Why internal communication fails and what to do about it

Are you inadvertently making IC mistakes in your organization?

Good internal comms is more than just relaying a message from senior level to the workforce. Effective communication takes organization, management, planning, listening, adjusting, monitoring and analyzing. So, you think you’re avoiding all the usual internal communication fails? Between misunderstandings and lack of engagement, communication blockages and not listening to the opinions of your people, there is a lot of room for error.

Combine with the changing working behaviors and new demographics joining the workplace, and organizations need to make sure that their internal communication strategy is continuing to be relevant, useful and actionable. Younger generations are looking for different ways to listen and talk with leaders and peers. With more focus on collaboration, communication, and transparency, internal communications is sprung into the forefront of the organization, influencing the way employees interact with the objectives of the company.

A Towers Watson Study found companies with highly effective employee communications tools enjoy 47% higher total returns compared to firms with ineffective communication.

With this in mind, we have compiled the most common internal communication fails and reveal the various remedies to make sure your IC strategy remains aligned with your business and is key to the health and wellbeing of your company.

IC mistake #1: Using emails

internal communication fails

Email is in a funny place. While personal emails have seen an increase in usage, work email has dropped, according to Adobe. On average in 2018, only 76% of work emails are being read (down from 83% in 2017 respectively). So, while these figures give your email a good chance of being read this year, there is a good chance your messages could fall into the unread pile. However, internal comms professionals are still using email, because it is a common service to everyone in the organization. But, while everyone has an email address, not everyone is checking it regularly. Email is falling out of favor as the main channel of communication. If you’re sending important information which needs to be read, there are other methods that will prove more effective.

Remedy: In a modern workplace, the company intranet should be used as the main focal point for all comms. Staff recognize that the intranet represents one source of truth, and the platform will be the first port of call for anyone looking for guidance, information, and help.

IC mistake #2: The wrong channel

Slack, Microsoft Teams, iMessage, WhatsApp and Skype tend to be used for quick communication in and across departments. However, with different department using different tools, there is no cohesion across the organization, so it’s important to not rely on single channels to relay information.

Remedy: Use polls and pulse surveys to get the opinion from your workforce. What channels do they use? An internal communication device which successful internal comms departments use is the company intranet. Modern intranets have features to make sure not only does your message gets received, but it gets read and understood too: blocking pages, scrolling messages and mandatory reads are all ways to grab the attention of your users.

IC mistake #3: Too many approval steps

Many organizations have traditional steps in place for approved content. What could be sent out quickly has to be sent to a proof-reader, a manager and senior level to approve – before being sent back to the internal comms department. In this age of social media and lightning fast info dissemination, businesses need to act quickly. A smooth internal comms strategy needs to rely on a short approval chain. When a crisis occurs, and critical comms needs to go out immediately, your business needs a process that can approve copy within minutes, not days.

Remedy: Design a flexible and speedy process for approval. Introduce thorough training to minimize issues, short approval chains and a focus on mobile technology that will build up trust, efficiency, and the speed necessary for modern-day comms.

IC mistake #4: Too complex

An obvious one, but something that gets disregarded often. When you’re sending out a message to your workforce, you need it to be instantly understandable. Internal comms can disrupt a working day: you have staff with deadlines and busy schedules who have limited time. So, your message needs to be informative and instructional almost straightaway. A simple message will be understood, a complex message has more chance of being ignored.

Remedy: Keep language simple, share with a colleague to proof and make sure your message spells out all the critical information within the first 50 words. Analyze the language you use, make sure there’s no room for misinterpretation and use bullet points to draw the reader’s attention to important facts and information. Avoid the ramble, and make sure all ages and abilities are able to take in the message and, where necessary, act on your communication.

IC mistake #5: Ignore feedback

internal comms fails

Not all internal communicators get it right all the time. The best IC takes place on the feedback of the organization’s people. Taking time to speak to people, gauge the workplace culture, and learn about the thoughts and feeling of the workforce are all instrumental in providing comms that are engaging and effective.

Remedy: Use polls to get real-time feedback and consider both the positive and negative. Be open-minded and listen to ideas and suggestions that don’t necessarily align with yours. Listening to other people can be a fantastic opportunity to learn.

IC mistake #6: Not have a communication cascade strategy

Sometimes, verbal communication is the best type of internal communication. When your message needs energy, personality, and reassurance, face-to-face comms is the only way. Getting managers and senior level to communicate your message does take some directing. It requires not just the presenting of bare facts, but getting the management team onboard with the message, outlining the benefits, explaining how challenges will be met and asking them to repeat the information to their respective teams.

Remedy: For the best chance of success, plan. You cannot send the information on with the hope the message gets passed down the ranks. Instead, you need to build a robust communication cascade strategy on a project management system which means that everyone has an overview of what needs doing and when. On these systems you can assign materials, information, supporting data and whatever else you need to provide your managers with solid comms.

IC mistake #7: Not repeating your message

Repeating yourself is a necessary part of internal comms. You’ll need to reinforce a message a number of times before it becomes accepted knowledge. But you can also use this style of repetition to enhance the message. Using teasers, stalling the full message and drip-feeding information is a way of getting your audience’s attention and holding it. Of course, this tactic should only be used for good news, to whip up excitement and interest. With news that is more serious, or negative, you need to deliver it to your employees straight.

Remedy: If you’re repeating yourself, don’t just use one channel. If you need to tell your office workers, for example, to not use the fire exits in non-emergencies, use verbal communication, put notices up in the office, explain the reasons why on your company intranet – cover all bases. When it comes to changing behaviors, practice patience: it can take more than two months before a new behavior becomes automatic.

Internal communications will always have to overcome challenges, and as businesses evolve in the 21st century, it’s important to keep assessing your IC strategy to make sure it’s compatible with the continuing changes within your business. Bad comms can lead to deterioration in culture, productivity and efficiency – and often it is only spotted when it’s too late. That’s why it’s important to continue to monitor and analyze.