While we have more advanced communication tools and methods than previous generations could have ever dreamed of, we’re arguably no more efficient at communication than businesses of the past were.
By Jenna Cyprus
Why is this, and how can you change this reality in your organization?
Why Internal Communication Matters
Entire books are written each year on the importance of internal communication and how it impacts small and large businesses alike. So trying to explain the value of internal communication can be challenging. Truthfully, it matters to businesses for a variety of reasons.
One of the more important benefits of an internal communications strategy is that it helps employees focus on the work they have in front of them (rather than what’s going on in the background).
Even well-planned communication designed to reach across all levels and sectors within a company can become blocked or made inefficient, and when it does, informal networks, rumors, and uncoordinated messages often fill the void,” says Frank Wolf of Staffbase. “The result is a nightmare scenario observed repeatedly during times of crisis or in reorganizational situations, in which employees become more actively engaged in the acquisition of valid information than they are on their actual work.”
Furthermore, strong internal communications offer a better understanding of company values, increased productivity, more effective feedback loops, stronger connections with employees, and an overall feeling of transparency.
How to Improve Your Company’s Internal Communication
Communication is important – but how do you enhance it? In other words, what are some of the practical strategies small business owners can implement in order to promote open and honest internal communication? Well, here are a few suggestions:
1. Collect Feedback
“Make clear that feedback is a two-way street at your company. Just as you give employees feedback on their performance and achievement against objectives you’ve set, ask for their thoughts on how to manage better,” advises Ashley Littles of Rapid Capital Funding. “Encourage fresh thinking and expressing helpful opinions on the direction of the company.”
Feedback isn’t always easy to consume, but it’s necessary. Not only will you gain valuable insights through the feedback, but the mere act of being willing to gather it will inspire your employees and make them feel valued by management.
2. Hold Employees Accountable
Internal communication is about more than sharing ideas. It also involves keeping people in line and making sure everyone is held accountable.
One idea is to create mini accountability groups within the organization. These are small groups of three to five people who meet regularly throughout the week or month to check in on each other and collect progress reports and/or feedback. They ensure nobody falls through the cracks.
3. Make Important Information Accessible
“Every organization has its own set of internal knowledge, or ‘sticky’ information, that all employees come to understand. It can take time to learn how the company does things, from protocol for preparing client-facing documents to other types of best practices,” communications consultant Jennifer Miller explains. “Help employees learn this information faster by including it as a part of training and by creating internal documents to be used for reference.”
You obviously don’t want this “sticky” information to create a sense of laziness, where employees never make the effort to learn certain things, but there is value in giving them access to relevant content.
4. Reward Inquisition
In many organizations, employees almost feel guilty for asking questions. Whether purposefully or not, the culture of the organization makes people feel like they should know everything already. But clearly this isn’t true.
The way you get over this toxic misrepresentation of what your business stands for is by rewarding inquisition. People who ask questions should be praised, not made to feel like they’re inconveniencing those around them.
5. Don’t Place Departments in Silos
The traditional workplace setup has been to organize employees by department. You have your accounting department in one wing or section of the office, the sales team in another, etc. And while there is some value in this approach, it has a way of isolating individuals from the collective group.
One unique idea is to intermingle all employees – including the executives. By placing offices and cubicles together, you establish a more cohesive identity that isn’t based on duties or ranks. Consider whether you have the flexibility to make this happen in your organization.
6. Don’t Ignore Communication Problems
It’s easy to get so caught up in the customer-facing aspects of your business that you ignore internal issues. But the problem with ignoring an internal issue – especially one as important as communication – is that it festers over time. What starts as one or two isolated incidents can become a habitual pattern that wreaks havoc on your business and rots it from the inside out. Deal with communication problems now or suffer the consequences later.
Jenna Cyprus is a freelance writer from Renton, WA who is particularly interested in travel, nature, and parenting. Follow her on Twitter.