How to build an internal communication plan

Communication is the central tool of leadership and now more than ever, organizations need their leaders to step up.  It is when there is a communication void that anxiety builds up and anxiety doesn’t tend to bring out our best.  The better you can help the people around you by communicating clearly and consistently, the better your organization will be able to keep a steady hand on the rudder and navigate these times of unprecedented uncertainty.

I want to walk through some suggestions on how to effectively communicate during these times and give some examples.

  • First, identify who you need to communicate with
  • Second, figure out what you need to communicate – by this I mean ideas, not just information:
    • the single idea you want people to come away with
    • build a bullet point framework of arguments you need to get across,
    • include clear actions
  • Third, decide who is going to be communicating, how they will be communicating and how often

I am going to walk through these steps by using a case study of a client interaction I had on Monday.  This client works in IT and is in charge of making sure all of the applications the large company she works for are running smoothly.  When something goes down, it is her team that is all hands on deck to get everything back to normal.  It is a stressful job in the best of circumstances, in some ways akin to working in an emergency room.  Over the weekend, her company moved all of its employees to working from home and running their call centres, which were experiencing fifteen times their normal volume, remotely – all of which is completely unprecedented.  Here’s how we planned her communications:

Identify who you need to communicate with

Otherwise known as key stakeholders, I always think of them as ‘people that need to be convinced of something’.  For most people in a larger corporation, this involves all or some of the following: direct reports; peers across the organization; your leader and people at more senior levels; external customers, clients and partners.

In the example of my client on Monday, she had already been in active communication with all of her senior leaders, so we chose to address her team and her peers across the business.

Figure out what you need to communicate

The basic structure I always teach my clients is to develop a single idea you want your audience to believe and then support it with reasons why they should believe it and ways they can do it.  So, in the case of my client, here is the structure of arguments she built for her team:

Thesis: It’s incredibly important that you all put taking care of yourselves first and foremost.

  • (Why) Our team is essential to making sure our operations continue to run smoothly.
  • (Why) You are all incredibly dedicated and for many of you the instinct is to stay up all night and work until you fix the problem or keel over trying.
  • (Why) Right now everything is working and we have a full complement on our team with none off you displaying symptoms.
  • (Why) This looks to be a marathon, not a sprint and we all need to be prepared for this to go on for some time.

So, the simple message is to take care of yourselves.

  • (How) Many of you have your kids at home and working a regular day is hard.  Do what you can and don’t stress – these are not ordinary times.
  • (How) Sleep properly.
  • (How) If you are able to pick up slack for someone else, do so.  If you need help, ask.
  • (How) If you start to feel sick, put your health first by following the recommended procedures for testing and self-isolation.
  • Be good to each other. 

Her communication to her peers across the organization was very different:

Thesis:  Our team needs your help in ensuring we can continue to provide the company with the services needed to function.

  • (Why) What we’re doing is unprecedented – almost our entire company of 14,000 is working from home. 
  • (Why) Everything from our video platform to our customer facing services are essential to keeping things up and running.
  • (Why) Your people are the ones using the services we maintain – they are the first ones to know if something has gone wrong.
  • (How) So we need you and your teams to report anything and everything you encounter. 
    • If something isn’t working, don’t just think it might be you or a one-time thing – report it, because we can fix a problem 4X faster if we learn about it in the first hour.
    • You can do this in two ways:
      • Ask all of your people to use the feedback surveys when you finish using a service.
      • If you encounter a problem, log a ticket immediately

These are two examples of the types of communications targeted at different audiences within an organization.  I would encourage you to complete a similar exercise of determining who you should be communicating with and writing down a set of notes for yourself that follow the above structure.

Decide who is going to be communicating, how they will be communicating and how often

Communication needs to come from the right people at the right time, with the right consistency.  In the case study above, there were two different approaches.  In the first instance, my client chose to communicate to everyone on a team-wide call.  She wanted everyone to hear it directly from her.  But she also sent out the bullet point notes to all of her directors to make sure that they were also communicating the same message in less formal, more interactive settings.  It is important that the message be consistently reinforced.

In the second scenario, where she was communicating to colleagues across the organization, she chose to pass her notes to her directors and not have the message come from her.  She worried that if the message came from her, all of the requests and problems would come directly to her, when in fact they should be going to her directors.  She chose instead to be the main point of contact for senior leadership in the organization, while ensuring that her direct reports are relaying consistent messaging to their peers.

By following these three steps, you can build a simple but comprehensive internal communication plan.  Making sure everyone is being communicated with effectively is one of the most important things you can do to help your organization navigate its way through these times.

I hope this helps.  Be well everyone.