What Employees Want: Another Perspective on Internal Communication

By Nicholas Courant

Remember that movie “What Women Want” where the main character can suddenly read the thoughts of women? I’m pretty sure that a lot of employers would benefit from this experience with their own employees. Actually, if there is one basic rule that I would recommend for internal communication, it’s this one: think first and foremost about what the audience –your employees- want. Yes sure, as an employer you want the troops to march in line towards a profitable future. But mind you, the troops do have minds of their own and it’s in your best interest to create an atmosphere where those minds can flourish.

If internal communication is simply about getting the messages of the boardroom across to the work floor, you will fail over and over again. Internal communication can simply not be one-way. Companies that manage to create a culture where employees feel appreciated and empowered to deliver their best work have a much bigger chance of success.

Of course, a company culture is influenced by more than just the internal communication strategy. It’s about leading by example, about how you look at the future, about how you live your brand and so much more. Internal communication, when done in the right way, can contribute to the success of your company. Here are a few basic principles to create an internal communication strategy that employees want:

1.       Be open and honest from the start: get people involved in where the company is heading by sharing your intentions and strategy early on. This makes it easier for employees to cope with change and will help them to internalize the company’s strategy.

2.       Share your successes and failures. It’s so easy to celebrate victories, but so damn hard to be open about failures. Although failures can be defining moments for the future of the company and usually they are well-known in the coffee corner, they are often not talked about in public. Credible internal communication acknowledges a company’s failures and shows how they are part of the learning curve of a company. As difficult as that sort of honesty might seem, it’s necessary to create real trust in the company’s leadership.

3.       Provide opportunities for feedback as it takes two-way communication to create involvement. When you invite employees to provide feedback and contribute to the company’s internal communication, your messages will be more in tune with what they want.

4.       Invest in clear and creative communication. Think about receiving a Christmas present: do you prefer your presents presented in a dull cardboard box with duck tape or in an appealing gift wrap? The same goes for internal communication tools: by presenting newsletters, internal e-mails or company magazines in an appealing way and making them easy-to-read, your employees will actually look forward to reading them. By the way: don’t miss out on the opportunity to reinforce your brand with a well-used creative translation of your brand identity in your internal communication tools.

5.       Finally, don’t just assume you know what employees want, but evaluate your communication platform from time to time. Unless of course, you’re suddenly able to hear your employees’ thoughts…

As I was writing this blog post, I read a great guest blog post on Harvard Business Review on what it takes to be a great employer. The article basically confirms that great employers –those that run companies with engaged employees who positively influence their company’s operating income –  meet the needs and wants of their employees, not just their own: “So what most influences employee engagement? In our work with several dozen Fortune 500 companies, we’ve come to believe the Holy Grail is the degree to which employers actively invest in meeting the multidimensional needs of their employees. Above all else, that’s what frees, fuels and inspires people to bring the best of themselves to work every day. “

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