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Tagged with: Crisis Communication
Organizational communication is the backbone of management, enabling your leaders to plan, organize, and lead. It's also a major element of employee engagement by keeping employees informed, encouraging participation in decision-making through feedback, and enabling collaboration. Getting the communication channels and process right means getting the right messages to the right people at the right time. For example, during a union organizing drive, management must reach all employees in the bargaining unit. Often, there is a need for an overhaul of the entire organizational communication system because of advancing technologies and changes in the workforce structure, like those prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
An organizational communication assessment is needed because every system has weaknesses and gaps, and many fail to achieve communication coordination or take advantage of communication technologies. The assessment provides answers about what currently exists and how it can be improved and delivers a communication plan for current and future needs.
The organizational communication assessment is also referred to as a communication audit. It analyzes an organization's communication policies, procedures, practices, channels, systems, platforms, and tools, focusing on determining its effectiveness in communicating with internal and external stakeholders.
The focus of the communication assessment will depend on organizational needs. You can audit internal and external communication with stakeholders or audit communication with either group, but assessing both at some point (each alone or together) is the most strategic approach. It reduces the risk that the two communication systems will end up out of alignment, creating difficult issues. For example, the message sent to employees about goals and values is different from what is said publicly. This is a major point of contention for many employees who decide to push for unionization.
The needs for internal and external communications are not the same. They have obvious differences - internal communication is about employees, and external communication is about the public. Internal communication is a mixture of formal and informal channels promoting two-way exchange, while external communication is mainly formal with prepared statements and reports made online or to media that are carefully developed and reviewed by upper management and the organization's media personnel.
Despite the differences, there needs to be a linkage between the two. The internal and external communication policies and processes should be in alignment, and the design of the communication system determines the ability to maintain that alignment. The reality is that organizations no longer have full control of messaging because of technologies like social media. This supports the idea that there needs to be continuous communication with employees to ensure messaging stays on track.
Some of the goals of the organizational communication assessment include the following.
The list could go on, but items demonstrate the power of an effective organizational communication system.
Organizational communication gaps can lead to serious problems. For example, one of the reasons companies support captive audience meetings to share the organization's perspective on unions is to ensure the right employees hear the message. However, it's not always possible to have every employee attend one of these meetings, especially in a workforce with field workers and remote employees working outside the facility in distant locations.
The overarching goal of the organizational communication assessment is to ensure communication and feedback with targeted stakeholders are effective. Stakeholders include internal and external people, groups, and organizations. Media relations are important to protect the company's reputation and brand, but the first and most critical step is building positive employee relations first through quality communication. Employees have an enormous impact on what external stakeholders, like the media and community members, say about the company.
To develop this kind of system, you first complete an organizational communication assessment. Following are the basic steps involved in the assessment.
The project kickoff meeting establishes the communication assessment process but does more than set the audit's policies and procedures. It identifies team member responsibilities, establishes common goals, gets everyone headed in the right direction, and develops expectations for success. The project launch meeting promotes team building and, importantly, sets the leadership tone. Is there anything more demotivating for team members than learning they're there to take orders from higher-ups rather than provide valuable input?
The project launch addresses the scope of the project. The organizational communication assessment will identify a communication system at work that builds employee engagement, develops trust in leadership, and enhances the employee experience. In large organizations, the communication assessment can be divided into smaller units if that makes sense for your organization.
The first meeting is an important step in ensuring team members understand the full scope and impact of the organization's communication assessment.
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Once the project team is established, the next step is gathering information about the past communication system and how it led to current practices. The goal is to understand the existing communication culture and approach, the communication channels currently used, and the common practices. How have past communications platforms been utilized and managed?
Meeting and interviewing key department leaders is a good way to pinpoint how your leaders are communicating with each other and with employees.
Next, you will conduct a review of existing internal communications to identify successes and challenges, like a SWOT analysis. This analysis is more detailed in that it specifically reviews all communication channels used and identifies those working well and where communication gaps exist.
Channels include but are not limited to:
Also included is an assessment of other factors affecting communication, like departmental policies, office layouts, and composition of the workforce targeted, i.e., all in-office, hybrid, and all remote.
How do your employees really communicate in the workplace? Getting employee input is as important as getting leadership input for developing the most effective employee communication system. For one thing, employees may not have the same opinion and perception of the effectiveness of the current communication system. This is a critical step that searches for answers to questions like whether the right information and message are being delivered to employees and how employees feel about feedback opportunities and leadership responses. Input can be solicited through employee surveys, group sessions, face-to-face meetings, email, etc.
Employees will have knowledge of and ideas for improvement. Soliciting ideas from employees engages them as partners in the organizational communication assessment process and strengthens employee voice, contributing to your efforts to stay union-free while increasing employee engagement. Based on the review, your team will determine if communication goals are achieved or achievable in a given situation.
Employee feedback should include asking for input on the communication system's strengths and weaknesses. For example, you may discover some employees are not included in a particular communication channel because of their job design. Feedback will also give you a good idea of employee attitudes towards the communication process, delivering additional insights.
Digital media is used extensively in organizations today. It includes software, eLearning programs, digital video, gamification, websites, social media, podcasts, electronic documents, and any other type of communication conducted via digital technologies. A review of current and potential digital media and the existing digital footprint complements the information gathered about communication channels. For example, websites and internal podcasts are communication channels and digital media. How are they used to communicate with employees, what is the typical purpose, and what is the digital footprint? An employee-facing dedicated website can present information about the company's position on unions, but it can do much more. The website can give employees opportunities to ask questions, provide feedback, and get leadership responses, including during a union organizing drive.
Visual design elements achieve several results. They evoke emotion, are better at capturing and sustaining attention, improve aesthetic appeal, and inspire change. Integrating the different media components into ongoing and regular communications makes the communications more interesting and adds conciseness. Visual design elements include logos, images, GIFs, short videos, screenshots, and graphs, to name a few. Each communication channel is evaluated for opportunities to add visual design elements.
Using all the information and ideas the organizational assessment communication team gathered, a full report with recommendations is prepared. The plan includes suggestions for:
The communications plan's end goal is to present a communication strategy for improvement. A communication plan can be used for many purposes. It can address the organization-wide communication system and have components that focus on communication during a union organizing campaign, a crisis event, a change event, employee onboarding, or launching a new employee initiative. Identifying the audience that the communications plan will be used for drives the goals and choice of communication channels. In addition, like a business plan, the organizational communication plan needs a planned periodic comprehensive review (i.e., quarterly) and reviews triggered by KPIs and metrics.
There are two options as to the best approach for conducting the organizational communication assessment. One is for in-house leadership to handle the process. However, some risks include leadership biases and employees who will be reluctant to provide feedback to in-house personnel. To overcome employee reluctance, you can enable anonymous feedback. Biases creep in when people leading the assessment had roles in designing and implementing the current communication system. It's difficult for people to be neutral when they have a stake in the current system.
For these reasons, many companies choose to use an organizational development consultant. Once the organizational communication plan is implemented, be sure to train your leaders, so the plan delivers the best outcomes possible.
The IRI Consultants team brings together decades of experience in communication to provide the strategic recommendations you need. We'll show you how to gather information and craft compelling stories so you can manage your message and rally support where it matters most. The IRI team will support your goals by conducting an organizational communication assessment to improve your positive employee relations strategy. From internal and employee communications to public and government affairs needs, we can provide you with a communication strategy that will serve your organization well into the future.
Walter is IRI's Director of Digital Solutions and founder of UnionProof & A Better Leader. As the creator of Union Proof Certification, Walter provides expert advice, highly effective employee communication resources and ongoing learning opportunities for Human Resources and Labor Relations professionals.