Internal Communications Strategies for Effective Leadership

March 25, 2024 - Mark MacLeod

Internal Communication Strategies for Effective Leadership

internal communications strategies

The higher you move up in your career, the more your role becomes a communications role.

For CEOs then, your role is mostly a communications one.

CEO communication requires communicating the same things over and over again:

Vision, mission, values, priorities, etc.

This is especially true if your company is in high growth mode. Every month you have new team members that need your context.

Internal Communication Strategies

Internal communications strategies have always been important for companies. But they are even more important now that “internal” often does not mean being in an office together.

With teams being fully or partially remote, communication challenges increase.

The best internal communications strategies that I have seen have the following traits: Simplicity and repetition.

In this, there is a lot we can learn from politicians.

When you listen to politicians, you notice that they are “on message.”

They speak in sound bites. Phrases with keywords that are easily remembered and repeated.

And they say those sound bite phrases over and over. They drill the message in.

This is what senior leaders need to do in all situations: Distill the message down to simple, memorable sound bites. And repeat them.

The Importance of Context

CEOs, especially founders, are full of context. There is so much they can say on any topic that impacts the company.

Nobody has thought more about your company than you, the CEO. But, there is a danger in too much detail.

You can’t share everything. For two reasons:

1. Information doesn’t travel well: You tell your senior leadership team something. Those leaders tell their direct reports. By the time it gets down to the individual contributors, the message has changed.

Something gets lost in translation.

The only way around this is to simplify messages and repeat them directly to everyone.

All-hands meetings and internal emails/messages to everyone are great for this.

2. You risk distracting your team: As CEO, especially for a scale-up company, you are off living in the future. You are thinking about the vision, long-term roadmap, etc. You are quarters or years ahead of the rest of the team.

If you share too much about that future, you risk having your team focus too much on the distant future. That can result in missing this quarter’s goals.

Remember, as CEO, you carry a big megaphone. Your random, innocent musing about an idea can become your team’s biggest priority.

Internal Communications Best Practices

Beyond simplicity and repetition, here are some more best practices.

Always connect to the big picture

I recommend that CEOs always reinforce the North Star. The vision and mission. Connect every project in your company to that North Star.

This gives context. I now know why this matters. I can connect my work to the purpose of the company. This increases my motivation and engagement.

Work with the medium that is strongest for you

Some CEOs love to speak. They thrive on stage in town halls. Others like to write and avoid the stage.

Whatever medium is most comfortable for you is the right one. Pick one where you can be consistent and authentic.

Be transparent

Perhaps you don’t want to share how many months of cash you have left. But, I encourage you to lean towards generally sharing everything openly.

It builds trust and engagement. Also, smart people know when you are not telling the whole truth.

Encourage two-way communication

Startups are a creative endeavor. The best ideas or suggestions can come from anywhere.

Your people are your company. Unless you have a factory producing widgets, you need to engage and retain your best people. Ensuring they have a voice in the company’s direction helps with that.

Set up feedback channels in Slack (open and anonymous). Do skip level meetings (where you meet with employees who report to one of your direct reports). Encourage feedback on new ideas and new programs.

Train your people to be great communicators

Don’t just hope that the team will figure this out. Invest in training. Host workshops. Bring in a facilitator. Make it part of employee onboarding.

Every employee needs to collaborate with other employees. So, this investment will pay off.

Repeat, repeat, repeat

I have said this already, ironically, but you need to repeat yourself over and over again.

Just like a speech. The best presenters repeat: They tell you what they are going to tell you (preview). They tell you. Then they tell you what they told you (recap).

That message you conveyed in the last all-hands meeting needs to be repeated in department meetings. It needs to be connected to each project internally.

Recommended Internal Communication Tools for Startups

Messaging and Collaboration: Slack, Microsoft Teams, or Discord for real-time messaging and collaboration.

Project Management: Trello, Asana, or Monday.com for tracking tasks and projects.

Document Sharing: Google Workspace or Microsoft 365 for sharing and collaborating on documents.

Video Conferencing: Zoom or Google Meet for remote meetings and check-ins.

I have actually started using Loom a lot to send asynchronous video messages to clients. It adds a personal touch and is much richer than sending an email.

Internal Knowledge Bases: Confluence or Notion for creating a central repository of company knowledge and resources.

Overcoming Internal Communication Challenges

If internal communication was easy, everyone would do it, and I wouldn’t need to write this.

It’s hard, especially as a company grows. Rapid growth increases pressure.

The team is growing constantly. Leaders are struggling to keep up with that growth. They are stressed.

These circumstances make it harder to maintain great communication.

Here are some common internal communication challenges startups face:

Information overload – When everyone can create documentation, they do. Notion pages proliferate. Transparency is great and recommended. But it can sometimes result in team members reviewing information that is not actually relevant to them.

I find most companies have too much information and not enough insight.

What’s the difference? Insight is pulling out the conclusion or “so what” behind the information. This is what people need.

Siloed departments – in my last operating role as CFO of FreshBooks I experienced this. When I showed up each department had its own silo of customer information.

It was well-intentioned but inefficient. We centralized all of this in the finance department as the “one source of truth”.

Remote work – Pre-COVID when offices were the norm, it was easier to communicate. You could just go to someone’s desk or run into them in the kitchen.

You could see them. You could read body language.

This is harder to do now that most people are remote. A certain fidelity of information is lost now that we communicate through Slack and Zoom.

If you find that your team is not as clear as you would like on what matters most, try these suggestions.

Try distilling your messages down to simple, repeatable sound bites.

Try focusing on the communication channel that works best for you.

Ensure you are not distracting your team by musing about the distant future.

Ensure key messages are being repeated over and over again. If you are not sick of hearing yourself, you are not doing it enough.

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