Never Leave Internal Communications to Chance in Mid-Sized Companies

By Robert Sher; July 17, 2014

Internal communications in midsized firms are often irregular or absent, causing bad decisions and bad execution. A Towers Watson study shows companies with highly effective communication practices enjoy 47% higher total returns to shareholders compared with firms that are least effective at communicating.

Internal communications should be strategic, planned and regular for the growing arms and legs of a midsized company to work in unison. Midsized firms ought to create, publish and execute an internal communications plan so that the right people are communicating in an efficient and effective manner.

Small businesses communicate naturally. With only a handful of people, they all hear about new ideas quickly; as a result, feedback and discussion happen organically. As companies grow, work is compartmentalized, employees are in many locations, reporting structures separate people, and ongoing projects are multiplied so the natural flow of communication ceases. Without good communication, leaders make decisions in a vacuum. Crucial input is missing. The people who must execute the decision haven’t been asked for input and consequently haven’t bought in. Their potential resistance and slowed or poor execution all harm results.

Internal communications form a crucial element of leadership infrastructure. A midsized company ought to design the optimal communications process for their particular business, write it down, then execute it like any other project. For example, in a ten million dollar revenue firm, it might be as simple as weekly 1:1 meetings between the leaders and each direct report, a weekly operations meeting, a monthly business plan review meeting, and a quarterly all-hands meeting. But one solution does not fit all companies.

Start by calling a meeting with the senior leadership team with the sole agenda item: how to optimize internal communication. Display a straw man proposal as to the type of meetings, the frequency of those meeting and who should be in which meetings. Listen carefully to see if there is alignment on a clear path forward. Think about all the constituencies who would be ideally involved in the company’s decisions. Ask each functional leader to construct a similar plan for what they plan to do in their own function.

Standing meetings form only one element—albeit a crucial element—of your communications plan. Commit your plan to paper, starting at the top, cascading down through all hands meetings. Schedule repeat invitations for everyone’s calendar extending out a full year. Use RACI as a framework for thinking about who is essential to the meeting versus who simply could be updated through meeting notes.

Consider how to communicate for special purposes, like projects or decisions that impact various subgroups. Midsized companies can’t afford to kick off last-minute projects and execute them badly—they must anticipate needs and allow time for quality execution, including taking the time to communicate.

Communicating status updates to the broader team is important too. These might be e-mail updates, video announcements, or even conference calls/webinars. Sometimes a monthly “state of the company” address from the CEO makes a broad and growing team feel included and involved.

Good meeting procedures should include asking for input (especially from quiet people). Another crucial element is the weekly one-on-one meeting between leader and subordinate where feedback can be actively solicited. And set aside time for teams to connect informally (read “Social Time”).

Just like anything new, too many communication processes innovated too quickly can backfire. Keep meetings short, focused, well facilitated, and with as few people as practical for the purpose. Plan execution will happen more quickly with fewer objections and problems.

Leaders take great pains to develop products, launch sales and marketing campaigns, and serve customers flawlessly.  So stop leaving internal communication to chance.