Internal communication is the network that supports a great team. Without clear, regular connections within a small business, it’s impossible to move forward toward long-term goals.
Research conducted by Weekdone found that implementing highly effective communication processes also has an incredible impact on employees. It makes a business 4.5 times more likely to have engaged employees who are passionate about their jobs and 20% more likely to decrease employee turnover.
With these kinds of statistics, it’s clear that improving internal communication is a priority for small business owners. We did the work for you — identifying eight tips to improve internal communications in your small business:
1. Set a Positive Precedent
To strengthen communication among your employees, model best practices. Use clear language to discuss important topics, and always give enough depth and context for employees to understand the reasoning behind your decisions.
Don’t forget the importance of body language. During in-person meetings, take a relaxed posture with a straight back and good eye contact. As a leader, the strongest way to set a positive precedent for both professional and personal communication is to practice what you preach in the office.
2. Think About Lateral Communication
When a lot of managers think about internal communication, they focus on the most effective ways to communicate with their employees. But what about horizontal communication? It’s just as important that your team members develop effective processes for collaborating and connecting with each other across groups.
Sohrab Vossoughi, president of Seattle-based startup Ziba, recommends that business owners define the purpose of their organization. When a small business operates under a clear mission statement, it guides team members toward a shared vision. This way, employees communicate with an understanding of the priorities and overarching goals that shape their work together.
3. Empower Your Team with the Best Tools
As communication goes digital, there are more tools available that foster active communication in teams. These tools create the foundation for processes that underpin teamwork. In particular, they are all dynamite for remote work, giving you access to valuable information when you’re not in the office:
When I Work
When I Work, a shift-based scheduling software, enables hourly employees to seamlessly trade shifts from their smartphones. Instead of relying on loose texts or emails — and leaving room for accidental no-shows — optimize your communication processes, while maximizing flexibility for employees.
Hipchat’s platform integrates with project management applications like Asana with their messaging system. Take part in work conversations from an app on your phone, with the ease it takes to send texts. Loyal Hipchat users love its portable interface and the ability to edit messages after they’re sent. No more “oops” moments!
The instant messaging application Slack connects employees through hashtagged conversations that mirror old-fashioned chat rooms. The best part of Slack is its search capability, which decreases knowledge loss. Slack saves all conversations — even after an employee leaves, a small business owner can search their past chats to find relevant details.
Like Slack and Hipchat, Podio offers a chat app. Unlike these two, it also includes an email component and integrates voicemails and faxes. Podio is a great option for a small business because of its flexibility. Personalize their platform to share files, project information, calendars, and to-do lists.
4. Create a Culture of Transparency
Buffer, HubSpot, and LinkedIn all incorporated transparency into their organizational processes — and it works. When senior leadership gives workers a clear understanding of their goals, it increases the sense of connection to the business.
To create a culture of transparency, follow Hubspot’s lead and open a shared Wiki page that covers everything from finances to the clearest way to file an expense report. These shared documents keep everyone up-to-date and ensure there’s a centralized location for important information.
5. Practice Active Listening
Active listening is the process of absorbing, understanding, and validating the feelings of an individual. It’s integral to office relationships, helping employees and managers know that you respect their experiences and are willing to support them in practical ways. The Wall Street Journal broke active listening down into five phases:
- Pick up on the non-verbal and verbal cues that someone wants to talk.
- Listen, make eye contact, and reflect the feelings of another person in your facial expressions.
- Show that you want to hear the whole story through open-ended questions and verbal encouragement such as “hmm,” “okay,” “yes.”
- Summarize the other person’s experience and mirror it back to him or her.
- Continue to engage and work toward a win-win solution for everyone involved.
In academic studies, when listeners practiced these five “immediacy behaviors,” the talker recognizes the emotional intelligence of the listener and felt better. These practices are the foundation of strong internal communication and interpersonal problem solving for business owners.
6. Minimize Distractions
Multitasking drains productivity, jumbles clear communication, and increases the stress of employees. For example, research cited by The Harvard Business Review found that just the presence of cell phones decreases focus and weakens interpersonal communication.
To minimize the role of distractions, educate your employees in productivity practices. Ask each worker to turn their full attention to the task at hand, especially when talking or corresponding with other team members. During meetings, ask that they set smartphones — and even laptops — aside to connect with each other.
7. Streamline Meetings
Face-to-face interactions bring significant benefits to teams: they build trust, deepen investments in relationships, and lead to innovative problem solving. But overall, business owners don’t run meetings effectively, and they’re a drain on the bottom line.
Instead of relying on in-person meetings to disseminate information, use one of the communication tools we listed or email to share updates. Instead, use gatherings for problem solving or collaboration. When you do hold a meeting, stick to these best practices from Harvard Business Review:
- Limit participants to the employees most integral to the conversation.
- Ban all distracting devices.
- Keep meetings short and sweet — under an hour.
- Try standing up instead of sitting down.
- Encourage all members of the group to participate.
- Send regular updates first.
- Always create an agenda.
8. Shift Your Business Structure
General Stanley McChrystal suggests that combining decentralized business model with transparent communication maximizes performance. To strike this balance, think of your management as a “team of teams.” Employees are empowered by need-to-know information from management. They exercise the flexibility and freedom to use their best judgment.
This kind of empowered management approach also encourages workers to share important details with their bosses and business owners — ensuring that employees don’t withhold valuable information.
Strengthening internal communication is a long-term investment in your small business. With the right tools, processes and skills to support mutual understanding and collaboration, you can transform your business into a growing enterprise.8 Tips to Improve Internal Communication Skills at Your Small Business Nick Lucs