Getting internal communication right
In fast-growing companies, Internal Communication (IC) can often be left on the sideline. Reasons for this could include: limited resources, no one taking charge of it, or simply that it’s not perceived as being as urgent as more strategic tasks.
As a result, IC is often limited to informing employees about administrative matters. This is dangerous, as not addressing vital communication can lead to a reduced capacity to develop the company’s strategy in the most efficient way.
From experience, I hear a lot of people in other companies complaining about the mediocrity of the internal communication in their company ('we don’t know what’s going on and where we are going'). The problem has dramatically increased with COVID-19 and remote working. In a best-case scenario, this creates anxiety and discomfort, at worst, it results in the company’s failure.
What internal communication should actually be about is bringing clarity and creating accountability across the business. This is an idea that Patrick Lencioni brilliantly develops in his book called 'The Advantage'.
So what can startups do to ensure they can implement good internal communication? Here are some tips to address this challenge.
Establish a strategic framework
The leadership of the business should create clarity by defining a strategic operating framework that will in turn shape internal communication. This means addressing your mission statement, values, distinctives, goals and overall strategy. When the company is still very small and looking for its way, it is normal these elements are not clearly defined yet. This is actually good, as it gives the freedom to try and pivot if needed.
But as soon as the company is on its growth track, onboarding clients and hiring employees, the definition of these elements becomes crucial. It constitutes a framework of reference that, if well designed, brings clarity and consistency to everyone’s actions.
At Kpler, we have formally defined this framework over several years. It used to be quite informal as we were not so big in terms of headcount and still in a pre-working from home environment, information sharing across the organisation was done in a more informal manner across quite flat management structures.
What made it urgent was the sharp increase in the number of our employees across many different locations worldwide - with most of them working remotely. When conducting this process of formal definition of our strategic framework, we didn’t reinvent the wheel - we put together on paper what had been informally shared across the organisation in the first years of our existence and added the most recent goals we set ourselves.
Also, note that this process of creating clarity must not be owned by the communication manager, but by the CEO and the leadership team. It’s a boardroom issue.
One of the most important roles of your internal communication manager will be to communicate on this framework, and create awareness around it.
Internal communication must drive the framework
Once this clarity is created, the IC function starts playing an important role by creating awareness around the framework. The principle is then simple: every internal communication action, such as a newsletter, town hall meetings or posts on internal social network should be used as opportunities to remind staff about the strategic framework. If your strategic approach resonates within this type of content, you have the winning approach.
For example, when you announce you’re hiring new people, take it as an opportunity to remind them how this connects to your growth goals. When you are presenting the new product you’re about to launch to your team, take it as an opportunity to remind how this product serves your mission statement. When you interview a new team member, it could be relevant to ask how they give life to the values of your business in their daily actions.
This might seem simple and obvious. My experience has taught me that it is not. Also, by creating accountability, your strategic framework will strengthen your business and will give interesting internal communication opportunities. Indeed, the strategic framework is something to refer to in all aspects of the life of the business. A successful project creates accountability as it demonstrates the capacity of the business to follow its plan. When a project fails, it is also good to understand why and bring the needed adjustments to the light of the framework.
Managers are key to internal communication
A common mistake made regarding internal communication is that it’s too often seen as owned by one department or one person alone - the internal communication manager or the CEO. Any internal communication strategy will fail if it does not include a key part of the communication chain: the managers. They are instrumental in several aspects.
It’s crucial managers are aware and know about the strategic framework of your business. It will make them well-equipped to give consistency in their own decisions and the decisions taken by the leadership team.
By being the first point of contact for the employees, managers are in a position to give feedback to the leadership about persisting doubts, questions, or discomfort. If the rationale of a business decision is definitely unclear to part of the team, it’s important that managers voice up and ask for clarification.
I was often in such a position where managers expressed the need for clarification felt by their teams on a certain point of the company strategy. It’s totally fine to refocus on this point in the following townhall meeting. If team members ask for clarifications, it’s not that you’ve failed - in a dynamic business, this can happen. It’s actually a great sign of the health of an organisation, where people truly care for the company.
Having a winning internal communication strategy is more complex than we think and does not rely on the IC manager alone. It starts by defining a clear strategic framework that brings clarity and creates accountability across the business. By giving life to this strategic framework through internal communication actions, you’ll succeed.