How to Create an Effective Internal Communication Strategy & Plan with 13 Best Practices

Developing a well-thought-out, intentional internal communications strategy and a plan to execute that strategy is critical to the success of your business. The best internal communication strategies do more than simply manage and distribute information. They can foster an engaging environment ripe with relationships built on trust. That trust, in turn, creates a strong company culture.

We’ll explore more reasons why you need an internal communication strategy in a moment.

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But first … what is it?

What Is Internal Communication?

Female working on computer with pencil in hand

Internal communication is the key to delivering exceptional customer (and employee) experiences. That is why it is so important to have a plan.  An internal communications plan is a clear guide for consistently communicating with employees, so they feel informed about goals for your organization or a specific initiative. This ensures they take action and do their part in achieving those goals. It should clearly and specifically define what internal communications strategies are important to focus on, how, when, who’s implementing them, and how you’ll measure them to demonstrate value and impact.

An internal communications plan should facilitate important conversations and engagement with key leaders and partners about internal communication strategies that can best deliver on key business needs and opportunities throughout the company.
Think of it as your guide or your roadmap that plots out what and how you will strategically communicate with employees and other internal stakeholders to inspire them to take action.

Similar to how you plan to communicate with your customers, you must think of your employees as your internal customers. Take them on a journey in the same way you would your customers, creating exceptional employee experiences at every touchpoint (every opportunity for communication) and you will not only win at employee engagement, but it will translate through to the customer as well.

But beware.

An internal communications plan is NOT simply a list of tactics or ideas. It is not random or “the next new thing.” It must be well thought-out, planned, and intentional. If it is not, it will fall flat and the result will be frustration and time and money wasted.

An Internal Communications Plan Example

I am a visual learner, so for those of you like me who need to see to understand, here is an example of what a simple internal communications plan might look like.

Internal Launch Plan Example

It doesn’t need to be too long, but it really should hit on:

  • the current situation of your business
  • overall goals
  • audience(s)
  • key message(s)
  • tactics and channels for communication
  • when should specific communication take place
  • who is responsible
  • how will success be measured 


You can take the above example a step further and include individual action plans for each initiative to look something like this example of an internal communications plan developed for the roll out of a new process management tool:

Individual Action Plan example

3 Reasons Why You Need an Internal Communications Plan

Female touching screen to select image

Employee engagement is the main driver for implementing exceptional internal communication programs.

Because if you haven’t realized by now, employee engagement can make or break your business.

From recruitment and retention to customer experience success, employee engagement is critical. And internal communication is a tool to help you achieve those higher levels of engagement by building trust, helping everyone understand the direction the company is headed, and, more importantly, their role in achieving that company vision.

1. Your employees are your most dedicated brand advocates.

According to Gallup, less than 30% of employees believe in the brand they work for!

This is terrifying, considering employees are the ones charged with delivering on the promises a brand makes to its customers. So start to think of internal communications as a marketing/branding exercise.

And Forbes agrees, you need to approach your internal marketing the same way you would external marketing efforts—by knowing your audience, your goals, tailoring the message, and providing an exceptional experience. This will require involvement from a cross-functional team.

More to come on that.

2. Internal communication builds employee engagement, culture, and trust.

Internal communication is a key driver for employee engagement. Because the vehicle for all employee engagement initiatives is communication, dialogue, inclusive values, and a commonly held vision. When employees feel like they are communicated with, engagement and trust will flow, resulting in a strong corporate culture.

3. “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

Communications team in meeting with whiteboard and sticky notes

Perhaps one of my favorite quotes of all time. That, and, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” You get the idea.

If you have ideas for internal communication tactics but don’t put them in the context of a larger strategy with a funded plan to execute, you are committing the cardinal sin of Random Acts of Marketing.”

You’re executing marketing communication based on hunches, upcoming events and random requests. Which leaves you reinventing the wheel and most likely confusing your staff and customers.

13 Internal Communications Best Practices

So, if it’s highly critical to have a well-planned, intentional internal communication strategy and plan to execute, why do so many companies go without?

Is it lack of time? Money? Resources? Interest?

Or maybe it’s just overwhelming to think about taking the first step.

If that’s the boat you’re in, we’ve broken it down into 13 bite-sized best practices to get you off to a good start.

1.  Create a cross-functional team.

Taking a collaborative approach to internal communication seems like it may slow your efforts down. But when you involve key stakeholders in creating the plan, you are more likely to reflect a variety of diverse perspectives. And, perhaps more importantly, you’re more likely to gain buy-in from crucial influencers throughout your company, who may otherwise attempt to derail your efforts.

Creating a cross-functional team of 8–10 people and designating a champion to coordinate the initiative will ensure the project won’t die on the vine.

Cross-Functional team working on computer during meeting

Consider including representation from the following:

  • Senior leaders from HR, Marketing, PR, Communications, Operations, IT, Finance (if the initiative isn’t yet funded)
  • Informal leaders at all levels of the organization
  • Naysayers—Anyone who could derail the initiative
  • Tenured employees
  • Newer employees

2.  Audit your current internal communications practices.

Measuring your efforts is key to ensuring a successful internal communication strategy. It’s what takes you from random acts of marketing to sophisticated and effective communication. Just as you wouldn’t try to shoot at a dartboard wearing a blindfold, you wouldn’t want to begin implementing a communication strategy without assessing your performance to date.

We’ve created a handy internal communication audit in this eBook, designed to help you communicate with wired and non-wired employees alike. When you do the audit (on page 12), make sure you’re getting feedback from all levels of the organization.

Part of measuring your efforts requires assessment of the channels you are using to reach your audience. While it’s easy to get distracted by the newest, shiniest channel, make sure you are considering which channels are driving the most engagement. Consider things like:

  • How do your specific audiences prefer to receive information? If you have non-wired employees, email might not be as effective as something else. Not sure how they prefer to receive information? Ask them!
  • What channels, historically, have had the most impact or have driven the most engagement?
  • Where you have identified gaps in communication, what tools do you have to assist in closing that gap?

3.  Fund your efforts.

Tree growing out of coins held in human hand overlooking city

Determining a budget BEFORE you begin writing your plan will help you avoid shooting from the hip and random acts of marketing. Internal communication is a business strategy and an important investment in the success of your organization for all the reasons (and more) listed above.

Decide how you will fund your efforts.

Consider getting creative and allocating funds from multiple departments (not just HR) to support your internal communication initiatives. Once you have a budget established, it will be easier to back into the goals, strategies, tactics and metrics as you put your plan together.

4.  Determine your target audience(s) and write personas for each.

Persona example

This is a critically important component and should not be glossed over. The tendency here is to say, “Oh yeah, we know our employees’ wants and needs, let’s implement [insert tactic here].” Doing so would be a mistake.

The best way to find out exactly what employees want and how they prefer to be communicated with is to ask them. Employee engagement surveys and small focus groups or panels are great ways to get a lot of the information you will need to inform this work.

Target Audiences and Personas

We think of internal communication as marketing to your internal audiences. And just like external marketing, that is best done when you can cater your message specifically to a target audience. You’ll want to create personas, or fictional characters created to represent a user type based on the audiences you identified. We could spend an entire article on selecting target audience and writing personas, but for the purposes of this article, we’ll cover some of the high points.

According to Wikipedia, personas are 1–2-page descriptions that include behavior patterns, goals, skills, attitudes, and the environment, with a few fictional personal details to make the persona a realistic character.

The goal of personas is to create marketing communication experiences that better serve your intended audiences. While you certainly can’t create a persona for every single department, you should consider selecting a few target audiences based on the types of employees you have. Some examples may include:

  • Corporate office employees
  • Production/plant employees
  • Technicians
  • Generations (Boomer, Gen X, Millennial, Gen Z)
  • Full-time vs. part-time workers
  • Seasonal workers 

Once you have selected a few target audiences, get to writing personas for each. Consider answering the following questions:

  • What are their likes/dislikes/preferences?
  • What are their hobbies/interests?
  • What are their hopes/dreams/aspirations?
  • Describe their career path.
  • What does their typical day look like?
  • What does it mean to be successful in their role?
  • How do they consume information (including which platform, e.g., mobile)?
  • Where are they located globally?

If you can’t answer these questions about your target audiences, you are going to have to find a way to get that information through surveys or interviews. Ultimately, you will also want to determine what you want each audience to think, feel and do as part of your communications efforts. This will drive the messaging you create for each audience.

5.  Set internal communication objectives.

It’s natural to want to jump right into tactics and ideas for implementing internal communication. We call this the “stuff” of execution, or the actions you will take to deliver on the strategy. And while the “stuff” is important, it is only as good as the goals and objectives it seeks to achieve.

So this is where we really start. Begin by brainstorming high-level objectives like:

  • Establish a baseline for internal communication and employee engagement.
  • Empower managers to have crucial conversations with their teams.
  • Recognize employees who embody the brand values and deliver on the customer experience.
  • Leverage social media properties to facilitate internal communication and engagement.

6.  Develop clear strategies and tactics for each objective.

Objective

Strategy

Tactics

Establish a baseline for internal communication and employee engagement.

Conduct Employee Engagement Survey

  • Develop Employee Engagement Survey
  • Conduct Employee Engagement Survey
  • Analyze Survey Results

Empower managers to have crucial conversations with their teams.

Develop manager communication guide

  • Assemble manager team
  • Determine key employee engagement messages
  • Write manager communication guide
  • Roll out manager communication guide

Recognize employees who embody the brand values and deliver on the customer experience.

Develop employee recognition programs

  • Investigate effective employee recognition programs
  • Survey employees
  • Determine recognition criteria
  • Determine recognition incentives

Each objective should have at least one clear strategy attached to it. Maybe more.

Added to those strategies should be a variety of tactics that will help accomplish the strategy. The list of “to-dos” if you will. These are the specific tools you will use and steps you will take to accomplish the strategies that will, ultimately, help achieve your overall objectives. Each tactic should support at least one strategy (some may support multiple strategies).

7.  Establish a realistic timeline for each tactic and divvy up the responsibilities.

The next column on the plan is the timeline within which each tactic will be finished.

When considering timeline, make sure you are setting realistic expectations for when the work can be completed. It is helpful, at this point, to consider who is responsible for each strategy or tactic, so that you can mind people’s schedules and set more realistic timelines based on who is responsible. When possible, designate a champion for each objective who can lead smaller teams or groups to accomplish each strategy.

8.  Don’t just talk TO your audiences.

“Companies who want to remain competitive and successful need to ensure they involve, motivate and inspire colleagues.”

– Viktoria Tegard, Head of Internal Communications, Virgin Atlantic Airways

Be careful not to fall into the trap of just talking at your people. The goal of your internal communication efforts should be to engage and inspire. Here are some simple tips to make sure you are creating an environment of open communication:

  • Be transparent. Employees who feel left in the dark will fill in the gaps with their own version of reality. This can lead to feelings of unease and toxicity. While you can’t share everything all the time, make sure you are sharing the whole story with employees when you communicate. It’s not always easy, but it will be worth it as it builds a culture of trust and rapport.

  • Focus on fluid communication. Offering opportunities for two-way communications alleviates the perception that communication has to be top-down. It should be easy for anyone in the company to communicate with senior leadership, as well as with one another, at any time. This practice, regardless of the size of your company, will bridge gaps and help build relationships between employees at all levels of the organization.

  • Inspire action. While a primary goal of internal communication is to disseminate important information, it is critical to ensure you are aiming to engage and inspire your people with your internal messaging too. This goes back to the employee personas you wrote and what people really care about. Create messaging that has an emotional connection to your employees in some way. People remember things that tap into their emotions—if you can make them stop and think, laugh, or cry, you’ve done it right. Then, create calls-to-action, motivational messages, and offer incentives or recognition to further engage.

  • Actively seek employee feedback. Regularly provide channels for employees to give feedback and share ideas. This can be scary at first, but when armed with powerful information on what your company is doing well and where you can improve this will show employees their thoughts are valued and help you make decisions on where to focus your continuous improvement efforts.

9.  Avoid overwhelming with communication overload.

Team meeting with closeup of hands working on tablets and cellphones

Technology has given us ways to send and receive communication at quicker rates and with greater frequency than ever before. This is both a blessing and a curse when it comes to internal communication.

People remember things when they are kept clear and simple. Also, the use of narrative stories can really help bring the message home, influencing both feelings and behaviors.

Additionally, a majority of the population are visual learners. In order to keep things simple and reach your employees, consider implementing visual communication when possible. When done right, visuals convey information in an easy-to-digest manner and have a more lasting impression than text.

To avoid information overload, try focusing on sending the right information to the right people at the right time, versus all the information to all the people all the time.

10.  Mind the Say/Do Ratio.

The promises you make to your employees are only as good as the ones that are kept. Inc.com notes the following, “Reliable people have a high say/do ratio. That's the ratio of things you say to the things you follow through on and do. In a perfect world, your say/do ratio is 1:1 meaning you have done everything that you said you would do.”

This is incredibly important when considering internal communication. Just as you want to be delivering on the promises you are making to your customers, it’s arguably more important to deliver on the promises you are making to your employees. Because when your word starts to mean nothing to your employees, you open up the door for them to find a company with a higher say/do ratio.

11.  Make sure you align your internal and
external messaging.

At Imaginasium, we believe in aligning your internal and external messaging as one of the most important things you can do in marketing communication. If your internal audience isn’t aligned and engaged on delivering what you are promising to your customers, they are very likely to drop the ball on the customer experience, creating a disconnect for your customers.

Similarly, there is nothing worse than being told one thing (or nothing at all!) internally only to find an entirely different message is being communicated externally. These types of situations negatively impact culture by breaking down trust and diminishing confidence in an organization and its leadership.

12. Have some fun!

The lines between work and personal get blurrier and blurrier each day. And people’s experiences with their favorite consumer brands are starting to shape their expectations of the other experiences in their lives, including their work lives. Furthermore, a 2013 survey by PGi found that 88% of millennials want to work in a “fun and social work environment.”

Make sure your internal communication strategy includes plenty of ways for co-workers to engage and communicate with one another to encourage camaraderie and build trust.

13.  Measure and iterate.

Make a commitment to revisit your plan regularly with the cross-functional team. Monitor tactics and strategies and adjust. Make sure you are measuring often, including seeking feedback from all levels of the organization.

It’s important to list out how you will measure success. These metrics should connect directly back to your objectives, strategies, and tactics. Measuring will help you determine if your internal communication strategies or working or not. For example, you may decide to measure:

  • Improved employee engagement scores
  • Informal interview feedback
  • Increased product sales or better customer service scores
  • Increase in employee referrals and retention rates.

Remember, what gets measured gets done.

And once you measure, you must act on what you learn. Use tracking and analytics tools where possible to determine what’s working and what isn’t. That will help you to determine what to continue doing (what’s working) and where to focus efforts for improvement (what’s not working). Because no internal communication effort will go perfectly every time.

So, measure. Iterate. Repeat.

Internal Communication That Increases Employee Engagement

Two co-workers in manufacturing plant reviewing documents on tablet

Now that you have considered all the important points of developing your internal communication plan, it’s time to communicate it to the rest of your company. If you’ve done a great job assembling a cross-functional team and gaining buy-in through engaging employees throughout the process, this won’t be too difficult a task.

Make sure you launch your internal communication plan throughout all levels of the organization and, most importantly, communicate the why behind the new efforts. People will want to understand why a change is taking place, how it will affect them, and their role in that change.

Remember, the goal of internal communication is not simply to share information. Whenever possible, internal communication should seek to engage, motivate, and inspire.

Considering taking your internal communications to the next level? We’ve helped dozens of clients do just that with our inside-out approach to marketing communications. Through our Live Your Story process, we help them design an exceptional employee experience that delivers on their brand promise at every customer touchpoint. And that creates the kind of brand loyalty that keeps employees and customers coming back again and again.

Contact us today to learn how we can help you create a high-performing brand that engages and delights potential customers, clients, recruits and employees.

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About the author:

Melinda Morella-Olson

Melinda Morella-Olson is Imaginasium's director of strategic engagement. She is responsible for uncovering client needs and matching them with Imaginasium’s capabilities. Melinda is also instrumental in developing the strategic partnerships and marketing strategies that help Imaginasium connect with prospective clients.   @MelMorella.