Effective Internal Communication … It’s All in the Mix

 In Preparing for the Future, Reducing Employee Turnover

Many organizations, whether for profit or non-profit, place a heavy focus on the audiences who have a direct impact on their bottom line. These audiences could be consumers and others who influence a purchase decision. For healthcare providers, your main audiences are patients, family members, physicians and other referral sources. Your marketing and communications efforts are aimed at generating awareness for your organization and the services you provide, so that when the need arises, your organization’s name is top of mind. Through research and other intel, you know your main audiences, understand what motivates them to seek your services (or refer someone to you) and know the best ways to reach them with your message.

Do you know your internal audiences as well as you know your external audiences?

As with external audiences, you need to fully understand your internal audiences, especially when it comes to motivating them and communicating with them in meaningful ways. Start by asking your employees and volunteers how they prefer to receive information from you. Then, consider how and where they work. Do they work in an office setting or are they “in the field” visiting patients or referral sources? How do they prefer to receive information in a way that meets their day-to-day needs?

Before diving into the “how” of communicating with your internal audiences, begin with a strategy. According to business consultant, Yvonne Roehler, “An internal communication strategy is a proactive approach to developing better directed, more committed and highly efficient employees … it is a focused plan for communicating the company’s mission, vision, values and goals and why they matter to employees.” The last part of that sentence is critical to the success of internal communication – why they matter to employees. We agree that communicating the mission, vision, values and overall strategy for your organization is important. However, the key is to help your team see and feel a part of the “big picture.”

Steve Soltis, retired group director of employee and leadership communications for The Coca-Cola Company said, “A business cannot generate sustainable value and growth without employees understanding where it’s headed, why, what it’s going to take to get there, and why each employee matters.”

A former CEO of a regional health system where I worked was passionate about communicating with employees. He made it a priority to be “out and about” at the hospitals and held regular town hall meetings to communicate directly with employees. He often said a critical part of his role was to engage the hearts and minds of employees. He understood that communication wasn’t only about sharing information. He believed in communicating with employees in ways that would inspire them to bring the health system’s mission and values to life.

Communicating with internal audiences is critical for any organization, large or small. It’s an important component of your organization’s culture. Consider the following elements for successful communication:

Mix styles

People’s needs and preferences regarding the manner in which information is communicated to them vary widely. This is particularly true for organizations whose workforce is not office based. When a majority of employees spend their day “out in the field,” finding the right way to communicate with them is critical. While some people favor face-to-face communication, others prefer written communication. In workplaces, you often communicate to multiple people at once. Since no one medium is preferred by everyone, utilize a mix of media, such as:

  • Town hall-style meetings
  • Staff meetings
  • Newsletters – print or online
  • Video
  • Intranet
  • Email

Strive for clarity

To ensure you communicate clearly, keep messages simple. This is especially true when you need to communicate complex information. Break down complicated information in a way that will help to clarify the details without being perceived as condescending. Allow ample opportunities for people to ask questions.

Engage their hearts and minds

Don’t think of internal communication as simply a transfer of information from one person to the next. Bring some humanity to your communication. Consider how you can apply your organization’s culture to your communication style. Find ways to spark passion for employees. One way to do this is to share stories from patients and their families. Help employees see the profound impact they have on patients and families. Testimonials can inspire all of your employees, not just the nurses, therapists, social workers and others who have day-to-day interaction with patients and families.

It’s a two-way street

Communication is a two-way process. To be sure the message you sent was received in the manner you intended, make it easy for employees to provide feedback either face-to-face or in private. Watch for non-verbal cues. If it appears as if what you’re communicating isn’t clear, try another way to explain it. Invite your audience to ask questions.

Willis Towers Watson, a human resources consulting firm, has conducted a number of studies on the ROI of internal communications. They’ve found that top performing organizations do these things consistently:

  • Engage employees using two-way communication
  • Train managers to communicate effectively
  • Involve internal communicators in managing change
  • Measure the performance of communication programs

Effective communication within any organization is an investment, but one that is well worth your time and effort.