20 Guiding Principles for Internal Communications

internal communications guiding principles

  1. Strategic communications help a business achieve its objectives. That is their purpose.
  2. Effective communications are those that produce measurable results and they can be a competitive differentiator.
  3. There are costs associated with communicating, but there can be costs associated with not communicating as well. Internal communications seek cost-effective and creative solutions to solve complex communications challenges.
  4. Employees are drowning in information, but starving for understanding. Our job is to make the important interesting.
  5. Credibility is the foundation upon which effective communication is built. Unless it is believed, a message has no worth.
  6. Face-to-face communication is the most desirable form of communication because it is immediate, personal and interactive. Most employees say their immediate supervisor is their preferred and most credible source of information about the business.
  7. Communication is, by definition, a two-way process. Feedback mechanisms must be part of every employee communication.
  8. Communication is a management responsibility. Internal Communications supports leaders by serving as consultants, facilitators and resource partners.
  9. As in any effective strategy, form should follow function. The medium is the message.
  10. Employees should learn of important events affecting them and their company from an internal source rather than an external source. Well-informed employees can serve as informal ambassadors of the company.
  11. The more important the information is personally to the receiver, the fewer exposures are needed to make an impression. Make your communications relevant.
  12. True effectiveness in communication is the ability to influence and change behavior. Changing behaviors is a long, slow process and therefore measurement of effective communications must be taken over time.
  13. The case for change should be found in the marketplace. For change to occur, employees must move through these stages: awareness, understanding, acceptance and commitment. You cannot skip a step. Formal communications (particularly written communications) are most effective in promoting awareness and understanding. Informal communications (leader behaviors, unwritten rules, management decisions, openness, risk-taking tolerance, etc.) are necessary to reach full commitment.
  14. External sources are defacto employee communications and therefore external messaging should be aligned with internal strategies. Likewise, employees are informal ambassadors of an organization and therefore internal messaging should be aligned with external strategies. Every internal communication should be written as if it will be read by the news media.
  15. Rumors are created to fill communications voids. Fill those voids with valid information. A phrase like “Unfortunately, we have more questions than answers right now but we’re aware of the problem, we’re working on it and we’ll keep you updated with any news” goes a long ways to keep the rumor mill from grinding out of control.
  16. Well-defined communication processes and procedures are the foundations for creativity. Key message libraries, templates, crisis plans, etc. free up time for creativity and continuous improvement.
  17. The overall tone of employee communications directly reflects the relationship an organization has with its employees. The best tone for strategic communications is the Voice of the Brand, which is primarily what the company is but also what the company is striving to be.
  18. With better information, better business decisions can be made. Employees need to understand the “what” and the “why” to be fully engaged.
  19. Well-informed employees are more satisfied, more creative, more productive and more committed.
  20. A common trait among successful companies is open and honest communications with all their key audiences, especially their employees.

12 Comments

Rachel Berry (@Rachel_B_Berry)

about 9 years ago

I think these are absolutely spot-on. I would only add to #8, something about how internal communications supports employees. We do that - in addition to supporting leaders. And it's key to our effectiveness that we embrace that role. Easier by far to have two-way communications when the IC person is receptive to messages from below as well as above. Thanks much for sharing these - they are great.

Paul Barton

about 9 years ago

The thinking on No. 8 is that management sometimes wants to abdicate its communication responsibilities and rely on the "professional communicators" to do it all. But, I agree with you that these principles should call for communication support for employees to communicate vertically with management and horizontally with one another. Thanks for your thoughts!

Linda Russell Wesley

about 9 years ago

Great list, Paul. I think #4 is a trap that catches many organizations. They think, "We're communicating with our employees regularly," when those communications may be lacking the context that employees need. Sometimes in an effort to push out so much information to employees and fill a "communications gap," a company ends up just creating more noise/clutter for employees to sort through. It's information overload every single day, everywhere you turn, and it's imperative that employers get relevant, clear information to their employees. Of course, that ties in with #7, because you can't know if it's relevant unless you engage your employees in dialogue.

Paul Barton

about 9 years ago

Couldn't agree more! The first part of your comment reminds me of the George Bernard Shaw quote: "The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place."

Judith Jones

about 9 years ago

I'm in agreement with Linda - #4 is a real deal breaker! I see it play out as an organization evolves through a major strategic change, resulting in many smaller tactical changes that employees must some how understand, absorb and perhaps even act upon. As Linda points out the resultant communications can feel noisy, particularly if the messages herald a shift of tasks to an individual and if those messages come from multiple directions and owners. It's a constant for internal communications leaders.

CommunicationTracker (@commtracker)

about 9 years ago

A great post. Agree with every point. On #6, we would like to add that while nothing can beat the face to face communication as the most effective means of communication, the organization should also think of using a central repository to store communication for later use. Refer http://blog.communication-tracker.com/5-reasons-why-discussion-boards-are-more-powerful-than-email-mailboxes.html

Jon

about 9 years ago

It's a great list Paul, thanks for sharing. I'm a buyer of all 20. What intrigues me right now is how Apple seems to flout nearly every one of these and yet does so well. I'm looking forward to reading "Inside Apple: How America's Most Admired - and Secretive - Company Really Works," next week, even though I suspect it will make very uncomfortable reading for us Internal Communicators...

Tim Hicks, Victoria BC

about 9 years ago

Excellent, and so concise! #11 is one that I'd like to see reaching the brains of top management.

Keith Moore

about 9 years ago

Well done, Paul! A very concise summary

John Gerstner

about 9 years ago

Really like your list, Paul. The only one I would quibble with is #8: Communication is a management responsibility. I would argue communication is everyone's responsibility. And we now have the tools to allow everyone to truly communicate -- down, up and sideways.

Joseph Vargheese

about 8 years ago

Well done, Paul! A very good summary

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