Internal Communications Plans: A Complete Guide + Templateon 30 May 2022
Many organisations focus heavily on improving their communications and messaging with customers. Such efforts directly affect revenue, so giving customers priority is certainly understandable.
However, it’s important to take a thoughtful approach to interactions with employees since their work impacts customers as well—hence the need for a well-constructed internal communications plan.
If you’re interested in learning more about internal communications strategy—including what your plan should cover, mistakes to avoid, and best practices to follow—check out the guide below. (We even included a communications template for you to customise to your liking!)
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: An Internal Communications Plan Template
1. Current Organisational State
The first section should be a summary of how communications are performed now, and how those communications are impacting your key performance indicators. Clearly identify what is prompting the need for a more formal communications approach, and areas of concern that your internal communication plan will aim to address.
2. Vision & Goals
Describe the vision you want to achieve over the next one to five years regarding communications within your organisation. What do you want the organisation to look like compared to how it is now? What important changes should be made to reach your desired state?
Linda Pophal of Strategic Communications provides some additional aspects to consider: “What changes in awareness, understanding, or beliefs do you want to influence? Prior to establishing these, it's important to conduct an assessment of where employees currently are at in terms of these knowledge areas. Making assumptions that do not reflect reality can result in a lot of work attempting to address an issue or knowledge gap that does not exist.”
Once you develop your vision, formulate goals that will help you achieve it. Structure your goals in the SMART format to ensure they are clear:
- Specific: Identify exactly what you want to achieve, and who is responsible for each part.
- Measurable: Make the goal quantifiable so it can be measured.
- Attainable: Ensure the goal is realistic given the time and resources you have available.
- Relevant: Make sure your goal is aligned with your overall desired state for the organisation.
- Time bound: Determine a solid timeline for achieving the goal.
When it comes to communications, it’s critical you keep in mind to whom you’re addressing your messaging. While all internal members of your organisation are important, they have differing perspectives and needs. This necessitates you adjust your messaging to achieve your desired results, just like you do with different customer segments. Your internal communication plan template should include a section that defines the various audiences and your communication goals for each.
For example, you may have a mix of full-time employees, part-time employees, and contractors. You may also consider your vendors to be part of your internal network. Each of these groups requires unique considerations. And that’s just one way to look at it; you may also need to consider other aspects, such as departmental, geographic, and cultural concerns.
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This section is where you describe the higher-level approaches you’ll take to achieve the goals you’ve formulated. “You’ll want to paint broad strokes here, describing conceptual ideas. For example, perhaps you’ve identified resentment as a key issue among employees at retail locations. One strategy to remedy this may be to strengthen trust between senior leadership and front-line employees,” explains Pophal.
For example, you may plan to conduct internal polls or surveys to gauge employees’ thoughts and feelings on different subjects. You’d then need to consider:
- Which employees will you include?
- What tools will you use?
- Will you share the results?
Amanda Sutton of Catalyst Communications Choreography suggests you be transparent when it comes to employee feedback: “Sharing results of internal surveys can maintain an open and mindful relationship with employees. This builds confidence and trust. It also relays that you want to ensure employees know they are vital to the organisation’s success and their needs are being addressed.”
Interested in an internal communications plan template to get you started? Check out the simple one below with example text you can replace with your own.
Example Internal Communication Plan Template
Current Organisational State:
- Many employees feel like they don’t have a voice.
- Communication within our organisation is disjointed. Each department communicates in a different way.
- All employees will feel connected and heard within our organisation, and departments will communicate in the same manner.
- Within one year, we will increase employee engagement from 55% to 75% (as indicated by our annual employee survey).
- Within six months, we will move all departments onto a single collaboration system.
- For employees, we will ask what areas of the company they would like to weigh in on and what input they have on the way work is performed.
- For department leaders, we will create a cross-functional committee to discuss their communication needs.
- We will ensure multiple perspectives are considered and collect as much input as possible from across the organisation.
- We will use town hall meetings and conference calls to collect input.
- We will employ Zoom video meetings to connect with remote team members.
- We will identify and implement a centralised collaboration solution to support this internal communications plan.
Chapter 2: 5 Mistakes To Avoid In Your Internal Communications Plan
1. Making internal communications one-sided.
“Organisations should avoid establishing one-way internal communications,” says Cheril Clarke, founder of Phenomenal Writing. “This leads to lower employee engagement, and can make employees feel as if they don’t have a voice.”
Instead of having information flow just one way (to employees), Clarke advises creating a two-way information exchange (to and from employees). You can try setting up a dedicated inbox for employees to submit feedback, or establish town hall meetings where employees can voice their thoughts about company happenings. “It’s important to create opportunities for conversations between leadership and employees, not just push company information out.”
2. Avoiding hard conversations with employees.
“Mistakes happen, bad news has to be delivered, and sometimes people have to be laid off,” says Clarke. “It’s better to prepare the facts, have empathy, and deliver the news empathetically rather than avoid it—or worse, send a cold message to unsuspecting employees.”
Clark provides a few tips for handling tough conversations with employees:
- Have the conversations as soon as possible.
- Ensure those conversations are private.
- Take care to avoid negative verbal and body language when meeting.
- Make sure all criticism is constructive.
- Try to end on a positive note despite the negative news.
3. Disregarding different employee contexts.
Jonathan Lockwood, a public relations consultant, says a strong internal communications plan takes into account that not all employees are the same. “Being conscious of different demographics and the varied ways your employees use technology are both imperative.”
In addition, Lockwood notes that employees at varied levels of your organisational hierarchy may respond to your internal communications plan in ways that differ based on their seniority. For example, while a staff member may take your plan at face value, a vice president may feel their input wasn’t considered enough in your plan’s development. “You must take a multi-angled approach in creating your internal communications plan. Consider as many perspectives as possible, and get buy-in at multiple levels.”
4. Haphazardly communicating your plan rollout.
Lockwood says an internal communications plan must integrate a wide range of components and communicate them all well. “The last thing you want is a top-down internal communications plan that sounds like an elementary school teacher talking to first graders, or a jargon-laden campaign that feels like a waste of time.”
Prior to rolling out your plan, ensure you have sufficient messaging that informs employees on what to expect and when. Are there culture changes? Are any business processes being redeveloped? Be sure employees have clear answers to these and other key questions that concern the way work and communication is performed within the organisation.
5. Failing to provide technological support for the internal communications plan.
Simon Elkjær, chief marketing officer at avXperten, says that “companies often disregard communication and collaboration [technology] solutions, thinking such tools are too complex to use. However, collaboration apps do the opposite—they make internal communication easier, especially if you have a remote workforce.”
Elkjær says dated solutions like email, while still applicable in certain cases, don’t provide enough support for modern internal communications plans. “There are many collaboration tools available that address a number of communication needs in one solution. Modern communication requires agility, and it’s hard to achieve that using email—or multiple tools for that matter.”
Chapter 3: 15 Internal Communications Best Practices
1. Keep communications brief.
Today, people inherently have a short attention span, and employees are no exception. David Reischer, CEO of LegalAdvice.com, cautions against sending internal employee communications that are too long. Lengthy memos, emails, and the like will either be skimmed or not read at all. “That defeats the purpose,” warns Reischer. “Brief and precise communications improve chances of employees absorbing your shared information and allow for targeted responses that improve productivity and speed.”
2. Celebrate employees’ successes.
Everyone loves a good win, especially when you know others value your contributions. In fact, a 2011 study by an independent research firm found that 77% of employees were willing to work harder if they were appreciated. This benefits both employees and the organisation.
“Most employees are motivated when they receive acknowledgement and are rewarded with positive feedback. It’s important to always remember that an organisation is made up of people. Enabling the exchange of feedback results in a more motivated workforce,” Reischer advises.
Organisations can acknowledge employees both privately and publicly. For example, a company- or department-wide announcement about an employee’s success could be supplemented by a brief, one-on-one meeting between the employee and their manager.
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3. Choose communication methods that work best for your employees.
All organisations are not created equal. There are a myriad of different environments where employees may perform their job duties, and they require different methods of communication. Mike Driehorst, a communications consultant, shares an example that highlights such a distinction:
“How internal communication within a business works varies greatly [depending] on where your employees are physically located. You need to go to them. The typical choice is digital, but depending on the type and size of your company, not all employees will have regular electronic access to things like email or company software. For a large manufacturer, for example, you have to rely on methods like bulletin boards or pre-shift meetings to communicate key information.”
4. Maintain consistent branding and messaging.
Marketers know how important it is to present a consistent picture of your organisation to customers. The same goes for your employees. Your initial thought may be to just disseminate information and share updates with employees without regard to what those communications look like or how they read. But you need to give the same diligence to internal communications as you do to customer-facing ones.
Driehorst calls out the fact that inconsistent messaging can lead to confusion and misunderstandings among employees. “It’s a fairly simple concept but one that is hard for organisations to put into practice. I say don't overthink it, but do make sure all messages have a consistent look and feel.”
5. Ensure there’s a feedback channel for internal employee communication.
Even the best communication professionals can miss the mark sometimes. That’s why one of the most important types of internal communication channels is one for feedback. Employees need to have a way to provide feedback on the methods in which they are receiving information from the organisation. As Driehorst clarifies, “This isn’t for organisational issues but how communications are being received. Internal communications pros can get myopic in their work. Being open to feedback from your employees is key to staying grounded and effective in your communications.”
6. Encourage open dialogue.
This stems back to the culture of the organisation, which typically starts at the top. “Encourage leaders to facilitate open discussions, with a focus on collaboratively achieving the best possible outcome for the issue at hand,” shares Faith Kubicki, content marketing manager at IntelliChief.
When employees are free to ask questions and comment without fear of criticism, both they and the organisation benefit. Nate Masterson, CEO at Maple Holistics, explains why. “When a worker is stuck on something and doesn’t feel like they can ask for help, they'll spend more time trying to figure it out than needed, making them less productive. This could also lead to a bigger mistake if they go down the wrong path. Tangentially, employees’ unrestricted questions or comments can lead to greater innovation across the company.”
7. Employ visuals.
Varied statistics support the idea that the general populace tends toward visual learning. That’s why Simon Nowak, CEO of Authority Dental, says it’s worth communicating your goals and messages to employees in visual form. “To achieve that, you can use posters or digital screens, for example. It will enable your employees and colleagues to better understand and remember the message you’re conveying.”
Aleassa Schambers, director of marketing at Root, adds that visuals are key when enacting change in the organisation. Showing employees the big picture of the change they're working to create is tremendously valuable. When you use imagery that showcases what outcomes you want to see, and the path of how your workforce will achieve those outcomes, you’ll see accelerated behavior shifts and greater understanding. “This is because visuals can showcase the emotions that people experience during change. More importantly, leaders are forced to align on what outcomes actually look like for the business.”
8. Keep things lighthearted.
While having “fun” isn’t suitable in every work situation, a Robert Half survey indicates that 79% of CFOs believe an employee’s sense of humor plays an important role in how he or she fits in with the company’s corporate culture. Thus, Nowak recommends adding a sense of levity to internal communications—when appropriate. “It’s not a secret that a positive work atmosphere tends to produce better work results. Including humorous elements in your internal communications will contribute to this end by making communications more interesting and engaging.”
9. Arm managers with the right tools.
Schambers says managers act as executors and communicators of senior leadership’s vision. As part of the communication effort, managers need to be armed with information and tools that enable them to fully understand the vision, connect their teams’ roles to activating that vision, and then coach their teams to reach desired outcomes. “For example, managers may need to reinforce new processes, or keep the change conversation top of mind amid the myriad of day-to-day activities.”
10. Streamline communications.
“Ruthlessly cull any unnecessary automated communications, even down to CC-ing people who don't need or won't benefit from inclusion in the conversation,” suggests John Moss, CEO of English Blinds. His focus is on cutting down background noise—this will help boost productivity and ensure that, when employees do need to make or receive internal communications, they see and can accurately gauge the relevant degree of importance.
11. Invite feedback from employees—and act on it.
Moss says many companies neglect to ask for input from employees on how their internal communication channels help and support them, and what could be done better. “Even within companies that do request feedback, those valuable insights are often filed away for some later time that never comes, or not used effectively to catalyse improvement.”
12. Keep employees updated on company happenings.
“This is something large organisations are often good at, and something that comes naturally in small businesses. However, it tends to be a struggle for mid-sized companies—likely a growing pain,” explains Will Craig, managing director of LeaseFetcher.
Craig says it’s natural for employees to want to understand how the company is performing—seeing how the work they’ve done for smaller projects impacts the overall organisational picture. “Gaining this understanding can be quite encouraging, and it’s something that’s so easily done with a well-considered internal communication model.”
You can give your employees the opportunity to keep themselves in the loop with a monthly briefing, a written document of monthly achievements and news, or a shared dashboard of new, ongoing, and completed projects.
13. Help employees understand facts vs. feelings when expressing themselves.
“Most people freely communicate both facts and feelings; however, they sometimes confuse the two,” says Michael Alexis, CEO of TeamBuilding. For example, an upset employee might say, You don’t value me (feeling) when what they actually mean is, I don’t feel valued (fact).
“To help remedy these situations, it’s important to train employees to know the distinction between facts and feelings in the workplace,” Alexis explains. For example, it can be detrimental to morale to criticize someone else’s work, but he says if you express the criticism as a feeling, then most people will be more receptive. You might say, I feel your presentation could use some work instead of, Your presentation was bad. “Working toward empathy as an organization is an important part of this too.”
14. Limit communication channels.
Cassy Aite, CEO of Hoppier, recommends limiting the number of communication channels you use. For example, you may use a combination of email, a messaging platform, and a project management tool. “Any additional channels and you risk missing messages and confusing your entire workforce.”
15. Incorporate storytelling.
“Internal communications can often be incredibly dry, and many companies are learning the power of storytelling as a way to make content more engaging,” says Neil Gordon, communications expert, speaker, and coach.
But what makes a story relevant to the employee? Gordon says a key ingredient of an effective true story is its use of the unexpected, such as a surprisingly good outcome or a sudden crisis that needs to be resolved.
However, sometimes the key is just placing the employee at the center of the story instead of the company. Oftentimes, company happenings are told from the perspective of the company, but telling stories from an employee’s perspective can help other employees better connect. For example, instead of talking about how the company gained a new client, walk through how the salesperson won the client over.
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Glasscubes is a complete collaboration suite that helps you seamlessly store and share files, manage projects large and small, and keep internal and external parties in the loop on announcements, company happenings, and status updates.
Use Glasscubes to:
- Easily and securely share files with different departments, clients, and vendors.
- Assign and manage tasks for various company and client projects.
- Build customized workspaces to keep information from different projects and initiatives available to only relevant parties.
- Make announcements to the whole company or specific business teams.
Want to see how other companies are using Glasscubes to support their internal communications plans and collaborate seamlessly? Check out these case studies.