Basics in Internal Organizational Communications

Sections of this topic

    Basics in Internal Organizational
    Communications

    © Copyright Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD, Authenticity Consulting, LLC.
    Adapted from the Field Guide to Leadership and Supervision in Business
    and Field Guide to Leadership and Supervision for Nonprofit Staff.

    Most experts on organizations, management and leadership, assert that effective
    communications is the foundation for effectiveness in any type of organization.
    They assert there can’t be too much communication. Some leaders misinterpret
    communications to be the same as paperwork or bureaucracy and so they’re averse
    to a high degree of communications. As leaders and managers mature, they realize
    the need to effective convey and receive information, and efforts at communications
    (internal and external) increase substantially.

    Sections of This Topic Include

    Purpose of this Document
    Common Causes of Problems in Internal Communications
    Key Principles to Effective Internal Communications
    Basic Structures/Policies to Support Effective Internal
    Communications

    Supervisor and Employee Communications
    Develop a Basic Communications Plan

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    Purpose of this Document

    Texts on organizational communications tend to first examine basics
    concepts such as “communications”, “sender”,
    “receivers”, “encoders”, etc. They go on to
    examine aspects of communications, e.g., downward, upward, body,
    verbal, written, formal and informal, interpersonal and group,
    etc. Some texts include various means to analyze effectiveness
    of communications. Some writers include public relations and media
    relations in organizational communications.

    This document is geared to provide practical suggestions for
    nonprofit leaders and managers to ensure sufficient communications
    within their nonprofits and with external stakeholders. Public
    relations and media relations are outside the range of this document.
    Communications is one of those topics that tend to leave people
    feeling somewhat confused or sometimes bored. People get confused
    because communications is such a broad topic and it seems to somehow
    relate to everything. People who get bored assume that they’ve
    been communicating since childhood so why bring up the topic of
    communications. Consequently, it may be most useful in this document
    to start with common pitfalls in communications and then provide
    a range of items that can be used to enhance communications.

    Note that many organizations take a deliberate, formal approach
    to ensuring sound communications, (both internal and external)
    by developing a communications plan.

    Common Causes of Problems in Internal Communications

    1. If I know it, then everyone must know it.

    Perhaps the most common communications problem is managements’
    (leaders’ and managers’) assumption that because they are aware
    of some piece of information, than everyone else is, too. Usually
    staff aren’t aware unless management makes a deliberate attempt
    to carefully convey information.
    2. We hate bureaucracy — we’re “lean and mean.”

    When organizations are just getting started, their leaders
    can often prize themselves on not being burdened with what seems
    as bureaucratic overhead, that is, as extensive written policies
    and procedures. Writing something down can be seen as a sign of
    bureaucracy and to be avoided. As the organization grows, it needs
    more communications and feedback to remain healthy, but this communication
    isn’t valued. As a result, increasing confusion ensues — unless
    management matures and realizes the need for increased, reliable
    communications.
    3. I told everyone, or some people, or …?
    Another
    frequent problem is managements’ not really valuing communications
    or assuming that it just happens. So they’re not aware of what
    they told to whom — even when they intended for everyone to know
    the information.
    4. Did you hear what I meant for you to hear?
    With
    today’s increasingly diverse workforce, it’s easy to believe you’ve
    conveyed information to someone, but you aren’t aware that they
    interpreted you differently than you intended. Unfortunately,
    you won’t be aware of this problem until a major problem or issue
    arises out of the confusion.
    5. Our problems are too big to have to listen to each other!

    Particularly when personnel are tired or under stress,
    it’s easy to do what’s urgent rather than what’s important. So
    people misunderstand others’ points or understand their intentions.
    This problem usually gets discovered too late, too.
    6. So what’s to talk about?
    Lastly, communications
    problems can arise when inexperienced management interprets its
    job to be solving problems and if they’re aren’t any problems/crises,
    then there’s nothing that needs to be communicated.
    7. There’s data and there’s information.
    As organizations
    grow, their management tends to focus on matters of efficiency.
    They often generate systems that produce substantial amount of
    data — raw information that doesn’t seem to really be important.

    7. If I need your opinion, I’ll tell it to you.
    Lastly,
    communications problems can arise when management simply sees
    no value whatsoever in communicating with subordinates, believing
    subordinates should shut up and do their jobs.

    Key Principles
    to Effective Internal Organizational Communications

    1. Unless management comprehends and fully supports
    the premise that organizations must have high degrees of communications
    (like people needing lots of water), the organization will remain
    stilted. Too often, management learns the need for communication
    by having to respond to the lack of it.
    2. Effective internal communications start with effective skills
    in communications, including basic skills in listening, speaking,
    questioning and sharing feedback. See
    Communications Skills.
    These can developed with some concerted review and
    practice. Perhaps the most important outcome from these skills
    is conveying that you value hearing from others and their hearing
    from you.
    3. Sound meeting management skills go a long way toward ensuring
    effective communications, too. See
    Guidelines
    for Effective Meeting Management
    .
    4. A key ingredient to developing effective communications in
    any organization is each person taking responsibility to assert
    when they don’t understand a communication or to suggest when
    and how someone could communicate more effectively.

    Basic Structures/Policies
    to Support Effective Internal Communications

    This communication can be looked at as communications
    downward and upward.

    Downward Communications:

    1. Ensure every employee receives a copy of the strategic
    plan, which includes the organization’s mission, vision, values
    statement, strategic goals and strategies about how those goals
    will be reached.
    2. Ensure every employee receives an employee handbook that contains
    all up-to-date personnel policies.
    3. Develop a basic set of procedures for how routine tasks are
    conducted and include them in standard operating manual.
    4. Ensure every employee has a copy of their job description and
    the organization chart.
    5. Regularly hold management meetings (at least every two weeks),
    even if there’s nothing pressing to report. If you hold meetings
    only when you believe there’s something to report, then communications
    will occur only when you have something to say — communications
    will be one way and the organization will suffer. Have meetings
    anyway, if only to establish and affirm the communication that
    things are of a status that there’s not immediate problems.
    6. Hold full staff meetings every month to report how the organization
    is doing, major accomplishments, concerns, announcements about
    staff, etc.
    7. Leaders and managers should have face-to-face contact with
    employees at least once a week. Even if the organization is over
    20 employees (large for a nonprofit), management should stroll
    by once in a while.
    8. Regularly hold meetings to celebrate major accomplishments.
    This helps employees perceive what’s important, gives them a sense
    of direction and fulfillment, and let’s them know that leadership
    is on top of things.
    9. Ensure all employees receive yearly performance reviews, including
    their goals for the year, updated job descriptions, accomplishments,
    needs for improvement, and plans to help the employee accomplish
    the improvements. If the nonprofit has sufficient resources (a
    realistic concern), develop a career plan with the employee, too.

    Upward Communications:

    1. Ensure all employees give regular status reports to
    their supervisors. Include a section for what they did last week,
    will do next week and any actions/issues to address.
    2. Ensure all supervisors meet one-on-one at least once a month
    with their employees to discuss how its’ going, hear any current
    concerns from the employee, etc. Even if the meeting is chit-chat,
    it cultivates an important relationship between supervisor and
    employee.
    3. Use management and staff meetings to solicit feedback. Ask
    how it’s going. Do a round table approach to hear from each person.

    4. Act on feedback from others. Write it down. Get back to it
    — if only to say you can’t do anything about the reported problem
    or suggestion, etc.
    5. Respect the “grapevine.” It’s probably one of the
    most prevalent and reliable forms of communications. Major “movements”
    in the organization usually first appear when employees feel it
    safe to venture their feelings or opinions to peers.

    Supervisor and
    Employee Communications

    Supervision is often considered
    to include designing the job, hiring someone to fill the job,
    training them, delegating to them, guiding them via performance
    reviews, helping them develop their career, noting performance
    issues, and firing them, if needed. Obviously small nonprofits
    may not be able to afford full attention to all of these activities.

    However, there are several basic and
    regular activities which provide a solid foundation for effective
    supervision. These basics ensure that everyone is working together
    — as important, that staff feel they are working together
    — towards a common cause.

    Ironically, these basics are usually
    the first activities that stop when an organization is in a crisis.
    Consequently, an organization development specialist, when “diagnosing”
    an organization, often first looks to see if these basics are
    underway. The following activities should be conducted by the
    new employer’s supervisor.
    1. Have all employees provide weekly written status reports
    to their supervisors.

    Include what tasks were done last
    week, what tasks are planned next week, any pending issues and
    date the report. These reports may seem a tedious task, but they’re
    precious in ensuring that employee and their supervisor have mutual
    understanding of what is going on, and the reports come in very
    handy for planning purposes. They also make otherwise harried
    staff and managers stand back and reflect on what they’re doing.
    2. Hold monthly meetings with all staff together
    – Review the overall condition of the organization and review
    recent successes. Consider conducting “in service” training
    where employees take turns describing their roles to the rest
    of the staff. For clarity, focus and morale, be sure to use agendas
    and ensure follow-up minutes. Consider bringing in a client to
    tell their story of how the organization helped them. These meetings
    go a long way toward building a feeling of teamwork among staff.
    See Guidelines for Meeting Management.
    3. Hold weekly or biweekly meetings with all staff together
    if the organization is small (e.g., under 10 people); otherwise,
    with all managers together.

    Have these meetings
    even if there is not a specific problem to solve — just make
    them shorter. (Holding meetings only when there are problems to
    solve cultivates a crisis-oriented environment where managers
    believe their only job is to solve problems.) Use these meetings
    for each person to briefly give an overview of what they are doing
    that week. Facilitate the meetings to support exchange of ideas
    and questions. Again, for clarity, focus and morale, be sure to
    use agendas, take minutes and ensure follow-up minutes. Have each
    person bring their calendar to ensure scheduling of future meetings
    accommodates each person’s calendar.
    4. Have supervisors meet with their direct reports in one-on-one
    meetings every month –

    This ultimately produces more efficient
    time management and supervision. Review overall status of work
    activities, hear how it’s going with both the supervisor and the
    employee, exchange feedback and questions about current programs
    and services, and discuss career planning, etc. Consider these
    meetings as interim meetings between the more formal, yearly performance
    review meetings.

    Develop a Basic
    Communications Plan

    Whether planning your internal or external communications
    efforts, it helps a great deal to develop a communications plan,
    either informally or formally. For example, consider:
    1. What key messages do you want to convey?
    2. To what key stakeholders do you want to convey the key messages
    (e.g., consider clients, funders, community leaders, service providers,
    etc.)?
    3. What’s the best approach to reach each key stakeholder, including
    who/how should the message be conveyed?
    4. How will you know if you’re reaching these stakeholders or
    not?


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