Roller derby and internal communications don’t, at first glance, have very much in common… But, during roller derby training the other week, something struck me. In roller derby, you first have to learn the ‘minimum skills’ you need to play safely.
You need to be able to stop properly, to move quickly and efficiently, to jump and twist on skates, to avoid people (or to hit them in a derby legal way). In all of these cases, brute force and sheer effort of will can get you so far. But, you need to crack the technique, the method of doing these manoeuvres seemingly effortlessly.
I think it’s the same in internal communications. It’s easy to sit at our desks and be divorced from the reality of our organisation, to have a very different view to our people. We can be working hard, plugging away at something that our leaders don’t yet support, or that the culture of the organisation just isn’t ready for.
So, to help during those times when it seems that all I do is plough effort in with very little return, here are my minimum skills for internal communications.
Know your people
Think about the people in your organisation. Who are they? How do they feel? Can you build pictures of your key audiences? I sometimes literally sketch out a ‘typical’ employee to try and target my comms better.
Have the end point in mind – what does your communications strategy seek to do? How does it support the organisational strategy? I find this really helps me to focus my efforts to support the achievement of our strategic aims. Keeping an eye on the big picture also helps me to not sweat the small stuff too much.
I’ve already covered the importance of asking questions to internal communications. But, I really strongly feel that questions are your friend. You should feel empowered to ask questions of senior leaders to ensure you can engage your staff. You should be able to predict some of the questions your people will ask, and to answer them through your communications.
Be transparent and honest
If you are always as upfront and honest as possible (and truthful about the reasons if you can’t share more), you will build a reputation as such. If your people trust that you are consistent and honest in your communications, they will be more receptive to what you have to say. And will trust you to continue communicating in this way. (I’ve already covered how this will help during times of change.) You’re modelling the communications behaviours you want to see within the organsiation. And you will see the benefits of this as your people trust you and engage more with your communications and the organisation.
Internal communications is about people. And we’re all different. Sometimes I think the best you can do is to listen and empathise with your people. It doesn’t really matter whether you share their perspective – sometimes people need to vent, to clear the air first, before they’re receptive to discussing solutions or the best way forward.
Finally… Sometimes you just have to take a hit
We’re none of us perfect and, sometimes, things are missed or mistakes are made. If this happens you need to take the hit, recover your equilibrium, and move on, having learned a valuable lesson. These won’t be easy lessons, but they’ll ultimately make you better at your job, and you’ll be better prepared next time.
What do you think? What would you put on your internal communications minimum skills?