6 Most Important Trends in Internal Communication

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6 Most Important Trends in Internal Communication

6 ways the role of employee communication is changing. As Hurricane Florence whirled across the Atlantic, USAL—an interstate automobile logistics organization—sent a message through its branded employee app to workers in South Carolina. Park your rigs, go home and save your families and property, they were told. Houston-based USAL didn’t bombard its entire workforce with the message—just those in the path of the storm. It’s an example of how organizations can use mobile communication to target messaging to employees. “The hurricane bearing down on South Carolina has no impact on what’s going on with drivers in San Antonio,” says Troy Griggsby, communications and brand manager. “So I’m not going to send information and notifications to the San Antonio group, because it’s not relevant.”


6 ways the role of employee communication is changing

Segmenting employees is one of an increasing number of ways that internal communication is evolving. From prioritizing communication with non-desk workers to creating meaningful employee experiences, the role of corporate communication professionals is changing. Communication has traditionally been an activity-oriented function, rather than results-oriented, says Jim Shaffer, founder of The Jim Shaffer Group. This disconnect between messaging and the business itself has diminished the importance of communication. That’s changing, however, with a new focus on results. Shaffer consulted with a communication professional who saved $789,000 a year by enabling better cooperation among production and engineering, boosting efficiency. “What internal communications people are saying is, ‘I want to add more value. I don’t like the feeling of being disconnected from the organization,’” Shaffer says. Here are six trends that internal communication professionals must get out ahead of: 3

6 ways the role of employee communication is changing

#1 Y our employees are scattered everywhere. TIP: Prioritize mobile.

Next time you have to haul a truckload of Mercedes Benz cars across the Southeast, USAL would be happy to transport your cargo. Internally, the company must keep in touch with a workforce of 610 people, 80 percent of whom are car haulers who spend their days behind the wheel. USAL wanted a reliable channel to reach its workforce, Griggsby says, and digital boards and kiosks in its terminals didn’t solve the problem. A trucker might glance at a message— “Free flu shots next Monday and Tuesday”—and walk right on by before a more relevant item pops up in the digital carousel, Griggsby says. An employee app, however, solves that problem.

“The mobile app is how we connect everyone and reinforce company values, things that are happening with the company,” Griggsby says. With the employee app, USAL can distribute video messages about safety and risk in an industry where employees haul loads of Toyotas or Mercedes Benzes worth $400,000 or more—meaning an accident is far more consequential than when a desk worker spills coffee on a keyboard. 4

“It’s been a huge game changer for us,” Griggsby says.

6 ways the role of employee communication is changing

#2 Executives are demanding business value from communications. TIP: Become a strategic asset.

Today’s communication pros want to add business value and measure the results, Shaffer says. He once advised FedEx as it sought to claim a greater share of an export market dominated by DHL. It turned out that at one Los Angeles location, employees didn’t understand this corporate objective, he says. Moreover, internal rules impeded couriers from helping boost exports. The problem: FedEx required drivers to return to the station as soon as they had delivered their loads. That prevented them from chatting with clients about the export business. The solution? FedEx asked its couriers to help design a new “Finders Keepers” incentive plan that let them keep a share of the earnings if they stuck around after deliveries and sold export services to customers. International deliveries shot up 23 percent within 90 days.

“We brought the couriers together, and they helped design the plan,” Shaffer says. “High involvement is a characteristic of high-performance organizations.” By the time Finders Keepers was announced, little communication was required, because employees had helped build the plan. 5

6 ways the role of employee communication is changing

#3 Employees are your best messengers. TIP: Empower internal influencers.

Executives in corner offices may have internal clout, but they aren’t always the best in-house influencers. People expect the party line from the top brass, yet often they’ll listen more intently to the people with them in the trenches. Internal influencers help you establish an authentic, human corporate voice through multiple contributors and sharing across channels. “It’s about an individual recognizing an individual within your organization as someone who has sway, as someone who has gravitas,” says Laura Jameson, senior engagement specialist with the international business consultancy Instinctif Partners. She cites a major U.K. insurer that sought to involve more employees in companywide strategic planning. The company identified motivated, widely networked employees to meet with top executives. They were told, “We want to hear what you’ve got to say about what we’re going to do,” Jameson says. “We’re going to take that and shape what comes next.” Because the influencers had helped design the strategy, they felt a sense of ownership and spread the message far and wide. The initiative was so successful that senior executives now use the network as a sounding board for new ideas—but if you follow suit, you’d better be willing to act on what they recommend. “If you get them involved, and they give you all this feedback, and you go and do whatever it was that you were going to do anyway,” Jameson says, “they can turn into your harshest critics.”


6 ways the role of employee communication is changing

#4 Today’s workforce demands more than top-down lectures. TIP: Push your values through memorable employee experiences.

Companies are increasingly relying on a learning approach more memorable than lectures and emails: using employee experiences to teach missions, visions and values. Staffbase holds an annual employee event to talk about the state of the organization, celebrate what’s working, and brainstorm about things that should be changed. “Experiences have more meaning to people, and they’re memorable,” Staffbase CEO Martin Böhringer says.

This year, to underscore a message of “speed”—or fast-paced innovation—Böhringer gave new sneakers to the entire workforce and let them ride along with professional drivers racing Porsches around a track at 200 mph. After the annual camp, the leadership team sees an increase in engagement with company internal content via its employee app, Böhringer says. The HR team reports more employee referrals for open positions. Employee experiences don’t have to be extravagant, Böhringer adds. The company holds a simple Friday pasta dinner, a fun, low-cost way to reflect on the past week and plan for the week ahead, he says.


“This is when I hear some of the best questions and ideas from our team,” he adds.

6 ways the role of employee communication is changing

#5 Internal communication and HR are converging.

TIP: Make those messaging processes work in tandem. Most of Sampson Construction Co.’s workers are in the field on construction sites across Nebraska, Texas, Iowa, Colorado and elsewhere. They’re rarely rushing to comb their inboxes for company updates. Sometimes months will go by before they check their email,” says Travis Lucas, Sampson’s human resources director. “So having a push notification go directly to their phone is really helpful.” That means using the company’s mobile app to reach people— and making it work for both communication and HR. This exemplifies a larger shift as the roles of comms and HR converge. Internal communication plays a crucial role in employee preboarding, onboarding, and retention. At Sampson, the company connects people via the mobile app as soon as they start, allowing newbies to use the directory to put faces to names, Lucas says. This enables them to build contacts more easily.


The Staffbase employee app can communicate HR initiatives right now, such as a 401(k) push or teaching employees about their benefits. Employees receive notifications on their mobile devices, often sent during lunch breaks. Company news helps connect isolated people on construction sites.

6 ways the role of employee communication is changing “The more internal communications we have with our employees, the more they feel part of our team,” Lucas says. Insurance and medical information can be distributed through the app, a plus for employees who might prefer anonymity when seeking information on such topics. Comms also sends out bid information about new construction jobs and project updates, helping unify a scattered crew and letting “people who are in Texas see what’s going on in good, old Lincoln, Nebraska, with our projects.” Engagement is a must in a hot economy in which construction is booming and skilled workers are in demand, Lucas says. “They see what’s going on firsthand; they feel more a part of something, which we in turn hope will help with retention down the road,” Lucas says.

#6 Today’s workers are demanding a more enjoyable work environment. TIP: Make ’em laugh.

A pharmaceutical company was looking to jazz up its content, and it asked Laugh Dealer, a humor consulting firm, to take a stab at making its yawner HR copy more interesting. In a written list of vacancies due to maternity, paternity or medical leave, Laugh Dealer injected another category: alien abduction. Beneath it was the footnote, “Alien abduction doesn’t count as a vacancy, but does significantly improve one’s street cred.” Injecting humor into communications might seem an offbeat emphasis. On the contrary, there are few better ways for organizations to establish a human face. Today’s employees tend to seek fun work environments and a humane work-life balance, Nadler says. He cites a Bloomberg story based on a Harvard survey noting that employees are trading higher salaries for perks such as flexible work hours. What they don’t want is a stodgy work culture. 9

6 ways the role of employee communication is changing Organizations that master humor will have an easier job of attracting and retaining talent. “If your employees are having fun, they’re going to be way less likely to start peeking around or looking at places they would rather be,” Nadler says. Laughter disarms people, decreases stress, and offers shared moments together, Nadler says. Humor is a great way to engage people, and just as comedy goes viral externally, you can spread messages among employees through humor. “If your chatbot is funny, your customers will talk about it,” Nadler says. “If your intranet is a hilarious platform or your menus have funny aspects to it, people will be more inclined to check it out and to use it and share things with each other.” How to do humor right? This probably goes without saying: Organizational humor should be clean, on-brand and approachable. Laugh Dealer mirrors the structure used by standup comedians. In a speech or presentation, for example, start with an icebreaker off the top, and close with something that’s at least as funny as your opener. Along the way, set some humor mileposts that you move toward. Humor should be relatable. Scratch the joke about an obscure arthouse film. Find humor in family or everyday situations at work. Self-deprecation is always disarming. “You want to make sure you’re speaking the language of the company and that people don’t feel left out inadvertently,” Nadler says.

Conclusion Your employees are scattered about. Organizations demand that communications contribute business value. Employees can be your best message-bearers, and events will drive home your lessons. Work in tandem with HR, and remember to laugh. Do all this, and you’ll boost the power of your employee communication to make the difference in your workplace. 10

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