Great internal communication can have a massive positive affect on an organization, but not if leaders don't recognize its power.
Internal communication teams must always do those functional (sometimes boring) tasks, such as telling employees when annual reviews are due or that the expense-report policy is changing. This is basic, but vital, and if not done right, the power if internal communication won't emerge.
However, there is much more to internal communication. It can affect employee engagement, and it plays a significant role in encouraging better employee and business performance. It can even influence the bottom line.
Unfortunately, most business leaders don't understand employee engagement; for that matter, neither do many communicators. Employee engagement isn't just having "interested" employees, but employees that go the extra mile and pour themselves into their work .
There is significant research about what leads to higher levels of employee engagement, and communication is at the top of the list. Here are the top three factors that influence employee engagement:
1. Leadership communication
Research shows that leadership communication is the top internal communication factor that statistically correlates to employee engagement. Internal communication teams have a powerful role in supporting, coaching and reminding leaders of communication's importance. Line managers especially need robust communication training; many become managers not because of their communication skills, but because they're good at their jobs.
Senior leaders (CEOs, directors and their leadership teams) must be an organization's best communicators, but they're usually not. That is why business partnering has been a positive move within internal communications. Internal communicators should be part of senior leadership teams, not only to keep communication at the top of the agenda, but also to coach and support leaders in their communications. This is especially important, as face-to-face communication about the organization's vision, strategy and progress is strongly linked to better employee engagement.
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2. The organization's reputation
Anything that affects what employees think of the organization they work for (perceived organizational identity) or what they think their friends and family think of the organization they work for (construed external image) directly correlates with employee engagement. We spend 40 percent of our lives at work, so of course we want to be associated with an organization that reflects our values and identity.
As internal communicators, we should communicate topics that elevate the organization's reputation in employees' minds, such as positive media coverage, awards and prizes, and corporate social responsibility. We should also provide the organization's stance on negative media coverage. Don't spin the news; trust employees with authentic ammunition to defend the organization to family and friends, if necessary.
How keen would you be to stand behind your organization if it faced negative press?
3. Employee voice
Employee voice is highly correlated to employee engagement, yet it is a mostly untapped resource. Employee voice is when employees believe they have a say, and that it leads to action. Many leaders talk about two-way communication, but they rarely practice it. What can internal communicators do?
They can support and influence leaders to encourage and enable employees to have a voice, both in their day-to-day roles and with bigger business issues (employees are often closer to these issues than managers). We can also provide a platform where employees can share their opinions. Use an informal channel, such as enterprise social media, or a more formal platform, such as an employee feedback tool. Listen to employees, and share their ideas with the people in influential positions.
Internal communication has enormous power to improve employee engagement and therefore employee and business performance. Ignore it at your peril.
Matthew Morgan is an Internal Communications Business Partner at Vodafone. A version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn.