Now, What did we Tell Employees?: 5 Tips to Align Internal and External Audiences
Have you ever felt like you were the last to know about something going on in your own company? Do you feel disconnected and uninformed about news you're receiving from your company vs. what you see beyond your office walls?
You log onto your favorite social media sites and see reactions to company layoffs you weren't aware were coming. You watch the news and learn about a facility closing in your hometown and another being built overseas. You see a recap of your CEO speaking at a leadership event or you see a tweet from a peer at a technology conference that received a lot of press.
Do these sound familiar?
I didn't know ...
When/why did that happen?
How long has ... been going on?
I just talked to/saw/heard ... yesterday...
Why didn't they mention this in our staff meeting?
You may feel the company has let you down or even deliberately misled you, and now you're distrustful and skeptical. With regulations about what can be communicated to whom and how and when—earnings and some workforce/business topics as an example—there often is a legal reason for sharing things a certain way. But there are ways to make stronger connections between employees and the general public despite some of these hurdles.
Why does it matter?
Internal and external communications alignment is important not only to be effective, transparent and credible, but also to maintain brand consistency—an identifiable way in which you share information about your company. Communications at its heart is about authentically connecting people with stories and information that matter to drive and grow the company (internally and externally). Whatever you are telling your customers, you should also be telling your employees, who are really just a different type of customers inside your company.
According to Forbes, presenting a brand consistently across all platforms can increase revenue by up to 23%.
The inside story
Here are a few reasons for a perceived disconnect between internal vs. external messaging:
Reporting structure: Many companies have more than one department tasked with communications, often reporting to different parts of the organization. For example: a) marketing communications may be embedded in the sales pipeline; b) external communications such as community engagement may report to public and government affairs; and c) internal communications (sharing information with your own workforce and encouraging action) may report through the human resources or legal departments.
Communication priorities are typically driven by this structure: Each organization is responsible for establishing and achieving its own business goals, which differ across the various organizations in which communications may be embedded. These organizations often work on messaging in a silo unless the communication is part of bigger external forces like an M&A, change initiatives or executive direction.
All communications are not created equal: Internal communications are generally marked "for internal use only." Companies tend to view this as priority information they do not want external audiences to see, such as stakeholders or competitors. Therefore, companies tend to not share information with employees that they have not already vetted for outside consumption.
According to a Gallup pole, 74% of employees feel they are missing out on important information at work.
Recognizing not all communication approaches and audiences are created equal is the first step in aligning efforts. Whether the audience is internal, external or embedded in a variety of different departments, aligned communications create a positive company culture. An aligned corporate communications strategy avoids the pitfalls of the company sharing conflicting information with its employees, investors and the outside world. Communications without a cohesive strategy at the very least will create confusion and distrust, and at worst it creates larger unintended consequences.
For instance, employees should never be expected to get "the full story" from a press release. Internal communications teams should review press releases and develop plans to share impacts of the news with employees, put it in a perspective they can understand. Why is this news? Why should they care? All done in the common theme tying back to the corporate communications strategy.
Simplify the press release jargon, address the overall importance, what are the impacts, what does it mean for employees, will there be follow up communications...help them have a conversation at the dinner table. "What does this mean to / for me and my family?" How does this information relate to the employee and the corporation?
Ok, so you recognize this, but how do you shift the conversation?
Leadership buy-in on communications: Regardless which communication efforts sit in which area of the organization, successful, aligned and integrated communications are more likely to occur when leadership recognizes its importance and supports such a program. One corporate communication program with different areas of expertise.
Create an integrated corporate communications strategy and plan: Develop four or five key communication themes that align with the corporate goals, for example: innovation, people, community impact. Invite key communications representatives to share plans about events such as conferences, campaigns, product launches, community programs, etc. Discuss ways the events can be tailored to internal and external audiences while tying them back to the company goals and themes.
Seat at the table: Communications stakeholders and others as appropriate need to have regular touchpoints to discuss what's going on across the company as it affects the most employees. When unplanned events occur or new items arise, this group can pivot and plan together. Obviously not everything will affect everyone and many communications will go on without this committee; however, it's important to be connected to the main communications plan.
Examples: With events such as product launches, conference attendance, speaking engagements, change initiatives (M&As, IT / HR processes), etc:
How do these events tie into corporate initiatives?
How do these events tie into other areas of the business?
How do these events tie into the communications plan?
How do these events matter to YOUR employees?
Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate: Be aware of campaigns (internal and external) to leverage audience insight and impact and ensure message alignment.
Communications strategies matter
Aligning a comprehensive strategy from the top through all layers of the organization matters. In the real world it is not quite as easy. So the next time someone in your organization says, "I didn't know that," think of it as an opportunity to evaluate your communications strategy.