written by
Jenni Murto

Internal communication: challenges, impact and 10 steps to improve it

7 min read

Internal communication is a big challenge in many organisations and in fact much of leadership is pure communication. The quality of communication often reflects the health of the organisation. Internal communication therefore is, or should be, an important development target for the management of any company.

57% of employees report not being given clear directions and 69% of managers are not comfortable communicating with the employees in general. Improving internal communications ultimately lead to avoiding employee-related problems such as low engagement and retention, and even more challenging acquisition. And employees acting on miscommunicated messages and mixed signals will result in poor business outcomes across the board. Unfortunately many businesses still use a classic top-down approach which won’t serve your employees in the long-term. Communication should always be a two-way street.

Establishing an open line of communication for employees will improve internal communication instantly.

All managers and team leaders can not be communication professionals. Still, everyone in a position of leadership or authority should pay close attention to their communication skills. Start developing internal communication in your company with the help of the ten guidelines listed below.

10 Basic Guidelines for Internal Communication

1. Maintain a culture of open internal communication

Transparency is the very basis of internal communication. A culture of open communication engages employees and enhances trust in their management. It means both leaders and employees are able to readily share information and feedback in a transparent, honest and consistent way.

Managers need to lead by example. When employees see management practicing and encouraging open communication it’ll be a lot easier for employees to highlight problems in the workflow or environment. And if employees feel things are being hidden from them their motivation is certain to take a hit. Employees should be able to express their thoughts, feelings and plans clearly and assertively. This way team members can work together much more effectively.

Read more about open communication here.

2. Be present and listen

All of the steps are pointless if leaders don't know how to listen and take in the new information themselves. It's not enough to ask for input, it’s vital to be able to really wait for and listen to it. Listening is at the core of an effective internal communication strategy. It’s important for leaders to also be present and ready to answer employee’s questions, in times of change as well as in the day to day.

3. Pay attention to the clarity of your messages

Making sure communication is clear may seem self-evident, but it’s good to keep in mind that the fact that you understand your thoughts doesn't automatically mean others will have the same understanding. The recipients of the message are not likely to have been involved in the same discussions either. Most people are trained at writing for themselves or sharing information from their perspectives and not for others.

The same also applies when training new team members on tools or processes that other staff could handle with their eyes closed. Any written or spoken information should be explained as new with the necessary context while avoiding unnecessary jargon. It’s rarely needed when the goal is to get the message across.

4. Make internal knowledge easily available

Not all communication is person-to-person or individual-to-people. Managing information via document management and knowledge sharing are essential daily tasks. If you want to improve internal communications, start with how your employees find relevant information.

Even experienced employees spend a huge chunk of their day, on average 20%, searching for information or answers. Ensuring both clear instructions and information, and where to find it, will increase productivity immediately. One way to tackle it is implementing a writing culture of which you can read more here. Centralise all this information and put it at the fingertips for your entire organisation.

5. Follow an internal communication strategy and use the right channels

Communication planning is the starting point for its success. Implement an internal communication plan and follow it consistently. Keeping messages and communication consistent and ensuring the entire management team is up to date to avoid misunderstandings is one part of it. Big changes, reforms and decisions should be communicated to all personnel as soon as possible, but in a way that is thought through and planned.

However it’s just as important to pay attention to how communication happens across all teams and employees on a daily basis. This doesn’t mean an authoritarian big brother approach to finding out exactly what individuals are sharing with each other. Instead find out how and where people want to communicate. Ask, listen and take feedback and ideas onboard.

All of us are faced with a huge selection of digital tools and platforms for communication and collaboration, so it can be hard and exhausting to know which one to choose, or keep track of communications happening across multiple platforms. Therefore it’s important that teams are provided with a carefully curated selection of tools, and guidance on how to use them. Ensure digital fluency and training across the workforce where needed and set some clear digital boundaries and guidelines on how and when to communicate with colleagues. No one should feel pressured to read, respond or think about work updates while they should be recharging.

7. Pass on accurate information and avoid rumours

Ensuring information is accurate and up to date seems like another obvious expectation. Still, too often bits of information leak through causing confusion and rumours. 74% of employees feel they are missing out on company information and news. A core element to efficient internal communication is to make sure employees don’t have to find out about any topic, small or large, that concern them via unofficial routes and rumours. By not prioritizing employees you are sending a message that they aren’t important or necessary to keep in the know.

Managers and leaders should be considerate of what, when and where particularly sensitive updates and issues are discussed. Conversations heard in passing between management in particular will set off rumours, increase the risk of misunderstandings and the feeling of being left in the dark. Depending on the nature of the information employees may be resentful if they find out about it from a second-hand source.

8. Be open about strategy and clear about goals

Implementing strategy remains a noticeable challenge in many organisations. Only 23% of executives say that their companies are excellent at aligning employees’ goals with corporate purposes. It is therefore worthwhile to ensure that strategy and common goals are clear to all and not forgotten in the day to day operations. You’ll strengthen productivity and eliminate confusion by identifying, clarifying, and reinforcing this objective. There is nothing more important to a team than everyone being on the same page about the goals they’re working towards.

If employees are being communicated about strategic policies, goals and values but they’re not visible in the actions of the leadership, the efforts are going to be futile. If the leaders’ actions are in fact found to align with the set policies and goals all of it becomes much more credible. “One rule for them and another for us” is not going to do any good for the culture and long term goals.

9. Don’t focus on blame but encourage development

Authoritarianism, an accusing tone in communication or seeking someone to blame rarely lead to good results. Instead it’s much more beneficial to emphasise the importance of learning and working together toward the common goals. Read more about how to promote psychological safety and why, as well as the harmful Common Knowledge Effect here.

Communicate to all staff that failures do not need to be covered up, help is available and should be sought, and mistakes should be a learning opportunity. Again it’s important team leaders and managers are onboard here, won’t attempt to cover up their mistakes or shortcomings but demonstrate a desire to develop as much.

10. Commit to communication and set an example

To succeed in efficient internal communication it is paramount the leadership commits to it. Communication from leaders can’t just be outsourced to a comms team. Leaders must be actively involved.

To achieve open and constructive communication that will improve collaboration, productivity and engagement will only work if leaders and managers lead by example. Any culture change will not succeed if it’s only pushed from the ground up without the support from leadership. So, be the change you want to see and maintain the kind of culture you want employees to implement.

Internal communication is never going to be plain sailing but it plays a huge role in the success of the organisation and well being of employees. Luckily it can be worked on and improved.