What does an internal communication strategy look like? Do you need one? How should you write one? How long should it be? What is an internal communication strategy?
So I thought I’d dedicate this article to all things strategy related and share not only my advice to help you navigate through and help you kickstart your thinking, but draw on the experience of other IC pros in my network too.
What is internal communication?
I’ve written countless strategy documents over the years and now regularly write them for my clients.
Further reading: Eight internal communication myths.
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Sit back, grab a cup of tea and let’s start at the very beginning of writing an internal communication strategy…
What is an internal communication strategy?
I view IC strategy like a map – it’s an outline of your organisation’s journey and is the big picture of what you want to achieve.
It needs to address:
– where you are now
– where you’re heading/want to be (objectives)
– how you are going to get there
– how long it will take and why
– what is involved along the way
– why this approach is the best one
– how you’ll know when you’ve got there (measurement).
For me, it’s the what and why that are the most important for strategy, largely because the how, where and when are more tactical.
I often use the phrases I’ve bulleted above as part of the structure. Why? Because packing it full of jargon does no one any favours!
Your strategy should be research based, have employees at its centre and be easily understood by anyone who reads it – Tweet this.
Tip: Being research based means understanding the reality of communication in your company, e.g. through audit results, anecdotal feedback, employee surveys/focus group feedback.
Gather your data to ensure you have both qualitative and quantitative information.
Further reading: See my previous article on how to conduct an internal comms audit for more info about the differences.
The word to keep in mind is clarity: about the particular project it relates to, area of the business or company as a whole, and detail how that strategy will build on and encourage conversation and feedback that match the organisation’s plans.
At its heart should be what you want employees to do/say/think/feel differently as a result of the work undertaken and what the priorities, budget and resources are to deliver that.
What does the end result look like?
Tip: Your internal communication strategy needs to align with the overall business strategy and objectives.
If it doesn’t, you need to question why it’s being written. Seriously. After all, the purpose of internal communication is to help your company deliver its business strategy, so it makes sense for everything to fit together.
Before you start
Before writing it, you may know who your various stakeholders are/groups of people to communicate with, what channels you have and why they are suitable, and what you want to achieve.
Your strategy is how you capture all this information so everyone knows what route the company is taking, how they fit in, why this approach is the best one and how you’re going to get to your destination.
Finishing the document isn’t the end of the strategy, you need to enable employees to deliver it and align their efforts. The way to do this is through effective internal communication.
Measurement is key to understand what good looks like, how to know what’s working and when you’ve achieved your objectives.
What format should it be in?
The short answer is it depends. Some companies use written docs e.g. Word, some presentations, while others use spreadsheets.
Tip: Think through what happens next once it’s been written; ideally it needs to be a living document and accessible by others. If I’m using Word/PDF format I include bookmarks to help the reader navigate through the content.
How long should it be?
Again, totally depends, but mine vary from 2-4 sides of A4 to 10-15 pages.
Tip: Shorter is better because you want it to be read and actioned, not be a weighty tome no one wants to read.
Why are some longer? My longer strategies go into greater detail, typically around the why. They can also include elements like a channels matrix (grid showing the communication channels/methods that will be used and why), stakeholder mapping (plotting on a chart who needs to be involved/informed and when) and feedback from relevant sources (e.g. context drawn from an employee survey or audit).
Who should write it?
The majority of the time an IC strategy is written by an IC pro, as, unsurprisingly, they are closest to understanding what work needs to happen and how it fits into the business strategy.
This can be someone inside the organisation or an expert who is called in to offer advice and guidance to the comms team. I regularly write strategies for All Things IC’s clients.
Tip: Involve others too when appropriate, e.g. your external comms colleagues plus business partners such as HR, Legal, IT.
This can help get buy-in if they’re involved up front. If there are existing policies/strategies in place that it would be good to refer to, do your reading first.
What should be in an internal communication strategy?
My strategies typically include these headings:
Title – I find this useful for internal reference, particularly if you have more than one strategy.
Issue/purpose – the business objective it aligns e.g. increasing sales/productivity, reassurance through change etc.
Executive summary – succinct overview for reader. Should include how it will add value, what resources are needed, plus a timeline.
Structure – where we are now, where we want to be and why, how we’re going to get there, how we’ll know we’re there. Plus resources and timings required to deliver it.
The communication objective – why the strategy exists and what it’s trying to achieve. Can also include the required behaviours/actions that need to be taken.
Measurement – how the strategy will define and measure success. Should include what success looks like and what the next steps are. This can include updating the strategy at defined periods or reviewing the measurement you put in place at regular intervals.
Tip: See the communications measurement matrix developed by CIPR Inside.
Key messages – whether for whole organisation, project or part of the company. Should be short, memorable and consistent.
Audience segmentation/stakeholder mapping – who you are communicating with. You can do this by segmenting the audiences (other terms exist, but will stick with it for this article) – it could be a small group of employees or tens of thousands of people spread across the globe.
However, the same rules remain – the more directly you can tailor the content and appeal to each group, the better chance of success you have in achieving what you’re setting out to do.
Tip: Bear in mind your stakeholders, or people who can directly impact communication activities. You may need to create a separate comms plan for them, and I recommend mapping the groups e.g. employees, unions, shareholders, customers etc to ensure you don’t miss anyone out.
Channels – you’ve outlined what you’re trying to achieve, here you detail the communication channels/methods you will use and when. Ensure you have effective feedback mechanisms and two-way channels in place for employees to have their voices heard and views acted upon.
Approval process and responsibilities – who needs to sign off the strategy and who the authors are.
Timeline – this is useful to ensure your strategy gets underway, it helps outlines expectations all round and is mindful of any key dates or events.
Appendix – any additional information that needs to be considered alongside the strategy but not form part of the main document.
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Advice from my network
I Tweeted that I was writing this article and called for people in my network to share their top tips with readers of my blog. Thank you to everyone who responded.
You can see their advice below and it includes comments from IC pros working for organisations including Starbucks, Barclays, Grant Thornton, Northern Trust and Transport for London.
Got a top tip to add or something that works well that you’d like to share? You’re welcome to comment below or Tweet me @AllthingsIC.
I hope you’ve found this article helpful to help you on your way to crafting your internal communication strategy.
Best of luck,
What’s your top tip when thinking through #internalcomms strategy? Want to inc thoughts from IC pros in new article, do pls tweet me yours
— Rachel Miller (@AllthingsIC) April 8, 2014
Jenni Wheller @jenniwheller: “Understand the business plan and align your strategy to it. Your objectives and measurement should be totally aligned to the business goal”
Vici Cornwall @kikiloola: “Start by defining how you want people to think, feel and act. Plus, at the outset, define how you’ll measure success. Work backwards from there”
@AllthingsIC consider measurement – it’s great to have lots of ideas but you need to be able to measure the effectiveness of your strategy
— Helen Deverell (@Helenw7) April 8, 2014
@AllthingsIC IC has to bring org objectives to life, in a way that’s engaging and relevant for the org/audience (and they’re all different)
— Nat High (@nat_high) April 8, 2014
@AllthingsIC collect knowledge first – business strategy, staff attitudes, operational challenges, demographics – all the data you can get
— Oli Howard (@howard_oli) April 8, 2014
— Eleanor Harwood (@EleanorHarwood) April 8, 2014
@AllthingsIC making the link between employee engagement and level of productivity
— Gihan (@Gehanam) April 8, 2014
@AllthingsIC ensure you understand the business strategy and it’s drivers. If you don’t understand that, it’s impossible to communicate it
— Mark Lacey (@gandtdeac) April 8, 2014
@AllthingsIC Working in close alignment with PR/Corp comms re timing of messages, but framing the message to suit the internal audience.
— Rebecca Smith (@becca2409) April 8, 2014
@AllthingsIC give everyone a blog and ask them to talk about their experiences. The fewer gatekeepers the better.
— Julian Summerhayes (@Ju_Summerhayes) April 8, 2014
@AllthingsIC See it as a living document and review it fairly regularly for continuing relevance.
— Bob Hammond (@BobHammond2) April 8, 2014
@AllthingsIC keep it simple, link to business objectives, focus on audience needs, and be realistic
— Glen Catnach (@glencat) April 8, 2014
@AllthingsIC Not exactly an IC pro, but for me – people don’t always think what you think they think. Don’t assume. Go find out.
— Chris Gibbons (@connectedchris) April 8, 2014
@AllthingsIC making explicit the links between the IC strategy and wider organisational strategy; it shows line of sight and improves buy-in
— Rich (@theintrapreneur) April 8, 2014
@AllthingsIC horizon scan! Know the landscape internally across all areas in terms of activity/projects for the future & Map them
— Mrs Ivanovskis (@HanLRees) April 8, 2014
@AllthingsIC Have clarity on ‘what to use when’, not just for comms pros but everyone – we’re all communicators
— Sam Marshall (@sammarshall) April 8, 2014
@AllthingsIC Take risks and challenge – if there’s nothing in the strategy that you have to fight to get signed off, you’re playing too safe
— Steven Murgatroyd (@steve_murg) April 8, 2014
Great post @AllthingsIC I’d suggest presenting audience segmentation before messaging so that the content is shaped by a focus on audience
— Caroline Kealey (@carolinekealey) April 9, 2014
Sarah Hodges @hodgessarah: “Start at the end. What do you want to achieve and how will you know if you have achieved it?” Basically I think about the end goals. Utopia! What will colleagues think, feel, do as a result of our comms strategy? Helps me then work backwards to ensure we are focusing on the right things. “I also think it’s important to make sure you engage with all key decision makers up front and make sure you take them with you as you develop the strategy. They are our ambassadors at the end of the day and can make things happen on the ground. In this regard it’s always good to keep a constant dialogue with colleagues too – keeps you in check and ensures what you deliver will be right for them. Basically don’t work in isolation!”
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First published on All Things IC website 8 April 2014.