The year 2016 marks a tipping point for workforce demographics. As the Baby Boomers are retiring, Millennials now make up the biggest part of the workforce and move into management positions. At the same time Gen Z employees start to come out of college and into their first full-time jobs.

 

While the generation categories might often be depicted to simplistic there is no escape from the underlying truth: Millennials and all following generations are more demanding than ever, especially concerning the ways their employer is talking and listening to them. They expect less politics, more collaboration, high transparency and regular feedback.

 

Creating an engaging workplace

The larger concept that has evolved out of these new requirements is called employee engagement. Employee engagement has become a major trend (some might even say a buzzword) with more than 11 million hits on Google. But the term shares the same fate other broad concepts do: nobody knows what it exactly means and that makes it hard to define concrete actions to improve it.

 

However, there is a major part of employee engagement that is a highly actionable – internal communications. Companies spend large amounts of money and resources on their external relations and communication but often neglect internal marketing and communications to their employees.

 

Here is why internal communications is a key business function and now more important than ever before:

 

#1 The drive for purpose

When we were little we used to ask our parents “why?” 250 times a day. At least. And it seems not much has changed in that department. The questions for a reason, a sense, a purpose, has followed us until today.

 

This also applies to our working lives. Employees want to understand what the goal is, what the plan is to get there and what their contribution towards that plan is. They want to feel valued, listened to and be part of the team. This is especially true for Millennials and Gen Z, who rely heavily on feedback and interaction. Having grown up in the times of Social Media they are used to a constant flow of likes, sharing and comments.

 

Purpose in this case is not limited to showing employees the goals though, but also includes visualizing the actions each and every person can take in order to contribute. It is, for example, highly effective and motivating to regularly post and share information on what a team or company has achieved. Reaching set goals together increases the feeling of being part of something and going somewhere.

 

Smart goals, internal communication

 

Create great goals that are s.m.a.r.t.: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely.

 

“73% of employees who say they work at a "purpose-driven" company are engaged, compared to just 23% of those who don't.“ In addition, a recent global survey of 26,000 LinkedIn members, run with Imperative found that 73% of the participants want a career where they feel like their job matters.

 

A well functioning internal communication system can motivate employees to work toward a common goal. By letting them in on the “why?” companies will be able to significantly engage them in the “what”.

 

 #2 Remain in control of the message and it’s origin

Employees should never learn important company news from external sources. The new reality is that news are accessible anytime, anywhere on our smartphones and other mobile channels. This situation feels intimidating to many companies but there is no other way than learning to match that external speed and make their internal point of view available – not just during a crisis, but also in day to day operations.

 

2005 vs 2016, internal communication, social media, smartphones

 

Two main ingredients are needed to ensure that information comes from the right source, is timely and reaches all employees:

 

A well defined but flexible and fast editing process without long approval processes up and down the hierarchy. This is very similar to the challenge companies had to solve a couple of years ago when they had to define a process for social media to be able to reply to a critical tweet within minutes or hours and not within days.

 

Second, organizations need to establish a fast, interactive and reliable channel to reach all employees. Fast and interactive means digital and today digital means mobile. As in many other cases a combination of new procedures and skills and technology is needed to create trust and transparency. This enables companies to remain in control of the messages they send, instead of leaving information up to individual interpretations.

 

 #3 Empower and support the middle management

Most companies cascade information down their hierarchies. Top-down. The trickle of information that follows this concept often results in delays, no feedback and a complete dependence on the individual efforts of each person in the chain.

 

 

OutgoingMessages, internal communication, support middle management

 

 

Plenty of messages are going out – the problem is most of them aren’t getting through to the people who do the work. Internal communication can make this chain much more effective.

 

Empower middle management so that they have all the required resources and information available at all times and, therefore, can be the best leaders and communicators possible for their staff. In addition, provide information that’s not team specific through a location wide or central communication channel and lighten the burden on middle management.

 

Furthermore, internal communication presents a valuable opportunity for companies to understand their workforce better and, hence, train better managers. This is especially important for the Millennials since they feel ill-equipped for their new roles.

  

Millennials feel unprepared for management positions

 

Although they have the highest number of college graduates according to the recent Ranstad and future Workplace study, Millennials feel unprepared to solve conflicts, negotiate and manage other people. They feel like they don’t have the soft skills required and are not capable to oversee generations older than themselves.

 

Good internal communication helps them on several fronts, not only to understand their workforce better, but also to enable a two way conversation.

 

 

Millennials not prepared to be manager, internal communication

 

 

 

#4 Keep the brand promise and satisfy your customers

Your customers expects your brand to deliver on its brand promise. Always.

This is true for consumers and business customers. How do companies make sure that this works in a large distributed organization with hundreds or even thousands of middle managers? Internal communications with your frontline employees.

 

Clearly communicated goals, well trained and informed staff and happy faces will significantly increase the customer's encounter with the brand and, consequently, will enhance revenue.

 

“Customer experience is the most pressing mandate for marketers, the top area of marketing technology investment in 2016, and it will lead innovation spending for 2017.“ A Gartner survey has found that by 2017 89% of companies expect to compete mostly on the basis of customer experience, versus 36% four years ago. In addition, by 2017, 50% of consumer product investments will be redirected to customer experience innovations.

 

Great brands are build from the inside out. Start with the employees and they will mirror their satisfaction and confidence directly onto the customers.

 

  

#5 In a crisis internal communication is the thin thread that holds everyone and everything together

Timely and careful communication is key to master an internal or external crisis. The way that the employees and external stakeholders view an incident (negatively, neutrally or positively) is a major factor to whether the incident will become a crisis. However, internal crisis communication research has found that managers often communicate significantly less with employees during a crisis.

Internal communications channels.jpg

Time critical communication relies on effective channels that should reach a majority of employees and need to be in place.

 

Internal communication can not only help you steer the reception people have of the situation but also supports crisis management short- and long-term. The short term management addresses the incident itself while the long term plan is more focused on preserving the company's reputation and enacting measures in order to prevent the situation from repeating. By putting the organisational structure, plans and channels in place before the crisis hits internal communication is an insurance for crisis situations no matter the size, reputation or industry your company is in.

 

  

#6 Create a better work environment

A better work environment will help companies on two fronts. Firstly, to avoid high turnover rates and secondly, to attract new talent.

 

Turnover rates are increasing and cost the American economy $3 Billion annually. Especially Millennials are known to job-hop. Up to 40% say they are willing to change their position within the next two years. It’s now the company’s job to make them stay. “Good internal communication provides constant feedback and a purpose which increases the employee engagement which in turn decreases turnover rates and ultimately saves the company money.“

 

Considering attracting talent the newest developments, and especially social media, entail that people will know what kind of employer the company’s are, they apply to. A well functioning internal communications system and the resulting open work environment give your company the edge on an otherwise highly competitive market.

 

Happy employees and customers are the best advert any association can get.

 

#7 Limit rumours and enhance transparency

Informal communication has advantages and disadvantages. Advantages are, that communication through the grapevine can help to interpret manager information, covers the gap to even those who didn’t get or miss the formal information and is more flexible than formal communication. In addition, the grapevine helps to improve relationships between employees and spreads knowledge and tips that help to make work more effective.

 

On the other hand, informal communication can distort the meaning of information, supports rumours and misunderstandings and is difficult to control.

 

Good internal communication can help to increase the advantages of informal communication. It helps to decrease the rumours by communicating timely and frequently and helps to interpret information as well as instructions.

 

In addition, employees put a high premium on transparency in their interactions with different levels of management, going as far as naming it the top factor in determining their happiness and satisfaction in the workplace.

 

Providing both, a rumour free environment, and transparency, is central for a generation of employees (and customers) that are skeptical to the core.

 

internal communication circle

 

The importance of internal communications

“Effective internal communication is a powerful force that helps enrich employees’ lives and, hence, leads to a 40% increase in customer satisfaction, a 30% increase in profitability and a 36% increase in the overall performance of the company.“ Talking to employees is no longer the younger brother of external communications. It’s a key business function that inspires and aligns the whole organization. Internal communications professionals need to raise the bar and put their profession confidently on the boardroom agenda. 

 

A 2016 Internal Communication Survey has found that IC budgets are more likely to be growing than declining in the next years. In fact, 87% of the participants expect that budgets will either remain flat or grow. With the top-down hierarchy slowly unraveling and younger generations moving in, internal communication and employee engagement are two topics that are here to stay and should be on every companies to-do list.

 

  

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Written by Sina Lockley

Sina is a communication specialist at Staffbase. She wants to help companies engage their employees and find ways to make work more fun. She writes about internal communication, mobile employee engagement and how to use an app in today's evolving workforce. She religiously reads one book a week and sleeps with pen and paper next to her head.