With companies directing so much attention towards building effective consumer relationships, the importance of internal communication can be overlooked. However, as global companies grow, CEOs and communications strategists are beginning to realize the importance of investing in employee relations.
Globally Speaking Radio guest and global corporate communications expert Ray Walsh guides international companies to close the communication gap between headquarters and global workforces. We spoke with Ray on Globally Speaking, and a summary from that podcast episode (#101) follows.
The value of internal communications
Positive, clear internal communications have a tremendous influence on employee branding and can drive motivation, dedication and alignment with company goals.
Clear communication has everything to do with engagement. The number of employees who are disengaged at work has averaged a steady 70% over the last two decades, and research shows that engaged employees are 21% more productive than their uninspired counterparts. When a company invests in its employees, for example through culturally relevant, engaging internal communication, this can increase overall productivity and make people feel like a part of the organization. It can also reduce problems with employee retention if they feel the organization is invested in their specific needs and growth. “It’s about winning the hearts and minds of your workers,” asserts Ray.
Internal communication is critical in a broad range of situations. Maybe your sales teams are not meeting their quotas. Or consider a scenario where accidents are on the rise and you need to provide effective communication on how to mitigate them. Maybe the trainings that you deploy do not change employee behavior. It could be that there are complaints from global offices that they don’t feel connected to the operations or business.
These things are all resolved with clear corporate communication. Effective internal communications are crucial to companies’ day-to-day practices.
Although it may seem like an extra expense, Ray urges communications directors to consider this: “If the content doesn’t enable and improve global communications, then it’s not really meeting its purpose”. Companies are likely already spending money on global communications, but if the readership is low, it’s essentially a waste of money.
Closing the gap with localization
Research shows that many companies are leaving their international employees on the back-burner. By using outdated strategies like maintaining content only in English, organizations can risk losing employee motivation and loyalty.
But how do you communicate with workers in different nations? How do you appeal to those based outside your borders?
At its most basic level, internal communication requires that company-wide information and branch updates be culturally and linguistically sensitive. By appealing to the languages and cultures of your individual branches, you can better inform your employees and build a stronger rapport within your workforce.
This can mean everything from translating text into different languages to changing the tone of voice of a video message. Ray explains that, “if employees don’t think that the content is relevant to their experience, they’re not particularly interested in it”.
And don’t think that just because employees are highly educated and speak English well that they will always get the intended message if you leave everything in English. Cultural nuances play a big part in language, and certain words or images will not always translate the same in different parts of the world.
Organizations need to learn to “combine the big picture with the local details,” explains Ray. “That’s something we can accomplish through localization”. Local topics will likely be more engaging to employees, so don’t bog them down with global corporate content about people they will likely never meet.
When is localization appropriate?
In essence, any time you want global employees to do something or believe something, localization must play a part. “All communications can fit into two categories: to inform or to persuade. If it’s to inform, it’s just facts. But persuading somebody to care, that’s where culture and language are going to play a huge role,” says Ray.
For instance, if an organization rolls out a new collaboration portal, it may need to employ localization to convince employees to use it. By explaining the value and benefits of the program to the workers in their local languages, they may be more inclined to engage.
Or, consider a situation in which you want employees to complete training on sexual harassment. In order to actually see a change in behavior, effectively localized training will need to be implemented to accommodate different cultural perspectives of the issue.
On the other hand, basic reports containing statistics and data don’t necessarily need to be localized. For the most part, factual information can remain in the main language of the company. (Localization is a nice-to-have in this case.)
The value of operational detail in communications
Ray poured years of professional experience into his book Localizing Employee Communications: The Handbook. During the process, he found himself reevaluating the importance of operational detail in localization.
He concluded that a clear set of procedures should be in place that are built on three pillars:
- A robust messaging framework – You want to give local teams a theme for the month or quarter. Let them know what information you want to distribute.
- Appropriate imagery – You want to provide visual assets “that are easy to use and culturally appropriate,” says Ray. This is important and can avoid legal problems down the line.
- A comprehensive calendar – This is a record of all major events the company will be involved in, such as trade shows or the publication date for a major annual report.
Building an evolving network
Ray believes you need a global team to execute the adaptation of company-wide communications to local audiences. He explains that by “building a network of people who oversee communications and execute communications locally, you can see your employee engagement start to shift”. Further emphasizing the need for dedicated communication resources, Ray advises companies to team up with everyone from HR to executive assistants.
And lastly, he describes that it can be helpful to build a relationship with local internal communications teams who can help deliver engaging content. They will know what is new and exciting in their area and which topics will be of interest to local employees.
The world is rapidly changing and becoming increasingly complex. As such, the need for effective communication has never been greater. Internal communication is the cornerstone of an engaged workplace and when delivered effectively, it will increase job satisfaction and alignment with company goals and encourage productivity.