December 14, 2017

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

Does internal comms get the respect it deserves?

Does internal comms get the respect it deserves?

Despite the need for employees to be engaged and informed, sometimes it feels as though internal communications is treated as an afterthought rather than a core PR practice. From the largest organizations to the smallest, effectively communicating within an organization is critical for a variety of factors.

PR Week recently highlighted an interesting initiative by Target Corporation. After a series of crises including a data breach, store closings in Canada, and job cuts, Target found its employees were frustrated with the communications flow—they were learning most of the news about the company from outside sources, not from Target. The employee intranet was rarely used (and the content was not very interesting). In revamping their internal communications, they decided to take their cues from theSkimm, which produces a fun and pop-culture-reference laden email newsletter each weekday (disclosure: I’m a fan). Target cut out the corporate jargon, made sure the email was a quick read, and it is distributed without the need for prior blessing from legal or the leadership team.

The results are nothing short of amazing—the first-day readership was 81 percent, and what is even more remarkable is that more than a year later, daily readership remains at 80 percent. Employees read the content, and more importantly, internal surveys demonstrate that they trust the content too.

Why is it important to have a strong internal communications program that engages employees? The primary reason is that an engaged workforce is one that functions as a team. Without that cohesiveness, you’re at risk of running a paycheck farm rather than a company. Good internal communications will help you run your business, with everyone on the same page and working toward common goals.

Another reason is one that is often overlooked: employees are the very front lines of your business to the world. Whether it’s talking to customers, suppliers, or just their neighbors, friends and family, every single employee is a walking, talking billboard for your business. So it is imperative that they are updated, have accurate information, and it’s also important that they feel valued—because their opinion will carry additional weight when speaking about the company for which they work.

Despite the readily apparent reasons that internal communications is important, why does it seem to be so frequently treated as an afterthought—or, attention only shifts that direction when there’s an obvious problem, such as the situation Target identified?

One answer is that there is no “one size fits all” approach, so companies flail a bit when setting up their programs. Organizations need to understand how best to communicate with their own employees—the approach Target took above works for them, and might work for others…or it might not. The cheeky, informal tone used could be problematic for a more formal workplace like a law firm, for instance. The size of the organization matters too—it might not make sense for a 20 person company to dedicate three people to developing a daily newsletter if it’s just those 20 employees being reached. However, if the 20-person firm manages thousands of contractors, dedicating three to a newsletter might make perfect sense. A company with a single location will have different communications needs than a global firm with a mix of on-site and remote workers. And so on…and when there is a lot to consider, sometimes the “we’ve always done X” ends up being the default, even if it isn’t working.

One of the best ways to determine what internal communications adjustments are needed is to conduct an employee survey to see where things currently stand. In a recent “Chats with Chip” Chip Griffin and Ryan Williams discussed employee surveys in depth, and also talked about one of the most important variables: making sure an organization’s culture is considered when designing an internal comms program.

This is exactly what Target tapped into when they launched their internal communications newsletter. They identified what the culture of the company was, discovered that their previous communications strategy didn’t really match it, and so they designed a program that did. Internal communications can bolster a company and strengthen bonds with employees—who in turn can be your best advocates in good times and bad. It’s worth paying attention to from a top line business perspective, and not as an afterthought.

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About The Author

Jennifer Zingsheim Phillips is the founder of 4L Strategies, and has worked in communications and public affairs for just over 20 years. Her background includes work in politics, government, lobbying, public affairs PR work, content creation, and digital and social communications and media analysis.

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