How to avoid internal miscommunication

The cost of miscommunication in the workplace is extensive, leading to losses of up to $62m per year. When success relies on aligned employees and trust in your vision, the wrong message can lead entire workforces astray. Discover the most common pitfalls of internal miscommunication and learn how to adapt your strategy for an aligned future of work.

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What is the cost of poor internal communications?

Poor communication can quickly become a pervasive problem within organizations that erodes away at the trust and engagement of employees. Feeling like you don’t know what’s happening, that you’re out of the loop, or not feeling a part of something bigger than ourselves can lead to isolation and a loss of purpose in our work.

This acute threat of disengagement has become more severe with the rise of remote work and the greater reliance on technology and internal communications to connect people to their colleagues and the wider organization.

A survey of companies with over 100k employees, the average cost of poor communication per organization is as high as $62m per year. With this in mind, tackling the most common causes of internal miscommunication should be a top priority. 

What causes internal miscommunication?

Ask any communicator about the challenges they face in the workplace, and they will likely list off a host of hurdles and pitfalls that make engaging and aligning employees difficult. Some of these key battlegrounds include:

Information overload

After an intense few years of ad-hoc crisis and change comms, employees are staring communications burnout down the barrel. People are bombarded with messages and content every day and information overload is setting in across the enterprise. Internal communicators face the unenviable task of maintaining alignment and engagement while, somehow, reducing the burden on employees to keep up with comms and updates. Too much comms leads employees to feel overwhelmed, while too little leads to widespread confusion and knowledge gaps. How will you strike the perfect balance? 

Frontline disconnect

Frontline and remote employees remain the most persistently challenging demographic to reach, align and engage. According to an MIT study 84% of frontline workers feel they’re not kept properly informed with communications and 50% feel they don’t understand the overall strategy of the company. Considering that many frontlien workers are the link between customers and you enterprise, ensuring they are kept properly informed is critical to success. Most enterprise leaders are in agreement that better technology is needed to overcome this comms gap, with 86% of leaders note that frontline employees need better technology-enabled insights in order to make important decisions and improve productivity according to research by Harvard Business Review.

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Unclear channel strategy

The last years have seen the adoption of comms channels soar. Today enterprises have more communications channels than ever before, and this means employees can struggle to know where to go for information. For communicators, settling on a channel strategy that incorporates every channel is a critical battleground for solving miscommunication. In lieu of the right technology to connect all channels, communicators are relying on burdensome copy-paste tactics to ensure comms cover every channel. 

Failure to meet digital expectations 

Technology and the evolving expectations of users is pushing the limits of what internal communications is today. Content is changing and so is the way people consume it. Internal comms has to adapt to what people want from the digital employee experience, rethinking approaches to reaching employees and responding proactively to a shift in the type of content people demand. Failure to meet expectations leaves employees struggling to engage with workplace content that doesn't match up with their consumer-grade expectations. 

Lack of engagement metrics

Internal comms has succeeded in claiming a seat at the table with business leaders, but now face more questions about how comms efforts are supporting business aims. It’s difficult to quantify things like culture and engagement, but if you can’t measure success and failure, you’ve got no insight on where to improve. This is why accurately measuring internal comms and engagement ROI is rapidly becoming a key challenge. Seeing who your comms is reaching and more importantly who it isn't is the first step to solving miscommunication.

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A one-size-fits-all approach

As channel strategies become refined and employees grapple with information overload, one thing has become clear: One size does not fit all. Internal communications teams must ensure employees receive a tailored, personal experience that speaks to how they want to consume content. That means different mediums, formats, channels and messages all targeted to be relevant and concise for each individual.

No leadership presence 

As hybrid workplaces become more dispersed, the need for strong, visible leaders to unite employees under a common vision becomes ever more critical. Now more than ever, we need leaders to step up and show us the way forward, partnering with internal communications to engage and inspire colleagues. The impact of executive voice cannot be understated, and with greater demand for formats like video and audio content, internal communicators are dedicating more resource to enable this platform for leadership. When employees don't hear directly from their leaders, the risk of misinterpretation is amplified. 

"Less than two in ten employees agree that leadership communicates effectively with the rest of the organization. "

Maika Leibbrandt - Senior Workplace Consultant at Gallup

Struggling to address any one of these challenges properly can lead organizations down a path of miscommunication and disengagement, and the truth is that very few enterprises successfully solve all of these at once. So, the six tips below have been carefully crafted to help you consistently do just that, avoiding internal miscommunication for good.

6 ways to avoid internal miscommunication

Knowing the challenges internal comms face in eliminating miscommunication and the cost of leaving it unchecked, how can your organization avoid the common pitfalls that threaten organizational alignment, engagement, and the overall employee experience?

Below are our six tips to bring clarity to internal comms and avoid miscommunication for good:

#1. Transparency builds trust

Much like social relationships, workplaces thrive on transparent and frank internal comms. Making livestreams or recordings of an all-company townhall available on the intranet is an excellent example of the ideals behind transparent communication, bringing an open forum for debate and a safe space for employees to question decisions.

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This kind of approach helps build a culture where people’s voices are valued, and no decisions come as a surprise. Communicators can take these values and opportunities for open back-and-forth and weave it into other aspects of their content, like comment sections or through more human-centric video content.

Governance’s role in building integrity

The role internal communications took on as a go-to guide during the pandemic has helped them become the most trusted source of information, per the Edelman Trust Barometer. To maintain this trust content creators must act as guardians of information quality, seeking to involve employees at every level of the organization, informing them honestly and frequently.

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One of the leading causes of distrust in communications is outdated content. Strong content governance is key to overcoming this problem. Features like content reviewal lifecycles that assign ownership of content to managers and creators, sending automatic notifications when content needs to be reviewed go a long way to supporting strong content governance. 

#2. Put purpose first

Miscommunication becomes common when your audience doesn’t understand the purpose behind a piece of content. So, communicators must consider purpose in two ways:

First, any comms must have a purpose in the sense that its intent must be clear – people should know what you want from them or what you need them to know. Second, communications should work towards an overarching strategy to align employees to your organizations’ vision and the purpose behind your work; why you do what you do.

The key here is to convey the purpose of work and of content before asking people to act. Ask ‘why?’ and articulate how messaging connects to the greater goals of your organization. Link content to ‘the big picture’ and make any calls to action or key information clear, concise, and easy to find.

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#3. Avoid information overload

2020/21 saw the most significant drop in employee engagement since 2000, per Gallup research. This came at a time when the volume of communications was at its highest peak, as internal communicators scrambled to keep workforces informed of rapidly changing rules and new processes. The unintended consequence of this ad hoc, rapid-fire communication is that employees became overwhelmed by the sheer volume of content, and subsequent communications fell on deaf ears.

Miscommunication can easily lead to more miscommunication, forming a dangerous cycle in which content becomes less effective over time. A ‘less is more’ approach can pay dividends in tackling information overload, looking to new formats and channels to reduce the burden on employees to keep up with content. Short-form video, audio, estimated read times for articles, and channels like Teams and Slack for instant messaging-style comms can all help bring brevity to content and tackle miscommunication resulting from information overload.

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#4. Strategy and consistency is key

Strategy isn’t just a plan. It’s a narrative thread that weaves throughout all your communications, informing the aims of internal comms’ work and bringing meaning to engagement.

"World-class communicators outperform their peers in planning and measurement."

Gallagher - State of the Sector report, 2022

Ad hoc communications, lacking consistency or strategy, quickly become stale, desensitizing audiences and making it harder and harder to grab attention or make an impact. With a proper strategy that ties content to goals, consistency becomes possible, because readers can connect each new piece of content to those that came before it.

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Take a simple, easy-to-understand message and publish it across multiple channels to establish consistency and expand reach. Communicate frequently, so employees know they can expect a weekly or biweekly update and consider housing all comms in a dedicated site for on-demand access. You can even make use of features like push notifications to give users a nudge when updates are published and provide an easy path to your content by tapping the native notification.

Use campaigns to bolster comms

Engagement Automation is a new innovation that internal communicators can lean on to manage complex communication scenarios simply, sidestepping the risks of miscommunication across channels. The feature allows internal comms to deliver more personalized, timely communications that meet consumers on preferred channels at times they're most primed to engage.

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#5. Partner with leadership and other departments

Gallup data shows that only 13% of employees strongly agree the leadership of their organization communicates effectively with the rest of the organization. Internal comms has worked hard in recent years to earn themselves a spot at the table alongside leadership. Now, they must leverage this position to build strong partnerships with business leaders and other departments, leveraging their support as a part of comms strategy to successfully align people across the organization.

Communications must work to understand the challenges, pain points, and opportunities that each team and department face. Partnering with leadership, communicators can bring this business-wide context to inform comms and ensure that content reflects the overall vision and direction of an organization, all while addressing the needs and wants of individual teams within the organization. This reduces the risk of miscommunication by providing internal comms with all the information and various influences facing their colleagues to better inform content targeted at specific audiences.

Leadership homepage

#6. Actively listen to feedback

The best way to avoid miscommunicating with your audience is to listen to what they want. With proper channels for feedback and two-way dialogue, internal comms can source opinions and data on the impact of content and how it resonates with employees.

This includes comms analytics and measurement, historically a persistent challenge for the department. The ability to gather insight and data on your audiences and people is feedback, even if you don’t realize it. Viewership counts, engagement rates, and reach of content on various channels all feed information back to you about what does and doesn’t work, so leaning on technology to gather data is crucial.

Unily pulse survey on iPhone

Alongside data, traditional feedback is key to avoiding miscommunication. Frequent pulse surveys allow communicators to gain a snapshot of the workforce zeitgeist and better understand the day-to-day lives of employees. Feedback forms offer channels for employees to ask questions and anonymously tell leaders what works and what doesn’t. Even actively monitored social feeds can provide an informal channel for taking the temperature of the workplace and interacting with employees on a conversational level.

Eliminate poor communication with an employee experience platform

The six tips above and the advice within offer actionable, pragmatic techniques to address the threat of miscommunication. Many rely on technology and innovative tools to bolster content reach and link communicators and messaging to the wider organization.

This will come as no surprise to internal communicators, as over the past decade the digital employee experience has taken the lead in connecting, aligning, and engaging workforces. Whether its automated campaign-building tools, establishing channels for two-way communications and feedback, or using video and communication platforms to make content transparent and freely available, communicators can now rely on modern technology to help avoid the common pitfalls leading to miscommunication.

The missing piece that ties all of these tools together is a go-to communications hub, a powerful tool for increasing the reach and impact of content. An employee experience platform specifically built for communications delivers the innovative features and reliable tools modern internal comms teams need to meet the rising demands of employees and provides a futureproof platform for avoiding internal miscommunication.

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