The goal of investing in any communications and engagement technology is obviously to communicate better and increase engagement. But organizations should understand that any platform, no matter how advanced, will only be as meaningful as the content it contains. That’s why the one quality all successful best practices in Internal Comms have in common is that they put real purpose at the heart of every message they share.
I recently read an interesting story about a small but growing advertising firm. For years, they had internal debates about how to define who they truly were. Were they a digital company? A marketing strategy company? A design studio? An advertising agency? In fact, they were a combination of all of those things, which meant that the idea of picking one specific label made them feel like they’d be somehow diminishing themselves. But eventually they grew tired of arguing and made a commitment to identifying themselves as a full-service advertising agency—communicating this decision through word and deed to everyone in their organization. A funny thing happened next. By defining themselves clearly, they set a purposeful course toward becoming the company they’d always wanted to be. Staff and customers finally had a concrete sense of identity regarding who they were as an organization, and results soon followed in the form of industry awards and increased revenue. Witnessing this outcome, leadership made it a point to continually articulate and evolve their core purpose as new clients and employees joined the fold. Communication of their basic values is now a part of every one of their internal comms best practices and serves to drive their ongoing success.
Purposeful internal comms will go a long way toward creating a sense of involvement among your people. Getting every one of your employees to feel involved and committed to your important initiatives is the surest way to ensure their success. But it’s no easy task, especially in this transformative age in which companies are relying more and more on freelancers and workforces that, far from being all under one roof, are often on site or off at remote offices that lead them wherever their jobs require. This is an awesome development for organizations and employees alike, broadening the traditional sense of where and how work gets done. But it’s also a challenge for people who feel increasingly untethered and alienated from their company’s headquarters.
Thankfully there are more and more tools for providing these people with the ability to be and feel better engaged with the work they do and the companies for whom they’re doing it. Purposeful communication has been especially enhanced by mobile technology, moving from the traditional, passive techniques of IC and employee engagement to truly hands-on experiences that drive lasting, measurable change. Purposeful communication transfers the ownership of initiatives from boardrooms and executive offices to cubicles, shop floors, and remote job sites. It changes minds and improves attitudes. Its effects can be measured and it will boost the ROI of any initiative.
So, without further ado, here are eight best practices for putting real purpose at the heart of your internal communications.
1. Know Who You Are
Most organizations have a reason as to why they exist that goes deeper than turning a profit. But while it influences strategy, decision-making, and behaviors at the executive level, it often isn’t very well articulated to rank-and-file employees. It is crucial that you establish the relevance of your purpose with your employees in a way that makes them care about their company and their relationship to it. Expressing your identity should be at the center of all of your communications. Purpose is best expressed through straightforward and inspiring messages that are relatable and easy to understand. Twitter is a great example: "To give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers." Patagonia is another one: "Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis." Strategy-specific messages tied to your purpose will allow your workforce to fully understand exactly how their individual efforts connect to the aspirations of the company.
2. Cut the Crap
We all need inspiration, but it's a fact that very few people are inspired by the communication sent out by their companies. The problem is that much of it ignores an important rule of communication—cut the crap. Jargon-filled "corporate speak" lacks meaning. Plus it’s annoying. Authentic messages in plain-spoken language will allow your employees to see challenges and opportunities with clarity, making them better able to understand and invest themselves in whatever direction you’re trying to lead them.
3. Tell a Story
Facts and figures are often forgotten. Stories and anecdotal experiences are far more memorable. Use storytelling as much as possible to help your employees understand the relevance of your strategy and give them real-life examples that reinforce your messages. Find ways to let your employees share their stories, and use them to foster greater understanding of the behaviors you’re trying to encourage, while deterring those that are counter-productive. Collectively, these stories will have a strong influence on the culture-building behaviors related to your core purpose and strategic goals.
4. Set Priorities
Not all messages carry the same weight. Ask yourself whether their purpose is to inspire, educate, or reinforce. Defining their intent will help you to prioritize them.
Messages that inspire are particularly important when they’re related to significant accomplishments or when they introduce new strategic initiatives. Their content should highlight progress made toward achieving goals, illustrate clear benefits, and be presented in a way that attracts attention and signals importance. As we’ll discuss later, the medium can play a role in this perception (an email probably isn't going to cut it), but in this case it’s less important than the overall impression you’re trying to make. Whether you want to generate optimism, provide motivation, foster curiosity, or alert your employees to impending change, you’ll imprint a lasting memory when your messages carry the weight of real emotion.
Once you’ve inspired your people, explanations about your company’s strategic decisions and the plans for implementing them will have greater impact. Whenever possible, educational messages should be delivered through dialogue rather than a top-down mandate. Consider targeting educational information to smaller groups that can reach their own conclusions and take ownership of the plans they come up with for carrying out your initiatives.
Explanations about the links between your company’s purpose, its strategy, and the plans for its successful execution must be expressed repeatedly in order to fully sink in, instill belief, and cement lasting change. Such messages of reinforcement can be presented through a variety of tactics, channels, and experiences. Ultimately, their purpose is to immerse employees in important content and teach them how to connect their roles to an overall strategy. Integrating these messages with your training and HR initiatives will allow you to connect them with employee development and performance metrics. As we’ll talk about when we discuss the purpose of showing appreciation (see point #7), it's important to recognize and reward individuals and teams who find smart solutions that jumpstart positive change.
5. Make the Medium the Message
As we noted above, there are times when the delivery method of a message is just as important as the content itself. We've all seen how the ways people communicate have changed tremendously in the past 5–10 years; but still, most corporate communication lags well behind how we communicate in our free time. Think about how familiar formats such as social media, networking, blogs, and game-playing can serve to spread your company’s messages. And don’t overlook the obvious. Mobile technology is how people communicate when they can’t speak face to face (and sometimes even when they can). Americans spend more time texting than talking on the phone, and texting is the most frequent form of communication for Americans under 50. In other words, communication that doesn’t reach your employees’ in the same way they connect with one another is bound to be poor communication.
6. Be Clear
Communicating the purpose of your organization takes clarity. You can’t just email a memo restating your vague mission or vision statement and expect it to have any kind of traction. It should be obvious that if you can't clearly express who you are as an organization, you shouldn’t expect your people to figure it out—especially if they're already feeling disconnected. But it’s more than a matter of words. By making concrete business decisions that are clearly in line with a corporate purpose that’s understood by all, you can show your people that their company puts its money where its mouth is, backing up words with real actions.
7. Show Appreciation
Most people in the workplace are looking for more than just a paycheck. They want to be valued for their work and they want to feel like they’re part of a team. These desires for recognition and connection are fundamental, which means that there’s a real purpose to acknowledging the value of a job well done. Recognition—from management as well as one's peers—is a reward in and of itself. By showing appreciation, you can instill a passion for excellence. By acknowledging achievements, your employees are far more likely to go above and beyond your expectations. Do your best to find innovative and authentic ways to give your peers a high five when they display company behavior that aligns and therefore acknowledges your clearly stated purpose.
8. Be Humble
Corporate communications have traditionally come from on high. But ground-level dialogues are just as important, if not more so. Employees are way more likely to believe what leaders say if they’ve heard similar arguments from their peers. Conversations are generally more persuasive and engaging than one-way edicts. No one likes being told what to do.
When delivering important messages, designate a team of employees to serve as company reps, and rotate this lineup depending on the initiative, getting as many people involved as possible. When a message has to come from leadership, make sure it's from your your most visible and well-respected leaders. And avoid "big bang" pronouncements. Trying to make a huge splash only works if you're prepared to swim. Instead, make the reception of consistent communication about your initiatives a regular part of your employees’ daily routines.
It’s Just That Easy (Not)
I hope some if not all of this advice will help you to infuse your internal communications best practices with real meaning. But let’s be honest; while the idea of communicating with purpose may be common sense, there’s a reason so few organizations are good at it. It takes practice, it takes time, and it takes a kind of organizational empathy that only comes from really listening to your employees and thinking deeply about the meaning behind the messages you’re attempting to convey. The biggest takeaway here is that if you’re not clear about what you’re trying to say, you can’t possibly expect your people to understand you. That means it’s up to you to initiate the conversation about who you are as an organization—and who you would like to be. If the two aren’t one and the same, then you have your work cut out for you. But don't despair. Your organization definitely has a purpose, and once you establish exactly what it is, creating purposeful communication is well within your grasp.
What's your organization's purpose? How do you incorporate it into your internal communication? Drop me a line in the comments section below and let me know. We love hearing stories about how people connect with their colleagues, which shouldn't come as a surprise, since fostering connections at work is kind of our purpose.