The nervous system is an amazing thing. It’s how we think, how we move, how we plan, how we act. These processes should have many parallels with that of a company’s internal communication.
Millions of tiny fibers sending bits of information back and forth, from the center to the ends and back. This allows the entire body to be constantly aware of what is happening internally and externally as well as permits the mind to interpret and react appropriately to all stimuli.
Does your organization run like that?
What is Internal Communication?
The nervous system is to the human body as internal communication should be to an organization, whether it’s comprised of a small team of two employees or 20,000.
Your organization receives information (customer and employee feedback, market research, profits, etc.), then uses it to react. Before an organization can implement a full reaction, it needs to send information in a suitable way to react to the appropriate channels. In other words, employees at every level of an organization have to communicate with each other and make decisions regularly about who does what, when and why.
That’s internal communication.
Internal communication is especially important when things are changing within an organization. Change communication is a type of internal communication that as the name suggests, focuses on change. We’ve all likely experienced a time when things were changing at an organization and it was not communicated well. The result was likely that chaos and confusion ensued. In addition, the internal stakeholders likely viewed the changes negatively.
Confused employees are not productive ones, which is why it’s so important to have a communication plan when things are changing. Your plan should communicate the 5Ws and How (who, what, when, where, why and how). Don’t leave stakeholders wondering how these changes affect them or how they should respond.
Ongoing Internal Communication
Even when there aren’t major organizational changes, internal communication is just as important. It’s important to make sure that employees know everything they need to in order to do their jobs effectively and manage there lives outside of work.
So, why is it not standard to be intentional with internal communications as we so naturally do in other facets of business? Communicating with your colleagues often seems so natural and “given,” it can be hard to recognize it as a defined facet of organizational function.
Acknowledging the significance of internal communication is the first step, after that, accepting it and doing something about it gets easier. After all, the data is in – when internal communication is lacking, your entire business suffers.
That said, these days we’re unlikely to spend much time on anything that won’t have a demonstrated a return on investment. So, let’s talk about that.
The ROI of Good Internal Communication
In his talk at Google’s 2014 re:Work event, Dr. Ben Waber shared his research that intentionally improving communication lines between employees significantly improved business performance. He then proved ways that data science could help locate those areas that needed work.
The positive effects of addressing those problem areas were widespread and most were measurable, both quantitatively and qualitatively.
Waber found that at times, “blockages” were as simple as geographic, whether that was separate floors to an office or miles between locations. Blockages also stemmed from misunderstandings about organizational structure and unnecessary silo-ing, but also rooted in a lack of forethought in using appropriate tools to communicate (think, memo tacked to a bulletin board when there are remote workers who need that information, or worse, emailing as the only way to share information and documents).
Investments in healthy internal communication provide immediate and long-term returns in countless ways, but there are a few key areas:
1. Improved Employee Engagement and Decision-Making Abilities
When the connection between the employee and the organization’s mission and values is strong, employees feel a greater sense of purpose in their role. Poor internal communication plays a role in increased absenteeism, disregard for workplace safety, and higher employee turnover.
Research indicates that the loss of an employee can end up costing as much as 1.5-2x the employee’s annual salary. Job satisfaction plays a major role in employee retention. In 2018, a study found that 1 in 3 employees were ready to quit their current job due to poor internal communication and the issues stemming from it.
Through investing in healthy internal communication, companies can expect to see improved employee engagement and confidence, as well as improved decision-making abilities that benefit the business for years to come.
2. Improved External Communication and Customer Service
Employees receive information, and even speech patterns and verbiage, through internal communication. They will in turn use this information in their work with clients, vendors and other important connections outside of the business. Because of this “osmosis” of the language and culture built through internal communication, strong infrastructure is built for good external communications.
It goes back up the chain too. Service reps depend on internal communication lines for the information about clients and their experiences to make it to teams that can use that data to make customer-focused changes.
This is why inadequate or unhealthy internal communication contributes heavily to poor results in marketing, customer service, and sales. In other words, it’s a big hit to a company’s profitability.
3. Increased productivity + profitability
Looking back at Dr. Waber’s research, he found that increased productivity through internal communication by increasing the size of the lunch tables, performance increased by 10%. Why did this work?
It allowed for the seating dynamic to change and encouraged more communication between individuals. Glassdoor’s research on the subject included six studies whose results indicated that the higher job satisfaction experienced by employees, the better their performance for the organization. The better their performance, the stronger the company.
4. Increased organizational agility
Healthy internal communication is the most effective way to reduce silos and increase cross-department and cross-role pollination. These kinds of things increase an organization’s likelihood of successfully weathering big changes in its markets, economies, and technologies. Equally important is ensuring that each member of the team is aware of what the others do, how that affects current and future projects and how that impacts others’ roles, so there’s only intentional overlap and no holes between departments’ responsibilities.
To recap, investing in internal communication is absolutely vital to an organization’s longevity. Investing in an internal communication plan can help your organization through big changes as well as day to day business functions. It can improve employee satisfaction, productivity and effectiveness, as well as increase profits. For more on internal communication, read this blog from the Society for Human Resources Management.
This blog was written in conjunction with Haley Likens, Customer Success Manager @ VTR Learning and advocate for better communication in the workplace.
Article written by Erica Bass