How an Internal Comms agency can help your organisation thrive
Usually, when I’m asked what we do here at The Comms Guru, I have to explain in some detail what an internal comms agency is and does. It’s rarely a short explanation because what we do is as varied as it is rewarding.
We have a favourite quote here at Guru HQ. George Bernard Shaw may have written more than sixty plays over his lifetime, but our favourite words of his are these:
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
- George Bernard Shaw (1856 – 1950)
Although written about the complications (and failings) of personal interactions and relationships, it applies perfectly to internal business communications. And, therefore, gives a first insight into what an internal comms agency does. This isn’t about negatively judging people or organisations. We are all busy people. And busy people tend to make assumptions. Some of those can, unfortunately, turn out to be dangerous or damaging...
“My team know and understand all of that…”
“They’re already fully on board with these changes...”
“Our employees are happy with their work and what we’re doing as a business...”
“Our people know exactly what our long-term plans are and how we’re going to get there…”
On top of the business-as-usual complications and pressures that come with streamlining, cost-saving, new-tech’, and ongoing recruitment and training, the pandemic brought with it a whole new stack of unforeseen and unwelcome challenges and obstacles. Seismic shifts in working patterns and a quantum leap in remote working suddenly jeopardised (or decimated) many a well-organised business’s comms strategy and channels.
In truth, the need for, and importance of, meaningful communication and robust connectivity was already growing as the number of Millennials and Gen Z in the workforce gradually toppled the count of Baby Boomers and Generation X. (These things really matter to these younger workers. Engagement, collaboration, feedback, aligned culture and values, and a sense of belonging are their key drivers.) So, comms and connectivity were increasing in importance anyway, which made the arrival of the pandemic’s spanner in the works particularly ill-timed.
It has certainly never been more important to get internal comms right. It has arguably never been trickier. This is why organisations that want to future-proof themselves often turn to an internal comms agency or specialist for help.
So, what exactly is (or are) Internal Comms?
Internal Comms can be summarised as a group of processes and tools that ensure information flows effectively (and in a timely manner) around an organisation. It is also responsible for connectivity and collaboration. It involves communication between top management and every other employee, regardless of level, role, responsibility, work pattern or location.
What it isn’t is “a person or department sending stuff out”. Nor is it someone “prettying-up a memo from the MD”. Internal comms should be strategic as well as tactical. It is responsible for helping colleagues to understand vision and culture and for motivating them to follow behaviours and achieve objectives.
“Communication is your ticket to success, if you pay attention and learn to do it effectively.”
- Theo Gold
Whilst some organisations have dedicated Internal Comms people or teams, and some utilise their HR people, it can be argued that internal comms is the responsibility of everyone.
Internal comms should flow down from the top, up from the coalface, and sideways. And diagonally. It should flow in every direction. Inter-departmental comms and sharing are vital for success. An internal comms strategy must also ensure that all colleagues have a voice that can be heard. And that voice should be acknowledged and actioned.
“We are stronger when we listen, and smarter when we share.”
- Rania Al-Abdullah
An internal comms strategy should be bespoke and carefully tailored. So, as an internal comms agency, we can’t tell you here what should be in your strategy. But it would most likely include a variety of methods and channels for getting messages out there, and for listening back. Those channels would probably differ in style, type, process, and platform, with the primary aim of reaching everyone and listening to everyone.
Put simply, better internal comms results in more engaged, better connected and more productive employees. In addition, confidence, trust, and teamwork are all boosted by effective internal comms. These, in turn, improve retention and reduce absenteeism. Not convinced? A 2021 report by Achievers showed that companies with highly engaged employees experience a 25% - 59% decrease in turnover as well as 41% lower absenteeism.
Internal comms also has a huge part to play in the building and maintaining of trust across organisations. This one’s obvious; nobody likes to feel they’re being kept in the dark or given half a story. Edelman’s 2022 “Trust in the Workplace” report found that quality of information is now the most powerful trust builder across business. The next two highest climbers were “holding others accountable” and “communication and transparency”, both of which are increasing in importance to our people more than “getting results”! So, sharing quality information and communicating with transparency are hugely important to the modern workforce.
That same report lists these four points and tips as key to building or restoring trust across our workforces:
● People want more business leadership, not less.
● Demonstrate tangible progress
● Focus on long-term thinking over short-term gain
● Provide credible information
None of these would be possible or meaningful without robust internal comms.
What are the benefits of an internal comms agency intervention?
An external internal comms agency will, of course, bring fresh eyes, comms-specific expertise, and a complete absence of preconceptions or (unconscious) biases relating to existing operations. That expertise will include knowledge of tech’, techniques and tools, and practical experience of how these different platforms and practices work in different settings.
The aim of any good internal comms agency will be to work with you on maximising the main benefits of effective internal comms, namely:
Providing a sense of purpose
Turning up, clocking in, doing our hours and getting paid are no longer the primary drivers for the modern workforce (if, indeed, they ever were!). Instead, employees want to know and understand their employer’s purpose, vision, values, and goals. They want to know that their own values are aligned with those of their employer. None of this will happen if these headline aims aren’t communicated effectively and regularly.
Boosting engagement and productivity
Similar to the above, our people want to know how their work is contributing to the bigger picture, on both an individual basis (via feedback, recognition, and appreciation) and collectively (through team, department, and company performance updates).
As stated earlier, these things are even more important to the younger workers within our teams. For them to be engaged and committed, they need regular feedback and frequent updates. If they can’t see how their work is meaningful and how it contributes, it will not seem worthwhile to them.
It’s worth pointing out here that we have a lot of work to do when it comes to engagement levels within UK businesses. Gallup’s recent “State of the Global Workplace” 2022 report revealed that globally, only 21% of employees are engaged at work. That figure is 14% for Europe and just 9% here in the UK.
Giving control of the message
At the risk of stating the obvious, a robust internal comms plan will allow for full control of messaging in terms of content, style, and delivery method. A strong comms plan will ensure the right messages are delivered to the right people in the right way and at the right time.
Careful control of comms also protects our colleagues from information overload by removing the need to waste hours sending, reading, and searching through emails, or sifting through unkempt intranet pages, social posts and comments.
Disseminating too much information is counter-productive; it will trigger decision-making shortcuts in our people or, worse still, bypass the decision-making process altogether, resulting in no action being taken at all. Cognitive overload results in people ignoring or not processing information. Instead, they will fall back into established and comfortable habits, or cherry-pick the bits of the information they like to form their own version of the truth.
However, whilst the volume and complexity of comms should be carefully managed and matched to its intended audience, internal news should be available and accessible to everybody, all the time. Internal comms is not just for during a crisis. And news shouldn’t be subdued or blocked just because it isn’t great. Employees should never hear important company news from an external source first. That will set the rumour mill into overdrive and destroy trust along the way.
Improving colleague experience
Internal comms can (and should) be used to share positive messages, details of events, benefits, and perks. There’s no point in having a social club, a community event, or a new perk if people don’t know about it. Use internal comms channels to shout about the good stuff, and to show that you care.
Internal comms is also fundamental in building and promoting a culture of psychological safety in our workplaces. And that is important if we want greater collaboration, participation, engagement, motivation, and learning across our businesses.
Providing focus and driving action
Internal comms can be used to align teams, make priorities clear, and advertise deadlines. As important as the what and the when, it can be used to explain why these are the priorities, and how the smaller projects (and early deadlines) fit into the bigger picture – bringing us back to that sense of purpose, value, and belonging again.
Change in business will not happen successfully unless people understand the need for it. It’s fair to say that resistance to change is a common human trait. The human mind finds so much comfort in the familiar, we seem almost hardwired to fight change. It’s a fear of the unknown. No doubt as a throwback to our earliest days on the planet, it can be perceived as anything from somewhat unsettling to downright threatening. But, internal comms allows businesses to explain the reason behind the change, and the long-term benefits of it, along with the requests and specific instructions for supporting it.
Bringing people together
Just as it is vital in periods of change, so internal comms can save the day in times of crisis. Bringing (often otherwise disparate) people together, illustrating the commonality and shared goals and experiences, and allowing fast and meaningful communication in every direction can remove barriers, reduce stress, and improve outcomes. Transparency in difficult situations builds trust and reassures.
Enabling recognition and promoting appreciation
Having our efforts and achievements recognised and appreciated (by those we report to and by our peers) is massive for our intrinsic motivation. The endorphins and Oxytocin that our bodies release when we receive recognition make us feel good, boost our sense of pride, and fuel our internal motivation. Quite simply, we want to earn that recognition again.
A specific advantage of peer-to-peer recognition is that it allows everyone to recognise and thank their colleagues for efforts made or support given, even if those actions didn’t necessarily result in a financial target being hit or some other tangible benefit to the business realised.
The recent Gallup/Workhuman “Transforming Workplaces Through Recognition” report showed that, when recognition is done properly, employees are five times as likely to be connected to their organisation’s culture and four times as likely to be engaged. And so, an internal comms strategy that includes the provision and promotion of peer-to-peer recognition will reap huge rewards in the employee experience and engagement stakes.
What can an Internal Comms agency do to help?
A first port of call for many organisations when they partner up with an internal comms agency is a communications health check. As with an Internal Comms strategy, each health check will be bespoke to each organisation. However, it typically consists of online surveys, focus groups and one-to-one interviews, designed to measure how your current communications are received and perceived across your business.
If it’s us doing the health check, we’ll then present you with a report and playback of our findings. We’ll also make some recommendations on how we believe you can improve on your current offering. Our journey together can end there, or we can support you in actioning any of the recommendations that you wish to pursue. Whether it’s the light touch of slightly tweaking your existing channels, or something more significant, like sourcing an all-new, more suitable intranet, it’s only ever in conjunction with your key players and in line with your wishes.
It may be that a general health check isn’t required, but that you have a different, pre-determined need. Each internal comms agency will have a slightly different offering. At the Comms Guru, we offer a wide range of support, big and small, one touch and long-term…
Got a big project that needs its own carefully constructed comms strategy and plan? This is one of our key specialities.
Holding a conference or significant event? We can support with planning, content development, event promotion, and even audience engagement and tech support on the day.
If your tone of voice is outdated or no longer reflects you or your people, we can work with you to rectify that, and write you a new guide.
Need a video creating? We offer one-offs or a repeat service in various styles, from explainers, infographics, animations, or people videos. We can edit your footage or, for something more special, arrange filming for you.
Maybe you need some training for your key comms people. We love sharing our knowledge and have people in place to support with leadership communication skills, Microsoft or Apple platforms, and other notable software packages such as those in Adobe’s creative suite.
There are so many ways that internal comms matters to the success of your business and the experience of your people. And there are so many ways that an internal comms agency can support a business with those comms.
At The Comms Guru, we all started off in operational roles. So, we’ve been in the shoes of your frontliners, your team leaders, middle managers, operations managers, and your support functions. We know what it’s like for them. But also, for you, because we also fully understand that, with the huge challenges that so many businesses are facing right now, comms can’t always get the time, effort, or attention it deserves and needs.
We pride ourselves on bringing an unusual combination of strategic, big-picture thinking and creative flair. We have the Gurus to help with every combination of internal comms needs. We offer a relaxed, friendly, and fun service, as bespoke and personal as your needs.
If you think your internal comms could do with a little Guru TLC, just holler! We would love to hear from you and would welcome the opportunity to help you maintain the happiest, best informed, and most loyal, engaged, and productive workforce possible.