5 Keys to Effective Internal Communications That Engage Employees

Excerpted from the forthcoming book, Executive Communications 101: How Today’s Senior Leaders Can Engage Employees, Create Buy-In, and Influence Internal Stakeholders.

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Strong internal communications can be the competitive edge that earns organizations greater employee engagement — reflected in serious bottom-line results. One research firm estimates that every employee who crosses from disengaged to engaged adds $13,000 to a company’s bottom line each year.[i]

             But at most companies today, internal communications from senior leaders — called executive communications — is a neglected, dusty footnote. Far from engaging employees in a meaningful way, most executives have no direct contact with them whatsoever.

            This has got to change: Companies with highly effective internal communications from leadership have been shown to deliver 47% higher total returns to shareholders[ii] while being 3.5 times more likely to outperform their peers.[iii] To join the ranks of these organizations, follow these 5 keys to effective internal communications that engage employees:

Every employee who crosses from disengaged to engaged adds $13,000 to a company’s bottom line each year.

1. Measure current employee engagement. The whole point of executive communications is to engage employees, generate buy-in, and gain internal influence. You can’t do any of this without first hearing — and truly understanding — what your employees think. To build an effective executive communications strategy, start by conducting an employee engagement survey that measures the following key metrics:

  • Meaningful engagement. How many of your employees today feel meaningfully engaged by communications within the company?
  • Channel usage. Which channels of communication are most successful at engaging your employees? Which are least successful?
  • Demonstrated outcomes. What specific results are coming out of company engagement with employees?

2. Plan ahead with a long-term vision. Once you have reliable data on how to meaningfully engage your employees, it might sound obvious that you should develop a strategy next. However, only 27% of internal communications practitioners have a written strategy in place — and nearly 50% of all internal communications is unplanned and ad hoc.[iv]

            But a strong long-term strategy is paramount to getting people at your organization to buy into your vision, objectives, and goals. Map out your messaging far in advance — looking 6 months to a year ahead — to reflect your long-term vision for the company. From this foundation, you can persuade others on your ideas through a strategic campaign of communications in a variety of content channels.

Only 27% of internal communications practitioners have a written strategy in place

3. Build a dedicated internal communications team. Your team is arguably the most important building-block of your executive communications strategy. The people who create and manage your messaging must be reliable, consistent, and professional.
            The ideal team set-up is different for every senior leader but there is one core element that should be in place for everyone: a dedicated internal communications specialist whose sole responsibility is to consistently create content in your voice to connect with employees on a set number of important topics.

            While it’s possible to hire from within for this position, it’s unlikely that you have an experienced internal communications specialist hiding in plain sight. Outside specialists come with the added benefits that they are more cost-effective than salaried employees, they bring best practices and ideas from outside the organization, and the best ones have years of experience writing for executives at a wide variety of companies.

4. Align key messaging with corporate. For all their differences, the internal communications and external communications coming from your company must align on key messaging. This means that they must be “on the same page” in terms of tone and language, as well as in terms of the actual information shared with employees. To achieve this, the best executive communications have strategic alignment with corporate communications (marketing, PR, corporate affairs, etc.) to stay on-message and on-brand.

            Just as your customers have certain expectations of how they interact with your company, your employees do, too. If communications from leadership have a completely different style and message from what employees are seeing from PR and marketing, senior leaders come across as unreliable while undermining corporate strategy. This isn’t just bad for you; it’s bad for the entire organization.

5. Structure for a two-way dialogue. The best executive communications encourage feedback whenever — and wherever — possible. This is something most senior leaders are failing at: Only 21% of executives say they actively solicit feedback from employees when given the opportunity.[v]

            This is why, when developing strategies for my own clients, I like to include an email to employees at the end of each month that asks for direct feedback on the topic at hand. You can set up an “Ask the CEO/Director/President” email address specifically to receive this feedback from employees, send out a quick pulse survey at the end of each month, or use a dedicated forum on your company intranet to host discussions.

The best executive communications encourage feedback whenever — and wherever — possible.

            The power of feedback is that it allows you, as company leader, to receive a constant flow of ideas and opinions from all ranks of the organization throughout the year. This is key to keeping you in tune with the mood of your employees, and makes you better able to address problems before they get out of hand.


[i] FierceCEO, Survey: CEOs are ‘disconnected’ from staff, 2017: https://www.fierceceo.com/human-capital/communication-issue-ceos-employees-survey

[ii] Poppolo, Poppulo Global Survey, Inside Internal Communications, 2016: http://download.poppulo.com/hubfs/Poppulo-Whitepapers/Poppulo-Global-Survey.pdf

[iii] John M. Bernard, 2012: https://www.slideshare.net/LexiconDSM/9-statistics-that-prove-you-need-internal-communications

[iv] Towers Watson, Capitalizing on Effective Communication, 2010: https://www.towerswatson.com/DownloadMedia.aspx?media=%7B70A3EAFB-0BDE-4359-B8FF-38FEC2E43853%7D

[v] Towers Watson, Change and Communication ROI Study, 2014: https://www.towerswatson.com/en-US/Insights/IC-Types/Survey-Research-Results/2013/12/2013-2014-change-and-communication-roi-study

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