Internal communication (also known as employee or people communication)  is something that many companies do because they “should.” It often sits within another group or department with an indirect line to leadership, and its main purpose is to disseminate information when the need arises. When this is the case – when internal communication is an afterthought – it shows. From low morale, to high turnover, and poor customer service, these organizations are not making enough of an investment in how they communicate with their people.

More progressive organizations, however, are starting to realize how critical of a role it plays. Some are starting to make sure the role has a direct line to leadership, or that it is part of the leadership team as an executive communications function. When done right, it can be a critical driver of a company’s strategy – a real catalyst for change. Good internal communication is tied to higher employee engagement, better retention and the creation of real brand ambassadors. After all, a company’s employees ARE the company.

Whether you’re embarking on a business transformation, integrating employees post-merger, or looking to sustain or increase growth, employee communications can play an important role in your business strategy. But, what does good internal communication look like? How do you know if it’s “on?”

Based on our work with organizations of all sizes, here are 5 tips to put internal communications to work for you:

1. Keep it real.

Employees are people. It seems basic, but organizations often forget this when it comes to communications. Employees want to be in the know, and they want to learn about what’s in it for them. They want to share their thoughts and ideas, and feel heard and valued. A 2013 survey by PGI found that almost all employees (93 percent) who reported feeling valued said that they are motivated to do their best at work. Effective internal communication are genuine in their tone and sincere in their appeals for two-way dialogue. Make sure your strategies aren’t just about talking at employees, but about engaging them in your organization’s goals and about why that matters to them.

2. Keep it simple.

No one enjoys reading something two or three times before understanding it. And no one enjoys being buried in information. Office workers spend an average of 2.6 hours per day reading and answering emails, according to a survey conducted by McKinsey Global Institute. Be respectful of people’s time. Communications should be simple, straightforward and useful. That means getting to the point in a way that’s easy to digest. That means no buzz words, no long lists or complicated requests, and not creating complexity with unnecessary details and content. Sometimes that means breaking your message into separate touch points to keep the focus on the right thing. Sometimes it’s condensing things into a single communication if they’re all related and can be packaged together. Simple is also important in two-way dialogue. Consider internal social media channels (Google Hangouts, Yammer), open doors and chat boards to make it as easy as possible for folks to share their ideas, ask questions and express concerns.

3. Connect the dots.

Information shared without purpose or without thought into its role in overall strategy is at risk of being lost, ignored or misunderstood. Every communication has a purpose – but are you linking each one together to paint a bigger picture? Effective internal communications is part of a larger business strategy. Each message should be tied together in a way that connects the dots about why decisions are made, what the organization’s values are and what role each person plays in the organization’s success. This also ties back to making sure an internal communications role has a direct line to leadership. The closer this person is to the business strategy, the more easily he or she will be able to translate and connect the dots between information. And, when done correctly, connecting the dots often leads to new ideas among employees.

4. Make sure internal and external talk.

If an organization’s messaging and purpose are clear, then what it shares with employees should align with what it shares with external stakeholders. In fact, in many cases, internal communications should drive external communications. Sharing news or talking to external stakeholders first is a good way to make employees feel ignored – and in some cases, can turn employees into media sources for negative articles. On the other hand, if employees are aligned and engaged around a new initiative, merger or a big goal, they can be your best ambassadors to get external stakeholders on board.

5. Know your audience.

Like any business strategy, internal communications strategy starts with knowing your target market. Are your employees mostly millennials? Do they work virtually? Are they tech-savvy? Is a “fun” culture important, or are they more heads-down? Knowing how your audience digests information and in what ways they are most comfortable sharing it helps you know when and how to communicate and when to listen and generate ideas. Understanding what motivates them, and why, helps you communicate more effectively. Whether it’s through informal, one-to-one conversations, open mic town hall, anonymous surveys or Intranets, take the time to understand who works at your company – and what makes them tick.

Simple is a lot harder than it seems. Think about using these tips to put an outside-in lens on how your business is using internal communications. Because in the end, if your employees don’t know or believe in what you’re saying, will they care? Will anyone else?

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