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Back in 2006, we set out to create a boutique consultancy to help businesses improve employee engagement through effective internal communications. We thought we were on to something. And, boy, were we right!

Over the years, we’ve helped many nonprofit organizations, small businesses, and Fortune 100 or 500 companies rev up their game with internal communications. And we’re grateful for the trust they’ve put in us.

Studies show companies owe a lot of their success to the resources they put into their internal communications. After all, disengaged employees are expensive. There’s lost productivity. Increased business risk. And challenges with employee recruitment and retention. Just to name a few.

According to Gallup, 74 percent of employees feel they’re missing out on company information and news. So, for every 100 people in your organization, only 26 feel informed about what’s going on. Out of 500, that’s only 139 people. In short, a lot of your employees aren’t connecting to your mission and vision. And without this, they can’t be as effective in their jobs.

Beyond “Jack and Jill had a baby”

C’mon, just admit you’ve heard it: “Our communications team does a great job of planning our employee party” or “Isn’t our communications team the ones who publish that weekly newsletter?” It’s okay. We’ve heard it, too.

Don’t get us wrong. Communicating about what’s going on in your employees’ lives has its place in your communications. But there’s so much more to an internal communications strategy beyond who got married, had a baby or retired. Here are a few examples of how internal communications can impact your bottom line:

  • Reduce business risk by communicating how employees can help protect customer information or how manufacturing teams can prevent on-the-job injuries
  • Improve collaboration by communicating Organizational Change Management (OCM) initiatives and changes to information technology, such as software upgrades or system migrations
  • Reduce employee attrition by communicating an organizational or business unit restructuring, or a bigger transition like a company merger or acquisition

The slowdown caused by silos

Let’s dive into how internal communications can make a difference in an organization. It starts with breaking down silos and getting employees engaged. According to the State of Workplace Communications Report, internal silos are the #1 employee engagement challenge for 37 percent of communications professionals who participated in the study.

The “silo mentality” is a mindset that’s present when groups of employees don’t share information with those who’d benefit from having it. This might be done on purpose. Or it could be by accident. Regardless, it slows organizations down.

Many things can create silos. For example, geographic distance might make it more challenging to share information. Lack of trust among teams can also create silos, where information is purposefully withheld. Withholding information doesn’t happen just during challenging times, such as a merger or acquisition. It can also happen in stable companies by well-meaning employees.

Regardless of why silos exist, we’ve seen firsthand how breaking out of these patterns can be challenging. But breaking out is possible. One of the best ways to help your team members is to show them how information-sharing helps them be more effective in their job. In other words, show them the “What’s in it for me” (WIIFM).

Steps to breaking down silos

So, how you do break down silos? Here are some practical steps you can take to help your teams share information:

Imbed collaboration in your values: Ask yourself: Do your values explicitly or implicitly state that collaboration and knowledge-sharing is important to your business? Look at your organizational values and be clear and concise on what behaviors you expect from your staff.

Reward and recognition: One way to help people break out of silos is to include knowledge and information-sharing as key performance indicators (KPIs) in performance reviews. Of course, mandating a certain behavior is not always the best way to get something done. But it can be a powerful tool if needed.

Tools for sharing information: Providing file-sharing platforms that are easy to use is another way to help improve communications flow. Examples for large organizations include SharePoint, Citrix, Globalscape and Dropbox for Business. These are especially relevant if information you need to share is confidential. For small to mid-size businesses, options include Huddle and Dropbox Basic. There are many others to choose from.

Cross-functional teams: One way to encourage information-sharing among diverse groups is to create interdisciplinary teams. We recently partnered with a client to help establish a marketing and sales team that included people with diverse backgrounds and skillsets. Team members use a file-sharing platform, Basecamp, to keep everyone on the same page. And it works because the group has a collective interest in helping their work succeed.

You’ll notice the above tips are not about internal communications, per se. Rather they’re tools to encourage people to share communications.

Using internal communications to topple silos

There are lots of ways you can break down silos through communications. Here are a few you may want to try.

Write with your values in mind: If one of your values is about knowledge-sharing, make sure your writing reflects that. In fact, all your writing should reflect your organizational values.

Ask for feedback: If you’re not asking for feedback or content for your communications, you should start now. When you do, you reinforce the behaviors you want to see. This makes a small—but important—statement. As a leader, your actions often speak louder than words. Make sure you set the example for others.

Profile stories that demonstrate information-sharing: In newsletters, on social media platforms, or through other internal communications, share how individuals or teams collaborate to improve something. Such stories recognize people for sharing knowledge, which helps reinforce that behavior. It also gives readers an idea of how they can better collaborate and share information in their own jobs.

We have a client that regularly shares stories about people and projects that have saved the company money. These best practices make their way into meetings and the client’s employee newsletter, for example.

Conclusion

Internal communications can help your teams better connect to your business mission and vision. In doing so, employees can better deliver on your goals and expectations. Breaking down silos is just one of the many ways you can help your teams be more effective. And who doesn’t love that?

Want to go deeper into how to break down silos and otherwise improve your internal communications efforts? Check out our blogpost on fostering open dialogue between all levels of staff.