They say that those closest to us are often the last to know.  Nowhere is that more true than within our own companies and organizations. Leaders tend to focus on communicating with those on the outside, undervaluing internal communications. How can you engage customers, clients, or donors if those on the inside don’t understand how the company is positioning itself?  How can your company adapt to a “shifting” normal wrought by the coronavirus pandemic if your teams don’t understand the operational and other changes the company is making to ensure that they remain healthy and comfortable returning to the workplace or staying remote?

Despite, or perhaps because of, the pandemic, internal communication finally may be getting its due. It’s no longer the Rodney Dangerfield of corporate management getting little respect.  And as companies consider bringing employees back to the office, connecting with those employees is even more essential. Here are a few tips.

It starts at the top.

C-Suite leadership must be committed to communication. You must be visible, accessible, and willing to engage in an ongoing conversation with your employees. Your willingness and openness to communicate have a dramatic effect on morale and employee retention and attraction. And fostering the best talent is key to achieving organizational goals.

Think inside first.

Too often, communication with staff and employees is an afterthought. Too many times, a new product is launched or a change in leadership is made and employees hear about it from customers or read about it online. Make sure that before making any announcement you let your teams know about it first. Remember that any all-staff announcement should be considered a public announcement, as any email, video blog, or social media post will be shared. Still, an employee announcement should be the first part of any communications program. Letting employees know first sends a powerful message. It reaffirms your team’s importance as an audience. And it solidifies your best intentions.

Think conversation, not broadcast.

Look at your internal communications as an ongoing conversation with employees. Don’t just issue pronouncements without feedback. Take the time to find out what is on the minds of those who are closest to your clients or customers. Actively encourage managers to reach out and check-in.  It’s a greater challenge when everyone is trying to manage working from home, perhaps caring for young children or elderly or sick family members. But use your regularly scheduled meetings to get feedback and suggestions on company policies and programs.  Surveys can be useful, but nothing replaces the personal touch. And if you do a survey, share the results with participants and let them know you’ve heard their ideas and what you plan to do. Communication is never a “one and done.”  The most effective communication is a two-way street.

Be transparent.

People can deal with almost anything if they are given honest and truthful information.  When people feel they were lied to or did not receive important or even unpleasant information, they feel frustrated and betrayed. Tell the truth always and share as much as you can quickly.

Layout the facts and the plan.  

As more states set the stage for reopening businesses and other enterprises, employees wonder what it means for them. Be clear about what your company’s plan is, and how you will respond to those who don’t feel comfortable going back to the office and those whose jobs might require that they be on-site. Be frank about what you are doing to ensure their health and comfort.  Share the steps you are taking. Find the space to let your teams ask questions.

Be measured and don’t over-promise.

At the beginning of the pandemic, one company promised it would not lay off any of its staff, only to let go half of its workforce a week later. Actions didn’t match words, damaging reputation and credibility. While it was the intent of the leadership team to keep their employees, the financial reality prevented them from doing so.  It would have been better to have said nothing or articulated a sincere desire to maintain employee rolls, while noting that because of so much uncertainty, the situation might change.

Use clear and simple language.

Don’t hide your message behind jargon and three-syllable words when plain talk will do. Language that is confusing or overly complex leads to misunderstandings.

Be human.

Acknowledge the challenges and shared stress.  Share a story about your own experiences that illustrates what others might be feeling. If you as a leader find it challenging to manage obligations to others, say so.

Don’t forget context. 

As you share information with employees, help them to understand decisions and actions within the larger context. Why was this decision made?  What were external market forces that led to this action? What does this mean for the enterprise as a whole? What does it mean to specific departments and teams? And always go back to your organization’s purpose and core messaging.

Train, train, train.

Don’t just tell people to communicate—show them how. Offer talking points and other materials to support good communication. Leaders need to model good communication practices. Hold your teams accountable—not just for results, but also for their communications.

Live what you say.

No matter what kind of communication you undertake, if it isn’t matched by action, it is nothing more than an empty promise. If you say you are going to listen to your employees, show them how you listened. If they make a suggestion you can’t implement, acknowledge that you heard and considered it, then share why you couldn’t move forward.

What are some examples of good communication in your company?