The notion of internal communications may be quite alien to some small business owners.
For those operating with only a few employees, many business owners may question the value of internal communications, outside of making sure their employees’ contractual obligations are met.
However, ensuring your employees are kept fully informed of the direction, strategy and performance of the business can deliver greater loyalty, support and commitment to your overall business goals, and ultimately better all-round service for your customers.
Cohesion is critical to the delivery of our vision and strategic objectives, which enable St John’s Buildings to remain a market leading chambers, with a strong reputation for service.
Importance of strategy and messaging
The success of any business is dependent on developing a clear strategy and effective implementation, but it’s equally important that employees, no matter the size of the enterprise, are aware of these objectives and are supportive of them.
Actively listening and engaging with staff to collaboratively produce a set of agreed goals can deliver a strong sense of ‘team’ and camaraderie. For larger small businesses, meetings involving different departments are useful in sourcing a broad spectrum of opinions. Obtaining ‘buy-in’ will also make employees feel more valued and a part of the ongoing success of the business. However, you should make it clear that it is the responsibility of all employees to demonstrate their commitment to the company’s goals.
Once a strategy has been put in place, business owners must decide on a set of key messages they wish to communicate internally, and a tone-of-voice which is reflective of and appropriate for their employees.
Communicating in a manner which could appear patronising or aloof can be an easy turn-off for employees within a small business, so getting this right is as important as the message you’re trying to convey.
According to research from the CIPD, employees are more engaged when information flows freely and they are aware of organisational activities and management decisions that affect them.
Over a number of years, St John’s Buildings has developed a content calendar which outlines the frequency of and the types of information communicated at various levels of the business, from board level and the senior management team, through to the individual operational departments.
Frequent and integrated communication
Internal communications shouldn’t be considered as a one-off or on an ad-hoc basis – it should mirror and complement all external communications and marketing activity, in terms of tone-of-voice and communicating what the business stands for.
A robust internal communications strategy can ensure your business is also delivering a consistent service to customers, by communicating to both internal and external audiences in the same way and following agreed processes.
You may also want to build in regular touchpoints when internal communication is highly relevant, such as inductions, one-to-one meetings, team meetings and appraisals; and run annual staff surveys to check the pulse of the workforce.
Choosing appropriate channels
The business sector, the software which your employees use during business hours and the generational make-up of your business will dictate which channels are most appropriate for an internal audience. Wherever possible, employers should seek engagement during regular business hours, rather than expecting staff to devote a significant amount of time in the evenings or weekends.
Technology-savvy businesses and younger employees may expect a variety of channels such as emails or social media platforms such as Slack. However, if your employees are not required to use computers, you may wish to create posters for the office or printed newsletters to coincide with payslips.
For most businesses, a multi-channel approach will be appropriate, taking into account new or emerging technologies.
Face-to-face meetings and company updates can often be the most effective method to measure the engagement of your staff, but they can also provide a forum for issues or concerns to be raised and resolved.
The types of information and frequency are both important considerations. During the development of a strategy, business owners should find out from employees how often they wish to receive internal communications, and the types of news which are important to them.
This will help to shape a regular content calendar, where you can proactively plan a series of announcements and company updates.
However, internal communications should not just be limited to business updates – discovering what your audience is interested in is vital. Competitions, company events and celebrating the success of individual employees for particular achievements will all ensure your workforce is more engaged.
Some of the issues we cover as a barristers’ chambers at SJB include policy and process changes, seminar and training opportunities, but also ‘lighter’ topics such as social events, congratulatory messages, and recognising personal milestones.
It’s natural to share the successes of your business with employees but it can often be during the big challenges or difficulties when staff need to pull together and stick to the agreed objectives. Internal communications can play a significant role here, as repetition across all levels of the business can ensure everyone stays ‘on message’ during difficult times.
Consider your sector
For a barristers’ chambers, internal communications can be potentially trickier than in other sectors. We have around 240 barristers working across four offices, however the set-up of chambers is a group of self-employed barristers essentially working for themselves, but at the same time, contributing towards a larger purpose.
However, many of the challenges facing a barristers’ chambers will be very similar to those which other professional service providers, such as accountancy or corporate finance, have to manage. Identifying specific challenges within your sector is essential.
For St John’s Buildings, a strong, ongoing internal communications strategy has proven invaluable in developing our chambers’ brand across the business.
Chris Ronan is chief executive at St John’s Buildings