Internal communications: promoting dialogue

Communications – from simply talking to and listening to people, to newsletters and intranets – has been described as the glue of engagement. While social media and digital communications may hog the headlines, whatever the means of transmission, the time-honoured basics of effective communication never change: it must be timely, truthful, and tailored to its audience.

Engagement is also about communicating both ways, not only shaping messages to the receiver but actively listening to, or taking on board responses. Traditional top-down internal communication consisted of telling employees about management plans and events, informing them about the organisation and their role. Today, internal communication is a way of promoting dialogue and engagement in the workplace.

Social media and 24-hour news channels may leave people increasingly feeling they are being communicated to all the time, and it can be a natural response to put up barriers and filter out information not seen as interesting and relevant.

The challenge for internal communicators is therefore to be interesting and relevant, and the key to this is that messages must satisfy the receiver and not the sender. This means understanding the audience – the people who need to know – and addressing their concerns: primarily ‘how does this affect me?’.

For example, younger employees who have never known a non-digital world are used to shorter, punchier messages rather than lengthy top- down memos or the company newsletter. The best communications work as a dialogue, and in the same way all communications must be tailored to the audience, the media must also reflect organisational culture.

Communication has its own specialties and is increasingly divided into strategy and channels. Strategists will ask questions about relevance to work out who needs to know what and which channels are best to use, looking at the timing of the messages and systems and procedures needed. This may involve audience segmentation, which can be as simple as differentiating between customer-facing and back-office staff, or as complex as identifying over 50 different audiences who will all require different communications.