While business owners shy away from transparency, savvy small-business owners know that making sure workers are informed of the company's objectives, challenges, and activities will help them succeed.
For starters, employees want to be kept in the loop. According to research by technology platform Bambu, 80 percent of those surveyed want their employer to keep them updated about company news. About three-quarters say that being informed helps them do their job, and two-thirds report that it helps them build better relationships with co-workers.
It's pretty hard to turn your back on that kind of worker feedback. There are other, equally compelling reasons to ramp up your company's internal communications:
- It improves job satisfaction.
- It's essential during a crisis when employees are often questioned outside work about the situation.
- It feeds employees information they can share on their personal social networks.
- It's a significant part of superior customer service.
Customer Service Impact
Improving customer service was the impetus behind the new internal communications department formed by window blinds manufacturer English Blinds.
"This initially became highlighted when we realized that customer service agents and general assistants working on the showroom floor and interacting directly with shoppers were being fed a continual stream of important, insightful and often revelatory feedback from shoppers, but had no direction, incentive or even opportunity to pass it on," says English Blinds' CEO John Moss.
For example, slightly different lighting in one area of the showroom interfered with the true color of goods on display. As a result, those products had a higher return rate because of incorrect color matches. Without a formal process for gathering and sharing this customer feedback, the lighting problem continued. When the issue was exposed, management knew the company needed to make changes in more than just showroom lighting.
In addition to creating a two-person internal communications department, management established protocols for documenting and sharing relevant information across the chain of command "from the very bottom to the very top, and across departments, too," Moss says. He notes that the small department's work has increased efficiency while significantly supporting and increasing sales.
Ensuring Information Accuracy and Soliciting Input
At the Law Offices of Jezic & Moyse, internal communication is the responsibility of a single employee rather than managers. "When you spread the responsibility too thin, it makes enforcement complicated. Everyone has their own ideas, and the vision you have for your company's culture can become blurred," says Andrew Jezic, founding partner of the firm.
Web-hosting company Hosting Canada's internal communications team acts as an interface between leadership and employees. The team solicits employee input on new initiatives or goals and fields frequently asked questions along with employee concerns and suggestions to make sure they receive a quick and accurate response.
"The internal communications team is also able to help clarify areas that leadership may not think to address given where their attention is being pulled at any given time," says company founder Gary Stevens. "During times of big change, it's there to make sure that the staff has everything they need, and management's message is as clear as it can be."
Where to Start
Thinking of creating an internal communications department? Professional communicator Andrew Blum of AJB Communications recommends starting the process by getting clear on what you want to accomplish. For some, it might be to create an employee newsletter or host regular, in-person staff updates. For others, it could involve implementing technology that facilitates interdepartmental information sharing—so the right-hand knows what the left hand is doing.
Assign the responsibility to a staffer with excellent written and verbal communication skills. This is less about their current job description and more about their ability to communicate effectively.
"In a small business, this function may need to be small, but it's no less important than in a larger business," Blum says.
"Having one person dedicated to staying on top of internal communications not only keeps all employees informed but is also a great way to make sure your leadership understands what is happening in your company from top to bottom, which many leaders fail to do," Jezic adds.