This article is written by Epic Presence.
Clear internal communication is essential for any SaaS company. It doesn’t matter whether you have two people on your team or 200, you need to effectively share your vision for the business and convey important operational information. It is particularly important for younger startups and newly scaling SaaS brands to build productive communication habits.
If you can help your team communicate successfully when there are only 10 people on staff, you can establish a solid foundation as your teams start to grow.
Internal communication has many moving pieces and plays a key role in the health of your company culture. Here are a few best practices for creating transparency and employee engagement through your communication practices.
Never Stop Communicating the Mission and Vision
You hire employees based on their skills and they use these skills to complete tasks in exchange for money. This is employment at face value. However, if you want your team to share your passion and buy into the startup, you need to share your vision and mission for the future.
“I used to think [your mission statement] was something you buried in your website and never looked at again,” says David Henzel, CEO at Upcoach and one of the speakers at the October SaaStock 2022 conference in Dublin. “But it is actually the best management tool for your business. It is important to have a clear vision and mission on where you are going and who you are doing it for, and core values hold everybody accountable and walking in the same direction.”
Your SaaS company has a greater chance to succeed when your employees are working not just for money and career development but also because they believe in your vision. They will work harder to come up with creative solutions and develop smarter ways of getting work done. This is what it means to have a team behind you, not just a staff of people working around you.
“As the founder and CEO, your responsibility is actually to not only paint that mission and set the vision, but it’s also to remind people,” says Dan Martell, founder of SaaS Academy. “And trust me, you’re going to feel like there are times where you’re explaining yourself over and over…almost on a daily basis.”
Excitement is contagious. If you are passionate about the company’s mission and your plans for the future, the people around you will start to believe in them, too.
Establish Internal Communication Processes
In addition to sharing the company’s vision with employees, SaaS founders have to convey important internal information to the organization. This is easy when your entire staff can fit into a conference room but creates challenges when you start to scale. It is never too early to create clear processes for communication.
Henzel references the concept of “Problem 25” in regard to startup growth. This is the idea that after you exceed 25 people on staff, you need to put proper systems in place. You can’t run your startup like the Wild West where everyone does their own thing and comes together for meetings. Good communication requires structure.
There is no excuse for not establishing communication processes as you start to scale. You are wasting your time and the time of your employees by ignoring the need for processes or stating that you lack the time and ability to create them just yet.
“Most organizations will find that they don’t have the time to not create and follow processes,” says Dougal Cameron, director at seed stage venture investment group Golden Section. “The positive benefits of preventing downstream errors alone will more than make up for the inconvenience of an extra meeting or writing meeting minutes.”
These processes include building organizational hierarchies, creating safe channels for employees to submit complaints, developing internal newsletters and implementing feedback systems.
“Without an effective flow of information within an organization, you cannot build workplace culture which is crucial for building trust,” writes digital strategist Hannah Ross in an article at meeting productivity software provider Fellow.app. “Internal communication influences day-to-day operations, team alignment, employee experience, and even talent retention.”
As a scaling SaaS brand, it is likely that you will continue to develop new processes as the need for them arises while modifying existing plans when you outgrow them.
Build Cascading Communication Strategies
One process you may want to invest in is cascading meetings or briefings. While there is a time and place for all-hands discussions, most information will be communicated from the founder down. A cascaded plan allows firms to make sure each employee is aware of important news and clear on what it means.
“Cascade team briefing is a disciplined way of transmitting information down through the organization’s management chain,” explains Andy Wild, head of talent management at the Oetiker Group. “Starting with the most senior team, using a standard briefing pack, they hold a two-way discussion – it’s a good way for teams to really digest the changes and it also enables feedback up through the organization.”
With this process, senior managers can ask questions that staff members will likely bring up. They can clarify new processes or company news. Senior leaders can also decide what they want to share with lower-level employees, balancing transparency with employee comfort and security.
“Deciding how much to share with your team is more art than science, but as a general rule, default to transparency,” says Michael Hyatt, author of “No-Fail Communication” and founder of the performance coaching company Full Focus. “Remember, secrecy breeds suspicion. Transparency builds trust.”
The cascading process of communication also allows employees to feel safe to ask questions. In fact, they might feel more comfortable voicing their concerns with their direct manager in a small team meeting (or even one-on-one) than in an environment where they need to speak in front of the entire organization.
Break Down Silos and Support All Team Members
Creating communication processes and establishing norms doesn’t mean you are building a straight siloed hierarchy. It can be hard when SaaS founders have to move out of the young, cool startup mentality where everyone has a literal seat at the table; however, as your business grows more complex, different employees and teams won’t have the knowledge to contribute insights on various issues.
You can still build a SaaS company culture that encourages people to participate in discussions and speak up. You can empower even the newest and least-experienced employees to contribute good ideas.
“The best teams are not authoritarian where new members are afraid to speak up, but rather ones that promote conversation across all seniority levels,” says Vishwastam Shukla, CTO at HackerEarth. “Open communication is a proven and time-tested way to boost morale among team members while dialing up both efficiency and productivity.”
Internal communication should allow employees to connect and share information up the chain of command: they can ask questions, voice concerns, and share ideas. As participants and not just recipients, news doesn’t only cascade down. Look for opportunities for different teams to learn about each other and connect on a social and professional level.
“As an organization gets bigger, it gets harder for various groups to meet,” writes Portfolio Insider’s Noah Mitsuhashi. “While they might pass questions back and forth, they likely won’t be eating lunch together or sitting next to each other. This is why non-work activities are critical.”
Mitsuhashi discourages “mandatory” team bonding time and instead encourages companies to let employees design their own groups around common interests. This way (for example) an employee who doesn’t drink or who needs to leave early to care for their kids doesn’t get left out of company happy hour events.
Check for Understanding
Internal communication doesn’t just focus on what is said, it includes checks to make sure the information is clear and understood. Are your employees mishearing you? Are they hearing it at all?
“The decoding portion of communication is where many communication errors can occur,” says B2B and SaaS analyst Nestor Gilbert, a senior writer at FinancesOnline. “That is why it is crucial to make sure that when you are communicating more complex information that you have points where you can check for understanding.”
This means you may need to convey information multiple times in different ways through different formats. It means introducing a concept at a meeting and then following up with the same information in an email. It means sharing information with a large group of people and then creating spaces for small groups of employees to ask questions. These are the checks and balances of internal communication.
“Be a parrot,” Henzel advises. “Repeat stuff over and over. Once you are sick of saying it, people will start to listen to it.” Henzel says this is particularly important when conveying your mission and values to the organization.
Every relationship and friendship comes with its own communication problems, and the same can be said for every company. You might have successful internal processes in some areas but struggle to communicate in others. Maintain a growth mindset with your internal communication. Your company is never too small to build processes — and those processes are never too new (or too entrenched) to modify. This will help you evolve your operations to effectively engage employees.
Images by: fizkes/©123RF.com, langstrup/©123RF.com, Jason Goodman, Mapbox
Our return to Dublin will bring with it many ways you can connect with likeminded people and peers in SaaS. Find out 10 ways how we’re facilitating human connections (not just meetings) at SaaStock 2022 in Dublin. Read our blog post.
Get your tickets to SaaStock 2022 in Dublin this October, to experience:
“The best SaaS conference for SaaS founders, VCs and execs in Europe. Period.” – Christoph Janz, Managing Partner, Point Nine