It’s time to ensure internal communication is based on what’s really going on
The key question today for any communications professional and leadership executive regarding internal or employee communications is: “How smart and engaged do you want your employees to be?”
The answer allows for either a robust process and system resulting in a confident, involved and informed workforce or a superficial voiceover of the business sprinkled with events to encourage interaction. During the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations have lifted internal communications to become the former, viewing it as a strategic necessity to cultivate retention, productivity and trust. However, one aspect we’ve noticed recently is that companies are becoming overly positive – cheerleading – in their quest to gain attention, motivation and positivity. The result has been less than satisfactory.
Employees at such organizations complain that leadership is neither in touch nor in tune with the realities they face and the challenges they navigate each and every day. This divide forces people to become apathetic – or worse, angry. The tendency to equate internal communications with propaganda is not a new one. For decades, internal communications was secondary to media relations and external communications, with information repurposed for internal use only after it was disseminated externally.
But, as society changed, business changed. And organizational communications became a strategic priority as companies competed for talent and, with talent, competed for interest, intellect and involvement. Communicating with employees became both a science and an art form as efforts were modulated and tested to ensure the right amount of relevant information, content, context and data to accelerate performance and calibrate behavior.
While the pandemic has up-leveled empathy, collaboration and integration, it has also spawned the need in some places to ratchet up only the good news, leaving behind the true situation and fate of an organization that employees experience.
As such, people can discern what’s true from what’s accurate. To balance such inconsistency and reflect the increasing complexity of the business, internal communications must become more sophisticated and demanding. This is where companies become truly resilient to external forces, navigating even among the most tumultuous terrain.
As we look ahead, grounding internal communications in the current reality – warts and all – requires four actions:
- Clear description of current state – deep understanding of where the organization is at this moment
- Line of sight from employee to result – a direct relevance from employee performance and business decisions to competitive results
- Hypothesis and areas for improvement – a strong belief based on data and insight on the “why” and a path forward (the “how”)
- Interaction – opportunity for discussion, dialogue and debate
By following the above, communicators and leaders can gain the trust and legitimacy necessary for organizational excellence. The most powerful decision any CEO can make is to establish a real-time relationship and conversation with the workforce, apprising employees of the situation ahead and providing a pathway to think, act, share and probe further to find the answers necessary to succeed.
Think of it this way: If your internal communications is not reflecting reality, then your employees have no chance to succeed and neither does your organization.