The Future of Internal Communications is Digital

“Employees who believe that management is concerned about them as a whole person – not just an employee – are more productive, more satisfied, more fulfilled. Satisfied employees mean satisfied customers, which leads to profitability.” – Anne M. Mulcahy, former CEO of Xerox

Engaging internal communications has not always been a priority for businesses globally. Industries traditionally have tended to focus on keeping their customers happy to ensure loyalty and return business, and the satisfaction level of their team at times was overlooked.

The tide is turning however, as more and more companies realise that an engaged workforce where individuals are listened to, and likewise are kept informed, tend to make greater efforts to deliver results and improve business performance. According to Gallup, highly engaged teams are 21% more productive and have 28% less internal theft than those with low engagement. With the arrival of millennials into the workforce, businesses have realised the importance of digital platforms for internal communications, and that keeping staff happy is a win-win situation for all.

It was Aristotle who first described the keys to effective communication as Ethos, Logos and Pathos which today would translate as Trust, Emotions and Reason. A breakdown in any of these is often the source of missed messaging or lack of interest of the intended audience.  In order to be engaged, the person must perceive trustworthiness in the communication or the message will not be absorbed. When considering the message, an empathic approach is best to really sense how the recipient is feeling and tailor our approach likewise.  It is certainly not the case that one approach suits all. It has been shown that 96% of employees believe showing empathy is an important way to advance employee retention – State of the Worplace Empathy Study by Businessolver, 2018.

Further consideration should be given to the tone of the message. What is the tone? What words are being used? Is there a sense of empathy or hostility.  Additionally the approach of the employer in their message should appear reasonable to the employees.  Communication should not just be about top-down but more about how the connection is made and how both bodies exchange information.

The most common way to engage with employees is the online Hub or Intranet. This medium has the advantage that all relevant information and updates can be sourced in the one spot. However, the reliable intranet can grow stale and unappealing to staff rapidly, so content should be employee driven and ensure that information is flowing bottom up too. This stream of staff sourced information leads to high buy-in and greater engagement. It’s been found that 90% of staff will simply browse the intranet without adding value – this is evidently a wasted resource that could be tapped with areas for employees to add content.

With the workplace now being populated with millenials, who research has shown, check their phones up to 100 times a day, it would be foolish for any organisation intent on increasing internal communication to overlook the versatility of an app. Real time news can be provided via an app which appeals to those who are desk based and even more versatile for the increasing numbers who work remotely. According to CNBC, 70% of workers work remotely at least once a week. To this end push notifications are becoming the norm for instant connection with the workforce.

One of the most powerful tools for internal communication is digital signage. Any information that can be sent via a phone can likewise be visualised on such signage. This includes real time news, updates, feedback, opinion polls etc. This is a constant presence on the office floor that management are conscious of the importance of regular interaction, and that they value the voice and opinion of the workforce.  This builds loyalty and morale with a constant reminder in sight that their input is important.

Social channels are well used if not over used by individuals outside of the working environment and are also an ideal form of communication for work purposes.  Facebook, Yammer, Slack, Skype and Jive constitute the main mediums for enabling this interface.  Facebook launched its Workplace app to fill the need for employees to have a voice and stay connected.

There is no one size fits all scenario when it comes to choosing a digital medium for employee engagement.  Whichever medium or mediums are used, it is important for management to be conscious that Generation Z and millenials have a high demand for authenticity and therefore employee-created content should dominate any internal communications strategy.  Content created by employees results in 8 times more engagement which ultimately translates to profitability.

Having the voice of the employee heard is what matters just as much as serving the consumer. As the traditional work place moves to a remote realm, then the internal engagement strategy must continue to move to digital and mobile. It is worth noting that according to The Engagement Institute, disengaged employees cost U.S. companies up to $550 billion a year. Aristotle may not have envisioned a world of apps and hubs when he devised his pillars of effective communication but throughout time it has been proven that talking is good for business, but now maybe more importantly than ever, it’s time to listen.

An Effective Strategy for Engaging with Stakeholders

Stakeholders can differ depending on the business or organisation but are alike in that they hold a specific interest or concern in the mission being undertaken.  They include employees, shareholders, customers, suppliers, boards of directors and regulatory or government agencies.   Each of these parties will offer a unique perspective on how best to succeed and grow the organisation.  Internal stakeholders like employees will be very aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the organisation and have first-hand knowledge of what it takes to deliver the service, whereas external stakeholders will offer a different but equally valuable perspective on how the organisation’s operations affect them.

Effective engagement helps translate stakeholders’ needs into organisational goals and lays the ground work for effective strategy development.  By exploring the needs of interested parties and discovering a point of consensus enables a group of stakeholders to arrive at a meaningful outcome.  It is this internal alignment that helps form an effective strategy to drive change.  Indeed effectively engaging with stakeholders is crucial to the success of any organisation.  To succeed in any realm, a clear vision is required and that can only be derived from a robust strategic planning process which can only come from stakeholder engagement.

A shared understanding is essential to build a clear strategic vision for the future which can be derived from an active consultation and engagement process where open discussion and debate is encouraged.

There are three key elements to consider when developing and encouraging ongoing engagement with stakeholders.

  1. Provide clear, consistent communication

In order to achieve success, information needs to be shared in a focussed and consistent way.   Both internal and external stakeholders must understand the vision and the role they plan in achieving the organisation’s goals.

  • Be specific about the engagement required from stakeholders

An organisation needs to map out the process with key milestones where stakeholder engagement is required, and the value that this will add.  A series of interactive engagements will be needed where discussion can be heard and debated and all perspectives considered.  The voicing of common goals and ideas along with feedback will lead to greater ownership.

  • Build the project around the engagement

Projects often fail or fall short of their potential if stakeholder engagement is not built in as an integral part of the process.  Engagement from the outset nurtures a sense of involvement and contribution to future goals.  Allow time and planning to include all relevant parties to engage in discussion throughout each step in the process.  A lack of understanding among stakeholders will lead to difficulty later when moving in the desired direction.

The benefits of stakeholder engagement are numerous.  By giving a voice to those with an interest in the organisation’s journey, opinions can be heard, a clear vision can be determined and strong relationships can be forged.  The building of collaborative partnerships generates value and pools knowledge with ultimately improves governance, reduces risk and moreover identifies strategies to strive forward to achieve goals.  

The Power of Personalisation

The emphasis on relationship building and the very concept of relationship marketing was first described by Leonard Berry (1983) as “attracting, maintaining and enhancing customer relationships”.  In the Digital Age with more crowded channels of communication, it has become increasingly important to not just reach new customers and audiences, but also to establish lasting relationships. A satisfied customer who is valued and engaged is much more likely to be loyal, and likewise it is less costly to maintain a current client than it is to seek a new one. The days of ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ are long ago left in the past, and personalisation has now become a real industry focus.

Before today’s advancement in technology ‘personalisation’ merely meant the inclusion of a person’s name throughout a communication. As technology has evolved along with data mining so too has the ability to further segment your customer base to maximise on interactions.  Pure360’s research suggests that basic personalisation as in a retail brand addressing a client by their first name, results in a poor return of just 8% of customers being willing to engage. So accustomed are markets to personalisation that there is now an expectation for businesses to understand their needs and provide relevant and tailored information. Failure to do so results in poor click-through rates and ultimately loss in revenue.  

So, if executed well, what kind of results can personalization produce?

Personalisation can increase ROI. One way of achieving this is through product recommendations. Amazon is adept at this method of maximizing customer knowledge by displaying previously purchased items, similar products to match known tastes, and items purchased by other buyers of that item.

Personalisaton raises customer engagement. Marketers have found that using personalization in campaigns has wide ranging positive effects. 82% have linked it to an increase in open rates, 75% to higher click-through rates and 40% attribute it to a decrease in unsubscribes.

Overall, personalization enhances the ‘customer journey’. Gone is the era where the call to action was to ‘Visit our store’, now clients can purchase from a range of platforms within apps and social media without ever visiting the physical or online business itself. The goal is to be personal, seamless, across channels, and on demand especially now in the ultra-competitive world of retail.

The likelihood of success of any personalized campaign depends on the quality of the data. It must be current and accurate with skilled data management tools and list scrubbing processes to ensure accuracy. Likewise, campaigns need to be evaluated to measure success which can all mean increased effort and expense. However, it would be unwise for any business to ignore both the demand and benefits of tailoring its communication to drive revenue. After all, the customer is king and it’s time to get up close and personal.