Three signs your internal communication isn’t working

icommsToo often, internal communication is an afterthought. Or it’s a lofty ideal that seems unattainable. Yet, effective internal communication is imperative to any business, no matter the sign.

Why does internal communication matter? When management and staff aren’t on the same page and communication breaks down, it has a ripple effect through every department, ending in lost revenue.  The symptoms can be everywhere: confusion about projects and deadlines, frequent mistakes, disgruntled clients, and disengaged employees. Over time this too often leads to a culture of distrust, demotivation, and a loss of productivity.

On the flip side, good internal communication can be the secret sauce to success. In fact, companies with highly effective communication practices have a 47% higher return.  What’s the difference? These are the kind of companies that work to alleviate confusion, place an emphasis on employee engagement and satisfaction, and empower people to do their jobs and seek help where and when they need it.

Improving internal communications starts with identifying what’s not working.  Pay attention to what’s happening – where are mistakes being made? What’s the general feeling in the office, or with your remote team? Once you pinpoint areas of communication breakdown, you can begin creating systematic change.

Symptom One: Too Many Meetings

We all know the office: the one where managers call meeting after meetings, and employees sit, playing in their smartphones. At the end of the meeting, everyone silently returns to their desks. Yet projects don’t seem to stay on track. Mistakes are made. Clients are frustrated, and managers don’t know how to get their team motivated and accountable.  Having meetings can be a bandaid. Instead of ensuring that your team is engaged and aligned, you simply sit in the same room.

Take a look at your company’s meeting culture.

  • Are unnecessary people being invited to meetings? If there’s a culture of company-wide meetings that involve everyone from the CEO to the intern, you’ll have a lot of people wishing they were somewhere else. They’re thinking about their deadline that morning, that email the need to respond to, or maybe just their next cup of coffee. When you invite only the right people to meetings, the meetings will be more productive.
  • Can meetings be smaller, shorter, and more informal? A “normal” hour-long meeting facilitated by a team lead can work for many projects, but it doesn’t have to be a one-size-fits-all standard. If you’re noticing that meetings aren’t producing the results you’d like, consider proposing shorter meetings. 10 minute check-ins can be just as effective as hour-long meeting when done well.
  • Are people paying attention in meetings? Or are they on their phones, talking with their neighbors or – in worst case scenarios – falling asleep?Meetings shouldn’t be a one-way street, where a facilitator drones on and employees gaze blank-eyed at a powerpoint screen. They should be a conversation, a chance to clarify action items, ask questions, and agree on next steps. Make sure that that at the end of each meeting, everyone in the room knows what they need to do next.

The Solution

meetingWell-run meetings can build a culture of collaboration and accountability.  But this has to start at the top, and happen meeting by meeting.

Get feedback on meetings. If you suspect your company’s meeting culture might be demotivating, ask. Send out anonymous surveys after meetings to see how employees feel. Consider piloting a few variations such as shorter check-in meetings or standing meetings and see how people respond.

Make sure everyone has the right tools. It’s not uncommon for meetings to be a catch-all with an agenda that covers updates, open issues, troubleshooting, and next steps.  But much of this work can be done one-on-one or even remotely. Ensure everyone has access to tools like instant messaging, remote access, and screen sharing and those troubleshooting conversations can happen in real-time instead of waiting for the next official check-in.

Symptom Two: The Rumor Mill is Flying

Gossip at the water cooler might be a sign that your internal communications systems need an overhaul. It can also be a sign that employees feel like they don’t know what is going on. A lack of transparency around company policies or personnel, for instance, can create low morale, conflicts, and even lead to people quitting.

Transparency is more than just a buzzword. According to the IBM 2012 Global CEO Study successful companies (those that outform their peers on a regular basis) are 30 percent more likely to acknowledge that a culture of openness is a key factor of their success. On the flip side, a lack of transparency and confusion amongst employees can even lead to an increase in misconduct.

The Solution

How can you create a culture of openness and transparency while respecting the need for confidentiality? This doesn’t have to be a seismic shift.

  • Regular briefing sessions for a “state of the company” overview can build a sense of camaraderie. These can be in-person meetings, video presentations, or even short animated videos.
  • Town-hall style meetings (like Best Buy held when they were facing criticism).  Giving everyone in a company a voice (not just senior management) sends a strong message: we trust you, we value you, and you matter.
  • Internal Communication Systems. This sounds obvious, but it can too easily be overlooked. Do your employees have a way to talk to each other, especially if they are in different offices- or in different parts of the globe? An intranet, internal bulletin board, or even instant messaging system is more than just a perk: it’s a way for staff to come together, ask questions, find resources and feel like they are part of a team.  Nokia’s BlogHub was designed to create authentic conversations amongst employees, rather than all communication being dictated bo the corporate culture-  and it worked.

Symptom 3: High Employee Turnover

Employees who don’t feel engaged or informed are going to be far more likely to leave. But employee engagement isn’t just about hiring – a high employee turnover can signal an issue with onboarding, training, and management as a whole.  71% of employees aren’t sufficiently engaged, and a shocking 70 percent didn’t believe or trust senior leadership.

If you notice a rotating door in your office, it’s not just employees choosing to move on. High attrition costs money and creates stress and low morale amongst teams. It’s a big red flag that you need to look at employee engagement, onboarding, and internal communication as a whole.

The Solution

Making sure that all employees – new and veteran – have the tools and training they need to do their jobs is key to keeping employees engaged. It starts the minute they walk through the door. If your hiring process is a leaky bucket, start with new hires. Making changes to the hiring, onboarding, and training process will resonate through every team in your company.

  • Go back to your core values. What is your company all about? What’s your “secret sauce.” If you can’t answer this question of the top of your head, you’re probably not alone. Google share what they believe with everyone, and these values are a huge part of the company’s culture. It may be time for managers to breathe some life back into what your organization believes.
  • Make sure employees are engaged. Is there room for professional development opportunities, or even just teambuilding activities like a lunch’n learn or impromptu happy hour? Employee  engagement doesn’t have to be a top-down mandate: donuts and coffee may sound like small potatoes but they create a culture of gratitude, the importance of which can’t be understated.
  • Use explainer videos. We’re partial to explainer videos (they’re our bread and butter after all).  More and more, companies are turning to video to streamline their internal communication strategies. In a recent survey by HR Zone, 92.4% of agreed that visual communications are becoming a more important part of internal communications.

Creating a culture of communication

If you’ve diagnosed that your organization – or team – has internal communication problems, change won’t happen overnight nor can it be up to one person to identify and address underlying communication issues.

Go back to your core values. What is your company all about? What’s your “secret sauce?”

Identifying and diagnosing breakdowns in internal communications is a key step to creating a stronger company culture. Paying attention to the symptoms of internal communications breakdowns doesn’t just let you diagnose what isn’t working.  Once you’ve assessed the weaknesses (and strengths) of your internal communication, you can begin creating an internal communications plan.

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