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Internal Communications for Small Business

<p class="MsoNormal"><span><span>Communication is something many business people think they have a handle on and several times in my career I have been asked why I studied for a degree in communications when I &ldquo;just write stuff&rdquo;, don&rsquo;t I?</span></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span><span>Well I do, much in the same way that a mechanic &ldquo;just fixes stuff&rdquo; or an accountant &ldquo;just counts stuff&rdquo;.</span></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span><span>While most of us wouldn&rsquo;t try to adjust the brakes on our car without either some training or practical experience in doing so, many people will have a crack at creating their own communications, whether it be advertisements, newsletters or brochures.</span></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span><span>Sure, failure to communicate something effectively is probably not going to jeopardise your life in quite the same manner as failing to adjust your brakes correctly but it certainly can bring your business to an abrupt halt.</span></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span><span>So, the focus of this blog is to equip some of you in small business with some basic skills to tackle the task of communicating.</span></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span><span>The first lesson is a vital one: <strong>Internal Communication</strong>. </span></span><span><span>One of the key mistakes made by small businesses when it comes to communication is they focus primarily on external stakeholders.</span></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span><span>Most feel that the more exposure they have on TV, radio, the Internet or in the newspaper, the better their profile and in turn, the better their business. </span></span><span><span>&nbsp;</span></span><span><span>But a bad apple can look great until you take a bite, and then its true qualities come to light fairly quickly. The experience may even put you off eating apples ever again.</span></span><span><span>&nbsp;</span></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span><span>In his book, <strong><em>Writing and Editing the Internal Publication</em></strong>, Ron Shewchuk, writes: &ldquo;Those companies that can successfully earn the trust and commitment of their employees will gain a competitive advantage. Those who don&rsquo;t will see their staff turnover increase, their markets erode and their souls decay".</span></span><span><span>&nbsp;</span></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span><span>He points to the values of current-day employees which include:</span></span></p> <ul> <li> <div class="MsoNormal"><span><span>an expectation of<span>&nbsp; </span>work/life balance</span></span></div> </li> <li class="MsoNormal"><span><span>an expectation of work as a fulfilling and noble cause</span></span></li> <li class="MsoNormal"><span><span>an expectation of personal growth and development</span></span></li> <li class="MsoNormal"><span><span>an expectation of a sense of &ldquo;partnership&rdquo; in the business</span></span></li> <li class="MsoNormal"><span><span>an expectation of community at work</span></span></li> <li class="MsoNormal"><span><span>an expectation of trust</span></span></li> </ul> <p class="MsoNormal"><span><span>and urges communicators, such as myself, to tap into these expectations in employee communications in order to reinforce the company&rsquo;s commitment to its&nbsp;staff. </span></span><span><span>In order to do this he outlines strategies designed to correlate with the above expectations.</span></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span><span>While larger organisations may apply these strategies through internal communication channels such as employee newsletters, large-scale meetings and events, smaller businesses can take the same principles and adjust them to their specific circumstances, as outlined below.</span></span><span><span>&nbsp;</span></span></p> <ul> <li> <div class="MsoNormal"><span><strong><span>Address expectations about work/life balance by celebrating diversity and flexibility</span></strong><span>: If you have a new flex-time or family-friendly policy, be sure to let people know about it and tell them stories about the people it is benefiting. You can do this through an internal newsletter or send out a quick note to the local newspaper. An example of this might be a male employee who is granted 6 months paternity leave in order to be the primary career for his children. This is unusual and highlights your flexibility as an employer while also having a &ldquo;human&rdquo; angle which will interest, and create a sense of pride in, other employees.</span></span></div> </li> </ul> <p class="MsoNormal">&nbsp;</p> <ul> <li> <div class="MsoNormal"><span><strong><span>Address expectations about working for a noble cause by making your mission real</span></strong><span>: Illustrate how your product or service is benefiting others &ndash; not through sales figures or product launches, but by focusing on your customers and bringing their stories to life. For example: a local Port Macquarie boat broker recently had a customer fly from Western Australia to Port to pick up a boat which he had custom-made. This highlights the business&rsquo;s dedication to service as well as its unique product positioning.</span></span></div> </li> </ul> <p class="MsoNormal">&nbsp;</p> <ul> <li> <div class="MsoNormal"><span><strong><span>Address expectations about personal growth and fulfillment by showing how your company cares</span></strong><span>: Let your employees know what assistance is available and how they can access it. This may be as simple as pinning up a notice in the lunchroom or directing them to information on the intranet. Also acknowledge effort and achievement.<span>&nbsp; </span>Schewchuk refers to an employee at Compuware in the US who failed a certification exam: &ldquo;The company sent him a box of cookies and a note to keep trying. When he did pass, he received 500 stock options.&rdquo;</span></span></div> </li> </ul> <p class="MsoNormal">&nbsp;</p> <ul> <li> <div class="MsoNormal"><span><span><strong>Address expectations of a sense of partnership in the business by breaking down barriers</strong>: This can be done through regular meetings where employees get a chance to raise concerns and points of discussion, surveys, feedback forms etc. It is important that you, as manager or owner of the business, also respond to these concerns and, if necessary, implement strategies to address them.</span></span></div> </li> </ul> <p class="MsoNormal">&nbsp;</p> <ul> <li class="MsoNormal"><span><strong><span>Address expectations of a sense of community at work by creating shared experiences</span></strong><span>: This can be done through Friday afternoon drinks, a common room where staff can socialise on their breaks around a pool table or even live streaming of executive meetings so staff have the opportunity to watch and provide feedback.</span></span><span><span>&nbsp;</span></span></li> </ul> <p class="MsoNormal">&nbsp;</p> <ul> <li class="MsoNormal"><span><strong><span>Address expectations of trust by communicating with integrity</span></strong><span>: don&rsquo;t lie or try to hide information from your staff. Provide them with open, timely and honest information.</span></span></li> </ul> <p class="MsoNormal"><span><span>I hope this information can be put to good use by your organisation. Look out for the next instalment<span>&nbsp; </span>- generating ideas for external communication.</span></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span><span><strong>Monica Porte</strong></span></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span><span><strong>Shout Out Loud Communications</strong></span></span></p>

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