Marian Jarzak has been passionate about employee engagement and employer branding for a number of years, and spends his days helping teams communicate better. In his experience, companies often invest too much time in their public messaging, and not enough time in how they communicate internally.
In this article, Marian shares the very first step companies can take towards improving the way they communicate internally, why it matters so much — especially as workforces become remote-friendly — and some practical advice for getting it right.
Marian has helped companies like Rocket Internet, Project A Ventures and Taxfix level up their employer branding and employee engagement. Over the years, however, he’s realised that many companies prioritise their employer branding and external engagement, but under-invest in their internal communications.
However, teams that don’t feel supported or well-informed are less likely to feel invested in helping their company succeed, and are less likely to spread positive word-of-mouth about your company — which means employer branding efforts ultimately fail. Marian says this is often the case because internal comms is just not properly understood:
“Companies usually don’t spend resources on this because it sounds very simple; but they often don’t know how to tackle this topic, or what it means.”
But it’s not only the mediums you use, like newsletters. What Marian sees companies overlooking is that internal communications is also about how you communicate and support teams on a more personal level. He explains:
“Often, people think internal comms is only about tools, newsletters, town hall meetings, etc. It goes a bit deeper… It’s also about the local interactions on a micro-level between manager and employee. This is not only an HR-related topic; it’s also about how you check in with your employees, or ask them what kind of support they need.”
Below, he shares some advice on how tech managers and HR teams can start the process towards improving their internal communications, and catering for a diversity of needs.
Holding a focus group: Finding out what information is actually missing
In order for an internal communications strategy to work, Marian says that managers need to be open to the reality that different people will need different communication strategies: “Organisations nowadays are so diverse — the educational background, the jobs people are doing, etc. For example, workers doing physical labour outside of the office have different communication needs to a ‘knowledge’ or white-collar worker.”
In other words, there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ approach to internal communications, and the first step in the journey to communicating more effectively is understanding what information people need. Marian explains that stepping into other people’s worlds is a helpful way of finding your own blindspots: “Sometimes we are so much in our own employer branding/internal comms bubbles, that we forget how to communicate with other people from other teams that we don’t interact with on a day-to-day basis.”
Improving internal comms starts with cutting through and removing our own assumptions. Focus groups are an effective strategy to do this. In Marian’s case, they are simply a mini-workshop with a handful of people, to gather qualitative data on internal communications.
Here’s a brief breakdown of some tips Marian has for putting one together:
Include a diversity of stakeholders
You want to reach as many different people as possible, but you want to get a good representation of every kind of individual in your team. This prevents you from designing a communication style that suits only a handful of people, and lets you know where the outliers and the majority are. For example, one person might want a WhatsApp message, and they might be the only one in a team of 100 who wants that — but, you won’t know that until you’ve spoken to more people.
Marian looks at three dynamics to ensure a good representation:
- Area within the business: This relates to the department, team, or country they work in. These factors affect how someone might want to be addressed, and what kind of information they actually need to do their job: “We all come from diverse cultures with different backgrounds. Some people want a more direct approach, others enjoy it a bit more indirectly.”
- Seniority: Ideally, you’d want a range of people from junior to executive. This affects how much time they have on their hands, what their priorities are, and what information is just going to be noise. For example, a junior might not need business projections, and an executive might not need to know about the onboarding docs.
- Type of role: This relates to the kind of work people do within their team or department. For example, an administrative role and a more supportive role will need different information in order to their work well.
Once he’s approached each of his participants, his next focus is to make sure he’s asking the right questions.
Figure out the right ‘what’, the right ‘how’, and the right tool
When sitting down with a focus group, Marian makes a point of finding out what information, communication style, and tools each person would find most beneficial in order for them to feel supported and informed.
Marian says this is an important step because the tool won’t matter if managers aren’t communicating in a way that resonates with their employees. You don’t only need to know how to interact with them easily, but you also need to know how to ask them about what’s important to them, what they want to see, and what they are missing, so that you can fix the things that are broken and double down on what is working well.
To make sure he gathers data on how people best respond to communication, as well as what tools they find the easiest to use, he asks the following three questions:
- What information are you missing / do you need to do your best?
- How would you like that to be communicated with you? (eg. in ‘bullet’ form, in a detailed breakdown, formally, casually, etc.)
- What tools or apps would you prefer to have that communication on?
For example, if someone would prefer an informal email every week on a Tuesday morning — because that’s when they check their inbox — with a bulleted list of the company’s main priorities for that week, and the team members involved… then, all of a sudden, Marian can more confidently say that the thing he wants to communicate will ‘click’ with the people he needs it to.
Taking these steps to building a communication strategy ensures that no communication slips through the cracks, that each person gets the information they need, when they need it.
Note: This does, however, come with a caveat — customising communication to each individual person is not always that feasible, especially for larger companies. You will need to compromise and find middle-ways in most cases. However, taking the time to ask these questions about communication preferences does give managers valuable insights for understanding what communication styles and channels definitely will or won’t work.
If you have any questions about employer branding, employee engagement, or how you communicate internally with your teams, feel free to reach out to Marian on LinkedIn!