How leaders can use internal communications to engage and motivate teams

By Shannon Jenkins

Friday April 23, 2021

Take staff on the journey. (Image: Adobe/contrastwerkstat)

Public sector leaders can increase employee engagement and boost team performance by improving the way they use internal communications, according to opr’s Richard Brett and Miriam Wells.

During a live event hosted by The Mandarin and WPP on Thursday, Brett and Wells argued that it has never been more important for leaders to be able to engage and motivate their teams during this era of technology, transformation and transparency.

Here are some of their tips on how leaders can do just that.

Two-way communication

Traditionally, internal communications are treated as a “top-down mouthpiece for leadership”. But team members need more meaningful engagement, and more two-way communication, Wells said.

This means leaders must stop “talking to” their team members, and instead “talk with” them.

“This is all about collaboration, co ownership, consultation and feedback,” Wells said.

This approach not only engages staff, but it also allows for internal communications to be used as a tool for receiving useful information, rather than just pushing information out. For example, leaders can find out what frontline workers have learned about the people and communities they serve on a daily basis, which can then be used to inform policies, operations and strategies.

Brett and Wells recommended that public sector workers read the United Kingdom government’s toolkit for campaigns and collaboration across the public sector.

Taking staff on the journey

Wells has discouraged leaders from keeping their team members out of the loop, and has recommended that they be more open and transparent with staff in order to better engage and motivate them.

“And that means not just delivering the key messages, but also owning up to when we haven’t gotten it right, and mistakes that we’ve learned from. A success story is only half the story,” she said.

The next generation of employees will want to be more involved and understand the processes behind decisions, as they’ve grown up sharing their lives and opinions on social media, Wells noted.

Leaders can give their staff insight on what they’re doing, who they’re engaging with, and how those actions are supporting the strategic objectives of the organisation, by “working out loud” on internal or external social media and communication channels.

This can create less distance between leaders and the rest of the organisation, and adds more authenticity and “humanness” to their processes, Wells said.

Walk the talk

While storytelling is important to internal communications, leaders should also move toward “storydoing”, by giving staff tangible proof to support what they’re saying, such as examples of progress.

“It’s not just enough to say ‘We value diversity and inclusion.’ What are you doing? How can you show it?” Wells said.

Aligning mindsets with objectives

To produce a high performing workforce, Wells said leaders should, through internal communications, foster a “deeply engaged culture that is aligned around strategic objectives”.

This involves leaders re-examining the organisation’s strategies and channels, as well as where it spends time, effort, and resources, with the aim of aligning the behaviours and mindsets of the organisation with its strategic objectives.

Wells noted that US-based Southwest Airlines’ internal communications, for example, reflect their strong focus on customer service, and are “deeply connected to that idea of customer centricity”.


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1 year ago

Absolutely! Bring the team with you. But also include the team’s comments, feedback, suggestions etc in the communications. To and for the team but also by with and from the team.

I wonder also if the same rules and guidance might be applied by Governments. Bring the people with you by listening and responding, by being open and honest about mistakes and lessons, by sharing plans, by encouraging input to the plans, and so on. Just try it Mr Morrison and see what happens.

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