Why are businesses so bad at internal communication...and how to fix it

Sophie Thomas

Why are businesses so bad at internal communication...and how to fix it

We’ve all heard the words, “Communication is key” ad-nauseum, so why then is communication in the workplace one of the biggest bug-bears and how are some employers still getting it badly wrong when we have more technology geared towards communication than ever before?
 

Employee productivity is closely linked with employee engagement, with The McKinsey Global Institute stating that productivity improves by 20-25% in organizations with connected employees. Having a connected and engaged workforce must surely be one of main priorities for employers so what are the most common mistakes and how can they be avoided?

Top mistakes:

Communication is a one-way street - Traditional forms of internal communications are too reliant on the ‘top down’ approach. Using the cascading approach is great for letting staff know that there’s cake in the staff room but for important messages or updates, two-way communication that sets an expectation and an intention for a discussion is needed to allow employees to feel included and therefore engaged.

Offering false hope – If one of your company motto’s or mission statements reference clear and open communication then you need to live by this – don’t offer false hope. There is nothing more frustrating and demoralising than offering a platform for staff to voice their opinions and then doing nothing with those opinions. Naturally, not all views or wishes can be accommodated but by acknowledging employee contributions and responding with an answer, staff can feel confident that at least their views are being heard and taken into consideration. 

Communication as an afterthought - There will always be exceptions to this but communicating decisions that have already been made without canvassing opinion spells disaster for employee engagement.  All managers or heads of department should see employee communications as part of their day to day role and an opportunity to improve productivity, office atmosphere and staff morale. Internal communications should not be left solely to the Internal Communication Manager -This just makes for plenty of awkward ‘water-cooler moments’ and fuels gossip.

Actions and communications are mismatched – Saying one thing and doing another only causes confusion, apathy and tends to reduce staff morale and therefore productivity - the opposite of the desired intention for internal communication. This issue affects both small and large companies alike, but it’s effects can be monumental, especially in large organisations with a complicated internal structure. As we all know bad news travels fast.

Using management speak or jargon -  The International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) reports that only 21% of communicators say they keep their language simple and jargon-free. When staff who commonly work together attend a meeting or write a report its all too easy to slip into jargon and anacronyms, which can leave anyone outside this circle (the remaining 79% AKA the majority) feeling alienated, foolish and just plain confused. This one is a major no-no.

So, these are some of the many pitfalls, what can be done to rectify the problem?

What to do:

The most important and influential action employers can take to improve employee communication is to build trust by providing a platform or space for employees to share their thoughts and opinions. Equally important is to provide feedback on these contributions and any future plans. As an example, employees might be disappointed that their plea for a subsidised canteen has been rejected but if you explain the reasoning behind the decision and offer a solution for what you will provide, you lay the foundations for a more positive and transparent working relationship built on trust.

 Use technology – Its official, Intranets are out of favour with the results of a survey by Prescient Digital Media showing that only 13% of employees reported participating in their intranet daily—31% said they never do. Likewise, nobody wants another 'send to all' round robin email in their inbox so keep these to a minimum. Internal communication can successfully take place virtually through the use of apps or discussion boards, as well as more traditional channels such as employee newsletters – just make sure that content is relevant, helpful or useful. Meetoo Marketing Director, Pete Eyre recently wrote a great blog: 10 reasons you NEED a polling app in your employee comms meetings…

Face to face meetings can be fun - Use technology to keep staff engaged. Running real-time polls are a great way to see if staff are on the same page as management during big meetings and the option to ask anonymous questions allows staff to ask questions or pose suggestions without fear of reprisal. It’s a win-win!

Practise what you preach - If you're asking for opinion or communicating important messages, be prepared for the answers or reactions to news and decisions. Whatever the outcome, make sure the management response or the messages communicated are consistent with the actions taken.

Pledge to go jargon free - Internal communication naturally travels up, down and around company hierarchy but always remember to grade language appropriately, and summarise any backstories that are relevant to the topic at hand. Don't assume that Gill in accounts knows about the recent changes in brand direction happening in marketing...does anyone remember what 'WENUS' stood for in that FRIENDS episode?

For further reading why not take a look at our blog: Can a polling app transform your Internal Communications?