The BT Blog #2


How to put together an internal communications strategy that will see your business through the good times and the bad…

Photograph: Social Chorus

The COVID-19 crisis has exponentially increased the need for frequent and clear communication between management and staff in every business, and has made the efficacy of internal communication strategies more important than ever. Transparent, succinct, and informative messaging is paramount to ensuring your team is kept reliably up to date of the constantly evolving environment for business in the midst of public health concerns. A good communications strategy sets the tone and the direction for any changes or implementation procedures, so that staff across all sectors can work in harmony to achieve the desired results. Staff are generally loyal and hardworking when they know and understand the direction of the company, and more importantly, when they can envisage their role and future in that strategy.

Many businesses are now realising that they either don’t have an agreed strategy or don’t have one that works in the current environment. The ad hoc approach they have taken to staff communications to date is just not going to cut it anymore. It’s time to take action.

When evaluating your response to any crisis facing your business, you must first take stock of your current communication strategy and delivery methods.

Now you know where you are, the next steps will tell you where you need to go…

Ask yourself

  • What are our communication objectives and what approaches can we take to achieve them?
  • What messages do we want and need to send out? Finding your tone will take some thought and perhaps some guidance from an expert.
  • Who is responsible for communicating these messages? Organisational size and structure will dictate what will work for you. In smaller organisations, it might be sufficient to issue all communications direct from management to staff, while larger business structures may have the need and the resources to put a dedicated crisis response communications team in place, in order to effectively reach all internal audiences. Members could be drawn from departments such as HR, corporate communications, business operations and also health and safety. It’s worth remembering however that research shows that the voice of the company CEO or company leader is key to reassuring staff during a crisis.
  • What tools can we use? Research the communications technology available to you and see what works best for your organisation.

Assessing and answering these questions will allow you to develop a strategic communications plan not just to see out a current crisis, but to take you forward towards your wider business objectives.

One of the primary considerations when deciding on messaging is the need to demystify the situation for employees at every step – it’s vital to put staff’s minds at ease and provide reassurance and indeed, hope for the future, where possible. It’s not sufficient for staff to be told; they need to understand the issues being communicated and appreciate where they fit into the business strategy. Saying it is the easy part – getting buy-in is far more difficult. While business leaders must be realistic and convey grounded expectations on the health or direction of the business, it’s important not to feed into a ‘negativity bias’, which is where we automatically assume that the outcome will be negative rather than positive.

While every situation is different, and will need to be assessed on that basis, in a general sense, the following are useful guidelines to follow when developing a communications strategy:

  • Post information regularly in a highly visible location, both physically on the business premises if appropriate, or online via email, the company intranet, or company social media groups.
  • Explain how the decisions that are being mad came about, and why the company is taking the action is it. Provide clear instructions on how and when any changes will be implemented, such as transport, travel, remote working, pay changes, etc.
  • Give sufficient detail so that staff can understand if and how it will impact them personally.
  • Decide how often you will address or reach out to staff. Frequency of interaction with staff is crucial, as is consistency.
  • There is often a temptation to wait to communicate until you know all of the answers and information. However, this can lead to increased anxiety and concern among workers, as an information vacuum is generally worse than an incomplete message. It may be more beneficial to try to provide timely information as and when you can, bearing in mind that the situation is fluid and evolving. Staff understand that even the best leaders don’t have all of the answers all of the time.
  • Establish a feedback mechanism to get a sense of whether the communication has been a success and whether people are on board with the issues. In a remote workforce, the traditional use of chatter around the coffee station or watercooler, you may need to apply a more formal method, such as a post-communication anonymous survey of staff.

And remember, communications are by their very nature fluid, so your strategy, while a valuable roadmap, needs to be malleable to adapt to the needs of the day – in good times and in bad.