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It’s What’s Inside That Counts (A Series on Internal Communications)

Posted by Carol Whitworth on June 18, 2020

Welcome to our four-part Corporate Internal Communication Series by Carol Whitworth, Founder of the UK’s #1 Internal Communications firm, Home. Home has created Internal Communications Crisis and Transition plans for leading UK brands, as well as F500 companies including Hershey, Dell, Northwell Health and Intel. 

I am delighted to be invited by our friends and collaborators at Crews Control to be a regular contributor to their monthly blog. 

I’m Carol Whitworth, the founder and chief inspiration officer at Home. We are an employee experience business with clients across the globe. We help large organizations communicate with their employees and help employees understand the vital role they play in business success. 

Every month I will take a topic that I believe is interesting, useful or that I think you can’t live without.  There’ll be plenty of learning, cogitating and inspiration to help you and your colleagues in employee communications or HR do their jobs a little better. 

I refuse to use the word that starts with “UN-” and ends with “-DENTED”, but in my 38 years of business, I have witnessed and been part of some astonishing shifts, but nothing quite like this. First, Brexit here in the UK, and then, followed hot on its heels, the global pandemic that is COVID-19, and now, the astounding and just uprising of the Black Lives Matter movement around the globe. 

I said to my team last week it’s like the Lord has put us all on the naughty step. We’ve learned our lessons and we are ready to come back into the room.

Now more than ever it feels like none of us can predict the future. With the past three months of uncertainty, I believe people will be looking to their employers for clarity, direction and ultimately, reassurance that the right contingency plans are in place to ensure there will still be a business, that they’ll still have a job as we come out of lockdown and most importantly, that they will be working in a safe work environment.

Providing clarity and direction will not only be greatly appreciated, it will also help build trust in leadership and sustain business performance. It will also rally teams around a goal, creating a positive movement if you’re clever. From an Internal Communications perspective, you need to plan for multiple scenarios, so that you’re ready to roll out the proper plan when the time is right.

During uncertainty or change, people seek out any scraps of information they can, that will either confirm or deny their personal beliefs or fears. Good or bad, people want to know, be prepared, and not feel like the wool is being pulled over their eyes. Communicators know things are going horribly wrong when the news is their people’s main information source. Sensationalism can destroy morale and trust.  Companies need to over communicate with their employees to assure all contingencies have been thought of and a solid plan is in place. 

I’d like to kick off this month by sharing our widely-used and highly successful COVID-19 toolkits. Click the image below!

These are designed to convey important messaging, processes, and policies to allow your organization to communicate with its most important resources, employees, now that the world is waking up and re-energizing again.

Sharing big picture information clearly during a crisis can be a challenge.

44% of employees do not feel senior leaders are providing clear direction about where their organization is headed.

-Source: IBM and Globoforce (2017)

As with the credit crunch, it’s crucially important to own your corporations COVID-19 story. This pandemic is creating a lot of anxiety and stress. It is the role of leaders to instill confidence and provide clear direction, closely supported by communications teams. Explain your contingencies. At the very least, let your people know that you are scenario planning. And if you can, map it all out. The more engaging the map, the better it is understood and acted upon. 

How To Step Up Your Internal Communications Game

Here are a few pointers to get your people onboard during these ever-changing times:

  • People look to their leaders to lead – Don’t go into hiding and over communicate.
  • Listen to your people – Once you have heard what they want to know, you can give them information that resonates with them.
  • Get your facts straight – Stick to the facts and don’t speculate. If you don’t know, be honest and say that or maybe give best and worst case scenarios.
  • Control the message – Create one version of the truth. A core narrative can provide the golden thread helping to present a consistent and considered approach across all communications. Also, timeliness of your messaging is key.
  • Leadership engagement – Ensure leadership are on the same page. Give them the tools to aid communication to provide a consistent voice across your organization.
  • Champion clarity over volume –Don’t create more noise. Just because you have pushed messages across multiple channels, don’t assume they’ve reached your audience.
  • Scenario planning – Be prepared with a clear cascade plan.
  • Reassurance – There is a reason why you are in business and it’s important to remember what made you great. Even in hard times, look for the positives that can be done.
  • Visualize your big picture story – Join the dots for people. The why is equally as important as the what and how. If you don’t provide the why, your people will come up with their own answers.
  • Face-to-face – Where possible, keep things human. Digital can lack the personal touch and authenticity a leader or manager can deliver through dialogue. Use Zoom, townhall webinars and virtual meetings to humanize your messaging. 
  • Provide regular updates – No matter how good your internal comms. channels are, people always look to their managers. Ensure that they have clear direction about their role in communication coupled with the right communication tools.
  • Keep it simple – Clarity is a supercharger to results. If communication is impenetrable, people will give up.

Have questions about how to communicate COVID-19 issues and other large issues with your employees? Feel free to comment below or reach out to me. Let’s open a dialog.

Next month we will look at a fascinating approach to communications using visual thinking, and turning boring PowerPoints and lengthy world documents into vibrant pictures and storyboards. 

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