How to focus your Internal Communication on the right things
One of my worst nightmares is being told: “I’ve got this great idea for a comms channel.” It’s not because I’m going to hate the idea; it’s just that the approach is back to front.
When I joined the company I currently work for, I got talking to a senior leader from one part of the organisation in the office kitchen about Internal Communication (IC).
He told me he had a great idea for a video. This kind of start to a conversation always makes me nervous.
He outlined his vision: he imagined the President of this particular business unit sitting up in bed (stay with me, people) with the Regional Head discussing the strategy over cups of morning coffee, similar to a David Beckham and James Corden video on Comic Relief in the U.K. many years ago.
(I’m not sure he’d remembered the sketch accurately, but, to be honest, the moment had moved on beyond the facts of the original scene and onto my next line…)
“It’s great that you’ve got some ideas for internal communications tactics, but how about you explain what you’d like to achieve and leave the tactics and delivery to me and my team to think about…”
I’m all for ideas – and IC professionals welcome input from outside the team – but that’s not the starting point. It’s like choosing the paint for your house without having decided on which rooms you’re decorating or packing a suitcase without having chosen the holiday destination.
There’s no point in coming up with the tactics for an IC campaign without knowing what you want to achieve from a business point of view.
The starting point for any IC intervention has to be: what do you want to achieve from a business point of view? What is the intended outcome? It’s this outcome focus that should drive all IC activity – and the reasons for that are essentially two-fold: you’re clear about how your communications can benefit the business and you know what to measure to see how effective the communications approach is, allowing you to change tack as required to improve that effectiveness.
Take the pandemic as a good example: in March 2020, we were seeing lockdowns and restrictions cropping up all over the world. The news were dominated by ever-changing advice and information, which was causing much confusion and anxiety around the world. Within the company, we were increasingly being asked questions by concerned colleagues about the situation, the answers to which weren’t clear or simple.
While the world was changing around us, the MD and I discussed how we could provide as much clarity to people as possible as to what was going on within the company. This was partly to settle people in the workplace while their home life was on the verge of being turned upside down and partly to address the questions and concerns that were being raised through various channels as we approached the first lockdown in the U.K.
To achieve the intended outcome, the MD and I decided to launch a podcast, which he and I recorded each Thursday or Friday and I turned around quickly to share with the company.
The response was overwhelmingly positive. While the audio quality of the podcast at first wasn’t great (I later learned how to do it better), the content was very much appreciated by our colleagues and out of an audience of just under 4,000 people, we had more than 4,000 listens for the first few. We also combined this with email updates, of course, and an online FAQ page, which aimed to gather and answer questions, as well as surface key topics for the MD to address on the podcast each week. We couldn’t answer everything, and not everyone was happy with some of the decisions being made, but we were addressing the majority of concerns.
We had little time to measure the effectiveness of IC activity during the pandemic; however, as well as the reach statistics (i.e. number of podcast downloads), we saw fewer questions being raised and received positive, complimentary comments about the content, which told us we were at least moving in the right direction, albeit having to be as agile as possible each week as the world changed around us. And we had a rolling indication of which topics to focus on, given the FAQ page and other two-way channels.
The intended outcome was to settle people as much as possible. It was to provide answers to questions. It was to give an on-demand option for people, particularly those who were juggling non-work commitments at home and those around the world in different time zones. And it was to let people hear the MD’s voice, which was reassuring during the pandemic, especially as most people were working from home and not seeing colleagues in the office.
I think we largely achieved our goals. But the starting point wasn’t “let’s do a podcast!”, either from me or the MD. It was “how do we make sure people get a timely update on what’s going on at the company?”
We didn’t once consider a video of the two of us sipping coffee in bed.