Rachel Berry, Nuance Intelligence
Executives have their internal communications staff churn out talking points and Powerpoint decks galore. They allow themselves to be quoted in internal newsletter articles. They issue carefully crafted comments about values, initiatives and current directives. But when they go out in the field, they find that none of it has registered. Worse, employees are talking about other stuff…and they aren’t terribly interested in what the head office has to say about it. What happened?
Often, the problem is that the company’s internal communications infrastructure is stuck in Media Age 1.0 and their workforce is happily living in Media Age 2.0. Employees get their daily news from blogs, digests and RSS feeds. They keep in touch with their friends via Facebook and Twitter. They’re getting information virally in the real world, and your company is still doing top-down communications? No wonder there’s a disconnect. So how do you bring your company’s communications up to date?
1. Turn off the Waterfall. Let’s face it, ‘cascading’ communications is over and done with. We did it back in the day when we didn’t have many ways to get ideas spread throughout big, dispersed organizations. Cascading often didn’t work as intended. Managers adapted, ignored, and even ridiculed carefully crafted messages. So let’s lower the curtain on cascades. Big organizations have lots and lots of tribes you can work with, and plenty of tribal leaders with whom you should be collaborating to get the word out, instead of expecting managers to regurgitate something the CEO fed them. Start with the fundamentals – building and contacting your internal network. Which groups exist within your organization, and who are their leaders? Not ‘managers,’ leaders. Who organized the softball team? Who is the person everyone calls when they are getting a cross-functional team lined up? Who leads the Friday prayer breakfast? You need them. Get to know them.
2. Get back to tactics. My vote for the most over-used word in internal communications is ‘strategic.’ Yes, we all know it’s really important to be strategic and to have a strategy and to work at a strategic level. Frankly, strategy is usually not the hard part. Good internal comms pros can scribble out a strategy on the back of an envelope and get it mostly right. What’s changed hugely in our field is the range of tactics available to us as we execute those strategies. Now that we can use all the cool stuff in the social media playbook, I think it’s time to take a step back and look at tactics in general. The tendency is to use the shiniest, newest toy we’ve got. Sometimes, though, a flyer stuck to the inside of the bathroom door is still the best tactic. The most elegant strategy in the world is worth diddly-squat if you can’t pull it off. So, spend more time considering tactics and less on showing the executive suite what a high-level thinker you are. Who are your employees inclined to listen to? How do they prefer to learn new information? What can you learn from the people on the front line?
3. Research. Speaking of the people on the front line, the annual engagement survey is not the only place and time they have opinions. Most of your folks are asked for their opinion on everything under the sun daily in the real world. Surveys are ubiquitous, but at the office most employees only get asked to offer their thoughts once a year, and often only in a ‘fill in the bubble’ format. How about doing some qualitative research? Or doing surveys on issues that are typically only considered formally by the executive suite? How about open-ended questions so that your people can tell you what they really care about?
If you can make your company’s internal communications infrastructure broader, stronger and multi-directional – a better mirror of the information networks that keep the real world humming – you have a much better chance of recapturing the attention of your employees.
Rachel Berry has been spinning the messages, both internal and external, of some pretty neat companies in America and Europe for about fifteen years now. Rachel is half of the two-person communications and digital media agency nuance intelligence (www.nuanceintelligence.com). She Tweets at Rachel_B_Berry and blogs at nuance’s website, above. She lives in Boulder, Colorado.