Internal Communications

brandEvery communications professional has seen this happen. You work hard to develop a strong, reputable brand, the brand voice and the brand promise. You create brand standard guidelines and you build out a tool kit for staff to use when creating documents, presentations or in any communication of the brand. You generate great media coverage where your CEO, President or GM hits the key messages and positions the brand well.

A success, right? Not so fast. Then a client, customer, guest or patient shows up to the frontline and no one delivers on the brand promise (#EpicFail).

A great brand and brand reputation have to be brought to life through the actions of employees. They have to deliver on the brand promise. But to do that, they need to be engaged – and the brand promise needs to “belong” to them. An exceptional brand is developed through the consistent, long-term actions of employees. Great marketing, ads, social media and PR campaigns are damaged by a cranky staff member, an employee who doesn’t return calls or e-mails in a timely fashion, or someone in your organization commenting negatively on social media about your product, services or another element.

Engaging your employees as “brand ambassadors” and helping them to deliver on the brand promise is a worthwhile investment for an organization. Making a strategic decision to engage employees in this way happens over time. And you need to be consistent in these efforts.

Here are the steps for creating brand ambassadors.

Step 1 – Survey

Develop an internal (and anonymous) survey to see where engagement currently sits. This will give you a benchmark so that as you move forward, you can identify where you have improved and what still needs work.

Step 2 – Identify Influencers

Identify key employees who are influencers, community builders, outliers and even skeptics and create an employee engagement advisory panel. Don’t just pull in managers and people you know will agree with you. Bring in those who will challenge the status quo – find out what they think and why. Ensure you have a range of employees and that all areas or departments are represented.

Step 3 – The Advisory Panel

Provide the results from the survey – keeping necessary information confidential – to the advisory committee. Work with them to identify the key areas that need attention. Choose one or two areas to work on – don’t try to change everything overnight. Create an engagement plan based on the areas and through a town hall meeting, an all staff meeting or another approach (online meeting, etc.) – share the plans with staff. The advisory board should meet monthly.

Step 4 – Internal Communications

Creating an internal site on your intranet, where employees can ask questions, provide feedback and communicate with each other, is always a good idea. Building your internal community and engaging employees is not a “top down” process.

Step 5 – Measure

Measure your success to ensure you are on track and continually improving. This goes back to the initial survey, as well as defining other key measurement elements and key performance indicators, and setting your goals and objectives. You need to know what you want to achieve in order to measure your progress. And measurement must be a key element of your internal plan.

Step 6 – Celebrate Successes, Address Challenges

Share your wins and challenges with staff. Keep them involved and informed. Meet with the advisory committee once a month, at a minimum. They will be the ones who will help spread the word internally.

Remember: without employee engagement, your brand promise is just words on paper and is of no use to anyone – especially your clients, customers, guests or patients.

 

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office boardroom peopleInternal communication is an important piece of an organization’s brand reputation and, in the past few years, it has undergone a shift from being an HR function to becoming a crucial component of strategic communications.

Here at AHA, we develop communications plans for clients on a regular basis. During this process, one of the first questions we ask is about the organization’s current approach to internal communications – and how the external communications will be supported and reflected internally. This often results in an interesting discussion about employee engagement, how to best communicate with internal stakeholders, and the task of developing an internal communications plan in collaboration with both the communication and HR departments.

Internal communication provides an excellent opportunity for the senior executive or leadership team to move away from “top-down communication” and create channels that are open, direct, authentic, two-way and more personal. It also provides the opportunity for two-way dialogue – an important piece for an organization that wants to attract the best and brightest in their industry. Creating an opportunity for employee feedback, participation and involvement helps to promote engagement. When staff is engaged, they are more productive, morale is higher, and the organization is seen as a good place to work – which attracts talented professionals.

A solid internal communications plan also provides employees with the ability to tell the organization’s story. There are no better ambassadors for an organization than its employees, when they understand and believe in the brand story. No advertising or PR campaign will be effective if what is being said externally is not supported internally. Encouraging employee involvement in a range of internal and external communications initiatives helps to tell the brand story in an authentic way. The people who come to work each day can be exceptional assets in building and maintaining a good culture, in maintaining a positive brand reputation, and in communicating the organization’s values to each person they come in contact with during their workday.

In developing an internal communications plan, it is important to create a consistent approach – random or ad hoc communication doesn’t work. The communications efforts need to be planned out and delivered on a regular basis. The objective of the plan has to be clearly defined. If employees are asked to participate, expectations and reasons why the outreach is being done need to be clearly communicated. Two-way dialogue, including negative feedback, has to be encouraged and the feedback has to be acknowledged and respected. Staff members need to know that they are being heard – especially if your organization has challenges.

Strategic internal communication does take time and effort to plan and to implement, but the results can provide exceptional return-on-investment. Building relationships internally and ensuring the employees are informed, engaged and are provided opportunities to authentically participate in developing and sharing your brand story creates a strong workforce. It increases productivity, attracts good employees, improves morale, and develops a positive work culture – all of which support your organizational objectives. Should an issue or crisis happen to your organization, you have created credibility among your staff, which results in their support during a challenge. By focusing on internal relationships, you increase trust – one of the most valuable assets an organization has.

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