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The Move to Complete the Pandemic’s Internal Communication’s Evolution

Let’s face it, the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything about the way we communicate. It changed the use of our voice and wanting to hear other people. Everyday video chat had its place and purpose, bringing together families, students, and colleagues all over the world. And then, there was the explosion of distance learning and increased digital transformation—all centered on communication. 

Internal communications also changed. It became the best way to interact with employees for companies, businesses, and organizations. It was the place to disseminate knowledge and share information. It became the virtual company headquarters. COVID-19 also forced business leaders to recognize the importance of ICs, especially companies that were large with a disparate workforce across vast geographic areas. When remote work became a reality for everyone, it also became the catalyst for recognizing that organizations needed more from their internal communication systems than their old intranets provided. 

No longer can the aging intranet of the past suffice for the expanding needs of many scaling companies or those remaining in a hybrid work environment. There is an escalated demand for clean and easy-to-use interfaces, single sources of truth, and a place where leaders and managers can commune with their teams and employees. 

But that is still not enough. IC platforms must integrate with other software and applications bringing all technology together harmoniously in one singular place. Yes, even tech needs to play well with others. With all the emphasis on vital pandemic change, the current concern is will it continue.  

According to a Forbes Magazine article titled “The Good And The Bad Of Modern Internal Communications,” the author Frank Wolf, CSO and Co-founder of Staffbase, stated, “While I believe many companies are making clear progress in their communications functions, there’s still a long way to go on the road to truly transformative internal comms…If new comms initiatives were in fact implemented primarily in response to Covid-19 lockdowns and other immediate social concerns, this could suggest that these efforts are incomplete — reactive versus proactive. 

Companies that are committed to comms success in the long term but sought solutions under duress will likely need to reevaluate them, particularly when it comes to measuring the impact of communications on their audiences and the company’s business goals. 

As we move into post-pandemic times and growth, that doesn’t mean that the dependency on the internal comms system should wane. In fact, it is clear that the IC function has a cemented place, and the necessity for it is evolving. But are you evolving into that proactive comms force? If you are reevaluating your company’s internal comms, including measuring its impact, it is time to strengthen IC’s role in your organization. As IC practitioners, we have the opportunity to proactively shape how internal communication is not only successful but creates a more connected future. To make it uncomplicated and less technical. To make it…simpler.

Your Plan Tells a Story

Everyone knows that if you want a project or initiative launched you must identify it as essential to the business goals and objectives. Without a plan that shows benefits to the business, there is no chance for it to be put in motion. Consequently, those who run the projects must operate as business partners to complement your company’s overall objectives and contribute to the bottom line. The advantage of a new project should be explained in economic terms. It must demonstrate value. But it also has to tell a story.

Every good tale begins with a journey, and every journey needs a roadmap. Imagine if you used a detailed roadmap to communicate the value of internal comms to employees and leadership. So, start with identified desired objectives and key predictive results or your intended OKRs.

The best way to formulate OKRs is with guiding questions like:

  • What will a new IC system change within your company?
  • How will it be more successful?
  • Why is a new internal comms system important?
  • What markers are you going to hit? 
  • What key efforts will it take to get to your goal?
  • What critical results will we see?
  • When will we see it?
  • What will be its return on investment (ROI)?

Now your story has a beginning, middle, and end. To continue the process, fill in the details within the timeline. What else should you include?

  • Designate responsibilities for each team and individual.
  • Discuss how you intend to increase productivity by focusing on the identified goals.
  • Explain how you will track regular progress towards identified goals.
  • Collect the data produced through analysis. It will help your company make more effective and informed decisions.
  • Describe how you will achieve measurement, accountability, and transparency.

Once you have the details of your journey, you need to include it in a defined communication strategy with a created baseline to measure against and an established timeline to guide advancement.  As you do this, weave compelling elements into your story. Convey and demonstrate a plan of growth to your organization. Don’t be afraid to bring in a narrative that expresses the mission and values of your company. 

Every story has integral elements where characters learn a lesson. In the journey of internal comms, you need to construct critical “moments of truth.” The MoTs allow users and leaders to recognize how each phase progresses and its value and impact on your business. Once those MoTs are achieved, promote them, share them, and make it abundantly clear to decision-makers what happened.

You need to integrate data to back up your evidence and, eventually, the proof of ROI will convey how your company can’t live without this prime method of communication to senior leaders, especially the C-suite. This tale is essential for survival. Ultimately, if you want to secure a budget or need better tech, you have to illustrate value through data to help make your case.  Why? Your IC can not be seen as a cost center or a pet project.

In Simpplr’s eBook “5 Steps to Internal Communications ROI,”  it stated, “You need to demonstrate that internal comms have the power to improve the company’s performance strategically. You also need the data to show that your efforts have been effective.”

IC must tell the story of its transformative power and how it will improve the company’s overall performance. How do you do that? Connect IC strategy to company goals, OKRs, then Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). This will undoubtedly get leaders’ attention. Now, you need to get them involved. Data arms you with the proof you need to make recommendations and get leaders to listen.

Use Data to Show Value 

OKRs are the goal-setting method that helps you improve performance and drive change, but Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are the business metrics that reflect that performance.  KPIs let you know what you need to analyze and determine the basis for your OKRs and if there is a need for adjustment. Both OKRs and KPIs are measurable and reflect the team’s performance. Establishing them is a move from reactive to proactive.

IC always needs to demonstrate its strategic value to leaders and decision-makers. There is an argument that value doesn’t exist without proof. This “proof” begins with collecting and using data. Without the numbers, it is merely anecdotal evidence. Yes, measurement matters! Data should be recognized as the foundation that guides your decisions and helps us prioritize. Unfortunately, IC many managers and professionals don’t create baselines or collect ongoing information regarding their internal comms usage.

Forbes.com conducted a recent survey with over 800 IC professionals. They found that “78% [of respondents] said they don’t conduct frequent (at least monthly) reviews of communications output analytics and discuss the learnings with stakeholders.” That is a significant number of IC pros and companies not demonstrating their value. 

Forbes also found that only “51% [of respondents] said their top IC goals are not defined in writing and known to all stakeholders responsible for implementing and approving them. Without established baseline values to measure advancement and success against, you have no proof of progress. Without identification of goals and specific measures in mind, you cannot establish ROI on the investment of your internal comms system. Like I said, measurement matters.

The good news is that Forbes reported that “71% [of respondents] said senior managers in their organizations take IC recommendations seriously.” That is indeed encouraging. However, there will always be a member of finance or the C-suite whom you have to substantiate a need for ICs. That internal comms are more than instant messaging or glorified intranet. You have to prove its worth. So, begin with a plan.

Including other types of data and health metrics like open rates, page views, and meeting attendance is convincing. IC needs to dig into your ability to understand how messages are landing, if people are confused, or if sentiment is poor. Data is the only way to truly understand if leaders and ICs need to “course correct.”  

Another added element is employee behavior. Stay close to it through data. And data is needed in real-time, not quarterly or annually. If we wait for the annual employee engagement survey, it’s often too late to improve communication plans. You need to understand employee behavior and sentiment as it unfolds to evolve your communications plan. In other words, using data to show value is mission-critical, especially when showing ROI on your internal communications system.

Use the Right Tech

What is the justification behind new technology? Having the right tech enables you to reach all employees where they are, improve their experience and keep them engaged and connected with each other. Connection is essential as we move into post-pandemic times. Without investing in the right tech to meet your needs, you will be behind in the progress you want to create. But here is the caveat—the bar has already moved. The longer you stay with antiquated intranet platforms, the more disjointed your employee base will be. 

When evaluating tech, it’s essential to use data to guide your decision on which solutions are suitable for your organization. In the Simpplr article “Intranet Examples for Your Digital Workplace,” we outlined your core IC essentials. They are:

  • Communication
  • Cross-functional Collaboration
  • Central Deposit of Information or Source of Truth
  • Ease of Use
  • Internal Technical Support
  • The Employee Voice

Equally important is the tech needed to connect with employees and give them a voice. COVID-19 brought a significant shift to fully digital work environments, and leaders learned that employees could be productive from anywhere. While companies are already communicating through tech with functions such as email, Slack, Google Teams, Zoom, WebEx, and other intranet features, the use of these intensified when employees started working remotely. Though many companies are returning to an in-person work environment, the global nature of most enterprise companies means that remote work and ICs are not going anywhere.

The employee experience will continue to occur in a digital environment. It is essential that technology builds culture, fosters social interaction and collaboration, and increases employee engagement. McKinsey studied the use and impact of social tech in companies and found that “companies with a high proportion of interaction workers can realize tremendous productivity improvements through faster internal communication and smoother collaboration.” 

Get Leaders Involved

Leaders who understand the value of internal communication have a big impact on motivating, inspiring, and retaining good employees. If they understand that value, they should in turn comprehend the value of internal communication. It’s no secret that IC can be successful without leadership involvement but not at the same level. Their recognition, use, and promotion of internal comms will bring more employees to engage on the platform. Also, leaders demonstrate their beliefs through actions more than words. 

How do we build trust with leaders? I feel like a broken record by saying this: use data. To establish trust, start meeting with them regularly and come to those meetings with data-based recommendations on improving employee engagement, retention, and communications. Show the leader how you can use communication to help them achieve their goals. Every time you meet with them, review the data on how your plan is going. Doing this will also likely prevent you from becoming their support staff. Instead, it will help build you as a trusted partner and advisor. 

Focus on the Employee Experience

Internal communications have always played a significant role in the employee experience, but the role IC has is increasing. If you use data to demonstrate IC’s value, leaders will recognize the value IC brings to the table and how we shape the employee experience. 

Every employee is responsible for employee experience. However, the role IC plays can not be understated. To help create a better employee experience, IC needs to take a holistic approach to employee communications. We inform, inspire, and engage at all levels of the organization. We have to go beyond “did they get the message?” We need to gauge if they read and understood the message. How do they feel about it? To make a good employee experience, we need to listen to data and feedback and course-correct when necessary. 

Create Engaging Content and Measure Its Impact

Content needs to inform, inspire, and engage employees. However, it’s not just to let them know how their role fits into company goals and accomplishments. The cohesive tale of your company needs to be shared to influence and encourage employees that they are indeed working at the right place. With more and more employees choosing a work environment that aligns with values, then your culture should be emphasized along with your brand.

Writing authentic narratives helps build a culture of active participation in telling the company story. By bringing company values and mission to life by telling the stories about fellow workers, leaders, positive discussion around engagements, and overall positive statistics 

The reality is that the engaged employee is a valuable one. The engaging leader fosters the relationship and retains the employee. The question is how do you know? Going back to the mantra “Measurement matters!” If it can’t be measured, it doesn’t exist. Surveys that reveal sentiment and NPS scores will tell the story if your content is creating the experience your employees want. Once again, data is key. It will let your leaders know if the current content, from teams or individual leaders, is hitting the right notes that resonate with your employees.

Going forward, companies cannot dismiss the value of internal comms. The warning, however, is this: it took a pandemic for many organizations to move away from the place they were before. If IC professionals and companies don’t take advantage of this momentum, what will take to move them in the future?

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