Unsexy But Effective: 4 Steps to a Winning Internal Communication Policy

One of the most important and liberating policies that I implemented in my business was a system for internal communication.

These days a lot of businesses have a lot of remote workers. My whole business was remote. Over the years our team members lived coast to coast in the US, the Philippines, South America, and South Asia. No matter where your team works, unless you have a Communications Policy, its highly likely that you’ve got a lot of wasted time, misunderstandings, and dropped balls.

When I really started to evaluate where all my time went as a business owner it was clear that quite a bit of it went to answering impromptu questions. Questions came via Slack since we’d established a remote culture that lived in that chat app. Sometimes I’d get emails. Sometimes I’d be tagged on a project or a support ticket. There was no rhyme or reason and there was no way to know what really deserved my attention until I was already engaged with it.

The result was that my focused work time (or worse, my free time) was frequently interrupted. The cost of switching tasks, mentally, is well-documented and significant. The cost of having your free time or family time interrupted is incalculable. I have to imagine my team was going through the same thing.

One approach to the interruption culture would be to just ignore the onslaught, batch my responses, and carry on. But that doesn’t really solve the problem because:

  1. I’d likely have frustrated people who felt like they weren’t getting the support they need and…
  2. Simply silencing notifications meant that I would miss the issues that were actually urgent!

Not good.

The first step in an effective communications policy is documenting your SOPs which I covered in a previous post. There’s no need to keep saying the same things over and over, this includes: branding guidelines, content policies and standards, all of your operations SOPs, support FAQs, HR policies — frankly anything that your business needs done right more than once. Document it.

After implementing the communication system my daily interruptions all but disappeared. My work was reduced to only leadership and value creation. When I sold my business the new owners stepped in to a finely tuned machine where everyone knew exactly how we operated and communicated.

So without further ado here’s one system that can help you tame the beast, quiet and organize your internal communications, win back your time and focus, probably offer your team some relief and help optimize your business so it runs well without you.

How to Create an Effective Internal Communications Policy

1️⃣ Choose Your Platforms

First you need to choose your platforms. In my organization we had 3.

  1. Slack – Chat and notifications feed
  2. Notion – Project management and wiki
  3. Google Meet

Slack, Google Chat, or similar tools in your organization provides instant, more organized, and more effective communication than email but it also creates a lot of noise if not properly governed. Slack is nearly ubiquitous in remote teams today and is my preferred channel unless its unruly.

A project management tool is a basic building block of almost any business. If you have projects, you should have a project management platform. I strongly encourage you to have a single place where projects are scoped, drafted, proofed and deployed. My teams use Notion. Anyone touching projects should be able to accesses what they need, make their contribution, ask questions and provide answers. Ideally your project software hosts discussion or comments on the project cards.

Meetings are best face to face but in a remote culture that just isn’t going to happen all the time. Choose a platform for your online “face to face” that everyone uses. Google Meet is easy if you’re already on Workspace which I highly recommend. Meetings are an important component to this system and having a weekly meeting structure is imperative if you want high performance.

In addition to our weekly meetings we’d hold scheduled issue specific meetings.

What’s in your communication stack?

2️⃣ Define Your 3 Levels of Communication

Now that you’ve define the communication platforms that you’re using its time to define the 3 levels of communication for your organization.

Communication falls into 3 buckets:

  1. Urgent. Stop the presses, drop what you’re doing, this needs fixing right now.
  2. Important. Keep working on your top priority but this is the next top priority.
  3. Issue. Everything else.

Here’s more detail.

Urgent Issues need to be answered right away.

What problems are big enough in your organization that you (almost) would want someone to get you out of bed to fix them? Slack was our channel for Urgent Issues and daily check-ins. Here’s part of how we defined Urgent.

  • A technical problem is stopping customers from doing what the site is supposed to do
  • Something is broken and its preventing time-sensitive work from proceeding and there is no workaround
  • Someone can’t purchase without this or is having trouble purchasing.

What’s Urgent in your organization?

Most things should not be urgent. If you’re in a constant state of urgent you’re doing something else wrong.

Important issues need to be addressed soon, this week, but the current top priority should not be interrupted.

What makes an issue Important? For us the answers were:

  • There’s a workaround but things aren’t functioning as normal
  • You can proceed with your project but its not optimal
  • The issue is causing a poor, but not crippling, customer experience
  • Certain inquiries

And a few more criteria. What’s Important in your business?

Issues should be addressed at some point.

If an issue is not Important or Urgent than it is just an issue. For us issues were:

  • Not preventing normal function
  • Not progress blocking
  • Annoying, unsightly, weird maybe but not show stoppers
  • New Ideas
  • Feature requests

The list goes on. Issues are simply everything else that is not Important and is not Urgent. In each weekly meeting with my managers we would look at the kanban board from right ← left. In a future post I’ll cover the manager meeting in detail but the Ideas column of the kanban is where the issues land.

Only you can decide which types of issues in your organization fall into which level of communication. Spend some time observing then considering the topics and and types of conversations that your team is having. Over the coming weeks make quick notes about the kinds of comments, conversations, interruptions and notifications in your business and group them.

Later you can decide how you’d like each type addressed.

3️⃣ Define Channels for Each Level of Communication

Now that you’ve defined which platforms your team uses and what constitutes Urgent, Important or simply an Issue, the team needs to know which issues are communicated where.

For us it was simple:

  1. Urgent: @mention the person you need help from in the appropriate Slack channel. Create a card if necessary.
  2. Important: If there isn’t a card in Notion already, create one, then post your question in the card and @mention the team member whose help you need. Put the card at the top of the queue.
  3. Issue: Hold it for our next weekly meeting, drop it in the Idea List, or leave a note on a project card

Having structured weekly manager meetings paired with scheduled, scoped and well-thought out Issue Meetings where team members came prepared with their own proposed solutions meant more effective meetings, fewer of them, and offered better outcomes.

4️⃣ Publish Your Communication Policy

Its not enough to have policies and procedures. If your organization is already in motion then there’s a good chance that change is going to be hard, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t implement.

The keys to making your new policy work for you are:

  1. Accept that this is a living document and you will have to update it as you learn more
  2. Make sure you clearly communicate the importance to your team, create a video and explain the importance then publish it to your company wiki.
  3. Enforce it. At first you’ll need to offer gentle reminders about where communications go, over time that should stop. If you have people who will not get on board with the new program you might have to have hard conversations or make hard decisions.
  4. Adhere to it yourself. The worst thing you can do is write up and impose policy that you don’t follow yourself #leadershipfail — don’t do that. If you do violate policy acknowledge it and explain to affected team members where you went wrong.

Providing a written communications policy and system is liberating.

Implementing a system for communication will win you and your team back focused time. You’ll provide better service. You’ll be more efficient. You’ll make fewer mistakes. You’ll do better work.

Do you need another reason?

Conclusion

So there it is, 4 steps to a communications policy that we published and implemented that seriously changed my life, gave me back my time, brought a sense of calm to my organization and helped streamline my business for my exit. Seriously.

Remember, this will need to be customized to suit your specific organization. My channels were Slack, Project Cards in Notion, and scheduled meetings on Google Meet. Yours may be different but make sure you’re using the best tool for the job.

Depending on the roles that you have in your organization it may be important for you to build this policy collaboratively.

Go forth unto yourselves and communicate. 💥

P.S. Don’t be afraid to also include guidelines for the kinds of discussion that are not appropriate for work channels.

Do you really need to have a cat picture channel? I guess if that’s your culture, but my preference is that work time is exactly that. If you’re done working go for a walk.

Should you talk politics? NFW. In my opinion you keep all that somewhere else.

Depending on the roles that you have in your organization it may be important for you to build this policy collaboratively.

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