Efficient communication is a powerful skill that supports our daily lives and processes. The quality of communication impacts how well we resolve issues, establish relationships, network, and fit into society in general.
At work, communication affects not only the well-being of employees, but also the quality of their work. If people are stressed, annoyed, or even scared to speak their minds, that will inevitably lead to poor performance, frequent errors, and a high level of employee turnover.
As such, employers need to place a greater emphasis on internal communication to foster a positive work environment and maintain robust workflows. Today’s organizations use tools, training, and good management techniques to enable communication between teams, individuals, and between the organization and its people.
Is internal communication in crisis?
For many companies, organized internal communications are nonexistent. In fact, one study by Ragan shows that 34% of organizations don’t even measure internal communications. Those that do show abysmal engagement rates, with many having email open rates as low as 17%.
If your organization’s internal communications are in a similar state, this issue should be addressed and corrected. Some instances when internal communications need mending include:
- Lack of a cohesive strategy across all departments and branches
- No company-wide strategy
- No company-wide distribution
- Lack of unified messaging or branding
- No alignment with goals or business strategy
- Poor engagement or lack of engagement
Although assessing this data requires a review of internal messaging operations across the organization, that data is generally easy to acquire. Since you’re reading this article, you likely already have it. At the end of the day, internal communications should positively contribute to employee engagement, productivity, and overall happiness. If it’s not, it needs to change.
Benefits of improving internal communication
Good internal communication yields numerous benefits across your organization: McKinsey & Company found good communication results in a productivity boost of 20%–30%. When people communicate well, it creates ripple effects for more productive collaboration, stronger teamwork, and more enjoyment at work.
Improved performance and efficiency
Easy access to resources, knowledge, and people can save workers two to four hours every day. Good internal communications help facilitate this with proper tooling, establishing clear processes, and providing the knowledge to manage people and requests well.
Even simple tactics like using centralized file resourcing (e.g., a cloud drive), keeping channels open for employees to chat, and effectively communicating when and where people are online can decrease the time employees spend waiting on others, looking for files, or figuring out how to complete a process.
When teams can communicate easily with each other and with their leaders, they’re more engaged in the conversation.
Here, internal communication is often used to facilitate open conversations between upper management and their teams as well as provide an understanding of business goals and how they connect to what each group is actually working on.
That information is necessary to ensure teams and individuals have a purpose and clear goals (other than a task list), and that work is aligned across the business.
In the long term, improved employee engagement greatly reduces employee turnover, which in turn reduces total costs for the business as well, with less spending on the hiring and onboarding processes.
Effective project management
Teams that have the tooling, training, and resources to share information with each other effectively can work together effectively.
Ideally, that would include systemizing how people communicate, using project management tooling, and aligning project communication. Good communication is necessary for cooperative work between multiple people and especially multiple teams.
Trust builds engagement, increases productivity, and increases employee retention. With it, leaders can hand objectives to teams and individuals with confidence and allow them to work on those however they see fit. It encourages individuals to put faith in the decisions their leaders make. However, establishing trust requires productive communication.
This includes leadership, emotional intelligence, understanding why people act and react the way they do, feeling comfortable sharing personal factors that might impact work and communication, etc.
All of that fosters healthy work relationships among coworkers. Ultimately, good internal communication cultivates trust so everyone can collaborate together with confidence.
How to set employee communication goals
Setting goals to improve communication is invaluable for organizations. To do so, you need to determine where communication is blocked or broken down, set reasonable goals for improvement, and decide how you’ll achieve those goals.
You can use the following process to set attainable communication goals and work toward achieving them in your organization.
1) Analyze existing employee communication
To establish goals for improvement, you need a deep understanding of your organization’s current state of communication. This involves analyzing how individuals communicate and how well, and what’s impeding better communication.
You can typically achieve this with a multi-part assessment, starting with a baseline of where communication should be. Most employee assessment organizations can provide data to this extent.
- Self-assessment – Distribute questionnaires asking individuals to rate their own communication and that of others. Questions should ask why, where, and how communication goes right or wrong, and provide space for respondents to offer input on how to improve.
- Leadership assessment – Have managers give input on how well their teams communicate, what’s impeding them, and why.
- Review results – No matter how teams rate themselves, you can typically analyze actual communication by spending a small amount of time with the team or by asking questions relating to problem-solving, conflicts of opinion, and so on.
2) Review training and development possibilities
A formal needs assessment will determine where employees excel at communication and where you have gaps. For example, many organizations struggle with emotional intelligence, which is necessary for individuals to communicate with others in an empathetic manner.
Communication problems can stem from a range of issues, including:
- Teams use different tooling and can’t easily communicate with each other
- Individuals lack emotional intelligence and don’t take others into account
- Work hierarchy gets in the way
- Poor workplace culture discourages team members from speaking up
- Some individuals simply don’t fit the team culture
This short list of examples shows communication obstacles can stem from HR issues that require improvement, organizational structure issues, and from individual failings that can be improved through training and professional development.
Identifying where your issues stem from allows you to target solutions and work to improve them.
3) Consider your employees
Organizations employ a wide range of individuals with different communication styles and levels of emotional intelligence. Take this into account when setting communication goals so that individuals who naturally struggle to communicate one-on-one or in group settings will still have opportunities to excel.
Implementing personality and communication assessments to determine how your people communicate can help you understand their needs and how to address them.
4) Set goals
Once you know your issues, how your individual employees communicate, and your potential fixes, you can plan actionable solutions based on realistic goals. For example, you could set a goal to “improve communication by 20% within three months of taking EQ training.” This is specific with a reasonable plan of action and quantifiable results.
You might also set goals such as “improve by X% after successfully restructuring team hierarchy.” Here, you tie goals to achievable actions that would enable the intended increase, making those goals much more tangible and realistic.
5) Make a plan
You need to have a plan in place to fill communications gaps, improve how people collaborate, and build the work culture you want. That might mean empowering people with feedback, creating spaces for collaboration, or introducing communication tools. It could also require assessing employees and assigning them courses, workshops, or coaching for improvement. Whatever you do, you need a plan with concrete next steps to implement your new internal communication strategy. Ask yourself:
- What information does your organization need?
- What information do your leaders need?
- What information do teams need?
- Where do teams spend the most time?
- How often do you have to share information?
- How does interpersonal communication happen? Is it missing something?
- In what ways are those needs not being met? (Leadership, interpersonal, organizational?)
- What is your communication culture?
Who should manage your internal communications?
Most organizations have four options for internal communications:
1) Human resources
In this situation, HR takes on the full burden of internal communications. An HR person is responsible for creating strategies, building campaigns, writing content, and distributing it all. Most small organizations with limited communications departments choose this solution.
However, it does mean your HR staff needs to be able to write and use graphical media in a professional way. Without these skills, you risk sending out low-quality content to employees, which might reduce engagement despite correct messaging. Internal communications can also inhibit value-added work.
Some organizations shift internal communications completely to the marketing team because communications are often seen as a marketing function. However, marketing needs to focus on your external audience, not internal.
3) Marketing with HR alignment
In this setup, HR personnel are responsible for building strategy, setting goals, and aligning content with its own efforts, while marketing does the actual writing and distribution of the content. This gives organizations the best of both worlds, without unduly overburdening either department.
Most also seek to align this with top management to create truly cohesive messaging. A good internal communications strategy also ensures marketing has a rough idea of when and why things are happening. This allows them to better plan less essential communications around more significant ones so that, for example, they don’t send an unnecessary email on the same day as an important update.
4) Cross-functional teams
Some larger companies opt to build cross-functional teams for internal communication, sometimes these departments can be called People Operations.
These teams usually include one or two people with HR backgrounds, plus a few team members in marketing, product, and sales who can provide consistent updates from their departments.
This solution is ideal for larger organizations, as all internal messaging is handled by the same people in a dedicated environment. It allows for the most consistency across messaging while still incorporating input from HR on strategy and alignment.
Should HR be responsible for internal communications?
Human Resources often walks a fine line of sharing responsibilities with other departments like communications and operations. HR oversees human management across the organization, and that naturally overlaps with aspects of communication, team building, and finance.
Internal communication might seem like a communications team problem, and on the surface, it is. It also contributes to employee engagement and performance. Because of this overlap, many large organizations create custom internal communications teams.
So, if there is a communications team in place that can take on extra work, that team is a much better fit than HR.
Here, you should consider:
- Is a communications team in place to take on internal communications work?
- Does it have the capacity to take on that work?
- Would it make sense to hire new people or build a team to take on internal communications?
This is important because while much of internal communications should be aligned with HR, it doesn’t necessarily have to come from HR.
For example, the communications team can send out periodic updates regarding company events, positive developments, etc.
The team should align closely with HR for events such as mergers, downsizing, performance reviews, and salary changes. However, some messaging doesn’t need HR input at all.
Deciding where communication comes from and whose input is needed should be a first step in remediating your company’s communication.
What happens if HR takes on internal communications?
If internal communications are delegated to HR, it’s important to set guidelines and processes to maintain quality and consistency.
- Build a strategy aligned with business strategy and goals
- Test and select communication tools that meet your needs and budget
- Implement tracking tools to test engagement, open rate, click-through rate (for email), etc.
- Carefully consider channels and how many can be maintained. It’s nice to be able to push data to as many channels as possible, but if employees are already managing other work, it might be too much
- Establish a review process to ensure consistent quality. If possible, have someone from communications do a final edit on content
- Reward employee engagement to encourage better communication across the organization
- Make feedback and two-way communication part of the process
- Avoid sending too many messages. If employees receive too many, they’ll stop opening them
- Focus on transparency and maintaining trust
- Adopt a specific style guide and format for each type of communication so that email, social media, videos, and other forms of communication all look relatively the same
Building an internal communications strategy means aligning communication with organizational goals and objectives. That might include communicating key business data at specific parts of the year, reminding people that performance reviews are coming up, introducing new hires, or congratulating everyone on a successful year.
Internal communication should pass on information, inspire and motivate employees, and ask for action. HR teams are best equipped to achieve this, so building strategy should almost always fall on HR.
Ideally, it will also be a cross-departmental or cross-team endeavor, with input and strategy from HR and content from marketing. If this isn’t possible, you can still use robust processes and strategies to create quality internal communications for your organization.
Giving your HR team control of internal communication
A professional HR team has a big impact on the company’s growth as well as its internal and external communications. Here’s how.
A motivated employee is a great asset to any company. If a person is motivated, s/he is more likely to exceed the set expectations and deliver high-quality results in a stable and consistent manner. On the other hand, an employee with zero motivation can really hurt your company by not doing their job, compromising the company’s authority, and distracting other employees.
So, one of the primary goals of the HR department is to cultivate and maintain motivation among employees.
For example, the onboarding process is one way to engage an employee in the company’s processes. Though it may seem simple, onboarding is actually complex, consisting of many steps. It’s also the first communication with your employees, serving to introduce them to the company culture and ensure they have the tools to communicate with their teams.
A company’s culture is the representation of its identity, values, and beliefs. If the employees share this culture and vision, they’ll find their work environment more comfortable and thus will be more motivated and productive.
Strong communication can help to build, share, and synchronize company culture and values. This is especially important as your business grows, as you will want to foster a culture of clear communication that facilitates teamwork and collaboration.
To identify and prevent problems, involved parties need to be constantly aware of what’s going on. The HR department helps with this by informing employees and management about any issues and aligning communication between teams.
For example, if an employee loses interest in their job, it could be disastrous for the whole project if no action is taken to address the problem. However, if the HR specialist identifies something wrong and passes the message along to a manager, it can prevent both the employee from quitting and the project from being delayed. By staying informed, a manager can assign appropriate tasks to the employee or even transfer them to another department.
While internal communications focus on building and enhancing the company’s image within the entity, external communications mold the company’s image for media, potential candidates, and other outside parties. This responsibility also falls on HR.
Outreach to potential candidates
The HR department can improve outreach to potential candidates by building solid company culture and motivating existing employees. If an existing employee is happy with the company, they’re more likely to share the company with friends and peers.
Overall, a good reputation and a low turnover rate at a company are enticing factors for many candidates. This draws in more talent to the company and contributes to its diversification and broadening of skills.
Remediating communication in your organization
Employee retention relies heavily on how well an employee can do their job, inter-company relations, and how purposeful the work is. Being competitive and offering a great benefits package improves employee retention, along with rewards, recognition, training programs, and a smooth hiring process.
However, many of these things count on good communication skills to succeed.
Below are a few strategies to inspire effective communication at all organization levels.
Keep employees informed
Provide regular and ongoing communication throughout the entire organization. Regular communication gives employees an idea of when to expect feedback or new information, and through which communication channels.
That might mean dispersing information across set portals like a Slack channel and a newsletter. It could also include sharing information about the company and goals during standups, or adopting extreme measures like Buffer, which shares every detail of its business, investments, and even salaries online.
Routine feedback will also help employees gauge their success and adjust their behaviors. Communicate their strengths, weaknesses, goals, responsibilities, and options for improvement every few months so employees know whether standards are being met and where they can improve.
Many businesses are increasingly adopting an open-door policy. This allows anyone in the organization to connect with anyone else, no matter how high up, to have a talk, offer feedback, or seek counseling.
You can enable this through channels such as email, in-person meetings, informal lunches, video chats, and more. With so many options available to make it feasible, having an open-door policy is beneficial for the company and an added perk for employees.
Ask for two-way feedback
Ask for employee input to create a company culture that encourages independent thinking and values employee opinions. Employees have unique insight on the business processes because they interact directly with your customers and company systems. It’s especially important to request feedback on decisions that affect them, such as new policies.
Most importantly, feedback should not be a once-a-year check-in. Teams should have weekly or biweekly retrospections, where members can share opinions and give and receive feedback.
In addition, taking steps like implementing review and approval platforms like InVision or Frame.io can help teams to give and take productive feedback on work, collaboration, and processes. This shifts feedback cycles toward communication and collaboration rather than work.
Find different ways to discover opinions
Along with asking for feedback at quarterly reviews or meetings, you can also use assessments and surveys to identify turnover in your organization.
Host surveys, small group interviews, focus groups, exit interviews, and online questionnaires to discover why your best employees stay with you and why some leave. Once you have this information, you can begin taking measures to improve employee retention.
Deliver relevant messages to the right audiences
Certain information is relevant company-wide, such as an internal newsletter of upcoming events and holidays, or a quick email about an important happening in the office (e.g., construction or a power outage).
However, not all information is pertinent or helpful to every employee, so consider your message and intended audience before sending out any correspondence. Don’t clutter your employees’ inboxes with unnecessary emails, and be sure to send only important, relevant information.
If employees receive too many irrelevant messages, they may begin to ignore even the important ones.
Clarify roles and responsibilities
Make sure people know what they’re responsible for and why. While this is irrelevant for self-organizing and other team styles, for most, there should be clear accountability based on each person’s responsibilities, tasks, and outcomes; everyone should know where to go, and someone should always have the final say.
Skip unnecessary meetings
Face-to-face contact is great, but with people spending an average 21.5 hours a week in meetings, company’s need to find a healthy balance.
Cutting back on unnecessary meetings, using online tools, and relying on aligning teams rather than asking people to stay in meetings can improve efficiency while saving time.
If people are struggling with communication, offering training can help, such as simple communication courses and coaching.
Teams can also benefit from emotional intelligence workshops, learning how to work with other personality types, and other such teachings.
Use the right channels
Different employees communicate in different ways. Consider using multiple channels to communicate and, if possible, meet them where they like to talk.
For example, if employees prefer SMS for quick messages, invest in an unlimited messaging plan.
If you work with a freelancer who prioritizes email, send correspondences through that portal.
Establish your organization’s communication means and identify which ones will best reach each company segment.
Social media posts, bulletin boards, and group channel updates are effective means to communicate alerts, emergency messages, announcements, and other elements of your internal communication strategy in the workplace.
However, while people like having a central place to see updates, you shouldn’t use this as your only medium of dispersing important news.
This is ideal for:
- Mass messages
- Non-essential messages
Technology is all around us, but it can never fully replace face-to-face communication. In fact, our brains are shaped in such a way as to seek physical interactions and respond to even the slightest signals from it. This helps us articulate ourselves clearly and understand the intentions of another person.
Face-to-face communication is a crucial strategic element in the world of business too. Research from Harvard shows a request made face-to-face is 34 times more likely to earn a positive response when compared to an email, proving the power of human contact. So, keep things personal to create a sense of team spirit and build strong links between team members.
For example, certain conversations are better had face-to-face when possible, or at least over a live video call. Some of these include:
- Important updates
- New hires or promotions
- Having to fire someone
- Personal information and updates
Email is a great way to deliver both mass information and personal messages. If you send important updates, it’s important to separate them from a newsletter or other general mailing.
People may be accustomed to skimming correspondences or even deleting them without reading, so your big news will be missed if sent en masse. Instead, send important emails from a separate email address.
Smooth organizational communication is vital for running a successful business. At Profiles Asia Pacific, we’ve found good communication helps us avoid project delays and mistakes due to misunderstandings, and generally keeps things running more efficiently since everyone knows what’s going on.
Good communication at work and in leadership
Employees in today’s workforce can make sales, troubleshoot, advise, and conduct nearly any business transaction from any place almost anywhere in the world. However, with so many communication channels in use, a disconnect between people is bound to occur.
George Bernard Shaw once said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” Poor communication in the workplace can cause frustration, misunderstandings, and lackluster performance, which usually results in employee turnover.
How effectively managers communicate with employees and how employees communicate with each other is a key component of a productive work environment. Just like typing, writing, time management, and organization, communication is a skill that must be learned and practiced. So, what can you do to improve your communication skills in the workplace?
A great leader must have a diverse set of abilities, including empathy, intelligence, decisiveness, and collaboration. They’re fully aware of what’s happening within their business and understand how their actions will affect others.
Good communication helps leaders work better with their teams, make more informed decisions, and improve their work relationships.
Here are a few ways your leaders can communicate well at work:
- Ask questions instead of assuming
- Be conscious of workplace boundaries and don’t cross them
- Encourage cooperation and communication
- Have a genuine interest in your team members’ lives
- Empower your team to work independently
- Avoid micromanaging
- Develop and share a clear vision for the team and business
- Practice empathetic listening
When to use different types of communication styles
Being a good leader involves knowing when to use which type of communication style with your team. Based on each scenario, you may want to tell, consult, delegate, or gain consensus. Google’s manager training reveals how to talk to your team:
- Tell – Good for simple, time-critical tasks that don’t have much impact on the team
- Consult – Good for decisions that don’t affect the team too much, wherein the leader retains final say of the outcome
- Delegate – Good for decisions that are best handled by small groups or single individuals. Use this when the task will help the individual or group develop their skill set
- Consensus – Use this when a decision isn’t time sensitive, but is significant enough that the entire team should be on board (for example, if you plan to reorganize the company structure or make a change in mandatory schedules)
Improve interpersonal communication
Interpersonal communication is key to clear, open understanding between leaders, teams, and at any level of the organization.
Be clear and concise
Take time to organize your thoughts and make your deliverables clear and concise. Your manager and coworkers don’t want to sift through a bunch of filler words to uncover your main point. Avoid jargon and unnecessarily elevated words; you’re not writing an academic essay after all.
Uphold digital etiquette
Emails and text messages are notorious for misinterpretation. When crafting an email, read over it a few times to make sure the tone is professional, there are no grammatical or spelling errors, and that you followed the first tip (a clear and concise message).
If your request is time sensitive or deals with an issue, schedule a follow-up phone meeting to make sure your message was received as you intended.
Never respond to an email or text message when you’re displeased or upset — it risks becoming unprofessional, and can come back to bite you.
It’s important to remember not everyone has mastered or is aware of digital etiquette, so be careful to avoid making assumptions about messages you receive.
Be aware of your body language
Be aware of the message you send with your body language. Body language includes facial expressions, posture, eye movement, and your position in relation to the person with whom you’re speaking.
In the workplace, we need to pay attention to our body language, as it impacts the way people perceive (and thus communicate with) us. A person with crossed arms and a tense posture will appear much more distant and negative than a relaxed individual who looks you in the eyes and smiles.
Some basic etiquette to keep in mind when talking to colleagues is:
- Maintain eye contact
- Try not to cross arms
Another important social element to address is overfamiliarity. Some enthusiastic employees may constantly hug their colleagues, tap them on the shoulder or back, shake hands, or simply invade someone’s personal space.
Such behavior is often uncomfortable, intimidating, or annoying to others, so the best option is to refrain from it, except when talking to close friends or people who don’t mind it.
Flesh out your response
Being put on the spot is always uncomfortable, so when it happens, take your time to consider your response carefully. It’s okay to say, “Let me think about that and I’ll get back to you.”
A rushed answer might convey incorrect information, give the wrong impression, or cause some other misunderstanding. Once you’re confident in your response, you’ll be able to communicate more clearly.
Listening is an obligatory skill for effective communication. Busy office life often implies rushing, and people try to express themselves as quickly as possible. Too many times though, we get so caught up in trying to get our point across that we hear what the other person is saying, but don’t actually listen to it. Make sure you listen to your manager and coworkers, not just hear them.
Doing so without interrupting or hurrying the other person is a sign of respect and professionalism. It shows you value your colleague’s opinion and are willing to consider it.
Use your body language to show your attentiveness: React to their words, mimic some of their gestures (it helps win them over) and watch their facial expressions (it shouldn’t be deadpan).
The biggest things to be mindful of during a personal conversation with a colleague are:
- Pointless arguing
- A deadpan face
- Crossed arms and a tense posture
Communication shouldn’t be cold and matter of fact. Get to know the people you work with and let them know you care about them as individuals. Don’t isolate yourself in your office or keep your head down at your desk.
Knowing the background of whoever you’re talking to will help you frame where they’re coming from, their point of view, and how best to approach them. If you understand their motivations, you can focus on the topics that are most important to them.
Make communicating with other employees a part of your daily routine. Then, when you do have to discuss an important or touchy subject, it won’t be as difficult or awkward.
Moderate your tone
Keep your tone respectful, but authoritative. While you should always be respectful in your professional communications, you don’t always have to be apologetic. Understand how to stand your ground when necessary and recognize when it’s time to contradict someone politely.
Practicing good professional communication sometimes depends on the medium or channel you use. Below, we’ve provided some channel-specific tips.
First, always introduce yourself. There might be hundreds of employees working in your company and most don’t even know the people who work on the same floor as them. So, at the beginning of the conversation, introduce yourself and clarify which department you work in.
Second, clearly state the reason why you called, and don’t hesitate to ask the person to repeat what they said if you didn’t understand them. It’s better to clarify one issue right away than have to deal with multiple in the future. Another good idea is to take notes during the call to ensure no important information is missed.
Finally, thank the person for their time when ending the call; this shows you treat your colleagues with respect and value their time.
Remember, your colleagues are working toward the same goal as you, namely, contributing to the company’s development and growth. So, invest in developing good communication skills to help achieve this ultimate objective.
You might also want to recap calls in writing. If you have a verbal discussion, follow up in an email and summarize what you discussed, any action points to work on, and ask if you missed anything. This provides a record for future reference and keeps all parties on the same page.
Plenty of professional communication happens via texts, emails, or chats. So, it’s important to know the basic rules of professional communication on these portals to avoid missing important information and to be sure you’re heard.
Emails can be neglected, ignored, deleted, or lost if the sender didn’t care to craft a professional email. Here are the essential elements of a good email:
- Informative and clear subject – a receiver should immediately grasp what the email is about from its subject
- Well-balanced copy – not too short, but not too long either. Write all the necessary information and any useful comments
- Don’t use emojis, GIFs, memes, etc. Keep the email professional
- Appropriate tone – start with a salutation and end the email with a professional signature (i.e., “Best regards”). Don’t use slang or jargon
Additionally, take into consideration the receiver’s culture, time zone, and previous communication into account.
Companies use various messengers and chat apps. The cornerstone of professional communication in such messengers is respect for your colleagues and an ability to listen without interrupting. Additional guidelines to follow are:
- Reply to chats and maintain traceability for discussions where you can
- Clearly refer to what you’re asking for
- Share files in chat
- Follow up on any important communication with an email where it’s unlikely to be lost
Remember, there should be absolutely no harassment, jargon, or inappropriate wording in any written communication in the office. Also, always address the person you’re talking to, thank them for their time, and provide the information needed to keep all parties on the same page.
What to do if someone doesn’t respond professionally
Sometimes you end up in a conversation with someone who doesn’t follow professional etiquette. If you find yourself on the receiving end of insults, assumptions, or general ill-will, we’ve provided some suggestions to alleviate the situation:
- If the person is acting poorly due to a misunderstanding, clarify or correct them. For example, if you’re an account manager and a client becomes angry because they’ve misunderstood the scope, politely bring up the original agreement and go through it.
- Explain the situation from your point of view. If you continue to address someone politely and respectfully, it’s possible they may change their tone or back away from their anger. Giving them your POV also helps them to sympathize.
- Most importantly, maintain your cool. Avoid swearing, getting angry, saying hurtful things, or making rude remarks.
In the end, you’re protecting your image as well. How you react to someone who is behaving poorly will reflect on you.
How to communicate with insubordinate employees
Insubordinate employees make things hard for their teams and other departments, which can hinder business efficiency.
The best way to handle this issue is to avoid hiring poor fit candidates in the first place, but if for whatever reason you find an insubordinate team member down the road, here are a few things you can try.
Avoid blame and agree on responsibility
Even if the insubordinate employee is at fault, blaming them will only cause the situation to deteriorate further. Avoid putting them on the defensive, which will make them even harder to work with.
Ask questions that prompt them to take responsibility. Once you both agree on what the employee is accountable for, it’ll be harder for him or her to say they were given an unfair assignment or unreasonable tasks.
Here are a few questions to ask:
- What’s the best way you can contribute to the company?
- Do you have any skills that are being underutilized?
- What do you need to be successful at your job?
- How will you help your colleagues succeed?
If people don’t improve after a general discussion, you can also try a performance improvement plan. This should align with training, coaching, or other resources to help them reach their improvement goals.
You don’t need to agree with someone to listen to them. Ask the employee to come by your office and explain him or herself in a private setting. This is important to demonstrate compassion and show your willingness to see every side.
However, avoid letting an insubordinate employee waste your and your team’s time. If you find yourself sitting with an underperforming employee every week who shows no sign of improvement, it’s time to cut them loose.
Know when to call it quits
Make an effort to reintegrate an insubordinate employee into your team. Your business has invested in them, and they’ve given their time and talent. However, if they fail to improve and continue to hinder your business progress, know when to let them go. Although it’s an uncomfortable task, you still need to meet your business’s needs, and if that employee is making it harder for their department to do their jobs, then they’re hindering your goals and shouldn’t be kept.
Get to the root of the problem to avoid it in the future
Whatever the outcome with your insubordinate employee, get to the root of what happened to avoid repeating the problem. If the issue came from a poor hiring process, fix it. If it came from bad company culture or frustration with a particular manager, investigate it further so you prevent other employees from becoming resentful, dissatisfied, or difficult to work with.
Internal communication tools
Tooling can make or break your internal communication. They’re the means through which you manage projects, share data, send emails, distribute content, etc. Using the right tool set will allow you to communicate with employees in ways that work for them. It’s important though to let teams have a say in what they use for regular work management, so bring them into the discussion when considering new tools.
For example, say you want the entire company on one platform, but your visual design team prefers to work with a whiteboard tool while your code team prefers to use Jira and Slack only. These preferences should be taken into consideration when planning your internal communication infrastructure.
If you’re unsure whether you have the right tools (or enough of them), look at how your organization communicates. Good signs you need more tools are: an inability to communicate, everything being in email, or poor project and communication oversight. You can always start out taking the IC Maturity Assessment to determine your gaps.
To help you keep everything well documented and maintain open lines of communication within your business, we’ve compiled a list of useful tools you can incorporate for effective organizational communication. These tools will help you have more productive meetings, communicate across distances and time zones, and ensure all necessary documents are in their place and available to those who need them.
Introducing tools correctly for company-wide buy-in
New tools can meet significant resistance from employees. You’ll find people simply don’t log in to chat, Slack channels aren’t used, emails go unread, etc.
When you introduce a new tool, employees should know why you chose it, what you’ll do with it, and what they need to adapt to it. That means sharing:
- The goals for the new channel
- Reasons for the change
- Expectations for the new tool
- When, where, and how training will be available
In addition, integrate any new channels into your processes. It makes no sense to introduce a project management tool if you continue to allow people to track work in Excel or another tool. Create processes that ask for accountability and actually use of the new tool.
Project management tools
These are tools you can use to manage your team communications surrounding projects and tasks. These tools help to keep information organized and important communication in one place.
- Trello – Trello uses virtual Kanban boards to organize your to-dos. You can create boards for different projects or clients, and have lists and cards within those boards dedicated to your actionable tasks. It makes it easy to stay organized and in contact with your team. You can also assign members to each card so your team knows who’s responsible for what task.
- Basecamp – Basecamp is an excellent, streamlined project management tool that allows you to separate your projects into different “camps.” You can separate clients, give them access, attach files associated with certain projects, and much more. Basecamp gives your teams a go-to place to learn about specific projects, read discussions surrounding that project, and is a great platform to host all your files in one convenient place.
- Miro – Miro took the world by storm during the Covid-19 pandemic, and for good reason. This whiteboarding tool allows visual communicators to draw, write, and even use images and diagrams to communicate. It’s also extremely touchscreen friendly, making it a good fit for tablet and mobile phone users.
- Notion – Notion is a note-based project management tool with a Kanban board, scheduling, and assignments. It employs an approach similar to Trello’s, but with added team and project management.
Granted, the success of project management tools depends on your organization and your team. Developers tend to prefer ticket-based project management like Jira. Marketers more often like Trello, Monday, and similar software. As long as teams are aligned on how they work together, project management tools can vary throughout your organization.
Quick communication tools
It’s a good idea to use online communication tools instead of relying solely on in-person conversations because your discussions are documented and archived for you to review later. If you forgot what someone told you in the morning, you can just scroll back through your messages and read it again. You also have more time to form your responses when conversing online, so communication is efficient and accurate. Below are some popular online messaging tools.
- Slack – Slack is an amazing organizational communication tool that allows you to create channels with different members, customize your dashboard, add reminders to notes, and more. In fact, there are so many cool things you can do with Slack, there’s a guide on how to get the most out of it.
- Google Meet – Google Meet is convenient if your team uses their Gmail accounts for work. You can chat with team members right from your email dashboard! It’s great for sending quick messages that you can look back on later.
Additionally, you can integrate free add-ons like Clockwise to automate choosing the best times for meetings. This allows people to focus more on their work and less on exchanging emails about when the best time for a call might be.
Of course, there are plenty of alternatives; intranet, social media, tools like Yammer, Microsoft Teams, etc., are all great options. You can try out a few, or ask teams what they prefer. For chat, it’s almost always better to have everyone on the same system. And, if you use Microsoft Office, you should probably use Microsoft Teams because everything integrates.
These are the tools you can use to send out announcements, company updates, and general information.
- A company newsletter — Many companies use email services to reach out to their clients, but it’s also great for internal communication. You can send out monthly newsletters or simple updates. One popular option for this is MailChimp, which allows you to segment contacts into different lists. Simply keep the list updated and send out a newsletter to your company list.
- Internal website — Another great option for company announcements is to set up a private employee page on your website. This is simple and easy to do on WordPress, and it gives everyone a single place to check important dates and stay on top of company news. Make it your go-to location for announcing holidays, birthdays, special company events, and more.
- Social media — Social groups can sometimes work well to keep your team on the same page. However, not all employees stay up to date with social media.
- Slack — A dedicated Slack channel for important announcements and one for more general daily announcements is also a great choice for communication, with email to follow up on important events. Some options for this are Slack and Microsoft Teams.
Collaboration and creativity tools
Plenty of tools are available to help your organization collaborate and share data in simple formats. These include:
- Canva – Offers quick templates and drag-and-drop social images and brochure creation so HR can quickly create graphics for newsletters, social media, etc.
- Whimsical – Quickly build flowcharts and diagrams
- Loom – Record your screen and add video, text, or commentary for tutorials or quick help requests.
Data and resource management tools
Sharing data in a centralized place is another important component of effective internal communication. That normally means switching data collaboration to a cloud service such as Google Drive, OneDrive, or Toby. However, the tool you choose depends on your organization’s existing infrastructure and capabilities.
How to implement internal communication plans
A good communication plan outlines who needs to know what, when, and why. It essentially maps hierarchy and priority based on your organizations’ values and strata. For example, some organizations share everything with everyone. That kind of open environment builds trust through transparency. Others prefer to communicate information on an as-needed basis, keeping select people informed of internal topics and allowing them to decide to share it with others or not.
That kind of plan might look like:
- Stakeholders and partners – A list of key partners and stakeholders mapped to information and what they should be informed of
- Information trigger/What should spark communication
- Communication activities (i.e., the events an activity triggers)
- Team (who is responsible)
- Strategy goals (what you intend to achieve with this communication)
- Channels (how information is communicated)
- Segments (Are there different segments? Do they need different communication formats?)
- Costs (budget)
That can be applied to a C-suite list of stakeholders with business-critical events. However, you can also apply it on a team level, such as:
- Team A and C working on Module D
- Stakeholders taking time off/calling in sick, new hires, upcoming changes in direction, new feature requests, major stakeholder feedback, upcoming compliance, or cybersecurity activities
- Data is communicated to the team lead and then to the whole team or scheduling a follow-up to ensure everyone is aware of the information
- Team lead, HR
- Teams should be aligned on the module, aware of dependencies and when internal resources are or are not available, and able to offer input on new directions and features
- Email, during the weekly standup, in retrospectives
- Team leads need information up front
- Hourly salary x1 across the team + 2 hours per week from HR
Review communication regularly
Achieving good internal communication requires monitoring changes to communication. Your organization needs to implement methods to measure the impact of training, tools, and other efforts on communication.
It also means reviewing your strategies and updating them periodically so they continue to reflect your organization and its communication needs.
Monitor tool usage
If you introduce new tooling, keep track of how people use it, such as through Slack or other tools that offer usage statistics in the dashboard. If you can access those reports, use them.
If not, send out anonymous surveys to ask employees about adoption. If people aren’t using the tool, find out why so you can understand how to improve adoption or determine a better alternative.
Surveys and requests for feedback can provide helpful insight into the state of communication across your organization. Sometimes the focus is on tools and available tooling; other times, it refers to how management or the organization communicates in general.
You should also ask about interpersonal communication, conflict resolution, and other nuclear interactions, as this data will reveal more specific aspects of communication in the organization and if remediation is necessary.
Importantly, these kinds of surveys have to be anonymous for people to feel comfortable answering honestly rather than fear repercussions. Sample survey questions include:
- Are you satisfied with the available communication channels?
- Is communication effective?
- Do you have suggestions for improving communication in your team/the organization?
- Is there a communication channel you don’t like?
Make sure you actually utilize that feedback. If you ask for it, but do nothing with it, people will no longer see the point in sending feedback and will stop sending it. Adapting tools and offerings based on feedback is one of the most effective ways to keep employees engaged, as it shows you value their opinions.
Ultimately, be prepared to accommodate their shortcomings, but not to the point that it becomes counterproductive. Learn to find the right balance.
Wrapping up — Invest in your internal communications for a stronger company and better culture
Building internal communication will boost collaboration and employee engagement, as well as reduce turnover. It improves how people work together in teams, increasing productivity and saving time spent waiting on others to respond or engaging in poor communication.
That results in a more efficient organization, with communication built on strong teams, helpful tools, and processes that enable clear interpersonal interactions.