Seasoned Marketer: Internal Communications’ Impact on Employee Engagement
As a marketer, you likely spend much of your time focused on external communications. Sending firm emails and newsletters, keeping your website up-to-date, and posting regularly to social media are all part of a robust marketing plan. But are you as focused on your internal communications plan?
Thoughtfully and effectively communicating with your team bolsters employee engagement, contributes to a sense of inclusion and helps people have what they need to do their job. Don’t conflate providing Spotify playlists and sharing pictures of dogs in Halloween costumes with meaningful employee engagement. What people truly want is communication about the firm’s goals, activities, initiatives and people. This will deepen relationships between the firm and the team. Clients ultimately benefit from working with team members who are happy, informed, and have a sense of ownership around their work and role in the organization. While marketing isn’t responsible for all of these areas, as a respected leader within the firm, you have the tools and the skills to facilitate this type of communication.
For many firms, retaining team members is just as important, if not more critical than, bringing on new clients. Consider whether your internal communications may deserve more attention as you plan for in 2024.
What do employees need?
The modern workplace is not one-size-fits-all. Not only is “9 to 5” a thing of the past, but also many firms accommodate individualized plans, allowing employees to decide where and when to work, how they choose to communicate, and even what timezone they’re in. Today’s firms also employ people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, and sometimes 70s or even 80s, each of whom have different life experiences, perspectives, expectations and communication norms. Plus, life is complicated, and showing no sign of slowing down, so many people are juggling a full load outside of work, from parenting to caretaking, participating in their communities and more. All of that to say, what works for some won’t work for all. Bringing everyone together is the key and the challenge to effective internal communications strategies. You need to get to know who you’re communicating with before you initiate your plan. Remember, effective communication is as much about listening as it is about speaking. When done wrong, people may feel inundated with useless information, or kept in the dark when something important is happening.
What’s the Message?
Your communications plan should include a range of messages. You know your culture and your team best, and that should dictate your mix of messaging but here are a few types of messages that could make their way into your mix:
- Celebrating Wins: When someone brings on a new client, increases an existing engagement, receives a promotion or passes the CPA exam, celebrate them. The trick is to make it personal and meaningful. Acknowledge everyone who contributed to the win, share a story about what happened or the contributions the person has made. Go beyond “great job!” or “thanks!”
- Personal News: This one can be tricky, so you will want to share personal news with permission. For some people, sharing birthdays, engagements or anniversaries, congratulations on running a marathon, adopting a pet or being elected to a nonprofit board can feel good, and helps team members get to know each other. Be sure to have a system in place for collecting this information so those who enjoy participating can be included and you don’t miss anyone who could be overlooked. Do respect those who don’t need the whole office to know it’s their birthday.
- Keeping Everyone Informed: When personnel changes, new services, packages, policies, events, training opportunities, good news and bad news within the firm are not shared with intention, it creates an environment where information becomes social currency. Establish a practice and a process for sharing this type of information in a timely and fair manner. This will also help everyone do their job better because they will have the most up-to-date and accurate information when it comes to services, staff and policies, minimizing confusion for clients.
- Practical Information: Is the refrigerator getting cleaned out next Friday? Are the cubicles being rearranged? Is there a new procedure for outgoing mail? Maybe a plumbing issue came up and a restroom is unexpectedly out of commission? Have a plan to disseminate this type of information quickly and clearly to the people who need it while sparing those who don’t from an unnecessary message. This will help keep things running smoothly around the office and help people modify as needed.
- Knowledge Sharing: Does everyone on the team know all of the service lines, packages and pricing, or even your work-from-home policy? These types of things may seem obvious to some, but in my experience, are not known by all. You also want to make sure your team is being given information about CPE opportunities, internal training and mentorship/mentee opportunities. Working together with HR, service line leaders and firm leaders will support professional development, recruiting efforts and collaboration.
How To Do it Right
Now that you’ve considered the types of messages you’ll want to share, it’s time to turn to the marketer’s toolbox to segment your audiences and craft your messages.
- Start with onboarding: Making sure new employees have the information they really need from the start is essential. The first 90 days of employment are critical when it comes to making someone feel integrated. Create an internal drip email series based on important firm details such as the holiday calendar, how to request time off, an organization chart, fun facts about the firm, helping them to set up meetings to get to know various team members, how to give feedback and how to ask for help when they need it. You can also share recordings of internal training sessions on the various service lines so they can understand the full breadth of the firm’s services.
- Segment your audience: Much like your marketing emails, not everyone on your list needs to receive every message. If an opportunity is only available to people of a certain level, in a certain office, or only in person, then everyone at the firm doesn’t need to receive details for signing up. Take time to create a list for those who need to know. Don’t rely on busy managers or service line leaders to be messengers.
- Choose the right method: Knowing when to send an email, post to the intranet, hold a brief meeting, pick up the phone, create a video, send handwritten (or signed) notes, send a one-to-one email, have a meeting or post to Slack need to be part of your strategy. Some firms have a TV monitor in the breakroom so you can have a stream with reminders about upcoming events, congratulatory messages or a photo montage during an anniversary year. The method will influence how the message is perceived, so be intentional. Remember that how you share the message will dictate who receives it, so choose wisely to avoid unintentionally leaving out someone who should be in-the-know.
- It’s all in the timing: You know sending an email about a volunteer opportunity on April 14 probably won’t get a lot of attention. It’s also important not to blast people with 30 stand-alone emails when the content doesn’t need to be addressed immediately. Instead, bundle certain types of information to share in a regular message (weekly or monthly perhaps) so team members know what’s coming and when to expect it.
- What doesn’t go in email: It can be super easy to fire off emails asking for people to attend, volunteer, submit or otherwise participate in firmwide initiates. Bonus points for using your intranet or a project management tool to solicit and organize participation and communicate with those involved. No one wants to be interrupted over email or Slack about these types of tasks. Also, individualized communication should fit the recipient. Get to know who would appreciate a handwritten note after passing the CPA exam, when to stop by someone’s desk to congratulate them on a new grandchild or to note a job well done in a specific instance on their review. Not everyone wants to be featured in company news, but everyone appreciates being seen and acknowledged in different ways.
Happy Employees and Happy Clients
The way the firm conducts internal communication ultimately flows into client communications. When thoughtful, proactive and useful communication is a standard part of the firm culture, it sets the standard for client communications. In other words, treat people how you would like to be treated. Internal communications are a reflection of respect for the team. It will also set you apart as an employer who is invested in their people beyond the superficial. That’s what will make your firm a place people will tell their friends about; something all firms are hoping their employees will do. Making concerted efforts to demonstrate care, celebrate wins, and keep the team on the same page will benefit clients and the firm in the long run. If your firm doesn’t have an internal communications strategy, or is struggling to execute one, it’s time for marketing to take the reins.
About Alison Simons
For seven great years, I was the head of marketing for a regional CPA firm where I would joke "if it's not a tax return or an audit, it crosses my desk." I was responsible for branding and online marketing, recruiting and firm culture, M&A vetting and communications, business development and proposals, and more. Even though I had a job, I was getting requests from firms to help with their marketing; which is, supposedly, how you know you're onto something good. In 2013 I became an entrepreneur. In order to serve more clients, I attracted a team of really amazing people who focus on specialty areas within marketing because (get ready for one of her catch phrases) "Marketing is one word that means a lot of things" and it's all too much for any one person to be good at. So, now I'm focused on working directly with clients on strategies to help them reach their goals while overseeing more of the activities. I've presented multiple times a the MassCPAs annual conference, and have been featured on the Marketing Mistakes (and how to avoid them), and Stop the Noise podcasts. I've also served as a judge for LMA.
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