It may feel obvious, but a successful leader relies largely on his or her ability to communicate well with their team. What you say, how you say it and when you say it matters enormously. Even more so? What you don’t say.
Similar to building a house, without a strong foundation, your business is likely to collapse. Along with the right software, good internal communications creates the bases of a strong company. It also helps drive a positive culture. And happy, engaged employees make for more productive workers—so your business will benefit too.
But the advantages don’t stop there.
Benefits of a strong internal communications plan
You may feel that having an internal communications strategy is a luxury, rather than a necessity. Yet not having one can cost your business significantly. But if you’re in a management position within an SME, it’s likely that budgets are limited—and it can be tricky to know where to start.
Here’s the good news. You don’t need to hire an entire department to manage it. Start with top-level management and strong internal communications will spread throughout the business. Here are a few reasons why that’s a good thing:
- Employee advocacy: Employees who feel valued through transparency and openness are much more likely to stay loyal to your business.
- Company culture: Strong internal comms is vital for building a work environment where everyone feels like they matter. Employees don’t want to be treated like just another cog in the machine!
- Business goals are clearer: Strongly communicated goals means your team members understand their purpose in the business and how they contribute to the bigger picture.
- Stronger employee communication: Internal comms works both ways. By creating a two-way communication system, employees are much more likely to flag problems and emergencies, so that you can respond to them quicker.
How to drive effective internal communications
They say your mistakes make you successful, and I would agree with that. Since I’ve made most of these mistakes already, maybe I can save you from making them too. To sum up my learning, I created 12 communication best practices in what I egotistically like to call, the ‘Savage 12 Communication Commandments’ for internal communications.
The Savage 12 Communication Commandments
1. You will never be accused of over-communicating
Over-communication isn’t a thing. How likely is it that you’ll conduct an exit interview where the employee says: ‘I’ve had enough! I was kept too informed, and there was no need to keep me looped in on plans, strategies and motivations. More often, you’ll hear the opposite reasons for a premature resignation.
2. Communicate early and often
It’s easy for people to fill in the gaps with incorrect information when they don’t know the facts. And they will. Communicating once and then expecting people to ‘get it’ simply won’t suffice. People are busy, distracted, and let’s be frank, often not concentrating on every message from leadership. Repeat the message in different ways and at different times in the way that will resonate best.
3. Tell them everything or tell them nothing
I’ve learned that when you only tell someone half the story, they’ll fill in the missing information themselves. This can be dangerous for both your candidate and your client. I’ll give you an example. I once worked with a Manager who discovered that the office lease was up in three months. The news meant a fast office move was required and as a knee-jerk reaction, she panicked. Without thinking, she runs to inform the team of the news that they’d need to move office as soon as possible—beginning the announcement with the fateful phrase: ‘Don’t panic, but….’
Of course, they panicked. The team immediately started jumping to conclusions that the reasons behind the move were catastrophic. They believed the business was going bust and that they’d all be made redundant, which was far from the truth. The manager would have helped the team avoid sleepless nights of worrying by simply staying quiet until she could explain the news with all the facts. Where you can, paint the full picture, anticipate follow-up questions and concerns, and address them immediately.
4. Empathise before you communicate
Many recruiters get this wrong, yet it’s a critical step in the candidate communication process. If deliver bad news, but with no understanding of how that will impact the team, they will be upset and resentful about the lack of empathy.
For example, imagine you need to reduce the recruitment advertising budget. Don’t just deliver that news as a fait accompli. Instead, acknowledge the pain points, explain why the decision fits in with the bigger picture, and provide support with any adjustment that is required.
Here’s a suggested script for delivering the news: “I know to cut the advertising budget is going to make it harder in some respects, and we are not happy about that. So, for a while, you will need to adjust, but what we do now is not working, so we want to spend the money smarter, on more effective candidate sources.”
5. Deliver on commitments
Over-promising yet under-delivering is one of the most disappointing things a leader can do. It can also be incredibly damaging to a manager’s relationship with their team.
We normally make these type of commitments with the best intentions. For example: ‘Next week, Bob, I will make time to come to two client visits with you.’ However, we have to be realistic of what we can genuinely achieve and offer. Even with the smaller underdelivered promises, people start to take your promises with a pinch of salt. And if people can’t trust you to deliver on smaller promises, they definitely won’t believe you on the big ones.
6. Use informal and formal channels
Different communication channels serve different purposes, and they often depend on formality. For example, email, newsletters and staff briefings tick the box in the sense that, ‘the information has been passed on.’ Yet, how often does a person take the time to review the information and make sure they’ve fully understood it? These channels also don’t always invite people to fire questions back—or people don’t feel like it’s the right platform to do so.
Follow up in a more personal way, such as kitchen conversations, casual drinks, or on the way back from a client meeting. This is where you will get the real queries and concerns that are not raised publicly but could be causing confusion for others. You can then provide clarity and address concerns in real-time.
7. Celebrate wins – small and frequently
In the recruitment industry, we’re great celebrating milestones, be it a record quarter or the top biller. However, a great leader understands that success builds belief. Small and frequent celebrations are superb for reinforcing positive behaviours and build confidence in reaching goals.
If Mary places her first candidate, share it. If Fred wins a retainment, shout it out for everyone to hear. People want to work with people on the road to success, and love to hear the outcomes of positive war-stories. Communicate the day to day wins, as well as the big ones.
8. Share confidential information regularly
Approach this one cautiously, but I believe that total transparency builds trust and buy-in from teams. For ten years, I operated as International CEO of Aquent for ten years where I managed all of the business outside of the US. During that time, I adopted a nice tradition I learned from my American colleagues, called ‘The Fireside Chat’.
Every month, I would address everyone in the company. Absolutely everyone—which involved 25 offices in 17 countries! We used video, skype and dial-in conferences to announce that I’d gained the responsibility of the European-side of the business. Within those conferences, I’d share the company results, operating profit against budget, margins, client revenue, top biller fees and just about any other sensitive information you can think of.
I found that people were mature and would value being brought into ‘the inner circle’. I respected and recognised my staff, and we took responsibility for results together.
9. Where possible, speak, don’t email
You need to feed out some information to someone. What do you do? Bang out an email!
Task complete, right? Wrong. In nearly every case, it’s better and more effective to communicate verbally and face-to-face. Follow up with an email if you had to communicate a lot of information.
10. Plan and prepare for delivering tricky news
Sometimes, we have to communicate something distasteful. Always prepare genuine, honest answers that you’ve thought through ahead of time. People will likely respond with questions, and you should anticipate what these might be so you’re prepared with an appropriate response. If appropriate, involve a member of your human resources too.
11. Tell the right people the right things
Here is a golden rule: it might be tempting, but never speak to one recruiter about the deficiencies of another recruiter in the team.
Here’s a situation where it could happen: You congratulate a recruiter from another team about their record month. He replies, ‘yes, it was great! But Betty didn’t hit her target.’ Without thinking, you fatally remark ‘Ah yes. Sometimes I feel that Betty doesn’t put 100% effort in.’ This piece of information will likely work it’s way back to her, and deriding one staff member in front of another reflects badly on you as a professional. It destroys people’s confidence in you and stunts engagement. Don’t do it.
12. Don’t have ‘communication favourites’
Another trap we can easily fall into, especially within an SME, is only sharing news, plans or updates with a select few people. Maybe it’s because you want to run information by the people you have a close relationship with first, or simply want to share something exciting with them. However, often this information is then passed on further and the information becomes office gossip. Additionally, those people who were told first get a reputation within the business as ‘office favourites’, who are privy to special information and attention.
I learned this lesson the hard way through. It had a divisive effect on my team and created a negative situation, which wasn’t my intention. A moment of letting my guard down within a casual setting and revealing some news that was to be announced at a later date led to feelings of distrust and resentment.
So, there you have it: The ‘Savage 12 Communication Commandments’. Use them alongside internal communications software as your template for successful communication systems.
About Greg Savage
Greg is the author of the best-selling book: The Savage Truth. With a career spanning four decades, Greg is a founder of 4 highly successful businesses, is a trusted advisor and respected voice across the global recruitment and professional services industries, and a regular keynote speaker at conferences around the world.