Some companies operated on a need-to-know basis. And certainly, in some situations and industries, this may be a necessary position to take with respect to sharing information within a company. However, in most instances, transparency within a company pays off in the long-term.
The goal of this article is to discuss Communication: Mindful and Effective Ways to Keep Everyone Informed. Trust within an organization is built upon many factors and behaviors by leaders. Communication is consistently found to be one of the most important leadership qualities cited by employees in employee engagement surveys. In addition, the way in which a company communicates with its customers and the general public is becoming increasingly critical to a company’s competitive advantage.
The Strategic Plan Linkage
Any company wishing to survive will likely have a strategic plan. This plan becomes a guiding reference point for an organization’s communication strategy. The Strategic Plan will contain a guidepost by which your communications strategy (internal and external) will want to be linked to. Factors that should be considered for communication that is related to your strategic plan may include (but not be limited to):
- Vision Statement: This is your aspirational description of what your organization would like to achieve in the mid-term to long-term future. Your Vision Statement should serve as a clear guide for choosing current and future courses of action
- Mission Statement: The declaration of your organization’s core purpose and focus that normally remains unchanged over time
- Core Values: The fundamental beliefs or your organization. The guiding principles that dictate the behaviors expected by all employees within the organization
- Strategic Goals: These are the statements of what is critical for your company to focus on the mid-term to long-term future
- Key Objectives: These are typically the specific results you are looking to achieve in the short-term that is ultimately in support of the strategic goals.
- Key Performance Indicators (KPIs): While KPIs may typically be reserved for internal communications you will likely have KPIs that are communicated externally (such as quality measures, sustainability report measures, etc.)
Steps to Building your Communication Plan
To ensure that the quality of research is beneficial to your organization you will want to consider who should conduct the research. Whomever you choose to conduct your research should have experience in setting up the type of research you are looking to have completed.
- Senior Leadership Commitment: To build trust and inspire employee engagement your most senior leaders will need to be committed to running an organization with a core tenant of transparency in the communication of the operations and plans of the organization.
- Hiring Considerations: Commitment at the top must be supported by hiring individuals at various leadership levels who possess skills and competencies in communicating with their personnel. This may be in verbal or written format and in groups or one-on-one. In addition, communication requires great listening skills (which can be taught) and are extremely important to successful communication as communication should be a two-way transaction. When reviewing your hiring practices it is useful to consult with your human resources personnel, communications leaders, and trainers in devising your hiring/training plan to ensure leaders possess great communication skills.
- Assessing Managers: Each manager/leader will possess varying levels of skills and competencies when it comes to communications. Depending upon a person’s experiences and assent to their current role they may or may not have had the opportunity to become effective in the nuances of both verbal and non-verbal communications. And since different skills are needed for verbal and non-verbal communications it should not be concluded that a leader/manager who is skilled in one area is versed in the other. You will want to establish the communications needs you have for various levels of positions and possibly specific roles. Once these expectations have been established you can assess existing personnel against your needs and identifying any gaps that you will need to train on.
- Training: Some training will be able to occur in a group setting if there are commonly held communication skills that you wish to have implemented consistently across your organization. However, much of your training may be designed for each individual’s needs and may best be delivered as coaching or mentoring.
- When to Use the Experts: A key consideration to any communication strategy is determining when leaders/managers can communicate on their own, when they need to consult with your communications leaders or human resources, or when the communications should be handled by a higher-level individual in the organization or be handled formally by communications or human resources (their role may be behind-the-scenes in crafting the proper type of communication, style, and specific messaging).
Types of Communication
A variety of communications methods exist in ensuring that employees and customers are kept properly informed on a timely basis and at the detail level necessary. Following are various methods for consideration (realizing that many of these may seem obvious):
- Town Halls: Pulling together groups of individuals for an extended discussion about the business can be an effective way.
- Standups: These are great chances at the beginning of shifts to share small updates necessary to communicate to a team that impacts their current day of work.
- One-On-Ones: If the information may contain specific information or impact to a specific individual then one-on-ones may be the best format
- Social Media Feeds: Various social media platforms may be utilized as a means to update your customer base and the general public on a matter that may affect them.
- Media Releases: Typically reserved for notifying media outlets on general matters related to the company which is intended to inform the general public.
- Email: A great way to ensure that anyone with email receives consistent messaging.
- Texting: Certain types of communications are finite in nature and are best served quickly and directly to a targeted audience.
- Annual Meetings: These certainly come in a variety of formats clearly define how you will be conducting your research to ensure that the information your research and gather is as unbiased as possible.
- Collaboration Mediums: There is an abundant variety of collaboration platforms like Skype, Slack, Hubspot, Google Hangouts, etc. which can serve as a means to communicate quickly to smaller groups of people in real-time or near real-time when the communication warrants it.
- Newsletters: A great way to provide periodic updates on subjects of interest. This applies internally to your employees and separately can benefit your customers
- Blogs: Similar to a newsletter though likely in a more condensed format.
- Instant Chat: Reserved for instances when you want to communicate to visitors to your websites
- Bots: Be mindful of what type of information you want to be shared via bots as many people want to know they are talking to a person or being communicated to by a person
- CRM Platforms: Many CRM platforms like Salesforce.com have means to communicate information to customers whether it is through a chat feature, email, text, or collaboration.
- Telephone: How you communicate says a lot about the relationship you have with your employees and customers. Be mindful of the impression you set when using the phone as a means of communication. Does the employee/customer talk to a person, are the menus simple, what are hold times, how many hand-offs occur, is there seamless integration between your communication platforms. All of these should be evaluated when building your overall communication strategy.
- Training: Whether you are training employees or customers there are special considerations that should be given to what you communicate in this format
- US Mail: Often forgotten in today’s technology age, but receiving something via the mail can be a great way to communicate, especially if it something that is personalized to the individual recipient.
What all Communications Should Have
As you develop your communications for employees, customers, or the general public it is helpful to have a framework to ensure that you are meeting the needs of your audience.
The Seven Cs of Communication was introduced in 1952 by Scott M. Cutlip in “Effective Public Relations”. These parameters/expectations should be considered as you build any communication – even though the original list was built in the context of public relations. Mr. Cutlip’s original list was:
- Completeness: Will your communications answer most of the questions related to the subject
- Conciseness: Stay on-point and do not wonder, make sure it all ties together
- Consideration: Are you practicing honesty, openness, fair-mindedness, respect, integrity, etc.
- Concreteness: Is it clear, to what level of the reader are you gearing your communication such that it is understood by all in your audience
- Courtesy: Being mindful of the feelings and views by those in your audience
- Cleanliness: Is the structure of the communication smooth and easy, sloppiness will reduce the credibility of the communication
- Correctness: Any communication (verbal or non-verbal) should meet standard acceptable spelling, grammar, etc. to ensure that you are respectful of the audience
It is safe to add the following Cs to the review process of your communications:
- Credibility: Is the source of your communication someone who will be credible with the audience
- Context: Any communication should keep in mind the environment in which the communication is occurring and be mindful of how that reality should impact the communication
- Clarity: This is pretty much like cleanliness above, use common language understood by the general public
- Continuity: How frequently should communication be conveyed
- Consistency: It is critical that communications remain consistent as they are shared throughout the organization, this can sometimes dictate how you will want particular information shared
- Channels: We spoke earlier about all of the different ways you can communicate, thus any communication should consider how each channel is used and what each channel is effective for
- Capability: Depending upon your audience you may have to adjust your communication to their capability of understanding the information being conveyed
- Costs: While costs are always a consideration in any situation it is suggested that when it comes to communicating certain information a company would be wise to not be too cheap in getting in front of their employees or customers to have face-to-face communications which can lead to heightened engagement
We hope that as you build your communication strategy that the previous thought starters and considerations help you to best communicate with your employees, customers, and the public to build long-term trusting relationships that result in exceptional engagement.