Make a plan, evaluate your channels, and measure your efforts. On June 24th, Laurie Geenen, Director of Customer Experience here at IC Thrive had the pleasure of co-hosting a webinar with highly regarded internal communications consultant, Ron Shewchuk. Here they discussed the top 3 things that communicators need to be doing now, and 4 tips to thrive in the post-COVID era.
Watch the full webinar here:
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Over his 30-year career, Ron Shewchuk has served in senior positions in corporate public relations, employee communications, marketing, and consulting. He is one of fifty-nine Canadians to be honored with the Master Communicator designation by the International Association of Business Communicators. Ron has long been a pioneer in the adoption of new communication technologies. In recent years he has spearheaded the introduction of audio podcasting as an internal communication channel. Ron currently works as a consultant based in North Vancouver.
Laurie Geenen is IC Thrive’s Director of Customer Experience. Her background is varied; she’s managed veterinary hospitals, led customer success teams, taught strategic planning and performance measurement methodology to municipal governments and Indigenous organizations across North America. At IC Thrive she’s part of the team that creates and delivers best practices and helps internal communicators move into the spotlight.
In this webinar, Ron provided 3 internal communications initiatives you can start right now, and four tips to help you thrive in the future.
3 things you should do NOW (and always) as an internal communicator to survive COVID-19:
Build a short-term communications plan to support your employer’s post- COVID-19 re-launch strategy.
The abrupt switch to remote working in the 2020 lockdown led to a series of reactive internal communications, but now is the time to take back control with a short-term plan.
If you feel completely overwhelmed and you don’t know where to start, start small with a simple one-page internal communications plan.
“There’s nothing more frustrating than making a big and complicated plan that you are not comfortable with and you’re going to have difficulty executing. Strategic planning can be an intimidating term, but the goal here is to start small and grow” – Laurie Geenen, Director of Customer Success at IC Thrive.
The majority of communicators are operating without an overarching strategy. The result is forcing you into a reactive role making it difficult for consistency and effectiveness, let alone measurement or improvement.
Be kind to yourself on your strategy. Make sure what you’re doing is feasible and get buy-in from leadership.
Start simple with a one-page plan with these two steps:
Step 1: Learn what the business is trying to accomplish
“It’s a norm for communicators (especially in smaller organizations) to be relegated as order takers – which is important. But as we fade from a crisis into this new workplace, it’s a great opportunity to take a step back, discuss what the business goals are and how you can support them.” – Ron Shewchuk, internal communications consultant at Ron Shewchuk consulting Inc.
Step 2: Set your priorities
Create a one-page document that outlines the top 3 priorities in the upcoming quarter/year and focus your work on that. Ideally present the plan to senior leaders to get their feedback and endorsement
Not only does a plan allow you to be more strategic and proactive, but it also gives you a reason to turn down added tasks from people when their request doesn’t directly support your goals. Simply refer back to your one-page written plan that leadership has signed off on. It will allow you to stay focused on the highest value activities and feel less overwhelmed.
Internal communicators need to be able to develop a plan, sell it to leadership, and stick to it. It’s much better for your organization and your mental health to not be just constantly reacting to what management is doing. Once you’ve understood what your organization needs and you’ve set your communication goals, take your plan to the next level.
Step 3: Outline your content
Outline no more than three or four high-level key messages related to each goal
Step 4: Segment your audiences
Split your audiences into groups that makes sense for your organization. These could be divided by geographic location, department, project teams etc.
Step 5: Select your channels
Determine what channels to use to reach each audience (and who is responsible for each channel).
Step 6: Determine the timeline
Build your timeline in the form of a detailed work plan.
Includes all planning from Level I and II, but includes measuring the effectiveness of your initiatives to inform your strategy and prove your value to senior leaders.
Step 7: Measure against your priorities (metrics) / show your output (ROI)
Determine what metrics will indicate success. To start, you can set up a mini poll, comprehensive survey, focus groups, or ask leaders for their opinion of how your initiatives are going. Keep reading to get more insight on measuring your internal comms!
Step 8: Analyze the data & feed it back into making adjustments to your strategy
Once you accumulate data it is important to feed it back into your internal communications plan. This is an ongoing process and you’ll get better each round you go!
Evaluate existing channels and processes (Is it right for the times? Is it robust? Is it responsive enough?)
Many organizations have introduced new channels during the lockdown. Now is a great time to assess what has been working for you, and what you can do to make your channels more effective.
When it comes to internal communication channels, the biggest mistake we see is an over-reliance on email as a primary channel. It probably wasn’t working for you before the lockdown and it’s unlikely that it’s working well now.
“We’ve seen a lot of questions about email overload ‘how do I keep my staff informed and engaged?’– well part of it is meeting your staff halfway and implementing a channel that’s going to work for them” – Laurie Geenen, Director of Customer Success at IC Thrive.
Do a quick poll, a survey, and get some focus groups together to ask for their honest and candid feedback about what’s working and how they prefer to get information about the business.
“If your channel evaluation includes email, be honest with yourself if that’s working or not.” – Laurie Geenen, Director of Customer Success at IC Thrive.
Ron discusses when email came into the workforce 40 years ago, people would call it ‘the killer app’, because it changed the ways that we communicate (in many ways for the better). Now he calls email “the app that’s killing us.”
If you are using email to share documents or send something out for review, you have to deal with multiple people and their comments. It’s much better to host the document in a central place that people can collaborate on it together, without the risk of input getting lost in ‘reply-all’s’.
“Today you have multiple generations in the workplace, meaning you can’t just rely on one or two channels, you have to use multiple channels to reach people because you have all different kinds of communication preferences.”– Ron Shewchuk, internal communications consultant at Ron Shewchuk consulting Inc.
You have to reinforce your message over multiple channels to make an impact.
Start measuring against your plan and think about other ways you can demonstrate value.
“How do I get buy-in?” is a question we hear over and over. To get buy-in from leadership, show them your plan and the results. If you don’t have buy-in, the leaders likely don’t fully see the value. They do see the value in key performance indicators (KPIs) and return on investment (ROI) – which is difficult to show because internal communications are all about people’s behavior. If you start to measure your efforts, leadership will help you fill in the gaps and tell you what they want to know, which will further drive your strategy. Showing them what your initiatives are accomplishing is the key.
This is the first step to move from an order taker to a strategic communicator. Here you can show leadership – I planned this, I executed, here are the results and what we learned from it.
Even showing a small amount of data increases your credibility significantly.
To show the value of an organization’s internal communications, Ron and his team created a short video to support change management. They called it the ‘world premiere’ and served popcorn. On each seat was a simple 4-question survey asking the viewers if their understanding improved from watching the film.
The most effective way to discover what works well is to ask the experts – your employees – how they prefer to be contacted. We like to use the ‘quick poll’ app on our intranet but have also gone deeper with breakout groups to initiate a dialogue and get some candid feedback on how the communications have been received in the organization.
Once you have your internal comms under control after this crisis, there are four initiatives you should implement to thrive after COVID-19:
Understanding your audience is imperative for great communication. ‘All-staff’ emails just don’t cut it anymore, and if you’re not careful, could lead to some staff setting up rules in their inboxes to redirect them directly into their trash bin.
Try to analyze how many groups exist – remote vs. in office, geographical, generational, etc. and talk to them. Get feedback on their communication preferences and make sure you’re sending them what’s relevant and avoid overloading them with what’s not.
The key here is to set up targets of exactly what you plan to achieve and how you will measure progress against those targets – then build that into a work plan.
In every organization, senior leaders typically fall into one of two categories: traditional vs enlightened leaders. Traditional leaders may be more challenging to get buy-in from, so the key here is to identify who spreads positive change and earn their trust and support. This does not have to be a senior leader. It’s anyone within the organization who has the personality type to influence others and encourage them to help support your initiatives. Once they get promoted and have more power, you’ll have that alliance.
Internal communication is all about storytelling. Build a trusting and supportive community at your organization by sharing experiences. Tell stories about how people in your organization have faced personal challenges and how they overcame them. In the past, it may have been perceived as weak to be vulnerable but now it shows strength.
“Find the people in your organization going through the toughest changes and help them tell their stories.” – Ron Shewchuk, internal communications consultant at Ron Shewchuk consulting Inc.
Internal communications should hold a high standard of integrity and trying to show perfection at all times is not relatable and not realistic.
During the pandemic, leaders have stopped trying to achieve perfection with their communications and it is coming off a lot more genuine. They may not always know what to say but it’s so important to have those conversations.
“It’s ok to say you’re not sure but you’d like to hear what everyone else is thinking. [Your employees] don’t always need you to have all the answers they just want to be heard” – Laurie Geenen, Director of Customer Success at IC Thrive.
If leaders are not sure what to say, it’s still valuable to talk about why they don’t have any new information. Let your employees know you’re waiting on an expert to give new updates. You can always disclose that the situation may change after your announcements.
“Listening is a very effective way to communicate” – Ron Shewchuk, internal communications consultant at Ron Shewchuk consulting Inc.
Prioritize mental health, if you don’t look after yourself you can’t help other people.
“You’re more likely to get support from people if you let them in on your struggle” – Ron Shewchuk, internal communications consultant at Ron Shewchuk consulting Inc.
Tell real human stories from people experiencing it directly or who are leading it is the best way to lead change. Find people going through the toughest time and share those stories.
Looking for more? Learn the role your intranet can play in employee engagement. Watch the full webinar, “The New Normal”, or read the key takeaways here: