If any of these statements sound familiar, you might have an internal communications problem:
- “I can’t believe they’re saying they didn’t know about that. It was all on the company wiki!”
- “But we told them about this on at least three separate occasions. How can they claim they didn’t know about it?”
- “This was covered in that email message that she sent three months ago. That team doesn’t seem to be very on top of things.”
In every one of these examples, you could have done more to improve communications.
Let’s talk about how to fix that.
Change your core assumptions
Here are the three most common problems I see people wrestle with when it comes to internal communication, and how to fix them.
Notice anything these three mistakes have in common? They all revolve around assumptions we’re making about other people.
If you want to be effective at internal communications, focus on what you can do to improve things, opposed to casting blame elsewhere.
Assume that others are doing the best job they can with the resources they have at their disposal.
Recognize that communication systems change
If you work for a high-growth company, the business you knew a month ago is not the same company you’re working in today. While that may sound extreme, it’s an important step to improving communication.
Your assumptions about your company’s communication system are likely to be wrong because they are outdated.
I was out recently for maternity leave, and after just 12 weeks, I came back to see that the system I had known at HubSpot had undergone a major transformation, and many of my own assumptions about communication were suddenly out of date:
- People changed roles. A lot. Some of the people I communicated with had been promoted or changed jobs, some had left the company, quite a few new people had joined.
- Teams underwent major re-orgs. The marketing team in particular had some major changes while I was out, especially to accommodate our growing product lines and international marketing structure.
- We added a new geography and time zone. I worked on the Tokyo office launch up until my leave started (office launched in July and my baby was born in August). By the time I came back, regular dealings with a new time zone and office were a reality for us all, across functions, companywide.
What this tells me is that a lot can happen in just 12 weeks that has a major impact on our communication system. At a growing company, the pace and degree of change can be difficult to stay on top of.
Create a communications plan that will grow with you
If you’re in a fast-growing company — a startup with a plan to make 100 new hires over the next year, or a scale-up making global advancements — here’s how to mitigate the most common communication disruptions heading your way.
1. Develop your contact list(s). Who are the people you need to communicate with on a regular basis? Start by listing out all of the people you normally contact. Which teams are they on? Who can alert you as new people are added to those teams?
As you list out contacts, group them according to the types of communications they need. Don’t forget to include managers and directors who might not need to be in the weeds of everything, but might need occasional summaries of what’s going on. Don’t just copy them on everything unless that is their preference.
2. Identify your communication channels. Now that you know who is on your contact list, how are you going to reach them? Don’t assume just yet that you need new channels. Make sure you only create new options if you need them. In fact, ask around to figure out if something already exists. Channels that already exist might include:
- Email aliases
- Google groups
- Slack channels
- Trello boards
- Jira tickets
- Wiki pages
3. List current communication touch points. These are the formal touch points that already take place within a given channel. For example:
- Is there a staff meeting at which certain updates are shared on a recurring basis?
- Is there a round-up of updates?
- Is there a digest sent out via email?
- A sub-team meeting?
- A regular Wiki update?
- What is the format that this communication is taking?
4. Note the types and purposes of communications. Which types of communications are taking place within the different channels and touch points? What is the purpose of these communications?
When you review these, you might realize that perhaps the team is overly dependent on just one type of communication. Or, maybe that is simply the team’s preferred style.
When communication snafus are happening, it’s a sign that you need to mix up the channels, touch points, or types of communication.
For example, maybe you already have 1:1 meetings with various stakeholders, but you could accomplish the same types of communication more effectively with a monthly meeting for all parties instead of so many 1:1 meetings.
5. Note the frequency. As you’re looking at channels, touch points, and types of communication along with their purposes, you’ll also want to note the frequency.
Don’t forget to include “ad hoc” meetings or updates that don’t occur on any recurring basis. It’s important to track these too, because you might actually need to lump them somewhere else or roll them into a recurring update, versus doing them ad hoc, depending on their purpose and how they are currently working.
6. Figure out what’s missing (and what’s overkill). Look at items that might not be useful in their current form and perhaps need to be eliminated. Over-communicating is good thing when working through trouble spots or with new teams, but it can quickly waste time and result in people tuning you out.
Look for opportunities to use a more effective channel or touchpoint. For example, maybe instead of a weekly hour-long meeting at which one person communicates a list of updates, it might be better to send that info out via email and have “office hours” instead for people to ask questions, or to set up ad hoc 1:1 meetings on an as needed basis. Conversely, for initiatives that are critical or having challenges, err on the side of more vs. less.
Look for opportunities to improve frequency, you might elect to take something that’s recurring that isn’t always needed and convert it to “real-time” or “just-in-time” / “as-needed” updates instead.
7. Fill in the gaps. Particularly in areas where your lack of communication is causing problems, you’ll want to open up some new channels — be smart about how you do this. Recently, I created an alias and a Slack channel for non-English marketers, but before doing so, I checked with a couple of people to see if they felt it would be valuable for them too. I even asked what they wanted to call it, because for all I know, they might prefer to name it something different than what I would.
If you’re creating something new, you’ll want to set it up for success. This starts with naming that is easy to find and understand.
8. Create a plan for maintaining it. Now that you have a better communications plan, make sure that it’s sustainable. As new people join the team(s) you’re dealing with, how will you make sure they are all added to these meetings, Slack channels, aliases, Groups, and so on? Who will keep you updated of changes to the teams? Make sure your plan can accommodate the ever-changing reality of a growing, thriving company.