Internal communications should be at the heart of SME strategy

The area of internal communications has grown in recent years but still largely pales in significance to other “hotter” PR areas such as media relations, social media and crisis management.

Yet in the current economic climate internal communications should be at the heart of an SME’s Communication strategy argues Johnny McGinley.

Indeed, the uncertain global economic environment can and is acting as a catalyst for increased creativity and innovation in internal communications. As communication budgets communication managers look towards social media as a communications tool because it is “free” and cost effective. With an increased focus on social media creativity and innovation in its use as well as greater understanding of the media channel tends to naturally follow with that.

But for the new SME owner operating in a volatile global economic environment, knowing where to start to build a solid internal communications strategy can be a daunting and overwhelming prospect. Below are five key strategic tips that form the foundation stones of a successful and sustainable internal communications strategy in a global economic downturn environment.

Communicate bad news as well as good news

In business things do not always go as planned. There will be bad news such as the loss of a contract, loss of a valued customer or problems facing the organisation to be communicated as well as good news. Employees recognise that things are not always going to be “rosy in the garden” and what this means is they naturally tend to become suspicious when internal communications are always communicating “good news”.

It is therefore important to effectively communicate the “bad news” as well to employees. Being honest, open and transparent through internal communications will naturally promote a culture of genuine trust and confidence in senior management by employees.

Drill business objectives down to the individual level reinforcing this

Internal Communications should always be aligned with your business objectives, mission statement and organisational values. Your aim should be to ensure that each and every employee in the organisation knows exactly how their role and their particular skills link directly back to the organisations mission statement and corporate objectives.

This should always be reinforced on an annual basis at the employee’s appraisal. Any new skills that the employee has acquired since the last appraisal should always be linked back to the organisations corporate objectives.

Internal communications and crucially the systems and mechanism in place that enable effective internal communication within your organisation have a pivotal role to play in this.

Be conscious of body language when communicating with employees

Management should always be aware of their body language when communicating face to face with employees. The aim should be to communicate to employees in a sincere, engaging and confident way to employees.

To do this effectively and sustainably managers body language should always match verbal communication delivered by them. Verbal and non-verbal communication should always be in sync supporting each other.

For this reason investing in body language awareness training for managers can have a positive impact on improving both the effectiveness and efficiency of internal communications management.

Don’t fall into the trap of email communication with employees becoming the norm

Always be mindful that it is very easy to fall into the trap of communicating to staff through email and for this to fast become the “norm” in organisations. Employees appreciate and value verbal face to face communication.

Where employees are fearful of their future or job security in an economic downturn it will impact on their productivity. Verbal face to face meetings allows a two-way exchange between management and employees and is the only truly effective way to re-assure employees in this situation.

If employees are less productive because of worry for their future, it follows your business will be less competitive, in an increasingly volatile global economic environment you need your employees to be motivated to drive your business forward especially as an SME.

There is a real need to minimise the impact of negative thoughts by employees. In particular time should always be set aside for a monthly face to face meeting with staff at the departmental level.

Integrate the use of technology into internal communications

Video conferencing technology for example can be used by a Chief Executive to communicate visually face to face with many different employees simultaneously.

It can make the communication personal rather than “just another email from the Chief Executive”. Video conferencing, Skype and Google Plus hangouts can all be used creatively to increase team collaboration and promote verbal communication between employees. Social media can be used very effectively in internal communications too.

This is set to become an increasingly important area of internal communications because the youth of today are growing up with social media from a very early age.

They are more tech savvy. This means the business of tomorrow will inevitably use social media as a central communications tool.

As an example I know that using social media to communicate your appreciation of employee efforts and achievements is a growing area of interest academically – to praise individual employees in a public way. Other ways to integrate technology into internal communications include use of SMS technology for employees on the move, virtual office technology and share-point intranet sites that are rich in multi-media content designed to engage employees.