Are you working to create a solid internal communications plan? One that considers Diversity & Inclusion, and steps for presenting to upper management? This blog post will help you to create a stellar internal communications plan and strategy, and provide the right questions for you to ask yourself along the way!
Taking a step back and reassessing your current internal communications plan and strategy is essential to building a new internal comms plan successfully. If you don’t yet have a strategic communication plan, you’ve still come to the right place.
As an internal communications professional, you may think you’ve got it figured out already. You’re probably already:
- Sending internal emails
- Running internal communications campaigns
- Suggesting real-time internal communications channels (like Slack)
- Putting effort into your social media presence and employer branding initiatives
If your efforts haven’t been paying off, you might be seeing lowered employee engagement levels in exchange. It doesn’t mean that you’re not in the right mindset, you may just need to change your approach to internal communications.
What is an Internal Communications Plan?
Before we get into how to put together an internal communications plan and strategy, we should talk about what it actually is. Traditionally, an internal communications plan includes seven components:
- Analysis of the current state of the business (where things are at, what the future commitment will be to internal communication efforts).
- What the internal communications plan is going to accomplish (overall business goal and communication department goals).
- Who your audience is (entire organization vs. select teams).
- What your message is (what topics you want to address, why, and how).
- How you will share your messages (internal communication strategies, tactics, and preferred channels – like email).
- When you will send your internal communication messages (what time are employees most receptive to internal collateral).
- How you will measure internal communication performance (what are your key metrics and what do you need in your communications tech stack).
When all is said and done, your internal communications plan will be a guide on how to communicate with employees – and be consistent about it. Stick to a consistent schedule and make your layout easy to follow. You’re giving them information about the business that you feel that they need to know. In return, you hope that they take action to achieve the company goals outlined. Think of them just like you think of your customers – they’re just internal.
If your internal communications plan is done well, it should encourage conversations and engagement with executives and other key stakeholders about effective internal communication strategies that aid in fulfilling business needs.
You might ask yourself:
- Who needs to be involved in building the internal communications plan?
- What will the approval process look like?
- What areas or topics should we focus on as a company?
- Where should the bulk of our internal communications team efforts go?
We get it: Coming up with a new and improved internal communications plan can seem like an impossible task. Have no fear, because we’re about to show you how to create a communications plan that’ll take your employee engagement levels so high that your customers will feel it, too.
Why Have an Internal Communications Plan?
Failing to pay attention to low engagement levels with your internal communications can have dire consequences. Without an internal communications plan, you won’t have a clear guideline or record on what you set out to do in the first place.
With a communication plan, you’re more likely to be able to hone in on areas of strength or weakness. Here are some stats that support having an internal communications plan:
- According to Gallup, businesses with highly engaged teams experience a 20% increase in productivity.
- Culture IQ reports that companies with engaged employees perform 200% better than those without. Research shows companies that invest more in employee engagement were able to grow their company profits by $2,400 per employee per year. To put it into perspective, if you’re communicating to a 1,000 employees that’s a savings of $2.4 million per year!
- A case study by Standard Chartered Bank reported that bank branches with highly engaged employees attained a 16% increase in profit margin growth when compared with those branches experiencing low levels of employee engagement.
- Fabick CAT, was able to improve upon its industry net sales by 300% by focusing on employee happiness.
- According to the Gallup State of the American Workplace report, almost 70% of employees are disengaged at work, costing companies $450-550 billion every year.
How to Assess Your Current Internal Communications Plan
The hope is with your internal communications plan, like any business initiative, will show improvement year-over-year (YoY). If you already have a basis for your internal communication plan, but think it can be improved, here are some steps you can take for assessment:
Run an internal communications audit.
Running a proper internal communications audit is essential to getting an accurate representation of the present state of your communication practices. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this on your own in-house, hire a consultant to get fresh eyes on your data.
Conduct an employee survey.
Surveys are effective, direct means of gathering qualitative feedback from your employees. ContactMonkey offers quick ways to gather employee feedback from your employee newsletters. With our Email Template Builder, you can create newsletter templates that include pulse surveys, star ratings, thumbs up and down buttons, and the ability to gather comments.
Host group interviews (sampling).
Another effective way to gather qualitative feedback is to plan a group interview. Since it’s impossible to talk to everyone in a large organization, interviewing a group representative of all departments and levels will help you to form a clearer picture of your organization.
Gather quantitative data.
Do you have a tool to track your internal communications? If not, you can also build a spreadsheet with metrics you want to track going forward. Look at the main channels you’re currently using, and the metrics associated with them.
How to Start an Internal Communication Plan
If you’re creating your internal communications plan from scratch, remember that it doesn’t have to follow a specific format. The aim should be ease of use and understanding for yourself and your team, and usually something on the brief (but well written) side can help. If you can get everything you need on a single page – even better!
Before you start drafting your internal communications plan, here are some questions to ask yourself:
- This past year, did you and your team get close to achieving your communication goals?
- Where do you want your internal communications to be?
- What do you need to do to get there?
There are four main steps to follow to ensure that you’ve considered the full scope of what an internal communications plan should include. Everything from goal setting, to crafting a plan that considers diverse teams.
Step 1: Define company goals, then align your team’s goals with them.
By knowing your company’s “big picture” goals you’ll be able to align your own communication goals with the overall strategy of the organization.
When the time comes to ask the executive team for a bigger budget or an addition to your communication tech stack, they’ll be more likely to approve if your goals align with the goals of the company.
“This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s flooring how many companies don’t map department-specific goals back to overall company goals. We outline departmental goals that directly support our overarching company success.
“This way, although every individual and department has different objectives, we’re all working towards connected and common goals.”
Although you won’t be dictating the goals coming from senior leadership, it’s important that you’re present when these conversations are taking place.
How to connect with senior leaders when creating the framework your internal communications plan:
- Request a meeting at the beginning of the year with your executives. Use this meeting to get a sense of goals for the year and understand the vision for your department in regards to them.
- Explain the importance of including your team in conversations early. If there are big initiatives in early planning stages, you should be aware of them so you can communicate them to your team.
- Stop talking about having a ‘seat at the table’ and start working towards building yourself as trusted advisors. As IC pro Advita Patel puts it, “working with leaders on a 1-2-1 basis and building trust is more impactful than sitting around a boardroom table.”
- Understand your organization holistically. As IC expert Rachel Miller puts it, “Being a strategic internal communicator and trusted adviser means you are demonstrating your detailed knowledge of the business.”
Step 2: Define your objectives and key results for a successful internal communications plan.
Once you determine the main objectives for your team and the company at large, you need to define how you will achieve those goals.
We suggest you use the Objectives and Key Results (OKR) model to build the Internal Communication department’s strategy. Use this OKR template from BetterWorks as a reference.
How to write an objective for your internal communications plan:
Objectives are the qualitative goals in any plan or strategy. The objective should help in achieving company goals and align with the corporate strategy.
Our friends over at Upraise.io came up with a handy list of questions you should be able to answer about your objectives:
- Does the objective have a broad outlook?
- Is the objective inspiring?
- Does the objective help in achieving the company goals?
- Does the objective align with corporate strategy?
- Is the objective indispensable?
- Is the objective time-boxed?
How to write a key result for your internal communications plan:
Unlike objectives, which are broad and inspiring, key results are measurable and specific. They are measurable indicators of how close you are to achieving your internal communications goals.
Questions to ask before defining key results for your internal communications plan:
- Does the Key Result (KR) adhere to SMART? (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, Time-Bound)
- Is the KR a result and not just another task/activity?
- Does the KR help in achieving the objective it belongs to?
- Is there a timeline identified for the KR?
- Does the KR belong to either a stretch or an operational goal category?
- Is the KR important enough to appear in the top 5 KRs for the objective?
Rick Klau, a partner at Google Ventures, listed these additional requirements for OKRs in a Google tech talk:
- Objectives are ambitious and should feel somewhat uncomfortable.
- Key results are measurable; they should be easy to grade with a number (Google uses a 0-1.0 scale to grade each key result at the end of a quarter).
- OKRs are public; everyone in the company should be able to see what everyone else is working on (and how they did in the past).
- The “sweet spot” for an OKR grade is 0.6-0.7; if teams consistently get 1.0, their OKRs aren’t ambitious enough. Low grades shouldn’t be punished. See them as data to help refine the next quarter’s OKRs.
Example OKR for your internal communication goals
Objective: Increase employee engagement
- Decrease attrition rate from 7% to 3%.
- Increase email opens and engagement from 78% to 90%.
- 3 campaign activities executed within each department.
Step 3: Determine the key metrics for your internal communications strategy.
Like with many aspects of your business, you’ll need some key performance indicators (KPIs) or metrics to analyze your internal communications plan or strategy.
As you’ve probably noticed, your high-level internal communications philosophy needs to be “measure everything you can.” Based on your OKRs, you now know what to measure to keep track of your internal communications performance.
Your list of what to measure will depend on the objectives and key results you’ve picked.
For example, if your main goal is to increase employee engagement via your email channel, you should be looking at the following metrics:
Email Open Rates
Email Opens let you know whether people are being informed and in the know of important company announcements. From a high open rate you can deduce that people received the information you wanted them to and that your subject lines are working. You can get a strong handle on engagement metrics with ContactMonkey’s Internal Comms solution.
If your open rates are low, you may need to come up with catchier subject lines. Test different subject lines to see which ones your audiences prefer.
Keeping an eye on link clicks allows you to see whether your audience is engaged.
A high click-through rate (CTR):
- Tells you the content you’re sending out is relevant to your audience
- Serves as the biggest sign that employee engagement is healthy
A low click-through rate can be a sign that:
- Your links aren’t relevant to your employees
- What the subject line promised isn’t being delivered on in the body of your internal emails.
If you’ve teams based in different offices and regions metrics based on location will help you identify highly engaged or disengaged teams.
With ContactMonkey, you can identify which locations engage most with your communications. This will help you define engagement goals based on the needs of different teams, departments and offices.
The rate of email opens on mobile has grown 5X in recent years so meeting your audience where they are is extremely important.
With ContactMonkey’s Internal Communications solution, you can also measure what devices your employees are using to interact with your communications. This will help you identify if you need to build out communications designed for mobile and desktop.
Employee Feedback and Responses
If you aren’t already surveying your employees, now is the time to start. Surveys can be the best way of understanding what your employees have engaged with when it comes to internal communication.
With ContactMonkey’s Email Template Builder you can now use your email channel to gather employee feedback. Just add pulse surveys, like buttons, star ratings and emoji reactions to your employee newsletter template. You can even gather anonymous comments and start to really understand what actually resonates and engages employees.
Collecting all of this data is a means to a very specific end: increase employee engagement, send better communications, and help the overall business performance of your organization.
Other metrics to consider:
This metric shows you how engaged your employees are with your brand and your overall goals. According to a report, only 23 percent of employees feel encouraged enough to share company news on social media.
A good metric to check is the number of Intranet logins among your staff. While it might make sense to track logged minutes, it’s actually more helpful to to track total logins as you can see how useful your intranet really is.
If you’re using an employee app, you may want to check engagement levels through that as well in order to get a complete picture of employee engagement.
By tracking which content resonates the best in any given branch or location, you’ll be able to better segment your internal emails and increase engagement levels.
Step 4: Ensure your internal communications plan is built for diversity and inclusion.
The modern workplace is more diverse than ever before. Thanks to more women and people of different ethnic backgrounds joining the domestic workforce, we are now seeing a changing landscape in organizations.
In response, companies are waking up to the need to introduce initiatives revolving around Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) in the workplace.
However, one of the biggest challenges many companies face is communicating about these efforts both internally and externally.
How to implement diversity and inclusion change:
Failing to communicate about your diversity and inclusion efforts is a risky strategy. Diversity & Inclusion is all about making sure everyone at your company feels that they have fair access to opportunities within the organization.
If an employee doesn’t see themselves represented on the leadership team, they may feel discouraged from pursuing leadership roles.
Progress with D&I can be painfully slow, but communicating about your long-term commitment to improving things will help keep young talent motivated as you work towards the change you want to see.
Internal communicators have a big role to play in supporting D&I initiatives within their organization. Some things include:
- Being clear about why: Don’t approach D&I as something you are obliged to do; tell the story about why enhancing your workforce in this way is important to your company.
- Having a strategy with clearly defined goals: Lay out the steps you need to take as well as clear goals along the way. Your employees should know this is a corporate commitment to change.
- Talking the talk: Keep your workforce informed through regular internal communications so they know what’s going on behind-the-scenes. Don’t forget to measure those internal communications to know what is resonating.
- Communicating on multiple channels: Don’t limit your communication strategy to the odd email or intranet post; get the message out there on all relevant platforms so that your message isn’t lost.
- Being honest: Even if one component of the plan doesn’t work out, tell the story so employees know the intention.
Here are some additional tips to ensure you have strategies in place that allow for diversity and inclusion within your internal communications.
How to Continuously Deliver Your Internal Communications Plan
The last thing to remember when crafting your internal communication plan, everything can change as the year progresses, so you need to continuously test, update your goals and OKRs to reflect your team’s new reality.
In software development, continuous delivery is the ability to get changes in motion and into the hands of the end user safely, quickly, and sustainably.
When applied to internal communications, continuous delivery allows communicators to always be in a fast-paced, nimble state. Here’s how:
A) Come up with a repeatable process and methodology. For example, if you’re creating your weekly internal employee newsletter, you should have a predictable process in place for reviewing, perfecting, and sending out your content. We recommend using our email template builder so you can use drag-and-drop tools to easily build your branded newsletter templates.
B) Book recurring meetings with your executive team. You don’t want to be blindsided by new changes in company goals. For that reason you need to make sure that your execs are aware of what you’re working on and vice versa.
C) Make your work visible to your team. Just as you don’t want to be blindsided by your execs, the rest of your team members should know if there are any changes in what you’re working on.
We recommend you adopt a project management tool such as Trello, Asana, or CoSchedule while still having face to face meetings whenever possible. Here’s a list of amazing internal communications tools you should look at.
Want to enable employees to react to your messages in real-time and see live feedback to enhance your internal comms strategy on an ongoing basis?
How to Get Your Internal Communications Plan Approved by Upper Management
Now that you’ve drafted your internal communications plan, you need to get upper management’s approval. When it comes to getting resources for your internal communications plan and strategy, not only will your campaigns be more efficient by involving key internal influencers, but you’ll also be able to secure budget for your internal communications plan.
Your executive team will need proof (metrics) that your campaigns are working to increase employee engagement, fostering employee retention, and contributing to the company’s bottom line.
According to Harvard Business Review, studies show that senior executives dismiss good ideas from below far too often. This is largely because if an idea’s relevance to organizational performance isn’t clear, it’s not deemed important enough to have their attention.
With that in mind, internal communications managers have to work to alter that perception.
1. The earlier you get executive buy-in, the better.
It’s easier to get approval from senior leadership when they feel they have a role in shaping the internal communications strategy, no matter whether that feeling is real or perceived.
For a successful communications strategy, early executive buy-in is crucial, according to Jane Lawrence, Internal Communications Manager at Northumbrian Water Group.
“It was important for the senior leaders to be walking the walk, and not just talking the talk, when it came to our strategy. It was underpinned by their support and ensuring they were visible through all the stages,” affirms Lawrence.
This sentiment is also shared by Advita Patel, Internal Comms Specialist at the UK’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. We had the chance to chat with her about the current state of internal communications and about how internal comms pros can become trusted advisors.
“I do think that we need to stop talking about having this ‘seat at the table’ and start working towards building ourselves as trusted advisors,” she says. “I know it’s been a bug-bear for many over the years that we are not taken as seriously as our PR friends, but I find working with leaders on a 1-to-1 basis and building trust is more impactful than sitting around a boardroom table.”
She also adds that once you’ve built your trusted advisor status among the C-Suite, you’ll be invited to these meetings without having to push on the door.
Becoming a trusted advisor means providing value to the organization through your internal communications plan. This gives the C-Suite the opportunity the tone and official voice of the organization, which is particularly hard in today’s era of disruption.
2. Remember that numbers don’t lie.
A key to getting your executives excited about any particular internal communications plan is to transition from the subjective to the objective.
The value of your internal communications campaigns becomes undeniable when you have the numbers to support your pitch.
This is the case whether or not your organization believes in the power of internal communications, and regardless of your relationship with executives.
You need to use metrics to demonstrate the impact of your campaigns. Whether it’s a launch campaign about using the new system for submitting expenses, or a PSA about dishes in the kitchen sink, always send management a detailed picture of the “before and after.”
By tracking everything, from email opens, engagement, link clicks, location and even devices used, you’ll be able to make your communications an objective science. Tracking and analyzing your internal communications plans benefits your team in two ways:
- It allows you to see what content resonates best with your employees.
- It enables you to have solid proof of the impact you’re having on the organization at large.
3. Focus on the solution, not the problem.
An integral aspect of whether you get approval for your internal communications plan is to highlight the solution rather than the problem you’re trying to solve.
According to experts Susan J. Ashford and James R. Deter, those who suggest thoughtful solutions when speaking about a problem were more successful at influencing executives than those who just highlighted problems.
Statistics show that only 24 percent of global employees are highly engaged. Spend some time assessing your current strengths and weaknesses:
- Do managers and team leads have the right tools to communicate information to employees effectively?
- Is the right department handling your internal communications?
- Are the right people within that department dedicated to this task?
- Are you communicating too much or too little as an organization?
- Who are the stakeholders in each department?
Think about where you want to take your internal communications plan and strategy. Ask yourself:
- What are your end goals?
- Are your goals relevant to the growth of the organization?
- What resources will you need to achieve your goals?
- How far away are you from reaching your goals?
- What needs to be done to help you and your team achieve these goals?
- Which strategies can you implement that will help you achieve your goals?
- What is the timeline for developing stronger internal communications?
ContactMonkey’s social reactions and pulse survey feature can help you transform internal employee emails into an interactive two-way channel. Adding social reactions and pulse surveys to your employee emails will enable employees to react to your messages in real-time.
You will be able to analyze feedback in real-time to enhance your employee communications strategy.
How to Build An Internal Communications Strategy
Review your internal communication plan regularly. High performing communication teams regularly meet to review and update their plans. It’s a great way to evaluate what part of your internal communications strategy is working and what needs continual improvement.
Plan consistently. Your communication plan should be in a consistent format that all communicators are using across your organization. This way, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time you need to create a new plan.
Remember that one size does not fit all. It’s good practice to do a channel audit and look at the channels you’re using most, ideally by target audiences. Chances are a channel that works for remote workers won’t work for your regular office employees.
Streamline your internal communication planning. You may want to try using some online collaboration tools to streamline your internal communications planning.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with new channels and campaigns. The standard intranet news piece alone just won’t cut it anymore. Don’t be afraid to try something different such as introducing innovative campaign ideas and constantly experiment with new platforms.
Below is a guide from CIPR Inside on how to start evaluating your internal communication channels and create an internal communication plan through which you can actually start measuring your success:
- Assess your current situation – What worked? What didn’t? What needs to change?
- Base your goals on your company’s larger goals, and help guide that conversation with upper management.
- Adopt an OKR (objectives and key results) system to ensure every strategy you undertake ties to a higher, measurable goal.
- Define what needs to be measured in your internal communications and how.
- Invest in tools to help you gauge employee engagement while enabling you to make beautiful responsive emails
- Continuously update your plan throughout the year as goals and circumstances change, like a larger focus on diversity and inclusion.
Communication planning is one of the most powerful weapons to lead successful internal communication. Having a better and more effective plan means more engaged employees and better performance. Want to see how ContactMonkey can help you excel in this are? Book a personalized demo!