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Work simply can’t get done without communication.
As humans, we communicate every day. And there’s no shortage of ways to communicate with one another. From texts and emails to phone calls and virtual meetings, we have plenty of options.
But when it comes to internal communication within your organization, it can be more difficult than you think. Our workforce experienced massive disruption at the onset of the pandemic. Most organizations quickly pivoted to hybrid or remote work.
We saw an immediate lack of face-to-face interactions and in-person meetings. Town halls and company meetings were suddenly re-imagined for Zoom. Large-scale, company-wide events, news, and big announcements all needed internal communications support.
As a result, organizations everywhere turned to their internal communication teams.
According to a survey that surveyed 800-plus internal communications professionals, the pandemic exposed the dire need for internal communications. In fact, 66% of respondents said their level of influence on senior leaders increased due to the pandemic.
But even before the pandemic, employees reported communication gaps. In fact, 74% of employees feel they’re missing out on company news and announcements.
Crafting an effective internal communication strategy is critical to your organization’s success. In this article, you’ll learn more about what internal communication is and how it shows up in your organization. You’ll also learn why internal communication is important — and how it can impact your company culture.
What is internal communication?
Let’s start by defining what we mean by internal communication.
What is internal communication?
Internal communication is a function within an organization responsible for communicating to employees. Internal communication teams are responsible for communicating information, news, announcements, policies, and more to the organization.
But let’s be clear: internal communication isn’t as easy as it sounds. There are plenty of nuances around what it means to effectively communicate to your employee base.
8 types of internal communication
It’s common for corporate communication to own different workstreams within the organization. On its face, “internal communication” can seem simple, straightforward, and clearly defined.
Employee communication can span into different categories and communication channels. Each topic has nuances to its message, delivery, audience, and voice — all of which play a role in effective internal communication. Some organizations split corporate communications into teams covering a respective topic.
We’ve outlined 8 types of internal communication that you may encounter — or want to consider for your organization.
1. Change management communication
No organization can avoid change. And change comes in many different forms. For example, you may be restructuring your organization after hiring new leaders to head up a new department. Or you might be implementing a new system or digital tool as part of your digital transformation strategy.
Regardless of what change your employees face, communication is critical to ensure your teams are equipped to handle it. Change management can’t be done effectively without strong communicators. Factor change management into your internal communication plans.
2. Executive and leadership communication
This is another facet of internal communication that’s critical for any organization. Leaders need communication support — and that type of support will look different for every company.
For example, your organization may be prone to email as its main form of communication. If you’re communicating a key message from your CEO to all employees, engage with executive communication experts to help craft the email. Or you might have a more complicated message to deliver where a video message from leadership would be best. Your executive communications team will own things like strategy, delivery, and execution.
No matter the size of your organization, it’s critical employees hear from their leaders. With a lack of transparency and lack of communication comes a lack of trust and employee engagement. Consider the ways you can bolster your internal communication strategy with leadership communication.
3. Crisis communication
Unfortunately, our world and our workplaces are not immune to crises. Some crises may be out of your organization’s control, like the global COVID-19 pandemic or a natural disaster. Any sort of external crisis has the potential to negatively impact your employees. That's why it’s important to build out an arm of comms pros focused on crisis management.
But you could also encounter crises within your organization. Hopefully, as a company leader, you won’t have to address things like layoffs or negative press. But as we know from our world, it happens. And it’s important to be prepared for when it does.
4. Information or business technology communication
As our world becomes more digitized, it’s critical to communicate to empower your employees’ productivity. For example, take a global, international organization that has a mostly remote workforce.
Every employee will need a laptop, system set-ups, and resources to learn (and use!) the tools necessary to do their jobs well. This is where business or information technology communicators come in. Oftentimes, these are internal comms folks who are good at dissecting complex, complicated information into digestible pieces for the average worker.
For example, your organization could roll out a new tool — like Zoom — in the middle of the pandemic. But let’s say 60% of your employees have never used virtual conferencing tools like Zoom before. Your IT comms people will be able to help communicate all the necessary information. In the end, it’ll make your employees more productive, efficient, and satisfied with their jobs.
5. Culture communication
Keeping a drumbeat of communications focused on culture — especially in a remote or hybrid environment — is so important. When we look at internal communication, these messages focused on culture can come to life in a lot of different ways.
You might want to reinforce positive behaviors that align with your core values and company culture. So, you lean on your internal communications team for some help. For example, your internal communication team can do some storytelling around culture.
You might spotlight a person who has made contributions to your organization's culture in an internal article. Or you might create a video highlighting employees modeling high-impact behaviors.
6. All-company news and events communication
When people think of internal communications, this is probably one of the first areas that come to mind. It’s likely there’s no shortage of news, events, and announcements at your organization. And, amid the pandemic, these sorts of communications only grew.
For example, your organization might be in the middle of closing on a new acquisition. Or you may be hosting an all-employee town hall meeting in the next month — but you need communication support. Or you might be releasing a new product or service that deserves widespread sharing. Or you might’ve reached one of your milestone company goals — and want to thank employees for their contributions.
No matter what the news or announcement may be, these are all instances where your internal communication team would step in to help.
7. Human resources communication
This is an often overlooked area of communication support but so very important to running a successful organization. Your HR team does a lot of work to service your employees.
From benefits and mandatory training to career development programs and updated policies, HR owns plenty of work. Everything that's in the employee handbook likely will have some sort of comms support. All of this work that impacts your employees requires communication support.
Many organizations dedicate a part of their internal communication staff to HR. For example, every year, employees need to know what benefits they can enroll in during the annual enrollment period. Or you may be rolling out a new diversity training program that requires communication support.
Make sure you’re building out your internal communication team with HR in mind. This helps to ensure that your employees are fully educated and aware of all it has to offer.
8. Employee engagement or campaign communication
Communication has a huge role in overall employee engagement. Sometimes, this aspect of internal communication can bleed into the cultural sphere.
Many organizations seek to engage their employees with all-company campaigns, events, or initiatives. At BetterUp, we engage in a practice called Inner Work® — and each employee has four Inner Work® days per year.
We define Inner Work® as mental acts or activities focused on your inner world to achieve a purpose or result. And on these days to go inward, we ask employees to share about their Inner Work® experience on Slack. It’s a simple, meaningful way to connect and engage employees. But it’s also a great way to tie our company’s mission and purpose back to every employee.
Your organization may be looking to engage its employees around volunteering or well-being. Or you may be implementing a sustainability campaign focused on decreasing waste. Whatever type of campaign it is, engaging your employees requires communication support. Consider working with your internal communication team to help empower employee engagement.
What is the main purpose of internal communication?
There are a lot of reasons why internal communication is purposeful for your company. Here, we’ll walk through four reasons why internal communication is important.
Increases employee engagement and retention
Open, transparent communication leads to a culture of psychological safety. When employees feel safe (and feel like they belong), they’re more likely to be engaged at their places of work.
But it starts with communication. Gallup conducted a study on the impact of internal communication in organizations. The study found that employees who work in an environment where communication is open, timely, and accurate are more engaged. They also demonstrate a greater intent to stay with the organization.
When employees clearly understand what — and how — to do their jobs, the business benefits. Effective communication helps save time, resources, and spin. By equipping employees with the knowledge they need to do their jobs, you’re empowering productivity in the workplace.
Effectively reach goals
For employees to deliver on your teams’ goals, they need to fully comprehend and understand them. At its core, communication needs to be clear, efficient, and precise when it comes to setting goals.
For example, your organization may have company-wide goals you set each fiscal year. If your employees don’t fully understand the goals because of a lack of communication, chances are you won’t reach your goals.
Improves the employee experience
Internal communication plays an integral role in the employee experience. When we look at what makes up a great employee experience, there are a number of factors.
First, we know employees are seeking purpose, meaning, and clarity. We also know employees need to feel a deep sense of belonging and trust. A culture of feedback can empower a culture of psychological safety.
At the core of each of these components is internal communication. It’s critical to adopt open and transparent internal communication practices to achieve meaningful employee experience outcomes.
4 key components to an effective internal communication strategy
Every organization’s internal communication strategy is going to look different. And that’s expected.
Every company uses different tools and platforms. Much like how you might communicate to differently to folks in your personal lives, the same goes for internal communication.
It’s important to factor in worker population, types of roles, and the overall employee experience. For example, an organization with frontline workers is probably going to communicate much differently than an organization with 100% of its workforce working remotely.
There are a few key components to creating an effective internal communication strategy.
- Identify your audience and key message
- Be clear, open, and transparent
- Less is more
- Create opportunities for feedback
Identify your audience and key message
I worked in internal communications for a few years. It wasn’t uncommon for key stakeholders to come to internal communications with a need — but the key message hadn’t yet been identified.
Identifying the audience and message is critical to any communication plan. It can be helpful to engage stakeholders with an intake brief. When you and your stakeholder are outlining the communication plan, make sure you understand the message and audience. From there, you’ll be better equipped to clearly communicate the key message — in a meaningful way — to your audience.
Be clear, open, and transparent
Employees are busy. We get that. If you want employees to read and understand your message, it needs to be clear and succinct.
But it also needs a sense of openness and transparency, especially with certain topics. If there’s too much jargon or “fluff” in a message, employees are bound to tune out. It can be helpful to run the message through various folks for a preview to gather feedback to ensure the message is clear and transparent.
Less is more
Again, employees are busy. The last thing they need is information overload. In order to capture their attention while they’re doing their jobs, the message needs to be clear. But it also needs to be short.
In the spirit of less is more, try to look at ways to trim your message down to its core. If your communication plan is convoluted or too complicated, it’s likely your message will get lost in the shuffle.
Create opportunities for feedback
One-way communication is isolating. With two-way communication channels, you're empowering great internal communication between employees and leadership. It can feel like employees don’t have a voice or aren’t heard. And especially in instances where the message is complicated or difficult to deliver, it’s important employees feel heard.
That’s why any internal communication plan should factor in the opportunity for feedback. Some organizations leverage their internal intranet or other internal communications tools like Slack. Others might have monitored email boxes or surveys. Whatever communication systems or communication software your organization uses, ensure there’s an opportunity for employees to provide feedback.
Employee feedback is key to your communication efforts. Consider ways you can improve your internal communication with that two-way street in mind.
How internal communication impacts culture
The recipe for a positive, meaningful company culture contains a variety of ingredients:
- A deep sense of belonging
- A culture of trust
- Psychological safety
- A diverse, inclusive workforce
- A culture of open feedback (and let go of top-down communication practices)
- Opportunities for growth, learning, and development
- Ways to build mental fitness and overall well-being
Each culture ingredient starts with one thing: internal communication. When companies adopt strong, internal communication practices, the company culture benefits.
Let’s say your organization has created a new, company-wide diversity training program. What happens if you don’t communicate them well? What happens if your message isn’t received well? Or what happens if you only tell company leaders that the program has launched but not employees themselves?
Of course, you’re not going to see desired results. And employees miss out on a meaningful program that could foster that sense of trust, belonging, and inclusivity. Employees would also miss out on the opportunity to provide (and receive) feedback.
Communication is a foundational aspect of company culture. Without it, company culture would suffer. You may have great programs in place but if folks don’t know the purpose, how to engage, or that it even exists, it won’t matter.
Who is responsible for communicating internally?
When the pandemic first hit, everything changed. Just as the world shifted to a remote or hybrid environment, so did the importance of internal communication. More than 90% of people said they wanted at least weekly communication from their company.
But who is responsible for that communication?
In short, everyone. But each person within your organization will play a different role. Here’s how.
Your executive leadership team should be fully engaged with your internal communication function. Leaders should deliver timely, open, and transparent communication. Leaders should also be able to effectively communicate the company’s vision, purpose, and mission.
They are the big picture thinkers and the big picture communicators, often visionaries and fostering that sense of trust. It’s important that your leaders show some vulnerability when communicating. When leaders show they listen to their employees, it’s likely employees will feel a deeper connection to the organization.
We know managers play a key role in the employee experience. But what does it look like when it comes to communication?
Managers should disseminate any need-to-know information to their employees. It’s their role to help connect the dots between the company’s purpose and goals and their employees’ day-to-day contributions.
Managers are often the buffer between leadership and the on-the-ground work that can happen in organizations. For example, a leader may send out a large message but managers may receive the bulk of questions or feedback from employees. Make sure you’re equipping managers with the resources (like coaching) and information they need to communicate effectively with their teams.
Lastly, employees play a key role in internal communication.
I recently started a new role and was added to a Slack channel for new hires in my cohort. I see employees sharing information, resources, FAQs, and more for other employees almost daily.
HR and the internal communications team can’t shoulder (or feasibly answer!) all communication needs at the organization. It simply just isn’t possible. This is where employees can jump in to help out, especially in open-forum tools like Slack.
Employee advocacy and employer branding can be a result of strong internal communication. Consider ways you can track metrics around employee advocacy (like social media) and engagement.
Flex your internal communication muscles
If you're looking to improve internal communication, you're not alone. Start by looking at your corporate communications team. Then, see where you might start developing your internal comms team members.
From there, work to adopt internal communications best practices. By doing so, your business will be well-positioned to reach its business goals.
And as you're examining business communication, consider ways you can partner with BetterUp. With access to personalized coaching on communication, your organization will be better positioned for success.
Madeline is a writer, communicator, and storyteller who is passionate about using words to help drive positive change. She holds a bachelor's in English Creative Writing and Communication Studies and lives in Denver, Colorado. In her spare time, she's usually somewhere outside (preferably in the mountains) — and enjoys poetry and fiction.