How to run an effective internal communications function

Effective utility internal communications teams both inform and engage employees. Informing employees is about keeping them abreast of important and relevant company updates. Engaging employees is about influencing the pride and enthusiasm employees have for working at your utility. Keeping employees informed is the primary role of an internal communicator, but you also need to keep staff engaged. Your employees are your most valuable resource for building and maintaining a strong brand and reputation. When employees are invested in their work and excited about their job, they share those sentiments with their friends, families, and communities.

An effective internal communications team should have structure, processes, objectives, and metrics. Team members should set bold but achievable goals for content publication, have a clear and codified content review process, publish a healthy variety of content, measure the performance of the utility’s content, and solicit feedback from employees.

Bold but achievable goals. Based on your staff, set a bold but achievable goal for how much content you want to publish in a given week, month, or year. An editorial calendar can help you determine the scope of content you want to publish and hold you and your team accountable for achieving that goal. Useful for mapping out the topics you want to cover and the content types you want to produce, an editorial calendar can also help ensure that you publish a variety of information in different formats to reach multiple audiences (figure 1).

Figure 1: Sample editorial calendar

This editorial calendar shows the rough publication dates for content created by E Source’s Customer Experience team. As the team fine-tunes its content and considers conflicting deadlines, unplanned events, and resource scarcity, it will rearrange its projects and establish more-granular milestones.
Image of E Source's editorial calendar for the customer experience team

A clear and codified content review process. It’s always good to get a second set of eyes on the content your internal communications team publishes. Whether it’s an intranet feature thousands of employees might see or a facilities announcement about a water outage only a handful of employees might see, at least two people should review it. Figure 2 shows a typical content review process.

Figure 2: Typical content review process

Writers, peer reviewers, editors, and designers look at content during various stages of the review process. Your team should determine its own content review process, document it, and enforce it so no one has to wonder who does what when.
Workflow diagram showing a 10-stage content creation and delivery process that involves a writer, lead editor, copyeditor, page designer, and proofreader.

Publish a variety of content. Work hard to understand your target audience: your employees. What are their interests, concerns, and motivations? What do you hear from people when you engage with them face-to-face? What do employees ask senior management about in companywide meetings? Few stories will appeal to all employees, so be sure to address diverse topics. Write human-interest stories for your employees who love to hear about people’s lives. Write innovation stories for those interested in advanced operations and energy technologies. For service-minded workers, write stories about how employees give back to the community. Interview thought leaders at your company to foster a shared vision and passion among staff.

Measure the performance of your content. It’s critical to obtain data and metrics about how employees engage with your content. Look at page views on your intranet. Track how many people open, read, and click through your weekly email digest. If you can’t measure the impact your content has on employees, you can’t revise your strategy for providing relevant, engaging information. Keep in mind that quantitative data is essential for benchmarking the success of your content, but qualitative data obtained through readership surveys will contextualize that information and tell a comprehensive story.

If you can’t measure the impact your content has on employees, you can’t revise your strategy for providing relevant, engaging information.

Solicit feedback from employees. There’s no better way to learn what employees want than to ask them directly. Field an annual survey to understand what they like and don’t like about your internal communications efforts. Is the content relevant to them? What intranet features do they like the most? Do they get too many emails from you? Do the stories resonate with them or do they read like company propaganda? After you collect feedback, meet with your internal communications team to discuss the data.

Common channels internal communications teams use

To convey information to employees, internal communications teams use some common channels, including stories and features published on the employee intranet, a weekly or biweekly digest email for intranet content, email announcements and updates from leaders, in-person company events, digital monitors, and print resources for plants, operations facilities, and satellite offices. Each channel’s content is unique and requires its own approach.

The employee intranet. The employee intranet is accessible to all employees, so its content should be relevant to as large a population as possible. Employees use the intranet to access company services and keep up to date on company news.

Regular email digests. Depending on how much content your internal communications team generates for the employee intranet, a weekly or biweekly email is a good way to make employees aware of new stories or features you’ve published to the portal. Tease the new content in two or three sentences, add pithy headlines, and provide links to the stories on the intranet.

Email announcements and leadership updates. Internal communications teams can also use email to announce important company events and leadership updates, such as business developments or changes in senior-level management. To determine which announcements are appropriate for companywide email blasts, your team should work in close cooperation with the rest of the corporate communications department and company leadership.

In-person company events. To engage employees face-to-face, internal communications teams should design, organize, market (via the intranet and email digests), and host in-person events about company developments, innovation, or other topics relevant to all employees. In-person events are a great way to get company leaders in front of employees for presentations and discussions about the industry. They also provide a forum for employees to share their ideas and thoughts about how the company can change and grow. If your internal communications team has the budget, you should provide food and drinks, as refreshments always attract more people.

Print resources. Print resources are vital for spreading communications to employees who work in the field, work at plants, or don’t frequently use a computer for their job. Internal communications teams can send printouts of email digests to administrative staff at field sites to post on-site or leave as handouts for employees who come and go. Internal communications teams can print and mail employee engagement-focused posters to sites, such as a poster with information about how field employees can join in-person company events via webcast.

Determining an appropriate frequency for internal communications

How often you communicate with employees depends on three criteria:

  • The size of your team
  • The types of information you communicate
  • Your team’s boundaries for what communications you do and don’t own

The size of your team. The bigger your internal communications team, the more you’ll be able to communicate to employees. If you have only one full-time team member, determine an appropriate cadence for that person’s ability to publish intranet features; handle an email newsletter; write and/or edit company and leadership announcements; design, market, and host in-person events; and reach offline employees.

The types of information you want to communicate. The frequency of internal communications will also depend on the types of information you’re committed to publishing. You may set a goal of 3 intranet features per week and 1 weekly digest. Between those two channels, that’s 16 communications per month. You may receive requests from the facilities department for communications about planned electricity, Internet, or water outages for a particular office. If your internal communications team is responsible for editing and publishing these announcements, that’s 1 more communication. If there’s a change in senior leadership that needs to be communicated to all employees, that’s 1 more email, bringing your total number of communications for the month to 18. The frequency of communications in a given month can vary greatly based on what types of information the company needs you to deliver to employees.

Your team’s boundaries. Internal communications teams can be bombarded by requests from across the company to publish intranet stories and features, announce company updates, and promote events in the regular email digest. Your team should determine its own boundaries for what content you do and don’t publish, post those boundaries in an obvious place on your intranet, and fall back on them when employees ask for something your team does not or cannot provide.

Duke Energy’s internal communications team structure and channels

Duke Energy’s six-person internal communications team, the Content and Employee Communications group, publishes content that the company’s approximately 29,000 full-time employees consume. The team consists of:Duke Energy uses eight primary channels to reach its 29,000 employees.

  • A team leader
  • Three writers/editors who produce intranet content, a weekly email digest, company announcements, and content for a public brand journalism site
  • A design and graphics specialist who manages the publication and graphics for content, as well as the digital logistics for executive all-hands meetings and interviews
  • An administrative assistant who manages regional employee announcements, updates on the WeAreDE app for employees, and the back-end work of publishing articles

The eight primary channels the team uses to reach employees are:

  • The employee intranet. The utility generally publishes four articles a week on its employeeintranet. These include news stories about the company, employee profiles, stories about corporate citizenship and environmental stewardship, and articles about technological innovation. Stories generate from 3,000 to more than 17,000 page views.
  • Duke Energy illumiNation. Though many of the team’s functions are internally focused, staff writers and editors generate content for illumiNation, the utility’s public brand journalism site. The site achievesan average of 51,000 page viewsper monthfrom an average of 32,000 users per month.
  • ThisWeek@DukeEnergy. To promote intranet stories, news, and updates, the team sendsa weekly email newsletter called ThisWeek@DukeEnergyto all employees and contractors. These newslettersarea collection of brief news articles summarizing intranet stories, industry news, and company announcements and updates with links to the full features.
  • Emails from company leaders. The team sends emails from company leaders to the entire employee base for high-profile company updates, such as strategy changes, large investments or acquisitions, organizational changes, or divestments. There is no set frequency of these emails.
  • Digital monitors. The team owns most of the content that appears on the digital monitors placed across many of the company’s remote offices. On these digital monitors, the team features intranet content, news, human resources–related updates, and company events.
  • Duke Radio Live. The team streams quarterly interviews with company executives about strategic initiatives or current events and makes the interviews available on the intranet for later listening.
  • “Four things you might have missed.” To provide employees with a quick recap of weekly content, the team publishes a 40- to 60-second video covering the top stories from the previous week. The videos post every Monday on the intranet, the WeAreDE internal app, and on digital monitors.
  • WeAreDE employee app. The team updates the company’s employee app that includes multiple channels for employee communications, such as diversity and inclusion, nuclear, intranet articles, and stories for sharing on employees’ social media accounts.

Using gamification to educate and engage employees

One of the most creative employee communications and engagement projects we’ve seen is Chicago-based ComEd’s Power Up JD! sweepstakes. For four weeks in spring 2017, the utility ran the contest to educate all employees about the utility’s customer experience (CX) strategy and staff’s role in influencing ComEd’s J.D. Power scores. Every week, the utility awarded prizes—such as Macbook Air laptops and GoPro cameras—to employees who completed CX-themed tasks such as following ComEd on Twitter, talking to a neighbor about an efficiency program, or designing a ComEd-branded car wrap. Jennifer Montague, ComEd’s director of strategy and technology, presented Power Up JD!’s results at the E Source Forum 2017 (figure 4).

Figure 4: ComEd director of strategy and technology Jennifer Montague describes Power Up JD! at the 2017 E Source Forum

An excellent example of creative employee engagement is ComEd’s gamified Power Up JD! sweepstakes. The utility launched the contest in May 2017 with the goal of educating employees about the utility’s customer experience (CX) strategy and staff’s role in influencing ComEd’s J.D. Power scores. The sweepstakes was so successful it won second place in the first annual E Source Achievements in Utility Employee Experience Award.
 

Gamification typically yields participation rates between 3% and 5%, but 6% of ComEd’s employees participated in the sweepstakes. Staff also reported that the contest improved their understanding of the J.D. Power survey and how their actions affect it (figure 5). Montague points out that from 2016 to 2017, ComEd’s J.D. Power scores increased from 671 to 715, prompting J.D. Power to flag the utility as most improved.

Figure 5: Results from ComEd’s Power Up JD! sweepstakes

After participating in ComEd’s Power Up JD! staff engagement and education contest, the utility’s employees reported that they better understood the J.D. Power survey and their role in it, and they learned more about ComEd’s offerings. Several employees scheduled energy-efficiency audits.
Image of slide from ComEd 2017 Forum session about the utility's Power Up JD! sweepstakes

Strategies and tactics for engaging employees

We can help improve your internal communications strategies and processes. Submit an Ask E Source question!The strategies your internal team uses to engage employees will vary depending on your goals and your utility’s culture. E Source can help support your unique strategic and tactical internal communications questions through our Ask E Source service. Please submit an Ask E Source question so we can help you improve and advance your internal communications efforts!

Contributing Authors

Content Strategist, Portfolio and New Product Strategy

Joy Herbers researches, writes, and edits reports across all E Source services. As the company’s content strategist, she leads...