Communicating in times of change: practical tips for internal comms in global businesses

We are in uncharted waters – and there has never been a greater need for effective internal communications.

Global businesses have dramatically increased the volume of their internal communications in light of the Coronavirus crisis when the need to unite and inform employees is greater than ever. But we should be striving to increase the quality – not the quantity – of our communications to make sure our message has the best chance of getting through.

The pressure of communicating in a crisis is particularly acute for HR and internal comms teams within multinational companies, as they face the added complexity of language and cultural differences. So, how do we approach this challenge?

We asked HR specialist and executive coach, Theresa Carter, for her advice on communicating with a global internal audience in times of change.

8 top tips for engaging employees during a crisis

  1. Get the balance right

Your staff are being bombarded with information from all directions, so it’s vital to have a clear messaging strategy in place. What do your team need to hear from you right now? What are the key messages you need to share?

Keep things short and simple rather than overwhelming employees with lots of information. It’s a good idea to repeat essential messages regularly, to help them stick.

Theresa says, “It may feel like you’re saying the same thing over and over but remember – this is the first time your staff have heard the messages you’re sharing, and they’ll need time to process them. Consider following up with a frequently asked questions (FAQ) document to summarise your message. It focuses your mind on being clear, concise and consistent, and gives staff something to refer to if they missed details the first time around.”

  1. Treat people as adults

Avoid the parent/child approach to your communications. It’s natural to want to shield your teams from tough messages because you’re worried about how they’ll react, but change is an inevitable part of life! Open and honest communication builds trust, respect and resilience – all of which helps to make the tough messages easier to share.

Theresa illustrates this point with the example of a client that was going through unprecedented change, where the business leaders adopted this approach.

“Rather than ignoring the difficult questions, they admitted they didn’t have all the answers. They held regular sessions in which they took more questions and gave honest progress updates. They took their people on the journey with them. This is how you build trust and continue to get the best out of your team in uncertain times. Being treated as an equal and a human is not to be underestimated!”

  1. Take the time to understand people

Spend time talking to your people to understand what’s important to them, and to identify their concerns, questions and ideas. You may already have a good grasp on how you can support your UK team, but what about overseas?

Theresa recommends speaking to each territory to find out as much as possible about your people.

How long have they been with the company? What are their favoured channels of communication? How can they best feel connected to the business as a whole? What are the cultural sensitivities you need to consider in preparing any communications? Appoint an internal communications champion in each territory to get the information you need.

  1. Be sensitive

Never translate business-critical content using online translation tools. While accuracy levels have improved, your translation will lack the sensitivity and human touch that are more important than ever.

Theresa says, “People can spot a bad translation a mile off. If you haven’t taken the time to localise important messages with thought and sensitivity, they may feel disrespected.”

  1. Recognise differences

Remember that people process information in different ways. As Theresa explains, “Some people need lots of detail; others want you to cut to the chase and give them bullet points. Some will be able to see the silver lining in what you’re saying, while others will want to delve deep and sit with the information before deciding how they feel.”

As well as being alert to cultural differences between territories, it’s important to be sensitive to the differences between people’s personal styles. You can’t tailor a message for every preference but being aware of the differences helps you to be more mindful of your approach.

  1. Use different channels

Choosing and using a variety of different channels for your communications can help you reach a wider international audience. Establish preferences by asking your teams for their favoured ways to receive information, keep in touch and share questions and ideas. Be clear on where you’ll be sharing important updates, so they know where to go for information.

“Think about how your people like to communicate and receive information. Anyone could have something beneficial to share that adds value or provides an interesting perspective, so it’s crucial to hear everyone’s voice.”

  1. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes

Ask yourself how employees from another territory might view your message. Is there room for misinterpretation or misunderstanding?

It’s vital to get the sentiment and key message right in your source language first, then use your translation partner for their input. They may identify areas that you should consider changing to align the message with local needs and cultural sensitivities.

“Be careful who you choose to translate your messages,” says Theresa. “Look for a trusted partner, rather than a one-stop-shop – someone who will work with you to ensure your translations are handled sensitively and who can build an in-depth understanding of your business and culture over time. They will be a real asset.”

  1. Tell it like it is

Think of your communication as a one-to-one conversation with your audience. Remove the jargon and business-speak and say it as it is. Be honest, open and straight-talking.

“Empathy is essential – it helps people to open up. Messages from business leaders that are authentic, honest and empathetic go a long way to unite businesses, to promote connectivity and to strengthen the feeling that we’re all in this together.”

Theresa is right: we are all in this together – and if there’s anything we can do to help you with your translation or localisation needs, please get in touch. We’re here to help.

To discuss any of the points raised in this article, or for advice or information, call Comtec on +44 (0)1926 335681, or email info@comtectranslations.com

Stay safe.

About Theresa Carter

Theresa has worked in HR for 20 years across many different industries. During this time she has worked for national and international organisations of all sizes, as well as running her own business. As an independent people/business consultant and executive coach, Theresa helps businesses identify where they are and why they exist and supports them to get to where they want to be.

You can connect with Theresa on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/theresaaustin/

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