Managing change and communicating appropriately – the importance of internal communications in supporting reality – not ignoring it

When you’re managing change or difficulties in a business, it is vital that your team feel supported and heard. Internal communications plays a huge role in this process and it is vital to get it right.

Make sure employees are the first to know

One of my team recently told me that in their last position a whole team was brought into a room and told ‘if you’re job title is not on this chart – you no longer have one’. There had been no consultation, and those people losing their jobs had not been told in advance. The result was that everyone felt betrayed and upset. Employees must be told first-hand what is happening. Imagine finding out a key piece of information about your family from a newspaper or friend. How would you feel?

Be sincere but not patronising

Of course, at the same time it’s important not to sugar coat the pill. The last thing your employees need at a time of difficulty is to be patronised or told things aren’t as bad as they think. If you appear happy go lucky when they’ve received bad news, you will come across as uncaring and insincere. It is not the role of internal communications to make people feel better; it is to give them all the facts so they can make their own informed decisions. The last thing you need when business is in trouble or going through a period of change, is to have employees bad-mouthing it as well.

Be honest

Talk about the reasons for the problems and what you intend to do about it. Including employees will help them realise that they do matter and they may even offer some valuable insights into the situation.

Listen

Internal communications isn’t just about communicating outwardly to staff. It is also about listening and hearing their concerns, without making assumptions. Sometimes simply listening can result in staff feeling more content with the situation.

Think long-term

Internal communicators need to remember that the initial message is not enough. Employees must have an ongoing accessible and confidential communication channel through which to ask questions or vent frustrations in the knowledge that it will not affect their prospects.

Ultimately employees are the biggest asset in a business and need to be treated with respect and integrity.

Team culture – you are what you do, not what you say

As marketing and communications professionals we spend a lot of time worrying about what is said and how it’s being communicated both internally and externally. I have strong feelings about internal communications. One of my strongest opinions is that at the end of the day what we say isn’t enough. What we do speaks volumes our words never will.

I was pondering this as my team participated recently in The Cancer Council’s Biggest Morning Tea and is currently engaged in the Global Corporate Challenge. Great examples of what our culture is – get involved, get active, do good things and be consistent.

As leaders most of what we do needs to be to energise people, to keep the ship steering the right way. It’s never going to be perfect, there are always going to be things to worry about but leadership is about what you do every day, not just what you say from time to time.

There was a blog recently on Harvard Business Review “Culture takes over when the CEO leaves the room” (you can read it here – http://bit.ly/LTwDo7) and that’s incredibly true. Everything you do leads the team to know what the culture is and what the expectations are, everything you say should be a reminder of this – not the crux of it.

Is your internal communications strategy working?

Internal communications is important if you want an engaged, informed and empowered team.  There are lots of ways to achieve this but often companies don’t consider the needs of the modern workforce or fully assess the range of communications tools available.

The most common of the traditional internal communications tools is a newsletter distributed either hard copy or via email.  More often than not internal newsletters miss the mark and at worst, give your team another job to do – read the newsletter.  In an age where we are inundated with communication there has to be a better way to communicate business strategy and ensure a workforce, particularly one with remote workers.

One of the things I am passionate about is engaging an eager, enthusiastic, results driven team.  Personally I’ve found my team respond better to a different style of communication and I know lots of other high performing teams are the same.

I’ve found one of the tools that works best for me is quarterly focus areas, or themes.  The idea is that you assess the things that really matter to your business and look for ways to clearly articulate those things on a consistent and meaningful basis.  By focusing on one concept per quarter you have time to get everyone on the same page and understanding what it is you are trying to achieve.

The best starting place is determining your business strategy.  What is it that needs focus, a goal you are working to or a core principle for the business?  Ideally you then ‘jazz’ the concept up with a launch activity.  For us it’s a quarterly meeting and usually the office is ‘themed’ for this event.  For example, last year one of our themes was CSI – or client satisfaction information.  For the launch meeting our office was decked out as a crime scene with police tape etc.  This helps to make the theme memorable while reinforcing the key message.

We also reinforce the quarterly focus and support professional development by holding a book club session (a text relating to the core concept behind the theme) during the quarter.  This way the team is focused on one management text and they get to discuss the ideas in a group environment.  It’s a great opportunity to think about how we can apply what we’re learning and thinking about to our businesses and our clients too.  The outcome is an informed team, bonded and moving in the same direction – on strategy.

There’s so much more to internal communications than the humble newsletter.  I’ll be writing more on this topic!  Please let me know if there are any areas you’d particularly like to hear more about.