Filed under: Internal communication
Ask any member of your workforce “What is your main source of corporate news?” and the answer invariably is “email”. This is despite two decade’s worth of steady improvement to other digital comms channels, and whole decade’s leap forward in a single week when Covid hit.
In practice, new tools have simple added to existing channels. So in addition to email there’s posts to Yammer or Workplace by Facebook, updates sent to Microsoft Teams, and messages posted to display signs. This situation doesn’t make anyone happy. Employees are overloaded with “corporate spam” and internal comms teams are rushing every week just to keep up with all the messages sent to so many different channels.
In our consulting work, our clients are either internal comms or IT teams, and it’s our job to find practical ways forward. What we’ve come to realise is this:
Incremental improvements to internal comms are no longer enough. What’s needed is a leap of faith that involves making strategic decisions across multiple channels at once, and then staying the course.
Thankfully there’s a practical framework that can be used to plan the way forward: the digital maturity model for internal comms. Before we get to that, let’s start with the many small compromises that undermine the ability to make real progress.
Death by a thousand exceptions
The intranet is the primary channel for corporate comms, and messages are posted to it every day. Of course, some messages we really need to be sure are going to reach everyone, like the CEO’s message, so we email that to all staff. There’s also the monthly senior leaders’ update, which we send out as an email newsletter. Key policy changes, like updates to our compliance rules, are also emailed.
These are all reasonable approaches in the short term, but they impede progress in key ways:
- If the most important messages are sent via email, then that clearly indicates that the primary channel is actually email, not the intranet.
- In our research, we’ve heard many employees says “if it’s important, then it’s emailed” as the explanation for why they don’t regularly visit the intranet.
- Once exceptions are made, then it’s hard to stop others demanding the use of all-staff emails, which heads things in the wrong direction.
- It also leaves the intranet as the second-hand channel, an archive rather than source of news (16 years ago we highlighted the need to make the intranet the first source of news).
Somewhat used platforms
During the early days of the pandemic, Microsoft Teams (or Workplace by Facebook) was “rolled out” to the whole workforce. It was quickly taken up as a way of holding virtual meetings, but its use as a collaboration tool is pretty limited. Stats show that 40% of staff are regularly using Teams, and the figures are much the same for Yammer. While we’re sending out culture-related items to these channels, we know not everyone is seeing them, so we’re hoping that team leaders will pass things on.
The huge issue for collaboration tools in most organisations is that they were never fully adopted, with many of them stalling at usage levels of 40-60% of the workforce. This has big implications:
- ‘Need to know’ messages can’t be sent out via collaboration tools, as they won’t reach all staff.
- More broadly, the low levels of adoption mean that these channels can only supplement existing channels (eg email), rather than replacing them.
- Without a clear purpose and strategy for these tools, they will continue to languish.
- All of this means that these channels are just extra effort for internal comms teams.
Not really all staff
The intranet is a key internal comms channel that reaches ‘all’ staff, alongside all-staff emails. Although staff working in the field don’t have access to the intranet, and while they all have email addresses, most don’t check them. So we rely on the ‘cascade’, where managers and team leaders communicate key messages in person, but we’re not sure this works very well in practice.
In many organisations, the most important staff — those working directly with customers — have very limited access to digital communication channels. This is a big deal, for a range of reasons:
- There is no timely channel that will reach the whole workforce, particularly those in frontline or field roles.
- Limited digital access means that these staff also can’t benefit from the other services the intranet provides.
- Without an effective digital channel for all staff, it’s hard to foster a ‘one organisation’ culture.
Making a leap of faith
To overcome these challenges, a truly strategic shift is required for internal comms platforms and practices. Taking a ‘leap of faith’, teams can fully utilise new technologies, finally escaping the tyranny of all staff emails and cascading comms.
Thankfully there’s a ‘safety net’ in the form of the digital maturity model for internal comms:
This framework allows teams to assess the current state of internal comms, and to identify the desired state over the coming year (or two). By positioning the key elements of internal comms (and collaboration) side-by-side, it’s then clear how changes can be made in sync, to maximise outcomes.
What could this mean in practice? While the approach must reflect the specifics of the organisation itself, we’ve seen some highly effective approaches such as:
- Modernising the intranet. Using new platforms (such as SharePoint Online), internal comms on intranets can become richer and more engaging, while targeting key messages to different audiences. With a truly effective digital comms channel now in place, the all-staff emails are restricted just to linking to news items (including the CEO’s messages!).
- Reaching all staff. In order to enable all staff to access the intranet, it’s made available via the cloud, usable on both work and personal devices. In a stroke, there’s now a channel that reaches all staff at the same time, unlocking the ability to progressively better meet the digital needs of previously underserved staff cohorts.
- Committing to collaboration. A targeted campaign is conducted to bring all frontline staff into the chosen collaboration tool, and new practices are universally established, such as using the tool for minute-to-minute team messaging, arranging shift changes and getting answers to questions. With near-100% adoption, the collaboration platform then becomes a true digital tool for fostering a shared culture.
In our consulting work, these are just a few of the approaches that we’ve recommended. Using the digital maturity model, we’re able to make specific recommendations across a range of channels, based on our understanding of staff needs and stakeholder priorities.
Post-pandemic, this is the ideal time to make changes that seemed impossible just a few years ago. Reach out, and we’ll help you make your leap of faith into a truly digital future for internal comms.