An introduction to improving communication within your business
When businesses employ just a handful of people, good internal communication tends to happen naturally.
But, as a business grows, ensuring messages, instructions, feedback and goals are disseminated effectively throughout the organisation – as well as ensuring lines are open for employees to reciprocate – can be challenging.
So tricky it is, in fact, that Gallup found just 13 per cent of employees strongly agree that their company’s leaders communicate effectively with the rest of the business.
However, efficient internal communication doesn’t solely involve conversations between leadership and employees. There’s also those between different departments, within specific teams and across the general employee pool.
Poor communication in a business can impact everything from employee morale to productivity. A survey by The Economist Intelligence Unit reported that 55 per cent of employees questioned spent a few hours every week on work caused by poor communication – 16 per cent had to dedicate a whole day or more.
That’s productive time that can be won back by improving internal comms.
What contributing factors affect internal communication?
The business is growing
When your company is growing, it’s more important than ever for employees to be kept in the loop – constant tweaks and refinements to systems and processes need to be communicated efficiently and often in real-time.
But the growth period is exactly when lots of businesses find the communications strategy starts to break down. Business growth can easily outpace your ability to manage the extra volume of necessary communication. Whether there’s an increase in staff, departments or transactions, there will be a proliferation in the number of messages or the number of people they must reach – or both.
So if you’re in the growth stage, try to plan ahead and map out when you’ll need to up your game when it comes to your internal comms.
Tools and channels
Software and tools designed for internal communication, collaboration and information sharing have improved vastly over the last decade, and the shift to remote working over the course of 2020 has nudged them along even further.
From workflow organisers like Trello to document sharing apps such as Google Drive and instant messaging channels like Slack, there is a great range of choice out there designed to suit the needs of all kinds of businesses.
And it’s likely that you’ll find a mixture is best: relying solely on one channel can cause key information to be missed by colleagues. For instance, crucial updates on processes or restructures could easily get mixed up with messages about social events in a busy inbox.
On the flip side, if you have too many channels on the go it’s likely that employees will have to spend time searching through them all for the conversation, contact or information they need. So try a few out to see what works for your business, but make sure channels are ultimately streamlined and the range on offer is concise.
“I would describe Slack as an internal communication system. But rather than just being business-to-employee, it’s also employee-to-employee.”
Catrin Lewis, head of global engagement and internal communications at Reward Gateway
The cold hard facts
Employees are significantly impacted by a lack of internal communication. As well as stopping staff from working as efficiently as they might, it can also erode motivation. The Economist Intelligence Unit reported the three most significant consequences of poor communication cited by employees are added stress (52 per cent), delay or failure to complete a project (44 per cent), and low morale (31 per cent).
Common mistakes with internal communication
Only focusing on top-down comms
There’s a difference between simply passing employees information and cultivating effective communication. The latter is a two-way street: dialogue is needed to make employees feel connected, valued and heard. People should be able to easily respond to messages, be it for the purpose of giving confirmation, raising queries or offering feedback.
Making the company’s leaders accessible in this way can help improve employee engagement and encourage staff to speak up about issues they face and ideas they may have for improvement.
Also, it’s vital that employees are able to effectively communicate with each other. Having good communication channels helps to eliminate the disconnect between different parts of a business, unify staff and promote common goals and purpose.
Not being transparent enough
For employees to really buy into a business and engage with its values and intentions, it’s important that comms channels are used for more than to simply pass on instructions and headline news. Internal communications should also be used to let colleagues into decision-making processes and to promote general leadership transparency.
Being honest, open to ideas and candid about how and why decisions are reached will cultivate trust among employees and therefore encourage engagement and emotional investment at work.
It’s easier said than done, though – being transparent means talking about the bad as well as the good. It exposes the vulnerability of leadership, which might be uncomfortable at first. But if it’s done well, it can tangibly improve professional relationships and support positive company culture.
“We aim to explain the ‘why’ of what we do, not just the ‘how’. It creates a culture of creativity and continuous improvement across the business.”
Matthew Hall, commercial director at Butlers Farmhouse Cheeses
The cold hard facts
It shouldn’t be underestimated what a difference effective communication platforms can have on staff output. McKinsey Global Institute estimates that by implementing social technologies for internal communication, companies can boost the productivity of workers by 20 to 25 per cent.
Quick wins for improving communication within your company
For non-urgent communications, it helps to have some kind of regularity. This means that colleagues will be expecting comms (making missed or lost messages less likely) and can use the allocated time to bring up any points that they feel need discussing.
Perhaps for your business, this might look like an email, sent at the same time each week, summarising recent news and achievements. Or maybe it would be more effective to ask managers to get their team together on a weekly basis to communicate the most important team focuses for the coming days.
Both of these offer the perfect opportunities to acknowledge employees who have excelled and congratulate teams on specific achievements, helping to boost morale and motivation throughout the workforce.
Talk to other business leaders
When it comes to effective internal communication, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Different businesses will find that different channels and approaches work best for their particular workforce. It’s well worth asking your peers what works for them and using their input to inform your own decisions.
Seeking advice from other business leaders will bolster your knowledge of the channels and techniques available, and give you a good idea of what people tend to respond to the most.
So reach out to those in your professional network (now might be the time to join a networking group, perhaps?), watch YouTube videos and read blogs to find out how other people are tackling their comms.
“You can never communicate enough, and when you think the communication is done, you need to communicate again.”
Andy Wood, CEO at Adnams
The cold hard facts
Gallup reported that, among employees whose manager does not meet with them regularly, just 15 per cent were engaged at work. Meanwhile, those whose managers do have regular face-to-face check-ins with them were almost three times more likely to be engaged.
Now you’ve learnt about what effective communication looks like, use our action plan to direct your next steps.