The Small Business Guide to Internal Communication

Communicating with your team isn’t just protocol—it’s an essential organizational element that employees expect.

A recent study shows that what leaders and employees expect from communication differs across many fronts. Just 39% of employees in the United States agree that their employer had a clear response when communicating about changes related to COVID-19. Moreover, 48% believe that their employer effectively communicated information about the pandemic.

The results are clear: employers and employees are divided on the best way to communicate. Pair these facts with emerging demands for radical corporate transparency, and small business owners find themselves in an entirely new landscape regarding when and how to communicate. Whether it’s a one-off announcement or a daily all-hands meeting, here’s how to build a streamlined communication strategy for delivering important information the right way.

Master Thoughtful, Balanced Messaging

One of the most challenging aspects of small business communication is deciding what to share, and what to keep private. You want to keep employees in the loop; however, oversharing can be problematic for multiple reasons.

On one hand, non-essential information can be a bore to employees and cause them to undervalue your meetings and messages. In contrast, sharing too much critical or sensitive information can cause unnecessary stress and distraction.

Ask the following questions to ensure you’re considering employee needs when communicating important information:

  • Is it crucial to the health, performance, and overall well being of your employees?
  • What date do they need this information by and why do they need it?
  • What would happen if they didn’t receive this information?
  • Is the information true and concrete, or can it change drastically in the near future?
  • How can you make it simple and accessible without minimizing its meaning?

Create a habit out of asking these questions anytime you plan to share the news with employees. It can also serve as a helpful guide when crafting a strategy for regular communication, like a weekly newsletter or daily check-in.

Anticipate and Prepare for Employee Responses

Next, consider how employees might feel when they receive the information you’re preparing to share. Any change, big or small, is likely to generate discussion. It’s important to anticipate what employees may feel after hearing the news, and how those emotions might prompt questions or concern.

Before announcing something, consider:

  • Who at your company does this impact?
  • How could it affect each person’s professional life?
  • How could it affect each person’s personal life?
  • If you put yourself in each of these person’s shoes, what questions would you have?
  • How can you include the answers to these questions when you deliver the information?
  • How can you make yourself (or another executive) available to answer these questions?

Contemplating these outcomes can ensure that you’re prepared to manage the impact your announcement may have on employees.

Create Opportunities for Employees to Speak

Effective internal communication requires that you prioritize employee ideas, feedback, and concerns.

The best way to achieve a culture of open, two-way communication is to make employees feel comfortable and safe expressing their thoughts. Creating monthly check-in meetings is a great way to ensure a personal, one-on-one connection with each employee, and ensure their needs are being addressed.

In and after these meetings, make an effort to:

  • Listen to employee concerns and take notes
  • Create safe, accessible spaces that welcome feedback
  • Praise people for speaking up and sharing, even when it is uncomfortable
  • Prove that you can put employee suggestions and concerns into action

Be sure to check in with employees days, weeks, and months after they’ve shared their feedback. How are you following up on the issues they’ve raised? This is key to helping them feel like a valued part of the team, and for creating ways to hold yourself accountable for listening to employee needs.

Feedback and Surveys

A strong communication plan leverages both in-person meetings and employee feedback forms. Get employee feedback on things like internal changes, new protocols, and communication methods.

Soliciting feedback through forms can help you drive employee engagement and make employees feel safe and comfortable giving their opinion. Not everyone wants to have a face-to-face discussion, so feedback forms ensure there are multiple ways for employees to communicate the concerns. If the communication you receive in return suggests otherwise, you can make a point to reflect back on it and continue improving.

Lastly, it’s key that small business owners understand the value and importance of employee feedback. In addition to making your employees heard, gathering a diverse range of honest feedback from across your organization ensures that you continue to create a culture that welcomes and supports all skills, backgrounds, and identities.

Develop a Regular Communication Cadence

After you’ve devised a plan for delivering thoughtful messaging and responding with grace, decide how you’ll deliver communication—and how often.

Hosting a brief, daily morning meeting can provide a quick opportunity to check-in and announce updates. In contrast, holding a longer weekly meeting can provide opportunities to discuss more serious matters and allow employees to give their input.

The way you communicate matters, too. From email newsletters to chat updates, you want to deliver information in a way that aligns with employee expectations. For example, small business owners may not know that 70 percent of employees wish their employers used text messages to communicate information.

Since the best form of communication for your employees depends on their specific preferences, you might send out a survey or feedback form to glean their input first.

An internal communication plan is essential for establishing a culture of openness and trust. When you’ve crafted a clear way of communicating with (and listening to) employees, you’ll be much more in tune with what your business needs to hear.

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