Five Principles of Highly Effective Internal Communications

In Medieval times, the crowned royalty held court over their subjects, literally dictating the roles and responsibilities of each of those under their rule. In the most authoritarian of kingdoms, there was no questioning nor complaining about your lot in life; you toiled in the field, kept the master’s home and nary said a word to communicate your displeasure. Fast forward to modern times and many companies still maintain the same dynamic inside their walls: the CEO dictates from the corner office and the minions are expected to mindlessly—and loyally—follow the corporate mandate. 
  There is, however, a revolution brewing in the corporate kingdom. 

Employees are no longer satisfied with just a paycheck—they want to work at a company where their work matters and makes a difference. They want to be treated as more than a subject and be seen as an important contributor to the enterprise’s overall success. More simply put, the days of the ever-loyal, pension-seeking “lifer” employee are over. Employees want to be informed and empowered and communications plays a key role in doing just that.

Why should senior executives care what employees want?  Simply put: engaged (and satisfied) employees lead to positive business results. According to Gallup, a leading research firm, organizations with the highest level of engaged employees have statistically significant differences in employee productivity, profitability, absenteeism and other key metrics. More specifically, these organizations have 3.9 times the earnings per share (EPS) compared to organizations with lower engagement in their same industry.

Some additional eye-opening statistics:

Businesses with more engaged employees have 51 percent higher productivity (Harter, J.K., Schmidt, F.L., & HayesT.L., Psychology, 2002 Vol. 87, No. 2)

Engaged employees outperform disengaged employees by 20-28 percent (The Conference Board, 2006)

Organizations with engaged employees showed a 19 percent increase in operating income over a 12-month period, compared to a 33 percent decrease in companies with disengaged employees (Towers Perrin, 2008)
  OK, so engaged employees are a good thing. So how does communication play a part in engaging them and therefore drive bottom line results?  

According to a 2006 study by the Conference Board, one of the top drivers of engagement is an understanding of the business strategy and how their work contributes to company success. Another study by consultancy Towers Watson shows that companies with the most effective employee communications program have 47 percent higher shareholder returns.  So, now we can say with some certainty that communications can lead to engagement, which in turn leads to bottom line results. Interestingly enough, though, a whopping 75 of leaders surveyed by ACCOR have no engagement plan or strategy, yet  90 percent of those leaders say engagement directly impacts their business’ success!

How to save the kingdom and get the subjects on board, you might ask. Here are five principles of a highly effective internal communications program:

Be transparent:  You must be honest with employees. As with any relationship, if they don’t believe you, they cannot—and will not—fully engage. Worse, they actively work against what you are trying to achieve, or leave altogether. Dishonesty wreaks havoc on an organization and is truly worse than no communication at all.

Be consistent: Communication should not be a once-a-quarter occasion. Start a blog and send occasional emails that aren’t tied to a major corporate announcement. Get in front of your employees on a regular basis and remind them why they’re important and their role in the company’s success. “Face time” goes a long way to build credibility.

Be visible: Get out from your office and walk the floor; visit with employees in both formal and informal meetings. Eat lunch in the cafeteria or host a “no-agenda” brown bag lunch series where they are open to ask you any question that might be on their minds. Follow-up with a “thank you” email to those who participate. Host a regular “all-employee” meeting and give a business update. 

Be genuine: You cannot be fake—employees will see straight through your efforts. If you know communications leads to engaged employees who lead to productivity, you should truly be interested in what they have to say.

Be fast: Create a “hear it from me first” mentality inside your company. Don’t let employees read about an acquisition via a press release in the daily newspaper which they read before even coming to work. Send an email first thing and tell them what they need to know. You obviously can’t disclose non-public material information to them days in advance, but do try your best to get in front of them ASAP.

The good news is that developing an effective communications program isn’t terribly difficult if you can commit to the five principles.  If you can’t, the next thing you may hear are the subjects marching into the castle or off into the sunset. It’s your choice.