During uncertain times people are increasingly turning to leadership for answers and understanding. As a result, effective internal communications is more crucial than ever; especially when you take into account the lasting impact it can have on your organization and its people.
One ill-conceived or poorly worded policy announcement can shatter your people's confidence not only in their leaders, but in the company itself. And once people begin to lose trust in their organization, it's not long before that sentiment ripples out to your customers, too.
That's why, whenever you're about to compose and publish a new announcement, particularly if it's of critical importance, you need to seriously think about how your people are going to interpret and respond to it. Empathetic communication is absolutely integral, now and always.
In this article I'll explain why every internal announcement that sees the light of day should center your people's interests first and foremost. Let's get right into it.
How internal communications impacts morale
Ever been on the receiving end of a particularly awful company-wide announcement? I have.
An ex-employer of mine once announced a series of layoffs—which can happen, sure—but the way in which it was delivered made it a whole lot worse. The message was printed and read aloud by senior managers in separate meeting rooms throughout the office. In tone it was cold, corporate, clinical. It referred to our former colleagues (and friends) as redundant, unnecessary, 'terminated'. There was no space given for questions, no effort to comfort those of us who remained.
For many of us it wasn't necessarily the bad news itself, but the message and the manner in which it was delivered that rubbed us the wrong way. This internal communications failure had affected numerous coworkers and, unsurprisingly, morale remained at an all-time low for quite a while.
I bring up this example because, more than anything, the way a company communicates bad news reveals a lot. Tough news is difficult for everyone. But relating the news in an empathetic, human way would've had a much different impact than what actually transpired.
In fact, navigating internal communication pitfalls is very easy if you make a concerted effort to communicate with empathy.
Communicate with your people in mind
When you're communicating important information to colleagues or employees, there's a few key factors to consider:
The medium of delivery
The style and tone of your announcements
The reaction to the message
1) The medium
At first this might seem like the least important part of your message, but it's actually a very important consideration. Not only do you want to ensure that your message gets to as many eyeballs as possible; it also needs to fit the message.
For instance, if you're announcing that your company is changing its support ticket software in two month's time and scheduling training sessions, an email is probably fine.
But if you're announcing a change to the company vacation day policy, then you'll need to announce that at a company-wide fireside chat, on your company's intranet, or preferably both. Most important of all, you need to provide space for questions, comments, and feedback. The more pressing the announcement, the more space you'll need to give. Internal communication is always a two-way street.
Sometimes when you share a big announcement, people aren't immediately ready to start asking questions. In these cases, you want to reach out and let them know they can ask questions if they choose at a later time, too.
2) The style and tone
This one may also seem like a no-brainer, but adapting your tone and style to the message you're sending can take a lot of practice.
A skilled internal communicator will need to simultaneously adapt their tone to an important announcement, inform employees in a clear and concise way, and maintain a voice of authority that's consistent with the internal brand voice (after all, this person is speaking as a representative of the company).
If you're announcing an event like a company picnic, chances are your tone is going to be a little lighter and fun. You may make a joke, but don't get too carried away because you still need to communicate important details like the time and place, the activities planned, dietary restrictions, and any other key details.
On the other hand, if you're communicating something more serious, like a change to the company remote work policy, the situation might require a more serious tone. Announcements of impending structural changes need to be treated with extra care because the morale of the organization and its business continuity are at stake.
Ultimately, your company culture and values will dictate how you approach certain types of news. If you're not transparent, that'll be evident. Ideally, though, even difficult news is communicated in a personable, comforting tone.
3) The reaction to the message
A lot of companies make the mistake of rushing out their internal communications without really thinking about how their people might react. I'm referring to the example above but really any type of internal communication can come across as tone-deaf.
If your company picnic isn't an inclusive activity or venue, it can come across as exclusionary and people might not show up. Similarly, not everyone needs to know that your company's changing its customer support ticket software. If I'm in Accounting and I keep seeing announcements that have zero bearing on me or my role, I might stop paying attention to internal announcements. Anticipating and preventing against these reactions is paramount.
The timing of a message or announcement can also impact how people react. Is it at a time that makes sense for all employees, or will some miss the message? Are you mentioning a pizza party an hour after a quarter of the company was laid off? Does your weekly newsletter come across as out of date because it doesn't address a recent event?
Putting some thought into who your audience is and how they might react is such an easy and effective way to tailor your messaging to your people. This is an internal comms best practice that will determine your tone, medium, and the way in which your message is interpreted.
At the end of the day, using your internal communications to allow room for difficult conversations is a quick way to earn the respect of your people. Being as transparent and delicate as possible when delivering bad news creates an atmosphere of openness and mutual caring that can help sustain your organization through the toughest of times.