions – how will you move from where you are to where you want to be
Ways to develop a strategy with limited time
One option is to put aside an hour to think through the elements of your strategy. Split the hour into sections, one per topic, and jot down your thoughts. Be really strict with yourself on timing. This one-hour outline might help you.
Or why not use the first 15 mins of your day to consider one strategic question in relation to your internal comms? If you are strict with yourself and do it every day, you will soon have a full strategy.
Adding practical value
For many, this crisis has been an opportunity to use new channels or to use established ones in different ways. Make sure you evaluate what they are achieving; don’t just use them as a tick-box for ‘sending stuff out’.
This will help you identify what you can use them for in the future and plan how to make that happen. Otherwise you risk being left with the legacy of ‘that thing we used during corona virus’ – a lot of work for no long-term benefit.
In the new world we will all be entering, organisations will need to be much clearer about their story, who they are and what they are here to do. With challenges of funding and operational delivery, the focus might be on how we tell that story outside our organisation.
As internal communicators, it is our responsibility to be the voice of the people within our organisations and speak up about sharing that story internally. To want to be part of something, people need to see themselves and their work in the story. At times of uncertainty, this will be particularly true.
Having a clear narrative will also help when we need to communicate bad news; sadly this is likely to be inevitable and having the context will help with integrity.
One thing is for sure – things will never be quite the same again. The extent of the changes that we see is yet to be determined. We have a responsibility to do everything we can to demonstrate the value we know that effective internal communication brings.
And to plan strategically so that this value is not ignored in the future.
Photo: Ylanite Koppens on Pexels