At the end of last year, I was fortunate enough to take a sabbatical to work on some creative writing (I know, it sounds fabulous, and sometimes it was, other times I stared at a blank screen while teetering on the brink of despair).
An interesting thing I learnt about myself (yes, there was self-discovery…cue eye roll) was my need for structure. But not routine. Because there is a distinct difference.
For example, at work my structure is working Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday but what I do within those days is changeable depending on who I’m working with or what I’m working on. If I was to do the same tasks during each of those working days in the same order, I would consider that a routine.
I always knew I needed variety in the work I do but I didn’t appreciate how much I needed structure, to the point that I was missing work. When I posted this on LinkedIn, it seemed to resonate with a lot of people and got me thinking about how important structure is and how we can apply it to our internal comms…
Many internal communication teams provide regular briefings to their people managers which is great. But where they often fall down is by being too prescriptive. From an internal comms point of view, you’ve created a structure around people manager briefings but for them, it might seem like a set of rules. That’s why it’s important to provide a level of flexibility within the structure of the routine briefings.
Why not keep the timing and format of the briefing document the same but allow people managers to share the messages in a way that suits their style and that of their team? Afterall, they know their people best and will be able to translate messages into something meaningful.
Internal comms strategies
Not all internal comms teams have strategies – maybe there’s been a change in leadership and they’re waiting for clarification on the organisational strategy. Or maybe they haven’t had time to write one due to constant firefighting. Or maybe things change so often it’s not worth writing one…?
A strategy is a high-level outline of what you want to achieve over a period of time (a structure if you will) yet it doesn’t have to dictate exactly how you will achieve it. It’s completely possible to leave room for creativity and to adapt to changing external factors as long as your main aims hold true. A strategy should be a living, breathing document that evolves as the organisation does (so it’s always worth writing one!).
It also helps bring a team together behind a common goal, enables you to say no to requests that don’t support the strategy, and even if the organisation doesn’t know where it’s going right now, focus on what you as a team want to achieve.
Change is scary for a lot of people. And it takes time. Finding structure within the change can help to reassure employees and make for a smoother transition. For example, communicating at the same time each week with an update even if you don’t have anything new to say. Silence breeds gossip and fear, so the comfort of receiving an update that says “there’s no update” can’t be underestimated.
A rough high level timeline also helps create a sense of structure even if smaller activities and events aren’t set in stone and may change. Having a broad sense of direction is better than none at all.
As internal communicators, content is our bread and butter. And for content to have impact, it helps to have structure. Tools such as the inverted pyramid of journalism and the 6Ws (Who, What, Where, When, Why, hoW) provide guidance on how to approach an intranet news story for example.
By getting the most important news up front, you’re making it easier for your reader to digest the information in the order they need it. Structure in writing doesn’t have to take away creativity – there are plenty of techniques to make your writing jump off the page, the structure simply gives it the platform to do so.
Creating structure in your work has many benefits. In many ways it’s freeing, providing you with framework to work within, making things seem more manageable. And as for creativity, I can attest to its ability to not only exist but to thrive within structure.
By Helen Deverell for Alive with Ideas