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Podcast: How to set Internal Comms standards

Do you set Internal Comms standards in your organisation?

Do you have brilliant basics in place?

Do you have excellent resources at your fingertips?

I regularly have conversations with All Things IC’s clients about setting standards, so I decided to tackle this topic to launch Season Three of my podcast.

It has just been published and is available to listen to now. You can find the Candid Comms podcast on your favourite player including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify and Podbean. Or you can listen below.

Thank you to everyone who has continued to listen since the end of Season Two in August, there’s been 3000 downloads since I last published an episode!

The episodes are evergreen, which mean they don’t date. Stats are one thing, but what really matters to me is hearing how Candid Comms helps you when you’re stuck on a particular topic, preparing for an interview or in need of advice.

Do let me know what resonates with you from this episode. You can find me online @AllThingsIC on Twitter or @rachelallthingsic on Instagram.

This first episode of Season Three covers:

  • What it means to have brilliant basics in place
  • Why you need to map your channels
  • A free brilliant basics checklist for you to download – see below
  • A simple framework to help you get organised
  • Why measurement matters.

About Candid Comms

The Candid Comms podcast launched in January 2021. It is a weekly show designed to connect internal communication professionals to the advice and guidance, to help you thrive in your role.

Don’t forget to rate, review and follow, so other Comms pros can benefit too.

Thank you to my Producer, Debbie West of Seren Creative.

Candid Comms

 

Transcript for this episode

You’re listening to the Candid Comms podcast with Rachel Miller.

Join me every week for practical advice and inspirational ideas to help you focus on all things internal communication related.

Hello and welcome to the show. Today’s episode is focused on setting standards in internal communication. And as ever, you will leave with one thing to know, one thing to do, and one thing to think about. Are you ready? Let’s get started.

I wonder what made you choose this episode? What is it about setting standards that appeals to you? Is it perhaps that you are responsible for internal communication inside your organization and you have a feeling that things aren’t quite working in the way that they should be. Or maybe you want to improve the way internal communication happens and you have a feeling that setting standards is probably a really good place to start.

Whatever your reason, you are very welcome here. We are going to dive straight in with what we need to know. Now the mindset for me, when I think about setting standards in internal communication, the mindset for me is around brilliant basics.

Brilliant basics
I’m interested to know what good looks like. I’m curious to know what great looks like inside an organization. But what’s really top of mind for me when I’m thinking about standard setting in the wonderful world of internal communication is does an organization have brilliant basics in place? And that’s a thought process that I’m going to unpick for you today as we work through this topic together through this episode.

So what we need to know are the business priorities. So before we can possibly look at are our channels right?

Do we have the right team in place? The starting point is the business. What are we here to do as an organisation? Now, if you’ve listened to any previous episode of the Candid Comms podcast, I am certain you’ll have heard me talk about the purpose of internal communication and it bears repeating so I’m going to do so right now.

The purpose of internal communication as I describe it isn’t telling people what to do. It’s to create a shared understanding and a shared meaning. Only then can employees align themselves with a company’s goals, objectives and efforts.

The purpose of internal communication isn't telling people what to do, it's to create a shared understanding and a shared meaning, so our employees can align their efforts with the company's goals and purpose.

That shared understanding and shared meaning is the way we do things around here, which is also known as our culture. It’s how we make sense of the world. It’s what makes us special and unique as organizations. So the purpose of internal communication through that shared understanding and shared meaning, so this is things like our tone of voice, it’s how we communicate, when we communicate, who is responsible for communication, aligns everybody with our goals and objective and purpose.

Now I can’t think of a more important role inside an organisation than internal communication in terms of helping an organisation make sense to itself so we then can go to the outside world and communicate what we are doing, whether that’s our brand, whether that’s our customer promise.

So at the core, that’s the purpose. That’s what we are here to do, to create a shared understanding and a shared meaning of who we are, how we work, how we show up in the world as an organisation. So then let’s dive into that. From an internal communication perspective, well, what are the business priorities? Now whether you’ve got a business strategy, whether you’ve got big goals, whether you have principles, whatever you have, whatever the organization says about itself in terms of this is our priority, this is our purpose, this is what we are here to do. That’s your starting point, Comms friends.

When you are planning your internal communication, you need to look at what are our business objectives and everything else that we do has to be tied into that.

Whenever I’m looking at an organisation’s internal communication, that’s the lens I’m looking at.

I want to know what does the organisation stand for? What does it say about itself? What’s coming up in the next 3, 6, 9, 12 months, in the next five years, in the next 10 years? Because if I don’t know that it’s really hard to judge whether it’s got good enough internal communication and we don’t just want good enough internal communication, we want excellent internal communication.

But let’s start with getting brilliant basics in place. So if you don’t know what your business priorities are, and that sounds a little bit unusual to say that, but I’m sure it won’t surprise you to know the amount of times I’m talking with internal communicators or I’m auditing their internal communication inside their organisation and I will say, can you share your business priorities or your business strategy with me? And sometimes the answer is yes, of course, I’ll send it over right now.

And here it is. And we’ve got lovely documents and we’ve got all sorts of bells of whistles, or maybe it’s a rough one pager in terms of, well, this is what our CEO said at the last town hall that they said was important for the next 12 months. Is it that? I mean, it can be. Other times, there’s nothing. There’s nothing that can be sent to me. And what happens is that the business priorities are set by the comms team.

I wonder if that resonates with you. What’s the situation inside your organisation?

If you and I were having that conversation and you said, Rachel, we really want to improve the standards of our internal communication. And I said, great. Tell me what your business priorities are. Could you answer that? So here’s what I want you to think about. If you don’t know what your business priorities are, take that away as an action from listening to this podcast today, you need to know what’s important to the business, because then you can align what you are doing against it.

You are creating a shared understanding and shared meaning against it after all. So you need to know what the business priorities are. Once you have them, then we can get cracking. Then we can get determining what does good look like when it comes to the way that your organisation needs to communicate both from an internal communication, the overarching way of business communicates perspective, and internal communications, your tools, tactics, channels, and methodologies.

So you need to be thinking about both. So once we know what our business priorities are, what can we then do? When you know what your business priorities are, you can assess everything you are doing against them so it’s a really important lens to look through. Once you know what the business priorities are you can look at the way that your channels are set up, the way that your team is set up.

If it feels like things aren’t really working and you’re not sure why, have a look at the work that you are doing, have a look at the outputs so that’s your channels, that’s your stories and the outcomes, so the so what’s happening as a result of your internal communication. So something to do is to assess the way internal communication happens.

There is a separate episode on internal communication audits that is going to be happening in season three. But for now, what I want you to be focusing and doing is assessing your channels and assessing your internal communication against a standard. So you need to set it. So if we know what our business priorities are, and we have a sense that we know what we’re here to do as an organisation, great. Then what? How will you know how well you are doing as an organisation? How will you know how well you are doing as an individual and a team when it comes to internal communication? You need to set the standard.

When I think about an internal communication team, I want it to be performing brilliantly. And in order to do that, the brilliant basics that I think an internal comms team needs to have in place at the very least include things like tone of voice guides, an editorial calendar. And that’s one for you as an internal comms team so you know the cadence, the rhythm of your channels, and that’s supported by a channel’s matrix. Your channels matrix plots out all the different ways that you communicate as an organisation. It’s looking at the purpose of each channel. It’s looking at the audience, so who it’s intended for. It’s looking at the frequency. It’s looking at what makes a great story or piece of content for that channel.

There’s a whole separate episode on planning your internal communication channels.

Candid Comms with Rachel Miller

In the episode, episode eight in season one, you’ll find your very own channels matrix for you to download and work through. So if don’t have that, that’s something that I want you to do as a result of listening to this episode is to complete a channels matrix. Now the second type of editorial calendar is one that’s for the whole organisation. And this is really important.

If you want to be brilliant at internal communication, you need to understand the way your organisation is communicating. So it’s not just what’s going into your channels as a solo internal communicator or a team of internal communicators inside your organisation. It’s understanding what announcements are coming out from HR. What’s top of mind for your IT team in terms of the tech rollout? When were those or announcements be happening in an editorial calendar? So if you’re really serious about having brilliant basics, you need to be thinking both sides in terms of editorial calendar for us as internal communicators and editorial calendar for the organisation.

Now you can have one that does both things and some organisations do do that. So you do whatever suits your culture the way you do things around here and your team and the way that you work. But if you don’t have one Comms friends, trust me, your future self will thank you for putting an editorial calendar in place. And the reason that’s helpful is you can then see when the noisy spots are. If for example, you are looking at your editorial calendar and you’ve got stakeholders and internal people saying to you, we’ve got X, Y, Z happening, and we need to send an announcement to all employees on the third week of March. But you can see because you have an editorial calendar in place, you can see that that’s no good because there are two other departments who are already planning something for that key third week of March.

And therefore this new campaign will not cut through. That’s why it’s important to have an editorial calendar because you’re trying to manage the noise. You’re trying to understand all the different conversations that are going to be happening at any point in time. So I encourage you to do that. If you don’t have an editorial calendar in place, get one.

Start working on one. Start using it in conversations with your business partners and stakeholders in terms of what’s coming up for you. What do I need to be aware of? What needs to go into my company calendar? Another thing for us to do is when we’re thinking about setting brilliant basics is making sure that we are helping ourselves and we’re helping the organisation. So bear with me. What I mean here is you need to make sure that you have the right resources in place and I’m talking toolkits, templates, advice, and guidance.

Now this helps you because you can crystallise what does brilliant look like when it comes to the way that we communicate inside our organisation? What makes a great story or a great video? How long should it be? What should it cover? You are setting standards. You are a professional communicator. So we need to act in that way. We need to demonstrate our thinking, working out loud, showing that it doesn’t just happen. There is a rigor and a careful approach and careful thought to internal communication. So it helps us, frankly, because we are not having to repeat ourselves over and over again in terms of this is what a great story looks like. If you have things like this, toolkits, templates, advice and guidance. This is something you can share. And it also helps the organisation because then you get into a good pattern and a good rhythm in terms of this is what great looks like when it comes to stories on the internet for example.

You have consistency and therefore, hopefully you have great quality. I believe in order to have brilliant basics in place, you need to be focused on quality. How are you feeling? There was a lot in there in terms of what to do. If you are trying to keep up and making lots of notes, see below to find a checklist. These the brilliant basics you need to have in place and there’s links in there to things like channels matrices and also to give you a list in terms of editorial calendar and toolkits and templates, just things to make you think. The final part of what you need to do and make sure that you have in place is you need to make sure if you are setting standards for internal communication, you need to have an excellent internal communication strategy.

Brilliant basics checklist

Now that is a whole other episode in its own right. However, without a strategy in place, you are not helping yourself and you are not helping your organization. I know that that feels really difficult and trust me, it’s not. An internal communication strategy to me is an essential part of your brilliant basics toolkit because it captures in one place this is our thinking behind internal communication. Before we go off and do the doing, this is our thinking, this is what good looks like when it comes to the way we communicate in our organization. We are going to take a short break and when we come back, I’m going to be leaving you with one thing to think about. See you in a moment.

What you need to think about

In the final part of today’s episode, we are going to be focusing on what you need to think about to set standards in internal communication. And what I want you to think about is what gets in your way right now. What are the barriers to good, effective internal communication or setting standards in your organisation? Now it could be any number of things. It might be that you’ve inherited a team or you’ve inherited channels and it isn’t how you would’ve set things up from scratch. So you are looking at the way internal communication does or doesn’t happen inside your organisation and thinking, gosh, this really isn’t great. I need to do the best, make the most of what I have. If you feel like that, you are not alone. We have lots of conversations with clients who get in touch who say I’m a bit stuck with my channels or with my team and we are not quite sure what to do next.

And the barriers are normally because we’ve always had certain channels or certain people have always done certain things. Or maybe there’s a lack of understanding from a senior manager perspective or a line manager perspective when it comes to internal communication and therefore the barriers to success are vast. So you need to call them out. You need to know what is stopping internal communication happening in the right way inside your organization. What’s missing? Is it that you don’t have great channels? Is it that you’re not quite sure how internal communication happens or maybe it’s happening in areas that you can’t see be it closed Facebook groups or WhatsApp groups. So they’re not official channels, but that’s the way your people are getting credible, accurate, reliable information to help them do their jobs. I call that shadow comms.

I’ll link to an article in the show notes for today so you can read more about shadow comms if you want to know more about that. So what’s stopping you? If you want to have brilliant standards and brilliant basics in place, why don’t you right now? Is it legacy? Certain things that have been done in the past that you’ve ended up with? Or is it that actually you’ve never really thought about it? Now you can. I want you to be able to leave this episode knowing exactly what to do. The checklist that I mentioned just before the break will help you with this. If you know what your barriers are to the way internal communication happens inside the organization, then flip it around. What does good look like? What’s going to make your internal communication successful. What are the standards that are currently missing? Maybe when I said earlier about tone of voice guides you thought, oh yeah, we don’t actually have that.

Well, if not, why not? Could you consider creating your very own tone of voice guide or guide to internal communication or cultural playbook, whatever you need to call it in order for it to make sense for your organisation. Think about what success looks like when it comes to standard setting. Imagine it’s six months from now and you have been working really, really hard to get brilliant basics in place and set standards.

What would that look like? What would that feel like? What would that sound like?

Would it be that your people managers are super clear about their role when it comes to communicating with their teams, they understand the importance of two-way conversation moving from monologue to dialogue. They understand that it’s part and parcel of their job. They understand they’re not doing us a favor when they communicate with their teams. Can you tell that’s a bit of a bug bear of mine?

You’re not doing us a favour when you’re communicating with your team, line managers. What does good look like for your organisation? Imagine it is six months from now and then let’s work backwards. So if we end up in a situation where you know you’ve got a whole range of advice and guidance and toolkits and templates, one page comms plan, you’ve got stakeholder maps, you’ve got change comms templates.

What are those things? What is it that you want to be able to have at your fingertips in the future? And then let’s work backwards. If we know that, if we know that’s what we want to do to set standards, then what do you need to do in the next 30, 60, 90, 120 days to make that happen? And I like to plan like that because if you think, oh, in six months time, I’m going to have X, Y, Z in place, great.

How are you going to take action today, this week, this month to help make that change a reality and a success? I encourage you to do that. If you’ve never thought like that before, but you have these aspirations and ideas of setting standards in the way you want internal communication to happen, break it down. Why? Because it makes it tangible. It’s much more likely to happen in my experience if you break things down into practical chunks that you can focus on in 30 day increments.

I wonder how that feels. I wonder how you are feeling at the moment. Do you know what to do next? Something I want to leave you with before all we finish this episode together is a really simple framework that I use a heck of a lot in my work and it’s start, stop, continue. So given what I’ve shared with you today, given all the things that we’ve thought about and what I’ve shared that you need to know and things I want you to do and things I want you to think about, take some time.

Maybe if you are out walking the dog or you’re in the bath, wait until you’re in front of a notebook or in front of your computer and make some notes and use the headings: start, stop, continue. So if you want to have brilliant basics in place, what do you need to start doing? What do you need to stop doing? And what do you need to continue? And you can run this exercise through whatever lens you need to. So maybe for you personally, what do you need to start doing if you want to have brilliant basics in place and set standards for internal communication? What do you need to stop doing? Whether that’s for you as an individual or you as a comms team and actually what’s working all right? So as you’re listen through to this episode, did you think, oh yeah, good, we have that in place and we do have that, but maybe we can improve it.

That all fits into your continue bucket. It’s what is it that you are already doing that you think is working quite well and you’re going to continue doing it. So start, stop, continue. You can use that in almost any area of your work. I use it constantly when I’m working to advise internal communicators around the globe. I challenge them to ask, what are you going to start? What are you going to stop? What are you going to continue to achieve? Whatever it is they’re trying to achieve. The final thought I want to share with you be before we do close this episode is the topic of measurement. If you don’t measure, you don’t know how good you are. If you don’t measure, you don’t know how bad you are or how poor your internal communication is.

I can’t possibly talk about setting standards in internal communication and not mention measurement. One of my golden rules for measurement is to measure what you treasure. So I challenge you to think about that. What is it that you treasure in the world of internal communication, inside your organisation?

What is it that’s super important? You need to be able to articulate that. And that’s a really important facet to the work that we do. It’s a really important element to the work that we do. You need to be able to apply it day to day in the work that you are doing. If you are setting standards, then you are not only measuring the outputs, but also the outcomes too. If you listen to episode six of season one of the Candid Comms podcast, you will find a whole episode dedicated to measurement that not only looks at how to do that, but it also unpicks the language of measurement so you can understand that too.

Candid Comms Rachel Miller

I hope you found this episode useful to help you think about brilliant basics in the wonderful world of internal communication. As ever, I would love to hear from you. What are you taking away from this episode? What are you going to do differently as a result of spending time with me today and listening to the Candid Comms podcast?

You can find me online. You can tweet me @AllThingsIC. You can find me on LinkedIn, Rachel Miller, or look me up on Instagram at @rachelallthingsic. I’d love to hear from you. Do let me know what going to be doing as a result of listening to this episode. And as ever remember, what happens inside is reflected outside. See you again soon.

Post author: Rachel Miller

First published on the All Things IC blog 28 November 2021.

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