Perhaps familiarity does breed contempt.   How else to explain the alarming trend of downplaying, discounting or completely ignoring the professionally nearest and dearest when formulating plans to communicate important information?

I wish I had a dime for every corporation, association, or governmental organization whose list of target audiences overlooks employees.

The internal audience is, arguably, the most significant target of any communications strategy or program because, without its buy-in, any such effort is doomed to failure. Organizations that have survived COVID, or even flourished, have all upped their internal communications dramatically.

When we peel back the layers, however, we find that it’s not a simple case of forgetting to speak to employees; what is lacking in many organizations is the central core of the communications map — a shared vision.

Nine out of ten employees are not able to quote from their organization’s mission statement, although almost all admit to knowing one exists.  This oversight is not their fault; if a mission statement is obtusely worded, full of platitudes that provoke severe eye-rolling disease, and dusty from misuse, the messages and strategies that should flow through it are stuck in the pipe. 

Before any communications strategy can be taken outside, it must have the understanding and support of the internal audience.  Not everyone will agree with every company policy, but no one likes to defend their own ignorance.

Do you have a shared vision of what your company is about?  Are there core values that are accepted and acted upon?  Could any employee put your messages in their mouth and be able to deliver them with a straight face?  The goal of effective communications with the outside world is to have credible, committed spokespeople.  Anything less earns the pejorative, “mouthpiece”.

There is a lot to be said for the internal communications audit, be it internal focus groups, targeted interviews, or intranet surveys.  Almost every organization which has undertaken a comprehensive survey of its employees and/or suppliers and subcontractors has learned several things it didn’t know before.  Sometimes those lessons are unpalatable, but they are always useful.

Which raises another avenue for keeping your ear to the corporate ground:  keep an open door and don’t punish the messengers that come through it with news from the field.  Small operational problems can be fixed or identified for attention if the executive level makes it clear the “whistleblowers” will not be punished.  Think about it: would you rather hear from one of your regional sales staff that customers love your product but hate the time and effort involved in obtaining it, or would you rather hear from a newly struck consumer group, lobbying to oust your board?

Much has been written and opined about the importance of respect and validation of employees; if you shut them out of the information loop, rumour and speculation will rush into the vacuum.

No question, who you talk to is important.  Don’t forget who you should talk to first.

Joanna Piros