During the growth stage or during significant organizational changes, an effective internal communication strategy can make or break a business transformation.
There has never been a more important time for this type of 'internal marketing'. Since late 2021, employee engagement has been at its lowest point in organizations around the world. Additionally, the shift from face-to-face work to hybrid and fully remote work models have exacerbated the problem.
This article will cover why internal communications matter, provide a step-by-step guide to help you build an effective internal communications plan to execute your strategy, and share expert insights to ensure you get the most out of your internal communications process.
Why should you never neglect your internal communications strategy?
Any business change or transformation can be challenging. According to Gartner, 7 out of 10 employees affected by change report higher levels of stress and perform worse than average employees.
But having an effective internal communications strategy in place can help mitigate and deal with change-related issues.
There are several benefits to internal communications in the context of a change management process, including:
- Focus: Communicating your organization's goals, strategies, and benefits of change can help teams maintain momentum and focus when implementing or adapting to new processes, technology, or ways of working.
- Engagement and Motivation: Many organizations fall short in their change initiatives because they fail to communicate the "why" behind initiatives.
- Minimizing resistance to change: Communicating with all stakeholders and anticipating their concerns can make adoption and implementation easier.
8 Steps to Build and Execute Your Internal Communications Plan
1. Understand the situation and triggers
Before you even start working on your plan, you need to understand the context of change and your organization's communication needs. Knowing why your organization is driving a specific type of change is crucial to designing an internal communication plan that will best serve it.
Identify why this change is needed and what needs to happen within the organization to make it a success. Your company's transformation objectives and broader business goals must also inform your internal communications plan.
Figuring out these aspects will help you determine the best path to execute communication initiatives.
Here are a few key questions you should ask:
- What has triggered the need for change? Is it due to new technology adoption, competition pressure, downsizing, or undergoing merger and acquisition?
- What tangible benefits will this change bring to the business, its people, and its future? A clear picture of these outcomes can help you communicate the benefits of your company's change initiative.
- What are we trying to accomplish? In addition to the future vision presented to management, there should be clear KPIs, OKRs, or goals for each team to follow during periods of transition.
- What needs to be changed if we want to achieve these new company goals? Identifying focus areas is vital to successfully implementing any new initiative or change within an organization.
These answers will help you to build a highly effective internal communication strategy and inform your planning process.
2. Identify stakeholders
Before rolling out your internal communications plan, you need to identify different roles and stakeholders who will be affected by the change. Does this involve C-suite members? Is this change going to have a significant impact on mid-level managers, different department teams, or frontline workers?
You need to map out all different types of audiences because these will help you to create a tailored message for each of them. Each type will have specific needs and will be affected differently. On top of that, each group of stakeholders will need different levers to motivate them. Not every audience is the same.
“Different teams, and different business units within your business will require different methods of communication, and language. It’s important to understand that everyone is motivated by different things.” - Ryan Sanders, Group General Manager of Strategy & Value Creation at Asahi Beverages
Many managers fall short in this area by limiting their focus to key decision makers and C-level executives or ignoring certain divisions altogether. The result? An internal communications strategy that is oversimplified and reactive.
Your communications strategy must consider the roles, concerns, and impacts that change initiatives will bring. It must also go further and acknowledge the specific needs of teams within your organization.
3. Develop the narrative
When you have identified the stakeholders involved in the change process, the next step is to craft a story that will keep everyone engaged.
The goal of any internal communication strategy should be to facilitate broad buy-in from all members of your organization, not just business leaders. You should effectively communicate the value of your change initiative, address concerns directly, and make the transformation as smooth as possible.
Crafting compelling narratives and communication strategies is about considering how best to communicate your change initiatives to your different audiences.
For example, your staff in production facilities will require a completely different approach than the R&D team. Remember, every audience has a different motivation. You should be able to communicate the benefits of change to each type of audience and what will be the positive outcome of the change for them.
4. Identify key internal communication channels and tools you’ll need
The next step is to determine how you will utilize internal communications tools to maximize the impact and reach.
Here are some possible examples:
- Keep important company updates out of your employees' email inboxes if you know they rarely check them. For example, frontline employees might not have their own company e-mail address so you can’t focus on only one communication channel.
- Take advantage of communication apps such as Slack, Teamwork, or Microsoft Teams to drive real-time communication and engagement.
- Incorporate your communications strategy around events like town halls and quarterly meetings if your senior leadership holds these meetings to discuss strategy.
5. Create a communication toolkit
Don’t leave out any gaps that could lead to misunderstanding or to lack of communication. Build materials that can help mid-level managers and team leaders effectively communicate the context of change and motivate their team members.
Here are some ways you can facilitate consistent communication across your organization:
- Updates on your organization’s intranet site
- Email updates
- Social media posts
- Online courses and webinars
- One-on-one training sessions
- In-person or remote workshops
- Learning materials for managers.
- Short video guides
- Guidelines for communication with different audiences
Extra tip: Choose a champion per department, someone credible and respected who can help you develop and advocate for change initiatives.
You should also keep in mind that your internal communication strategy may need to go through a learning curve. So be patient, monitor results, and adjust your approach and materials if needed.
6. Set a schedule (and stick to it)
The key to executing an effective internal communication strategy is staying on track and aligning your efforts with your organization's transformation or change.
Strategy execution and impact will be maximized when key players are aligned on shared goals and responsibilities.
An internal comms strategy with a timeline, calendar, and time frame will help everyone understand what needs to be done and when it needs to happen.
7. Set goals and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to measure success
Setting up your schedule is just the first step. You'll also need a way to ensure that all key players work cohesively towards your communication goals. An internal communications plan without execution is only worth the paper it's written on.
To measure the success of your initiatives, you'll need to track metrics and measure progress, regardless of whether you use KPIs, OKRs, or any other performance management methodology.
For example, in a strategy execution platform like Cascade, you can build your internal communications plan, set goals and KPIs, and assign your team members to drive accountability.
Recommended reading: How to write a strategic plan
8. Review and adjust your strategy
If you want a successful internal communications strategy that doesn’t fizzle out over the next six months, you’ll need to review and course-correct if needed.
For example, you can take a look at click-through-rate and open rates for emails, how employees react to your approach, and get feedback on the type of content you’re using. If Plan A isn't working, switch to Plan B.
Rather than switching between multiple tools and spreadsheets to get updates on progress, head over to Cascade and get full visibility into what’s happening with your internal communications plan.
Best Practices To Keep In Mind
Different regions require different approaches
Global operations need to tailor internal communications strategies to meet the unique needs of each region’s company culture and team. If you have a one-size fits all template for employee communication, your internal comms won’t be effective.
"Creating successful work groups is hard enough when everyone is local, and people share the same office space. But when team members come from different countries and functional backgrounds and are working in different locations, communication can rapidly deteriorate." - Tsedal Neeley, Harvard Business Review.
Make engagement a top priority
Employee engagement, especially in the context of change management, should always be top of mind when you create your internal communications strategy.
“When people feel like they have a measure of control in the work they are doing, they experience higher levels of accountability and ownership overall.” - Tom Wright, Cascade.
Collaboration is key to a dynamic strategy
Involving key stakeholders in your internal communications strategy will provide additional insights, thoughts, and experiences. Regular employee feedback can also help you avoid pitfalls, find new opportunities, and reach business objectives faster. Forget the top-down approach where business leaders dictate strategy execution. Strategy needs to be omnidirectional.
“The strongest organizations place a high premium on their workforce’s viewpoints and want to hear directly from their employees about how changes are impacting them.” - Bill Docherty, Deloitte.
Don’t get sidetracked
If you want your communication strategy to be effective, you need to follow through on your plan. One way to do this is to group your objectives into focus areas to ensure your team is doing work that consistently aligns with your change management and internal communications strategy.
“The rule is, if an activity does not fit into one of your focus areas - it shouldn't be happening - at least not right now. Sure there may be 'emergency exceptions' here and there - but it's important to commit to the process.” - Tom Wright, Cascade.
Execute your strategy
Creating an internal communications strategy is crucial if you want to maximize the positive impact of change initiatives. Neglecting this change management aspect can lead to organizational resistance, burnout, and additional stress.
Follow the eight steps we've discussed, and you should be able to formulate an internal communications strategy and create a strategic plan that will support organizational change, facilitate engagement, and boost your company's transformation initiatives.
However, that’s just a starting point. Developing a strategy is only half the battle. Executing it is the rest. And you need to have the right tools for it.
Sign up for Cascade and take it for a spin for free. No credit card required and no sales talk until you are ready to hit your goals faster.