In the US, it is estimated that 90% of employee loyalty and satisfaction depends on the quality of the company’s internal communications. In Ukraine, the situation is different: according to the research by EY Human Capital, 67% of valuable and experienced employees more often change their job because of the company’s poor communication culture.
Let’s see what destroys the communication within a team and how to put it back on track.
The anatomy of internal communications within a company
Roughly, all communications at work might be divided into interpersonal (personal contacts and informal communication) and organizational (new information from the management and meetings).
While interpersonal communication is more or less clear, organizational one has several features. To make the information exchange efficient, all of the stars must align or—in other words—all components of efficient communication:
- Sender—a person who transmits information
- Message—information a sender wants to communicate to an interlocutor
- Channel—a way to communicate information. It can be a personal conversation, presentation, meeting, letter, etc.
- Recipient—a person who receives information must correctly process and understand it
Therefore, internal communication is not only the exchanged information but also the communication process, participants, and tools.
An anthropologist Robin Dunbar found out in the late 20th century that a person can efficiently communicate with no more than 150 people. Such communication is meaningful and proper. Any additional communication causes emotional overload and lowers the communication value. If we subtract relatives and friends from this number, it means that we can communicate with 50–100 people at work.
The recent research by Swedish scientists denies Dunbar’s theory. According to various tests, a person can efficiently communicate with more people. However, considering that the research was published quite recently, in May of 2021, it has not been yet widely spread.
In his book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell, on the other hand, confirmed Dunbar’s theory using the case of W. L. Gore and Associates (now it is the brand Gore-Tex). Through trial and error, the top management detected that if more than 150 employees worked together in the same building, this caused critical social problems, misunderstanding, and communication and information exchange difficulties.
Gore-Tex solved the problem radically: the company started building offices with no more than 150 parking spots. An overcrowded car park is a signal that communication problems are about to happen, while it is time to expand.
Why are internal communication mistakes dangerous?
- According to the research by Anthony Fitzsimmons and Derek Atkins, the authors of Rethinking Reputational Risks, employees create 80% of companies’ reputational crises.
- According to Kroll’s Global Fraud Report, mid-level and line employees with 1–3 years of experience cause 66% of frauds and 51% of security problems.
Most common internal communication mistakes
Mistake 1: disrespect to employees.
The ‘we have a line of people outside wanting to have your job’ attitude and treating employees like a dead weight is a huge screw-up of the company’s internal communications. This misconception has two key aspects:
- An employee, who is considered a dead weight but still employed, will become a company’s hater in the labour market and a real present for direct competitors in the future. Moreover, a person can upgrade his/her skills and become a demanded specialist, but he/she will remember the improper and disrespectful attitude.
- Ukraine experiences a huge staff shortage: the number of great qualified employees is much smaller than the number of jobs for them. The situation is the same globally: according to the data by the HRD community, 58% of mid-level or higher vacancies cannot be closed now. According to experts, the problem will worsen in 10 years, while the staff shortage will be about 29 million people.
How to improve internal communications within a company?
It is best to start with an internal communication audit and finding out the reasons for such communication. If a company considers some employees not qualified enough, why does it keep them? Determine the employees you need to part ways with, how to handle staff changes without hurting your business, and part with those who do not fit you.
It is better to use the exit interview technique with the employees you are saying goodbye to. Learn why your relationship with an employee did not work out. This survey may be carried out in the one-to-one format with an HR specialist or as an anonymous questionnaire.
You need to start building up relationships with the employees who continue working: openly discuss career prospects and controversial situations and do not remain silent about crises. The HR department needs to think through and implement this strategy. They also need to make sure it works the same in all of the departments and units.
Mistake 2: shift all the responsibility for communications onto the PR and HR services.
It is true that one of the key areas for the HR service is establishing the company’s internal communications. But it is impossible to do without support from the line and top management.
No matter how much HR managers would talk about support and assistance, while PR managers would tell you about the company’s amazing initiatives in the internal chats, it is useless if a manager scolds employees after each review of anonymous questionnaires regarding work quality or exit interviews. Or if they avoid communication with their team at all.
According to the data by PWC, every second employee needs to get feedback in real time rather than in hindsight. 81% of participants answered that the key loyalty factors were trust and relationships with managers.
What to do?
Together with the heads of PR and HR departments, draw up an action plan for crisis and routine periods. In case of a crisis, managers should provide the same information and answers to complicated, rough, and unpleasant questions.
For the routine, line managers should remain focused on the performance climate in a team. To this end, take the following steps:
- Implement communication into business systems: regular one-to-one meetings to get feedback, format and culture of communication between employees, and corporate and internal channels and chats.
- Plan regular messages for your team and stick to this plan.
- Line and top managers should participate in communication without shifting responsibility for it onto the PR and HR services.
Mistake 3: remain silent about the state of business affairs.
Lack of information is often considered a conscious omission. The less information employees have, the scarier are rumours and images their imagination creates.
There is always a department that knew about the problem. For example, if sales have dropped, while the plan has not been fulfilled, the sales department understands this much earlier than the rest of the employees. Any lack of official information starts spreading rumours.
What to do?
The management should have a single general position on problematic and crisis moments, which is conveyed to the team through personal communication and corporate channels.
Also, regular Q&A sessions, where people can get answers to questions and find out the current state of affairs, can be a good way to reduce stress and improve communication.
Mistake 4: isolation.
A manager fully loaded with operational and strategic tasks is always tempted to limit communication with subordinates to not be distracted by little things.
However, this work communication strategy may lead to managers not knowing about a crisis in time, so they cannot solve a problem at the early stage.
What to do?
Large companies, such as Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard, pursue the Open Doors policy. It means that any line employee can come with their problems and questions or seek advice from a supervisor or executive manager.
This way, the company implements the honour system and sets up communication along all lines, both ascending and descending.
Mistake 5: prohibiting personal communication within a team.
Scientists from Denver calculated that a person with a standard 8-hour workday and an average lifespan of 65 years spent 7 years at work.
Art Markman, a professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas, believes that they do not have time and efforts to establish new social connections outside work because adults spend most of their time there.
No one gets a new job to make new friends: most people are looking for interesting tasks and high salaries. But employees can bond with each other when communicating—it is a normal reaction of the human psyche. Prohibiting informal communication within an organization can become a problem.
What to do?
Sure, everything requires some common sense: endless breaks to discuss the news near a coffee machine will not benefit any business. However, smooth relationships within a team and willingness to help a colleague and give a piece of advice in a complicated situation is a great and useful bonus.
You do not need to go to extremes and call colleagues ‘the second family’: you cannot be fired from a family. But working towards team building, team establishing, and holding small activities for personal celebrations—birthdays, weddings, or the birth of children—are worth a try.
Internal communication is a process that is not always taken good care of because the focus is on business tasks. However, without managing communication, atmosphere and approaches within a team, employees will not understand the priorities of a company.
To improve communication within an organization, you need to control what information and in what form is received by employees and how relevant and timely it is. Also, you must ensure that employees can freely and—if desired—anonymously express their suggestions or reviews and give feedback.