The goal of investing in any communications and engagement technology is obviously to communicate better and increase engagement. But organizations should understand that any internal communication strategy, no matter how advanced, will only be as inspiring as the content it provides. That’s why communicating purpose at work is one quality all successful best practices in internal communication have in common.
Defining Purpose Aligns Employees
Getting your employees to feel involved and committed to your important initiatives is the surest way to ensure their success. But it’s no easy task, especially in an age when seven out of ten workers are concentrated in frontline jobs.
In general, remote working is an awesome development for organizations and employees alike. It has broadened the traditional sense of where and how work gets done. But it’s also a challenge to keep people from feeling increasingly untethered and alienated from their colleagues and their company culture.
Internal communication best practices have been especially enhanced by mobile technology. We've come a long way from the traditional, passive techniques of internal communication and employee engagement. Comms can now truly direct experiences that inspire, driving lasting, measurable change.
Purposeful communication transfers the ownership of initiatives from boardrooms and executive offices to cubicles, shop floors, home offices, and dispersed job sites. It changes minds and improves attitudes. Its effects are measurable and it will boost the ROI of any initiative.
So, without further ado, here are eight internal communication best practices for putting real purpose at the heart of your organization.
1. Know Who You Are
Most organizations have a reason as to why they exist that goes deeper than turning a profit. It influences strategy, decision-making, and behaviors at the executive level. But it often isn’t very well articulated to rank-and-file employees. It's crucial that you establish the relevance of your purpose at work with your employees. And in a way that inspires them and makes them care about their company and their relationship to it.
Expressing your identity should be at the top of the list of your internal communication best practices.
Straightforward and inspiring messages that are relatable and easy to understand are the best way to express purpose at work. Twitter was once a great example: "To give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers." (One could argue that it's downfall has coincided with its now-ambiguous purpose.) Patagonia has consistently lived up to its purpose: "Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis."
Strategy-specific messages tied to your purpose will allow your workforce to fully understand exactly how their individual efforts connect to the aspirations of the company.
2. Cut the Crap
We all need inspiration, but it's a fact that corporate communication is often uninspiring. The problem is that much of it ignores an important rule — cut the crap. Jargon-filled, acronym-laden "corporate speak" generally lacks meaning. Plus it’s annoying.
Authentic messages in plain-spoken language will allow your employees to see challenges and opportunities with clarity. This will make them better able to understand and invest themselves in whatever direction you’re trying to lead them.
3. Put Purpose in Your Narrative and Tell Stories That Express It
Facts and figures are often forgotten. Stories and anecdotal experiences are far more memorable. Put purpose into your narratives and share stories that express that underlying message. By using storytelling as much as possible, you'll help your employees understand the relevance of your strategy. And give them real-life examples that reinforce purpose at work.
Find ways to let your employees share their stories. And use them to foster greater understanding of the behaviors you’re trying to encourage, while deterring those that are counter-productive. Collectively, these stories will have a strong influence on the culture-building behaviors related to your core purpose and strategic goals.
4. Set Priorities
Not all messages carry the same weight. Ask yourself whether their purpose is to inspire, educate, or reinforce. Defining their intent will help you to prioritize them.
Messages that inspire are particularly important when they’re related to significant accomplishments or when they introduce new strategic initiatives. Their content should highlight progress made toward achieving goals, illustrate clear benefits, and present itself in a way that attracts attention and signals importance.
As we’ll discuss later, the medium can play a role in this perception (an email might not be your best choice, but then again, maybe it is), but in this case it’s less important than the overall impression you’re trying to make. Whether you want to generate optimism, provide motivation, foster curiosity, or alert your employees to impending change, you’ll imprint a lasting memory when your messages carry the weight of real emotion.
Once you’ve inspired your people, explanations about your company’s strategic decisions and the plans for implementing them will have greater impact. Whenever possible, deliver educational messages through dialogue rather than top-down mandates. Consider targeting educational information to smaller groups who can reach their own conclusions and take ownership of the plans they make for carrying out your initiatives.
In order to fully sink in, instill belief, and cement lasting change, repeatedly express explanations about how your company’s purpose links to its strategy and the plans for its successful execution. Companies can present such reinforcing messages through a variety of tactics, channels, and experiences.
Ultimately, their goal is to immerse employees in important content and teach them how to connect their roles to an overall strategy. Integrating these messages with your training and HR initiatives will allow you to connect them with employee development and performance metrics.
As we’ll talk about when we discuss the purpose of showing appreciation (see point #7), it's important to recognize and reward individuals and teams who find smart solutions that jumpstart positive change.
5. Make the Medium the Message
As we noted above, there are times when the delivery method of a message is just as important as the content itself. We've all seen how the ways people communicate have changed dramatically in the last 20 years. Still, most corporate communication lags well behind how we communicate in our free time. Think about how familiar formats such as social media, networking, blogs, and game-playing can serve to spread your company’s messages. And don’t overlook the obvious.
Mobile technology is how people communicate when they can’t speak face to face (and sometimes even when they can). Americans spend more time texting than talking on the phone, and texting is the most frequent form of communication for Americans under 50. In other words, communication that doesn’t reach your employees in the same way they connect with one another is bound to be inadequate.
6. Be Clear
Internal communication best practices all require clarity. You can’t just email a memo restating your vague or poorly worded mission or vision statement and expect it to gain any kind of traction. It should be obvious that if you can't clearly express who you are as an organization, you shouldn’t expect your people to figure it out — especially if they're already feeling disconnected.
But it’s more than a matter of words. By making concrete business decisions that are clearly in line with a corporate purpose that’s understood by all, you can show your people that their company puts its money where its mouth is, backing up its words with real actions.
7. Show Appreciation
Most people in the workplace are looking for more than just a paycheck. They want to feel that their work has meaning. They want recognition for their efforts and they want to feel like they’re part of a team. These desires for recognition and connection are fundamental, which means that there’s a real purpose to acknowledging the value of a job well done.
Recognition — from management as well as one's peers — is a reward in and of itself. By showing appreciation, you can instill a passion for excellence. By acknowledging achievements, your employees are far more likely to go the extra mile, above and beyond your expectations.
8. Be Humble
Corporate communications have traditionally come from on high. But ground-level dialogues are just as important, if not more so. Employees are way more likely to believe what leaders say if they’ve heard similar arguments from their peers. Conversations are generally more persuasive and engaging than one-way edicts. No one wants to be told what to do without understanding why.
When delivering important messages, try to find the employees best suited to spreading the word. You should obviously rotate this lineup depending on the initiative, getting as many people involved as possible.
When a message has to come from leadership, make sure it's from your your most visible and well-respected leaders. And avoid "big bang" pronouncements. Don't try to make a big splash unless you're prepared to swim. Instead, make the reception of consistent communication about your initiatives a regular part of your employees’ daily routines.
Creating Purpose at Work Is Easy (Not)
I hope some if not all of this advice will help you to infuse your internal communications best practices with real meaning. But let’s be honest. While the idea of communicating with purpose may seem like common sense, there’s a reason so few organizations are good at it. It takes practice, time, and a kind of organizational empathy that only comes from really listening to your employees and thinking deeply about the meaning behind the messages you’re attempting to convey.
The biggest takeaway here is that if you’re not clear about what you’re trying to say, you can’t possibly expect your people to understand you. That means it’s up to you to initiate the conversation about who you are as an organization — and who you would like to be. Remember, your organization definitely has a purpose, and once you establish exactly what it is, creating purposeful communication is well within your grasp.
What's your organization's purpose? How do you incorporate it into your internal communication best practices? Let us know in Comms-unity, our global Slack channel for internal comms professionals. We love hearing stories about how people connect with their colleagues, which shouldn't come as a surprise, since fostering connections at work is kind of our purpose.