You talkin’ to me? Developing Internal Communications for the social sector

Internal Communications


Commonly, when planning communication for development strategies, public information campaigns and outreach and mobilization plans, tend to monopolize all communication efforts.

Internal communications are mostly forgotten. The excuses for this are usually the same: budget constraints, lack of planning, no coordination with human resources department, or, to summarize all of these, not having any interest at all.

Then, when problems come in, it is because there is no feedback coming from the field team or because staff are spreading different (and often contradictory or false) messages. When you realize employee’s commitment is low, it is often too late to straighten the situation.

How to correctly communicate with staff from different backgrounds? How to motivate and encourage them to provide feedback? How to appreciate their effort and commitment when working with no budget nor resources for internal communications?

Understanding the audience

Have you ever interviewed your internal stakeholders? Do you know which channels are your volunteer’s favorites? Do you know what is your staff cultural background?

Writing marketing personas* detailing your internal audiences channel choice, cultural background, demographic data, goals and challenges, and ultimately, values and fears, is a good point to start.

Stop thinking of internal audiences just as a work force. Believe it or not, these guys are real people with other interests than work. Surprising, huh?

Build up trust during both formal and informal meetings. Ask them what challenges or issues struggle their daily work.

Internal Communications for international civil societies are challenging. You have to think of field work versus desk work teams, multiculturalism, different time zones, and such, but the pillars from internal communications are the same: understanding the needs of your audience is key.


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Setting objectives

Start with the mood. Forget that ‘bilinear communication’ mantra here. This is about building a network. Staff must own internal communications and be conscious of this ownership.

It’s ok if human resources team want to use their old-school methods like boring (and highly inefficient from my understanding) weekly written status reports to supervisors. What we communicators want is to build the most appropriate channels based on a local situation analysis and end-user input, not the same paperwork as some leaders misinterpret as communications.

Start by building a common communication voice and tone in which people can feel comfortable. Adapt this to the methods (email, messaging apps, posters, events) depending on your audience’s preferences.

Inform

What’s going on at headquarters? What is going on in the field?

Keeping field workers up to date with the latest organization developments, policy changes, and visions for the future will make them feel more involved and agree, supporting the projects and services you are trying to carry out.

Start by developing a common fact sheet ensuring this includes the company’s strategic key plan, its mission, vision, values statement, strategic goals, and information about how these goals will be reached.

Once this fact sheet is developed, adapt it to every internal stakeholder including their job description and organization chart. Add specific information to common statements and use this document for all people involved (volunteering, staff, collaborators, etc.)

Use these materials everywhere you can: training sessions, meetings, PowerPoint presentations, briefings… Everywhere. This is key to ensure everybody is spreading the right message and understanding everything.

Periodically, send information pills to internal audiences to reinforce these topics, or to follow up new issues during project development.


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Ask for feedback

If internal stakeholders are not providing feedback it is because of three main reasons: either they have fear to speak out loud, they don’t have the proper channels to express themselves freely, or finally, they don’t have an interest in doing so.

Listen to people. Demystify meetings. You don’t need anything formal to ask for feedback from staff. Use games, sports, webinars, messaging apps, or whatever it takes to let people speak out.

Give field workers the opportunity to make their voice heard and give management valuable insights into how to engage their field employees.

Ask. Hold weekly or biweekly meetings with all the staff together. Organize common interest groups among local offices staff. Create a sense of unity by starting initiatives involving everybody no matter where they are.

And, for god’s sake, cut this annoying rumor mill by ensuring employees feel safe to venture their feelings or opinions to peers.

Encourage

One of the biggest mistakes managers commonly make is not meeting face to face with field workers often enough.

We all like to feel valued and wanted. Creating a sense of involvement is crucial for engaging both field and desk staff.

Once again, and based on your ‘marketing personas’, develop methods exclusively to motivate internal people. Start competitions to reach objectives, organize virtual events, webinars, and let people be trainers of their colleagues. Give them the opportunity to be the organization’s voice.

Reward

Take advantage of daily opportunities like training sessions or informal meetings to celebrate organization, group and personal major accomplishments.

Give certificates, rewards, but overall, as a regular basis, show your colleagues gratitude and respect for their commitment and effort.

Internal Communications involve coordination with human resources area. Push them to share a calendar of actions and plan side by side how to measure the performance of these actions.

Got it. Now what?

Once you start implementing your strategy, it is time for feedback (which might include face-to-face interviews, surveys, community meetings, phone calls, etc.)

Learn about your internal audience. Ask and involve them in communication processes. Ensure they perceive they have control over the organization’s channels.

Develop a monitoring scheme to know if content is understood. Certify that message is well delivered by asking for specific understanding indicators.

Remember, too often, management learns the need for internal communications by having to respond to the lack of it. Be a communication evangelist and tell them why internal communications are necessary.

So, what about you? Have you experienced some of these techniques to produce internal changes? Have you ever used these methods with other audiences?

References

Maiers, Reynolds, Haselkorn. 2005. Challenges to Effective Information and Communication Systems in Humanitarian Relief Organizations.
http://faculty.washington.edu/markh/TC520/ICSchallenges.doc

* A marketing persona is a composite sketch of a key segment of your audience. For content marketing purposes, you need personas to help you deliver content that will be most relevant and useful to your audience.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persona_(user_experience)

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