According to Simpplr, 1 in 4 leaders say communication is challenging in the hybrid working era. Couple this with Adam Grant’s assertion that employees can be exposed to 2.3 million words and numbers at work, and you can see why your communication methods really need to cut through in order to be effective. In this article, we’ll look at some of the most effective types of internal communication you could implement within your business to reach more of your people, speak their language and bring them along the journey of inevitable organisational change.
1. Bottom-up communication
Bottom-up communication means conversation that is generated by employees, rather than top-down, which is generated by leaders.
Examples of bottom-up communication include:
- Free-text forum open any time, like Rungway
- Focus groups
- Ask me anything sessions
This type of communication is hugely beneficial for boosting employee buy-in during organisational change. If employees can voice their honest opinions and ideas freely whenever they like, then leadership will learn more about their people, their challenges and their organisation. This will help to inform better decision making, which allows positive changes to be made far more quickly .
Surveys, town halls and focus groups can gather bottom-up feedback, but they have limitations. They often only get information on certain questions, rather than a broad range of insights and topics, and people can often feel ‘survey fatigue’ when asked to complete them, which will hamper the quality of feedback received. The same goes for face-to-face communication; this tends to favour more confident people - the louder voices - and so you are unlikely to hear honest opinions from everyone.
So, what you need is a truly open space where people can raise concerns, ask questions or look for advice totally unprompted and without fear of judgement or reprisal. With this in place, leaders will see a much bigger, clearer picture of what they need to address in their organisation.
2. Anonymous communication
Anonymity is crucial in surfacing honest, unfiltered opinions - it can be the difference between your organisation being agile and successful, or inflexible and not being able to adapt to inevitable changing circumstances. By providing your employees with a platform for anonymous communication, you’re creating psychological safety - key to creating a healthier and more open culture which surfaces your silent majority.
Data from the Rungway platform, which creates this safe space, shows how behaviour changes when psychological safety exists. Many businesses think they're tapping into their silent majorities, but often there's still so much they're not hearing. 100% of women opt for anonymity when using Rungway in the APAC region, and colleagues of colour are 3x more likely to use Rungway than their white colleagues because of its anonymity feature. Women ask 30% more career-related questions and 40% more workplace culture questions, too.
If you think you're hearing from your people, this proves there's much more to uncover. Anonymity allows your employees to voice their real truths, spoken in their own language. Though sometimes uncomfortable, this is the employee feedback leaders need to be hearing. Be brave and lean in. Without this, then your organisation is likely only seeing the 4% of problems known to Executives, instead of the 100% seen by staff (see Sidney Yoshira’s Iceberg of Ignorance below).
3. pulses and surveys
Pulses can be effective if they’re used regularly as a form of gauging the temperature of your organisation.
The regularity is key - it can help leaders to learn more of the day-to-day experiences of employees, rather than acting on bi-annual surveys which very quickly become outdated. If meetings are held at each end of the year, for example, then in the months between, countless flashpoints will have been missed and valuable data will have gone unsurfaced.
For smaller organisations with a small number of employees, regular pulses may be easier, but larger businesses may have trouble doing this effectively. There’s also ‘survey fatigue’ to consider - the more surveys employees have to fill out, the less engaged they’ll become and the lower the quality of responses will be. Surveys also only ask set questions, so leadership will miss out on information about wider issues.
The best approach is to use surveys and pulses alongside a platform for ongoing dialogue, like Rungway. Honest discussions can take place real-time conversations on Rungway, with pulses used to follow up on these issues as a way of crowdsourcing which ideas and policies to prioritise.
4. two-way communication
Two-way communication is a real challenge for many businesses to implement at scale. Platforms like Slack or Teams theoretically allow for two-way comms with people being able to reply in threads or react with an emoji, but the reality is that it is still the louder voices in an organisation are still most likely to speak up. These interactions are named, meaning many will not risk judgement by speaking up. It’s also difficult to track insights and engagement from employees when points are raised.
Some businesses also encourage their HR teams to read and respond to survey feedback and free-text comments, but this brings a number of issues; it’s extremely time consuming, can lead to burnout, and it can adversely affect HR team’s wellbeing having to sift through hundreds of comments which can be negative.
Two-way open communication is how companies become more connected. And when companies prioritise connections, they’re 2.3 times more likely to have engaged employees and 5.4 times more likely to be agile (Enboarder). Two-way communication also allows leaders to actively 'listen up' to what their people are saying as it allows them to drill down further into the issue with follow-up questions. Currently, 41% of millennials said they don't believe their feedback leads to meaningful organisational change. Surveys take time for your people to fill out, and often it feels like nothing comes of it (or outcomes are not communicated by leadership as effectively as they think).
Rungway facilitates two or multi-way conversations in a publicly visible forum, so everyone can see what’s being talked about and join in. Employees can tap into the collective wisdom of both their peers and more experienced colleagues. Any challenges are immediately aired, and businesses come to better understand their people’s individual experiences to deliver more impactful change or course correct if needed. For example, when a leader at a FTSE 100 company heard of an employee’s family being stuck in Ukraine via Rungway, the company was able to arrange for their evacuation within days. Not only are you giving your people a voice, but you're proving that you're listening.
5. Communicating where employees are comfortable
Do you have a good understanding of where your people want to communicate? Is the phrase ‘any questions?’ often met with silence at AGMs or company meetings? When questions do come in, are they always from the same people? There’s a silent majority in most organisations - the skill is finding out where they are and going to them.
One-to-ones with managers can be effective in collecting important feedback, but their effectiveness hinges on the relationship between line manager and employee, and even then it’s unlikely that people are going to have the confidence to be fully honest in these situations.
This is often overlooked by organisations who have set ways for leadership to communicate with employees, such as emails, town halls or surveys. Leaders should always be ready and willing to go to where their employees are when it comes to effective communication.
For example, Slack can be effective for reaching your employees, but they’ll likely feel self-conscious asking a question on a public forum without the security of anonymity. It may instead be better to have a private conversation with them on Slack, rather than in an open channel. Leaders must accept that many people have different communication preferences, and that quieter voices need more encouragement.
There are many benefits to this type of communication; creating psychological safety for your employees is one of the biggest. It’ll also help leaders hear from a wider range of voices and therefore develop a greater understanding of their people and their experiences.
6. Visible leadership
Employees need to know that leadership. Lots of leaders make a point of saying ‘the door is always open’, but that doesn’t mean employees are going to walk through it. According to Entrepreneur, two thirds of leaders have an inaccurate view of their own inclusive leadership capabilities.
On Rungway, if a person asks a question, leadership can respond directly and visibly - everyone can see the conversation and contribute if they like. This humanises leadership who are often viewed as inaccessible and in their ivory towers. In fact, posts by senior management can reach up to 96% of employees using Rungway, generating twice as many click-throughs and interactions in the process.
Direct responses matter because they show that leadership is listening up. When leaders listen up, through ongoing open conversation they can dig deeper and gain a better understanding of your people. This is crucial when going through organisational change - whether it be improving culture, a people restructure or embarking on a merger or acquisition. Leaders need to be accessible and connected to the reality of what’s going on within their business.
This type of internal communication may be better suited to smaller organisations where leadership may have a smaller number of people to communicate with and more time to do it in.
Just by regularly checking in with employees, leaders can show their people that they are genuinely interested in their lives inside and outside of work. Even if these check-ins don’t result in immediate insights or detailed conversations, they can lay the groundwork for the future.
Something important to remember when implementing this type of communication - make sure to go to where your employees are, rather than ask them to come to you. Showing that willingness and proactivity will help to win advocacy amongst employees and help to develop a speak-up culture in your organisation.
8. ongoing communication
Constant communication is an effective way of surfacing data and uncovering important, useful insights. Employees have first-hand experience of the day-to-day in any organisation, and leaders should be in continuous dialogue to make sure they have their finger on the pulse. With a place to raise issues or concerns when it's happening, organisations will be able to react to 'flashpoints' much faster. By acting quickly on these 'flashpoints', whether it be burnout or issues with parking, having a continual drumbeat into your organisation is infinitely more effective than sparse interactions which only serve as snapshots.
The best way to implement continuous communication is to use a platform that is built for it, like Rungway. It’s always on, which means it’s always there for employees to post and leaders to respond - issues can be raised as they happen and action can be taken quickly. As people see that it works, they’ll be encouraged to use it, and the positive communication cycle continues.
9. personal, not just professional
A study by Gartner found that 82% of people said it’s important for their employers to see them as a person, not just an employee. The message behind this statistic can inform your internal communication strategy - leaders should be there to discuss employee’s personal circumstances as well as how they feel during office hours.
On Rungway, we saw an 88% increase in discussions around wellbeing during 2022 - higher than the COVID period. Our data also shows that women are 50% more likely to ask a question on wellbeing than men, and are twice as likely to seek connection on wellbeing (using phrases like ‘does anyone else feel the same’, for example).
Rungway helps to break down the taboo around discussing certain topics at work, such as menopause, baby loss and periods. For example, an anonymous Rungway post requested sanitary products to be provided in the work toilets which sparked a wide-reaching conversation about the difficulties of managing periods in the workplace. Senior male colleagues joined the conversation to learn, which helped to dismantle a typically uncomfortable or ‘taboo’ subject.
Organisational change also impacts employees' day-to-day lives, often negatively, but there are plenty of external factors that leaders must be aware of. The cost of living crisis, COVID, climate change, political policies - these can all weigh heavily on people and affect their resilience to change, thus affecting how receptive they will be to it.
Make it clear that leadership is there to listen and to help with the personal as well as the professional. Create psychological safety (through the aforementioned anonymous communication, for example) and encourage people to say what’s on their mind. Knowing they’ve been heard and knowing they can come to leadership when they need to will help to better employee wellbeing and increase communication going forwards.