First off, we’ve never met a company or organization that hasn’t benefited from better communication with its teams. From the routine stuff like employee benefits that happen every year to the somewhat unpredictable things like a supervisor having an affair with an employee, there’s never a dull moment. Now that we got that out of the way, we also want to acknowledge that your company’s probably like many of the companies we work with. You want to do more, yet struggle with resourcing your internal communications. We understand. One of the best ways to help ensure it gets the resourcing it needs is by demonstrating the value of internal communications.
Understand what drives your business
First, it’s important to understand your company’s overall position and where internal communications fits in. This is where your business literacy comes in. Use your business acumen to get to know the financial ins and outs of your business. Also, take the time to understand the key drivers. Common key drivers are lowering costs and improving productivity. Good processes and employee compensation are just two factors affecting productivity. But there are often bigger factors at work. Things like employee morale, which may have nothing to do with processes or compensation.
We could devote an entire blogpost, and probably will, to the topic of employee engagement and morale. Low employee morale and engagement are business killers that often lead to poor productivity, low customer service, absenteeism or turnover. Maybe even all of these. And the reasons for low morale are complex. It could be because of underemployment, limited upward mobility or perceived unfair compensation. It also could be because of outsourcing, which can deliver a blow to employees’ psyche and perceived job security.
Sometimes the reasons for low productivity run deeper and are harder to identify. Things like lack of recognition, disrespect from a boss, unhealthy behaviors that lead to a lack of collaboration, or distrust in leadership. Leaders play a major role in building up or tearing down employee morale. They can also make or break a culture of trust within an organization. As we’ve mentioned before, managers can improve trust and employee morale by being authentic and open. But, of course, words are only part of the equation. Managers must also follow through on what they say they’re going to do and explain when they can’t follow through.
Know your business risks
Understanding what drives your business is only one side of the coin. Do you also know what can derail your business? All businesses face some inherent risks, including natural disasters and acts of terrorism. But many times, these are not directly impacted by employees’ behaviors or by the type of business you’re in. The same cannot be said about protecting customer information or safety incidents. Here are some ways that internal communications provides value by lowering business risk.
Risk of sexual harassment
A study in the Journal of Social Issues found that job gender context, or the proportion of men and women in a workplace, is a significant factor leading to sexual harassment in the workplace. Yet, it’s not the driving force. Instead, the organization’s climate—or how individuals perceive their workplace—had the strongest connection to sexual harassment. Another factor is how the organization tolerates sexual harassment. Individuals perceive a higher tolerance when people are punished for complaining, perpetrators are not appropriately punished for harassment, and complaints are not taken seriously.
This is particularly important if you work in an industry that leans heavily toward a single gender. If you find yourself in this scenario, consider how internal communications can add value by building a culture that doesn’t tolerate sexual harassment. Want a couple of hints? Start with strong leadership communications and actions that send the message that sexual harassment won’t be tolerated. And be sure to support these with robust sexual harassment training.
Risk of financial data breach
Any time your business is the keeper of a lot of financial and personal data, you’re at risk of a breach that can undermine customer confidence and your business reputation. Thus, your employees need to understand the organization’s expectations for protecting this data. It’s important that you shape a communications strategy that helps provide a clear and consistent message of how employees should safeguard personal information. This can take on many forms, from memos to newsletter articles to videos. The key is to get people’s attention with your message.
Risk of healthcare information getting into the wrong hands
As with employees who work in financial services firms, healthcare employees must go to great lengths to protect Personal Health Information (PHI). Communicating how to protect PHI isn’t all that different from what you might do in protecting financial information. In addition, hospitals have plenty of risk scenarios to think through and plan for. Accidental dosing and accidental death are just two big ones. Pharma companies are in a similar boat.
Risk of product or service harm
If you watch or read the daily news, there’s a good chance you’ll come across a story of an accidental death in a hospital or other healthcare setting. Something like this can be extremely damaging, even catastrophic, to an organization. Similarly, there’s nothing like a widespread consumer product recall to get a company’s attention. According to an article in Entrepreneur, GM’s massive recall a few years back was caused, in part, by company culture.
Internal communicators and leadership can be more prepared to handle these risks by shaping a company culture that fosters honest communication. As the article author points out, employees are often afraid to give bad news, so it’s essential to create a culture that encourages employees to be honest and timely with feedback. We recommend starting with a couple of key strategies. First, develop new tools to help employees provide confidential feedback. And second, create a leadership communications strategy that demonstrates and supports transparency. And remember to always make sure you’re appropriately and consistently communicating the why behind your actions and the WIIFM (what’s in it for me, or the employees).
Risk of employee injury
Manufacturing environments are more prone to health, safety and environmental risks than other companies. Again, these are risks that effective internal communications and training can help minimize. How? Internal communicators can build key messages that explain the consequences—both to employees and the company—when injuries occur. Internal communications can also support human resources in developing impactful training on how to prevent workplace injuries. Communicators also can be the voice of reason when turf battles break out between those responsible for ensuring workplace safety and those in charge of delivering the product to the customer on time and within quality standards.
We’ve hit just the tip of the iceberg with the above examples. We’re sure you can think of many more. It’s important to point out that many of these examples are equal opportunity—meaning they can affect for-profit, nonprofit and government agencies alike. In our experience, however, government agencies receive even more scrutiny and public backlash because government exists for the sole purpose to serve the public.
Resourcing internal communications
At some point, you need to assign a value in dollars and cents to what internal communications can do for your company or organization.
The internal communications function often faces an uphill battle when it comes to securing budget. According to Gartner, when comparing 2013 to 2016 budgets, companies are devoting more resources to external communications versus internal communications. But the stats can be a bit misleading. They also point out that within some companies, internal communications responsibilities are blending into the marketing function. Why? Because these companies recognize that to strengthen a brand externally, they need to align their internal culture. They recognize a strong correlation between marketing and internal communications. The downside? It can be hard to benchmark internal communications resourcing because the IC money is being melded into the marketing or external communications budget.
Regardless, we still recommend advocating the value of internal communications. To help you get started on budgeting, here are some guidelines adapted from Gartner:
Overall resource levels
- Total communications budget (including marketing, advertising, public relations, etc.)
- Communications budget as a percentage of revenue
- Total communications staff size
- Relative size of the communications function
- Scope of communications responsibilities
- Spend per activity
Executing on activities
- Staff, non-staff and vendor budget
- Type of spend per activity
- Staff spend per employee
Another way to help shape your internal communications budget is to have a sense of what your competition is spending. Understanding how your competitors are allocating their budgets is an important weapon in your arsenal. If you’re a small organization, this might be difficult to do. But, if you know your competition has a great reputation among employees, chances are they have a solid internal communications program and budget.
If you work for a large company or organization, you can learn best practices, including budgeting, from resources such as Gartner and Public Relations Society of America. Both organizations are membership-based but offer some free online resources.
Don’t be fooled. Your work is far from over once your resourcing is in place. Now your job is to deliver on the goods and be able to show the ROI, or return on investment. Track and measure wherever you can, and we don’t mean outputs. Measure your communications strategies and activities by how how well you delivered against your organization’s business objectives.
The internal communications function is often overlooked in budget negotiations. That’s why it’s crucial to consistently demonstrate the value of internal communications. One of the best ways to do this is by talking the language of business and demonstrating to your leadership that you understand your business drivers and risks.
Ready to learn more about how to demonstrate the value of internal communications and shape the resourcing of your internal communications function? Let’s chat. Check out another of our blogpost for more on the benefits of internal communications to any business.