When it’s working well, internal comms creates lively honest conversation, cultivates productive relationships, and forms the bedrock of a respectful community of colleagues all striving for the same goals. However, headlining your IC strategy with the aim to create such a community, and trying to force it rather than letting it happen naturally, can feel inauthentic. In fact, this approach could even have a negative effect by driving employees to feel cynical about internal messaging and campaigns, causing them to disengage from the conversation. So, how can you build an honest, organic community that helps to empower and inspire your business?
The answer is you can’t.
An authentic community needs to come from the people within it, bound by common beliefs, goals, or vision, and strengthened by the connections between them. As IC professionals our job is to provide colleagues with the information and the tools to engage with the business and each other, creating their own community. Our purpose is to help establish and then to nurture that community while allowing employees the space and freedom to own their own culture. There are loads of ways to go about that, here are a few of the most impactful.
Create campaigns that start a conversation
As well as informing and educating employees, IC should be inspiring and encouraging debate. Professional lively debate is what drives progress of thought, and it should be encouraged. Create campaigns around polarising subjects that concern the business – whether it be strategic business plans, or wider world issues that affect us all – and use tools such as Ripple’s Publisher to blend inspiring content and rich media to spark the conversation. Give employees a forum to comment and discuss their views openly but take your role as moderators seriously. Moderation should be impartial and non-judgmental, should maintain civil order without halting the flow of the conversation, and should be almost invisible. By creating a safe inspiring space to discuss important topics, your community will start to form.
Provide programmes that enrich the community
Education and facilitated peer-to-peer coaching can build relationships and, again, drive inspired and original thinking. But by widening your training programmes to cover topics that talk about how we work together, you can seed the capabilities for a self-managing community. Creating programmes in your IC platform – such as Ripple – around diversity and inclusion, power and influencing, and conflict resolution, for example, can change the discourse in your organisation and help break down barriers to building an authentic culture.
Encouraging employees to share their skills across the organisation is validating for them and enriching for everyone. School children are often taught the 5 B’s (brain, book, board, buddy, boss) demonstrating that if they are unable to solve a problem on their own (brain) they can refer to a book or the board first, but their next stop should be their buddy, or another child. This encourages debate, teamwork and collective problem solving, and by taking the onus away from managers (the boss) drives a more independent, resilient, and confident community.
Make everyone feel (equally) valued
Listen, respond, and act. Encouraging and providing a platform for employee feedback is an essential part of the two-way conversation. Whether asking for employees across the business to vote and comment on organisation-wide issues, polling the opinions of department heads, or gathering input from a department that would otherwise not be heard – all are valid and highly effective methods for listening to your organisation.
Remember, not all employees will want to provide feedback in the same way, so make sure you give them all a voice. Using Ripple you can run pulse surveys, or even open discussion forums to gather direct feedback and, uniquely, you can measure sentiment on post and campaign responses through the Campaign Dashboard.
Use your campaigns to respond to the feedback by being open and honest, sharing your findings with the wider community and, finally, ensure that the business takes action from the feedback and – even if that action is a choice to do nothing – share why that decision was made. By tagging your campaigns in Ripple’s Publisher you can give employees the chance to see all the content and communications about that topic, creating an end-to-end narrative for the community.
Remember we are all human so … be human
Ultimately, we all need to feel included, respected and listened to. Talk honestly to your employees and give them a chance to talk openly with each other, provide safe forums for debate – and stimulate that debate with great content – and look out for and celebrate the great ideas. With the implicit permission to speak freely without fear of recourse, validation by appreciation from peers, and a confidence that they are being heard, employees will develop their own authentic community from which the whole business will benefit and thrive.
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