13 minute read
Whilst engaging with internal stakeholders as a means of understanding what a brand stands for goes a long way towards developing corporate culture, it is often logistically and practically impossible to involve everyone in this way. Internal communications strategies provide the mechanisms to engage people across a business. At its most simplistic, internal communications is about promoting effective communications among people within an organisation.
Module 4 will explore external communications
This section will explore several key components of internal communications, and how they relate especially to the dissemination of sustainability messaging and best practice.
Why are internal communications important?
An effective internal communications strategy contributes to:
- Internal reputation,
- Employee engagement & strong corporate culture,
- Provide a channel for feedback,
- Influencing and inspire others.
1. Internal reputation
Managing a brands reputation internally is just as important as managing its external reputation. A poor internal reputation – a brand’s claim to have certain values that are not witnessed by employees in reality – can affect employee retention rates and productivity. Additionally, if the external messaging and presentation of a brand is inconsistent with how employees perceive the company, it will be difficult for them to convincingly present the desired version of the brand identity to external audiences, leading to inconsistency and a lack of trust in the brand.
2. Employee engagement & strong corporate culture
Effective internal communications makes employees feel seen, understood, and appreciated. When employees feel that they are an integral and appreciated part of the business then they are more satisfied, and more productive. More engaged employees contribute more to building a solid and positive corporate culture, which in turn has a beneficial effect on productivity, internal and external reputation, talent acquisition and retention, and more. A successful internal communications strategy helps to make the internal stakeholder feel as valued as the external stakeholder.
3. Provide a channel for feedback
Effective messaging is not just a one-way street. In an open and honest corporate culture, employees are encouraged to respond to and provide feedback on internal messaging. This can be a vital source of information for internal and external communications teams to understand what is resonating, or not, at a brand level. Early feedback can help address potential disconnects in how a brand wants to be seen versus the reality of its internal and external perceptions. The sooner such disconnects are addressed and identified the less chance of reputational damage or mistrust.
4. Influence and inspire others
In the context of sustainability, internal messaging can be a powerful tool to encourage employees within a business, as well as suppliers and other affiliates to act in a progressive and ultimately sustainable way. One way of propagating positive behaviour is through internal storytelling.
There are several elements / approaches to consider when building an internal communications strategy, including:
- Buy in from senior leadership,
- Widespread engagement,
- The role of HR & employee engagement,
- Training & education,
- Consistency, or variety, and frequency of messaging,
- Internal audience segmentation,
- Establishing KPIs.
1. Buy in from senior leadership
Internal messaging and communication are not just the role of a marketing or communications team. It is important that influential figures within an organisation are seen to be living the same values and informally communicating the same messaging that is being promoted via official channels.
There is no shortage of evidence that suggests that one of the most important aspects of embedding any corporate value in a workforce is clear and demonstrated buy-in from senior management. This is an example of where management of key internal stakeholders can be hugely important.
Managing key senior stakeholders:
Senior stakeholders can hold a lot of power and influence within an organisation so getting their buy-in can be key to a project or initiative’s success. It is worth the effort to build strong relationships with these individuals.
There are a few critical areas of consideration when ‘managing up’ and engaging with senior stakeholders:
- Sell the bigger picture – keep the wider benefit for the organisation/ community front and center.
- Choose your communication style. If you need something from senior management, like their support, try to communicate with them in a way that suits them – do they prefer face to face meetings, or will a quick call be less of a burden?
- Listen. Learn how your key stakeholders operate by listening. Taking note of what they do and don’t say in meetings can help shape future interactions and ensure that you are not repeatedly going over the same ground, which may feel like wasting their time and make you appear incompetent.
- Be confident – know your facts and be prepared to be grilled on them. You will come across as more competent and trustworthy.
- Manage expectations, and potential conflicts – different stakeholders will have different expectations and they may well clash. Identify potential areas of conflict early on and define a strategy to define common ground to combat potential challenges.
- Be realistic and deliver on your promises. Approach deadlines and deliverables sensibly and practically. Consistently delivering what you have promised builds trust, respect and influence.1
Listen: Stakeholder management, impact & influence with Twink Field, CEO and Founder of White Marble Consulting, Jackie Boylan, Head of the UK Adviser Platform at Fidelity International, and Curt Custard, Chief Investment Officer at Newton Investment Management
Themes covered in this podcast:
- The prominence of marketing within investment management companies and how it is cultivated at a cultural and individual level.
- Tips on how to approach and get attention of senior stakeholders.
- How to prioritise the stakeholders you need to engage with.
- Tips for dealing with old-school, antagonistic stakeholders who are patronising towards marketing.
- How marketers can build and maintain stronger relationship with key stakeholders i.e., sales teams, investment managers and compliance.
2. Widespread engagement
Whilst it is important to ensure the buy-in and involvement of senior leaders in a business to convey holistic messaging, it is equally important that employees throughout the business are brought along on the development journey. Rather than communicating from the top down and risking a disconnect between senior leadership and the majority of employees, communications teams should engage with representatives from across the business. Recruiting spokespeople and champions at all levels of the business not only has a beneficial impact in terms of the dissemination of messaging, but also facilitates dialogue.
3. The role of HR & employee engagement
Human Resources can play an important role in the development and dissemination of corporate culture and values via effective and consistent messaging across the key areas in which they are involved. Whilst the remit of HR does vary across companies, they generally play an important role in:
- Hiring & employee retention,
- Facilitating reciprocal communication,
- Training & education.
Bringing the right people on board who will align with and engage with the values and culture of a firm is a vital function of HR departments.
It is important to remember that internal communication is not a one-way exercise where comms teams and/ or senior leadership simply broadcast a message and call it a day. One of the most valuable outcomes from internal communication is to facilitate open dialogue across a business, at all levels. Not only do employees who feel engaged and listened to feel more valued in their roles, but they also act as an important sounding board – if messaging is not resonating internally then this may be a signal that there is a disconnect between aspirations and reality.
4. Training and education
Ensuring that employees are offered and encouraged to participate in relevant and appropriate training is a key means of disseminating brand messaging and ensuring that employees are appropriately educated in the key areas of focus for the brand. It is important that employees understand why they are being offered training in a given area so that they are fully engaged.
In the context of developing a sustainability proposition, education can play an important role in helping employees understand why a firm is taking a certain position.
Training and education can be formal or informal in nature. Taking the form of structured courses delivered internally or via external providers, including industry bodies and standard setters (such as the CFA), through less structured interactions between team members, or through sharing relevant materials for self-learning such as articles and webinars.
Whilst values training can be a useful exercise, as Philip Kotler cautions in Marketing 3., care must be taken that training does not ‘turn into preaching instead of practicing’. If trainers and teachers do not behave in their daily interactions in the ways that they advocate in training, they are likely to have little effect.
Storytelling as a means of internal communication and education to build corporate culture by encouraging positive behaviour through the demonstration and playing out of corporate values has long been used in other industries to educate employees, and customers.
Read: The Embedding Project – Storytelling for Sustainability Pages 5- 8, 10-13, 23
- People use stories to reflect on the past, make sense of the present and speculate on the future – storytelling can be leveraged in organisations to reinforce positive, sustainable, behaviors and mindsets.
- As stories are re-told, their underlying messages have the potential to come together into an organisational narrative – an organisational narrative tells you about the way things are and how things came to be.
- You can think of narratives like storylines that capture the essence of people’s day-to-day experiences. Most people have a sense of the dominant narratives in their organisation and these storylines tell them about the types of choices and actions that are valued.
- The role of choice in stories is important because we learn about what is acceptable in organisations through experiencing how others react to our choices – people tend to make choices that are consistent with what they perceive the dominant narrative in their organisations to be – change occurs in an organisation when people see different choices available to them, and hear stories of others making those choices.
- The Embedding Project have identified 5 tips for good storytelling:
- Explain the choice – stories that detail the choices made in order to achieve an outcome have more impact than just stating the end results. These choices pave the way for a pattern of decision-making that supports sustainability (or other) behaviors that you are trying to encourage,
- Give a voice to challenge and failure – if stories about sustainability sound too easy they are less impactful and less easy to emulate,
- Resist the temptation to wrap stories up in a neat bow – good storytellers show without telling,
- Cast your organisation in an enabling role – try to position your organisation as a facilitator rather than the hero,
- Make your stories relatable – help readers/listeners see what they have in common with the protagonists of the story (e.g., talking about individuals rather than organisations) as it is easier to relate to.
- Approaches for sustainability storytelling:
- Capture stories about something an employee, senior leader or other stakeholder has done and share throughout the organisation,
- Integrate stories and storytelling into new employee onboarding.
- If stories are told in a way that others in your organisation can relate to, they have the potential to inspire people to reflect on their own experiences as they talk about these stories with others.
5. Consistency, or variety, and frequency of messaging
Whilst it is perhaps an obvious statement it still needs to be made – it is important to ensure that the messages being broadcast across a business are consistent and ongoing.
It is also important to note that in this context messaging does not only refer to written communications via email or social channels, but also includes the creative interpretations of concepts developed either internally or externally, and the physical manifestations of message positioning. For example, if a brand is making a push on their sustainability credentials but does not make simple steps to implement recycling or less plastic and paper use in their offices, then the messages being conveyed are confused.
Internal communications are not a one and done exercise, they need to be long-term, structured efforts in order to establish and regularly reinforce the desired message. It is also important not to overload employees with information that may not be relevant to them. For this reason, whilst consistency is important, so too is recognising when to vary messaging. For example, in large multinational companies with offices all over the world – employees located in different regions are likely to have different priorities and concerns driven by their cultural and market context.
6. Internal audience segmentation
Internal segmentation exercises can be a valuable process to help better understand internal audiences and tailor messaging accordingly. Especially when it comes to sustainability messaging where, for example, employees in different regions of the world may have greater or lesser general awareness of and sympathy for sustainability issues.
Internal audiences can be segmented along the following lines, amongst others:
- Geographic locations
- Demographics such as gender, age group, languages, ethnicity, tenure
- Work patterns
- What channels they use to communicate
- Their motivations – a McKinsey & Company study identified four types of employees:
- ‘Go with a winner’ employees who look for growth and achievement
- ‘Big risk big reward’ employees who look for good compensation
- ‘Lifestyle’ employees who seek flexibility
- ‘Save the world’ employees who seek opportunities to contribute to a greater mission. 2
7. Establish KPIs to check success
As with any internal or external marketing activities, relevant and monitored KPIs can be extremely useful to assess the success of an internal communication strategy.
Metrics that can be monitored to gauge the impact of communication include:
- Time and money saved when knowledge is shared
- Employee satisfaction and engagement
- Employee feedback
- Employee retention/turnover
- Interaction with/views of content
Some of these measures are subjective and qualitative and can be gathered via employee surveys, themselves a mechanism for facilitating two-way communication, whilst others are more quantitative.
1Banks, C., 2021. Success Tips With Senior Stakeholders | Analyze Consulting. [online] Analyze. Available at: <https://analyze.co.za/success-senior-stakeholders-top-tips-get/>.
2Kotler, P., 2013. Marketing 3.0. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley, p.81.