Strategy & LeadershipHR StrategyThree internal communications truths for fostering trust in the workplace

Three internal communications truths for fostering trust in the workplace

Among other things, the business climate of 2020 has highlighted the dire need for organizations to refine and optimize internal communications strategies. In this article, HRD Thought Leader Janine Dennis explains why this could result in greater levels of trust, rapport, and satisfaction throughout the company.

30-second summary:

  • A clear and effective internal communications strategy has a profound impact on employees
  • Communicating in real time as much as possible is important
  • Employers shouldn’t allow themselves to be undermined by gossip, leaks and presumptions
  • Active listening should form the core of the strategy

Effective internal communications between leadership and employees, and even between employees and their peers, is a key component in building trust and rapport in the workplace. And yet, according to Smarp, “74% of employees feel they are missing out on company news”. Similarly, Salesforce has reported that “86% cite lack of collaboration or ineffective communication as workplace failures”.

The general way many businesses have chosen to manage their internal communications is by informing their employees of organizational shifts on a need-to-know-basis. Imagine being in your employees’ shoes, where your only duty is to perform a job function and assist the organization in reaching its revenue goals, but never being trusted to hear let alone digest the concerns and issues that lead to eventual redundancy, morale issues, leadership shakeups and so on.

How would you feel if you knew your ability to provide input within your company was limited to specific, job-related matters, but would never be valued enough for you to have a real say about matters that affect your employment? We often forget that we owe our employees a great debt for being the foundation upon which we build our businesses. The employer-employee dynamic is a relationship. Just the same as you would hope for a monogamous partner to be transparent about their feelings, you should expect to have to communication with your employees.

To be clear, I believe that having a clear and effective communication strategy is no more important today than it was pre-pandemic. Your people deserve to know, in real-time, anything that would directly affect their employment or their ability to do their work effectively. More importantly, when crises emerge, you have a duty to acknowledge those occurrences and create a forum of dialogue for them to be discussed so your employees feel seen, heard, and cared about.

What you say and what you do as an organization is the standard you will be held to both as an employer and as a brand. Here are three truths that you should consider as you craft and tweak your internal communications strategy:

Consider the impact of your decisions and communicate as much as possible in real time

While much of your organizational decision-making may be secular to a certain group of individuals in higher-ranks or among groups of employees with varied levels of influence, it is important to measure the impact of organizational decisions and marry them with an internal strategy that comes across as both timely and humane.

For instance, you may not want to share a move to a new building until the ink dries on contracts and a strategy is in place. However, what if the move to that building presents some of your employees with a longer commute than they had hoped for, and in turn disrupts their work-life balance? Put yourself in their shoes. Would you prefer to hear why the company is making this move with the ability to share your concerns, or would you prefer to have this information sprung on you and have to adjust on a whim?

One method of communicating exhibits the organization’s dedication to being empathetic and inclusive. The other lacks empathy, ethics, and illustrates the organization’s focus on its own needs rather than the employees’ needs.

Get ahead of employee gossip, communications leaks and organizational presumptions

As the saying goes, where there is smoke, there is usually fire. In my experience, it is best for an organization to keep its finger on the pulse of the official and unofficial conversations that occur in real time. More often than not, the conversations you hope to keep secured beyond the boardroom leak out to the greater employee body. When that happens, the whispers, gossip, and presumptions begin.

I have rarely been tipped off about a layoff or mounting cash flow concerns in the organization that were completely erroneous. Instead, I observed a build-up of tension, anxiety, and even anger among both leaders and employees resulting in consistent huddles in hiding to discuss what everyone knew was inevitable, but that the organization lacked the decency to address in a forthright manner.

When we present our employees with what is real, they are more likely to accept the facts and move on. If we choose to leave breadcrumbs of information for them, we run the risk of a decline in morale and trust, and inaccurate conclusions drawn ahead of the facts being presented.

The core of your internal communications strategy should incorporate active listening

You may be thinking that your internal communications strategy is all about how well you communicate organizational goals, mission, and news. You’re right about that, but have you considered the impact of listening to your employees regarding what they need and want communicated to them?

There are times where crafting a strong message is the best thing you can do for the organization and your employees. Yet, there are times where listening to what your employees need is the only statement you need to make. It is also worth noting that, your inability to communicate effectively when your employees most need to hear from you also sends signal in and of itself. Be sure to train your leaders on how to listen intently for what is needed, so your communications are timed appropriately and with the proper intention. The goal is to listen, not to automatically rebut any feedback by stating that the organization is either not ready to take action, or simply isn’t prepared to.

There are many challenges with organizational communications in the current business climate. However, crafting a solid communications strategy is not about perfection, but rather about intention and the care taken in the delivery. Centering your employee or consumer in your communications while using the truths above can go a long way in assisting you with building and sustaining trust and rapport for many years to come.

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