When 30 Coca-Cola employees visited the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, they weren’t there to participate in the events. Nor were they there to sight-see, stock beverages or handle the company’s public relations.
They were there with one mission, and one mission only: to blog their fingers off.
Longtime Olympic Games sponsor Coca-Cola supplemented its media empire this year by adding blogging to the usual advertising, public relations and marketing mix. All Coke employees who traveled to China to pursue their blogging efforts were even nominated and selected by their peers.
Petro Kacur, senior manager of marketing communications for Coke, said the team members were sent to Beijing to enjoy the Games and blog about their experiences for fellow co-workers to read, rather than the traditional external blog approach.(1)
Talk about refreshing internal communications. (Pun obviously intended.)
For many organizations, it's easy to fall to the strong arm of external communication. Its revenue generation and measurable results from building brand awareness, pitching the press and selling products make it a "no-brainer."
However, external communications isn't the only side to the communications coin. Equally important to the bottom line, internal communications which is often overlooked or not given the same level of credence.
According to Tonya Bacon, director at Strategic Communications Group, "... instituting a comprehensive internal communications program is one of the most valuable ways to encourage employees to become stakeholders in the company (2)," adding to other important factors such as employee perks and an engaged work environment.
Strategic internal communication plans offer many benefits to organizations across varied industries, including:
• Increased productivity
• Higher probability of achieving organizational goals
• Ability to approach situations, problems or crises proactively
• More effective and responsive customer service
• Empowered employees who take stock in your organization
• A better workplace understanding of organizational values and purpose
• Smarter decision-making on all levels, reducing the need for micro-managing
• Reduced day-to-day conflict between team members
• Higher employee retention rates
Another proven benefit is a reduced chance of data leaks. A recent Ponemon Institute survey for Microsoft found that 74 percent of companies that admitted to poor internal collaboration between security, marketing and privacy managers had experienced one or more significant data breaches in the past two years.
Conversely, only 29 percent of companies who said to have good collaboration reportedone or more breaches in the same period.(3) Translation? When employees aren’t communicating cross-departmentally, security and privacy can suffer.
Before we delve into formulating a winning plan that yields results, it's important to understand the cause of most internal communications problems. Some of the most common beginnings of internal issues arise from eight main mentalities (4):
1. If I know it, then everyone else must know it.
2. We challenge bureaucracy. Logging rules in writing can be seen as a sign of this and should be avoided.
3. I think I told everyone ... or, someone ... or ...?
4. They've interpreted exactly what I was trying to convey.
5. We're too busy with bigger problems to have to listen to each other.
6. So, what's to talk about? Everything's good. News only happens around here in a crisis.
7. There's lots of data, but not much actual information to disseminate.
8. There's no point in telling you something unless I need your opinion on it.
Building on one or more of these eight mentalities, organizations are set on the road to a reactive approach to strategic planning. Usually in these cases, a crisis or problem sets off the need for an internal communication plan, around issues such as corporate takeover, layoffs or technological change. Then, once the upheaval has been eliminated or diffused, communication between staff tends to morph back into a disorganized “process.” (5)
The question then becomes “how?” How does an organization devise an internal communications plan that operates proactively, rather than reactively to a problem situation?
A process, not a product
When planning a comprehensive internal communications plan, you need to do just that: plan.
Effective internal communication structures are not simply products (i.e. newsletters, e-mails and phone trees). Albeit important tools, it's really about the process and not the end-all tactics.
Keep that in mind, internal communication plans must approach results over anextended period of time to reach full effectiveness, usually three years or more. In addition to keeping a clearly long-term focus, organizations will benefit from establishing clear values and goals and using comprehensive methodology.