November 17, 2021
15 min.
Insights

10 step change approach for better internal communications

An email a day keeps the readers away.

How many internal communication emails do you ignore each day?  


VRT reports almost half of our emails are useless, with up to 45% getting marked as ‘spam’.

Before you ask: yes, that’s for professional emails! Probably you also have a ton of corporate or project communication stuck in your “to read” list, saved just in case you ever have a moment to spare. Believe me, I get it. I don’t read most internal communications either.

Information noise makes it difficult to communicate

Today we live in the information age. That’s fun and cool, but how do you communicate with a large group of people that is already bombarded with info? There are many articles about how receivers should protect themselves from information overload.

But what about the producers of that information? We are also senders of information, and here at SteepConsult we believe producers should carry their part of the burden and reduce the noise and overload before hitting send.

As consultants, we consider it our responsibility to protect the careful balance between informing people and burying them in communications. After all: every communication means asking people to invest precious time and attention into finding and absorbing information.

So how can you make internal people aware of the information you send and have them check important pull information sources?

Our internal team is motivated to solve this issue and got in touch with consultants, a notoriously difficult group for internal information, since we receive twice the number of corporate communications. 
They gathered a diverse group of both consultants and internal colleagues and put their collective intelligence at work. Their insights were easy to understand, yet applying them remains a work of art.

Here’s what we found, curious to hear what you think about it!


Our 10 step change approach

1. It all starts with the vision 

Internal communication is a strategic capability. Done well, it can unite people, connect them to the organization and align their action in the same direction. Yet usually, it just confuses people, for 2 reasons: 

  • often there isn’t one clear strategic direction  
  • Even more often communication roles are considered purely operational, without a strategic voice or real mandate to validate their own decisions.  

Best way to change it is to raise your voice and prove the strategic value of your role as an internal communicator with action. 

How to get started:

Make sure your internal communication plan is aligned to the strategy and portfolio plans of the larger organisation. The first challenge is to find those different plans… If you can, start by talking with the people in charge. Be bold and send an email to the CEO, inviting her to chat for 30 minutes, to ask about her goals, objectives and identify how your work can contribute. Even if she says ‘no’, probably she will direct you to someone else who can help, like the leader of a PMO, if present. Find the plans and see how your topic  fits the bigger picture. And remember in your role as a communicator, you can only do the job well if others did theirs. It all starts with a vision.


 

2. Let’s get scientifical… and stay away from surveys!

It’s not always the most fun, but good results always start with some research, observations, and a whole lot of empathy. A survey doesn’t do the trick, as people aren’t always honest for several reasons, or interpret the questions different. For example, a group of our own consultants marked they ‘love emails!’, yet the numbers proved they were the group with most unopened emails.  

 
How to get started:

Get out there! Organize focus groups, conduct interviews, and get out there to observe! 
You work at the same place, so watch how people live their days, when they are on the move, who they talk to, when they are focused and when they are moody.  
Ask them to send you some articles or communications they liked to read, ask them their favorite books to understand what writing styles they prefer! 


3. Segment your audience and send only what matters to people

Don’t send a cheesecake to someone lactose intolerant! Different groups trust different communication channels and decide whether a message is important based on different triggers. 

We’ve seen allergic reactions to emojis in professional emails and others. My favorite example was at a client with notoriously low response rates on surveys. Our team tried something different and created a ‘fun’ lay out with colors and pictures. Only one person responded, with ICT in CC: “Is this spam? It looks like the spam training emails. Please don’t make me follow that training again!”.

On the other hand, a friend of mine selected her next employer based on the message they conveyed by using emoji in a recruitment email. For her it proved they were a young and collaborative company that didn’t bothered with stuff, formal corporate communications, exactly what she was looking for!

How to get started:

After your observations, create different segments in your target audience and create persona’s. If you can, make this a workshop so you can bounce ideas of each other. Can you communicate with the same tone and form to all these personas, or do they need a slightly different ‘touch’? 

What are they allergic to and what do they absolutely love to read? Create guidelines per segment and identify people in those segments to help validate your learnings. How to find those early adopters? In my experience you can just call random people in the segment and ask them for help. On the off chance they say ‘no’, ask if they know someone else who would be able to help you.


4. Experiment different options 

Don’t marry the first intranet page you find, diversify your options. People often think of experiments as a waste of time, since it does demand extra time of the team the outcome isn’t predictable. They forget that if they don’t experiment and always use the same intranet page nobody reads, you can predict the outcome, but it will remain zero. Yes, it’s true: the outcome of an experiment might not be predictable. Still, we can guarantee you will learn something valuable.

How to get started:

Communicate this experiment with your team and select a suitable communication topic, based on the project plan. Decide if you want to experiment with communication channels or types of messages. If you can, ask ICT to help you track the visits and views. Since it’s internal, you might even get the names of people who saw your communications. (just to be safe, do check with GDPR compliance…).


Either:

  1. Send the same message, for example asking people to fill out a survey, via different channels, like an email, the intranet page, Yammer, LinkedIn or the app specifically build for your company.  
  2. Or use 1 channel and send different messages: a fun one, a serious one and one with just the link and note ‘please fill out this survey’.

Look for info like: What channel and message got the most exposure? Through which message did you get the most responses?

Then, dive deep into qualitative research:

  1. Contact people who responded and ask them why.
  2. Contact the people who didn’t respond and ask them why.
  3. Pivot your future communication approach based on these insights and repeat the experiment. 


Oh and please share those insights with others who need to communicate internally, to get the most out of your time and effort.


5. If you don’t communicate it, it doesn’t exist. 

Don’t forget to communicate about your communication.
Sounds trippy, right?  People who expect communication will be on the look out for it. If you suddenly shift from all email communication to an internal app without telling anyone, chances are people won’t notice what you post.


How to get started:

Communicating about communication channels is trickier than it sounds. If you already know people don’t read their email, how can you email them that the communication channels will change? Best way to do this is personally reaching out to people. 
Send out communication in your own name, not some faceless communications@email.nope address. We are people and like to read messages and do things for people, so make a personal appeal.  
And create a communication network, read below how! 


6. Create a network to make things personal 

Usually the employees have someone in the company they regularly get in touch with, like a team leader or someone from HR. Have them direct the employees to the message you want to convey or have them ask people to check a communication. If people feel personally considered, chances are they will feel more motivated to check out your channels and posts.  


 
How to get started:

Identify the people everybody knows, usually they work at the company for a longer time and usually they have administrative roles. Sometimes they are the people who like to laugh and bring cookies to the coffee machine. Ask them what roles have the biggest internal network (HR, PMO, …) or ask who the central ‘nodes’ are in the organizational network.


Contact the names you received and ask them to act as a communication network, sort of ambassadors. This call to action works best in a workshop where people can determine how they want to be involved collectively.


Afterwards, you can use this network in 2 ways: 

  • to communicate directly with other and  
  • receiving feedback on your communications.  

If you are ready to take it a step further, you can build your own network.  

Our own marketeer is a gladly seen face at different working groups in the company. Most of our colleagues read his communications because they know him, and he probably already helped them out with something of their own before.


7. Be explicit about what you expect

Do people know they are meant to check the intranet regularly?
When we, consultants, arrive at clients, it’s like an onboarding every time. After a while we understand what internal emails we are supposed to read and which we aren’t. But are we meant to check the intranet AND the internal emails AND the company Yammer page? Is it ok if we just get our sources at the coffee machine?


The situation is the same for new employees, or even the ones that are already there for years!  

 
How to get started: 

During onboardings, tell people explicitly which messages are important and where they can find them, how many events you expect them to attend at the minimum and how you expect them to contribute. Do this via the personal interaction, not via email.

If you want to everybody to know this, create a very clear and to the point ‘guideline to reading internal communications’ and have the CEO send it out in her name. This will add gravitas and have more people read and do what it says. Make sure it contains a link to a ‘how to’ page, as you might be surprised how many people don’t know how to log onto the intranet! 


8. Content over form, the firewall blocks the pictures anyway

Your emails can be a regular Klimt, people don’t decide to invest their time based on how they look. Most of the time the lay out is all messed up because of firewalls and such either way, or people will just not open your email and what good is a lay out that’s never seen?  
And if people don’t visit the intranet, they will never notice it’s like a museum of color and shapes.  

 
How to get started: 

Spend the time you would normally spend perfecting the lay out on creating guidelines and principles to assess what messages are important and doing your research with the target groups. If that’s all done and applied, you can start thinking about whether that picture should be a vector or a raster. 


9. Thinks first about what’s in it for your audience? 

Any message should be personally engaging. Why do you need people to read your communication? Create a clear call to action in every message and test with receivers whether they can directly name why the message is relevant for them and their work.


How to get started:

You can differentiate between a ‘push’ and ‘pull’ channels, only pushing the information that is important because you need action. If people have time or like to be kept up to date about your project, they can visit the pull page (like intranet) at a convenient time. Like we said before: communicate your communication strategy to create expectations and clarity about where people can find what.

Everybody likes to know where to find information easily!


10. Find who else is talking?

This is easier if there is a clear strategy and portfolio available. Never forget change doesn’t happen in a vacuum, so neither does communication. If there are many things happening and nobody takes the initiative to align and structure the communication from all of those sources, chaos ensues. It’s a tough job, but someone must do it. 

Your coworkers will notice you (in a very good way) –  take that as an argument on why it should be you!


 
How to get started:

Gather all communications you can find; email, intranet, LinkedIn, Yammer, … and check if you can find the names of the senders; be it projects, different departments and groups or even external partners. First talk to these people individually, asking about their experiences and personal communication goals, explaining your goal and ask them to participate in your initiative.


Next invite the main communicators in the company to a workshop. Hang post-its with the months and weeks on the wall and ask people to add post its with the communication topic and channel they want to send out that week.

Discuss as a group: what communication can you do together? What are good times to communicate? Who can delay their communication to reduce clusters?

Organize recurrent moments to keep aligned and follow up the company planning.

 


Conclusion 

The most difficult obstacle before better results is getting started. It’s easier to be satisfied with sending out communications nobody reads, because technically you did your job creating and sending it. But for some things to change, someone will have to start acting differently. Why not you? You’ll see once you take that first step, the second step becomes clearer and way easier.


Know that effective communication is an artform and takes good preparation. If you have a communication need or a lot of change coming up, it might be more efficient to hire someone external to help you get started. That’s where we come in! 


Contact us if you can use some support or just a good discussion about (internal) communication, change and strategy.