Jun 05 2012

Listen Up: Internal Communications Can Drive Value

In a world where everything has gone social, even internal communications can be mined for strategic purposes.

For many years, the default form of internal communications has been the newsletter. Newsletters are a great way of sending company news and alerts internally, but they’re a broadcast medium. The company pushes information out to its workers, and workers receive it. But where’s the reciprocity?

Smart businesses are tapping into a more collaborative form of internal communications to drive value and gain insight into what does and doesn’t work for the company.

Boris Groysberg, a professor of business administration at the Harvard Business School, and Michael Slind, a writer, editor and communication consultant, are co-authors of the book Talk, Inc.: How Trusted Leaders Use Conversation to Power Their Organizations.

The authors highlighted some of their findings from a recent survey in a blog post for Harvard Business Review, homing in on four key points:

1. Close the Gap Between You and Your Employees

In our survey, we also asked respondents to name the biggest employee communication challenge at their company. In response, one participant cited the need to "move away from top-down communication." Another highlighted a "disparity between the senior management team and middle management due to low transparency." Trusted and effective leaders overcome such challenges by speaking with employees in ways that are direct, personal, open, and authentic.

2. Promote Two-Way Dialogue Within Your Company

One survey respondent lamented "a lack of understanding in management of the need for communication," adding that "the traditional practice" of communication at his or her company "has been one-way." Leaders can show that they appreciate the value of real communication by adopting channels that allow ideas to move in multiple directions across their organization, and by working to create a truly conversational culture within that organization.

3. Engage Employees in the Work of Telling the Company Story

The need "to get more participation from employees," according to one respondent, is a pressing challenge at his or her company. People in that company "tend to shy away from speaking openly." The practice of organizational conversation alters that dynamic. Where that practice has taken hold, leaders encourage broad-based employee involvement in a wide array of communication efforts.

4. Pursue a Clear Agenda

One participant expressed concern about a "lack of consistency" in communication. Another mentioned a tendency among top leaders to generate "too much communication." Yet another voiced this complaint: "The strategy is only discussed at the management level and is never cascaded to all staff." To deal with such challenges — to prevent the communication process from becoming diffuse and ad hoc — effective leaders take steps to ensure that their conversation with employees unfolds according to a clear strategic plan. They also seek to align that conversation with organizational objectives.

Sometimes the best ideas come from in-house. Make sure you don’t turn a deaf ear to your organization’s internal intelligence.