When it comes to communications, founders are often laser-focused on the outward-facing victories, like securing a splashy podcast spot or landing the coveted cover story. But while earning external press helps to add a coat of polish to your brand, it’s the day-to-day work of internal comms that keeps the engine running.
When teams are in sync, it fortifies every aspect of company and product-building. Making sure that everyone understands what’s going on, the role that they play and how to prioritize helps your company speed toward its goals. It’s also the secret to employee engagement: When an employee feels bought in, informed and listened to, you’re far more likely to hold on to your best talent. On the flip side, when the internal communication lines are faulty, instability threatens the entire company. Neglecting to seek perspectives or clear misunderstandings can fan the flames of conflict, feed mutinous factions and spark product crises, among other common company-killing ills.Read This Next
While putting intention and dedicated effort into communicating with your employees may seem like a “big company” task, the benefits of having a robust internal comms strategy (and the dangers of dismissing it) are even more marked for startups. While a maelstrom of changes can be easily communicated between a tiny founding team, as a team scales to five, six or seventy people, leaders need to pay even more attention to making sure that everyone’s rowing in the same direction — or risk capsizing as more folks climb aboard.
So how should startup leaders go about implementing a thoughtful internal comms practice? (Hint: it’s so much more than the occasional, slapdash All Hands). When we sifted through the Review for advice from founders, CEOs and comms experts, we found that in the most effective companies, internal comms is a two-way street: On the one hand, you need to deliver top-down messaging that’s crystal-clear and resonates with employees. On the other — and perhaps most crucially and most commonly overlooked — you can open up the opportunity for employees to give you valuable feedback from the frontlines.
The six practices and principles they share are designed to help internal communication flow both ways. They can be adapted to any scale, whether your company is lean and scrappy, large and established, or even distributed across time zones. From messaging sensitive executive transitions to combating PR wildfires before they even start, we hope they help establish trust and engagement among your most important audience: the one that’s already on your team.
Teach your leaders to fish (and other tactics to boost internal PR).
While Terra Carmichael has plenty of expertise on finding and pitching journalists, she stresses that founders would be well-advised not to pay short shrift to internal comms. “Employees really should be your number one audience, especially as you scale. It’s absolutely critical that you communicate with them authentically and often,” says the former VP of Global Comms at Eventbrite.
There’s also the added bonus that investing in internal comms can actually support your external PR efforts. “Tap into the vested interest that your employees have in your company to help you tell your story better,” says Carmichael.
But workshopping messaging isn’t the only reason why companies should look inward. The industry is peppered with studies and data around the importance of employee engagement, highlighting that perks and benefits don’t necessarily mean your employees are engaged or believe in your mission. Rather, a culture that is built on accountability, authenticity, clear goals and strong two-way communication is what goes a long way to keeping your team engaged.
Here are three strategies that Carmichael has used to double down on internal comms:
- Leave it to the pros. “After five years at Eventbrite, I finally hired someone who knew much more than I did and specialized in internal and employee comms,” says Carmichael. “We’ve seen a big difference, especially among leaders and mid-level managers who appreciate the efforts to help cascade communications throughout the organization.”
- Read all about it. “I’m a big believer in teaching leaders to fish. That’s why we’ve rolled out a weekly(ish) email for leaders at Eventbrite that summarizes all the things they need to be thinking about in terms of managing and messaging to their team. We break it down into a few sections: things to know, things to do, things to share,” says Carmichael. “It sounds simple, but let’s be real, leaders are an important and expensive investment, so you want to use their time wisely. Giving them the tools such as cliff notes and summaries of important matters not only helps them be better communicators, but it also enables a timely cascade of communications throughout the organization.”
- Find micro-moments to connect. Aside from company-wide touchpoints, it’s also important to create moments to connect in small groups. “We started a weekly coffee break with our CEO, Julia Hartz, where six people get to sign up to informally discuss a specific topic with her,” says Carmichael. “Not only does this give employees valuable face time with her, but it’s also been fantastic for Julia because it’s a new way for her to talk to a broader cross-section of the team and get their thoughts on topics that are top-of-mind for her. She’s also able to get a pulse on how people of all levels of the organization are feeling and any concerns or issues that they bring up themselves.”
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