Effective internal communications often sets successful companies apart from those doomed to failure. Not every person on your team is a skilled communicator, and let’s face it, depending on what your company does, there’s a good chance nobody’s a natural at communication. For Dave Cumberland of Axios HQ, a software company that spun off from the media outlet in 2022, improving his team’s communication has meant turning to a new source — generative AI.
Every industry, technology and company is moving faster than ever — and effective communication is the skill that separates the successes from the ones that struggle.
Most leaders do not start their career focused on communication or as naturally gifted communicators; I know I didn’t start that way. And lots of leaders think of communication as a fleeting art, something nurtured over a lifetime and possible only from a select few. And while that may be true for the comms leaders among us who can build an organization’s entire strategy, the day-to-day writing of effective words — the material that help us lead teams, influence stakeholders, plan roadmaps — can be a lot more structured, scientific and predictable than we think.
That structure can be as satisfying as shipping code. But the problem is we rarely think about communication that way. So, we don’t engage our people as effectively as we could. They get lost in waterfalls of data, email, updates and documents. And they don’t have any way of knowing which matter, how to use them, where they should step up or where to step back. That’s creating chaos.
The cool thing I’ve watched unfold while leading our team building AI tools, and watching our customers use them to communicate, is how much we can get out of our own way if we just start with a structure. For tech, it can be as simple as engineering the right prompt. For leaders, it’s embracing generative AI for what it is — an assistant — and letting it set an early draft, or structure, for them to improve.
AI tools have helped us structure thinking, simplify but strengthen communications, keep teams better aligned and save more the scarcest resource everyone’s fighting for: time. But it’s running out.
The urgent need for clarity, brevity and context in internal communications
A 2023 study from Microsoft shows employees are spending 23% of their week in meetings, 19% using chat tools like Teams and 15% sending and replying to emails. And 60% of leaders say they’re seeing a sag in strategic thinking and innovation right alongside it.
Worse, stressed and stretched employees say they aren’t getting the clarity and input they need to stay focused or be effective. Harvard Business Review, reporting on Gartner data, calls it an “information burden” that causes employees to waste almost 3.5 hours each week because communications are:
- Duplicative: 57% of employees and managers say they often receive multiple communications about the same or similar topics simultaneously.
- Irrelevant: 47% say the communications they get are unrelated to their daily responsibilities.
- Intensive: 38% say they have to do extra work to keep up with the information they receive.
- Inconsistent: 33% say that the company communications they receive are often conflicting.
Now flip that story around. When organizations proactively address these challenges and enhance the quality and consistency of their internal communication, they see performance spike across the board:
- Better employee engagement: Employees who get enough information to do their job well are 2.8x more likely to be engaged, and business units with engaged teams see 23% higher profits.
- Greater team alignment with leader vision: When employees get daily feedback from their manager, they’re 2.1x more likely to trust their leadership.
- Stronger independent decision-making: In the workplace, faster decision-making and execution have a direct tie to higher returns.
- Better collaboration: Nearly 80% of workers at collaborative organizations say they feel well-prepared for challenges, and 55% report growth in their revenue.
Generative AI stands to be a force multiplier helping leaders get their thoughts down, documented and 80% of the way to finished, faster — so they can spend their time on the higher-order thinking that is the remaining 20% editing and enhancing that only they can do. AI becomes their assistant in boosting not just communication but culture and productivity because everyone is being served better information, faster.
How generative AI is creating stronger teams and clearer communicators
Once people embrace it, generative AI has the power to play an interesting role in training them to be more direct and precise communicators. Think about all the qualities that make for an effective prompt when you’re trying to use a generative AI tool. You have to consider:
- Clarity and intent: It’s the cornerstone of any effective prompt. Before engaging AI, you need to have a strong handle on your goal or problem and a clear vision of your expected outcome for the AI model to have a chance at providing valuable responses.
- Context sensitivity: Human communication thrives on context. The same is true for generative AI. Well-crafted prompts include the context of your needs, drawing on previous requests or interactions. By exercising context sensitivity, you make it possible for the AI model to produce responses that are more personalized and relevant to you.
- Language and tone: Just as human communication varies by audience, prompts can be tailored to suit the language and tone of the organization. Striking the right balance between formal and informal ensures that the AI-generated response aligns with your voice and personality.
- Feedback loops: Prompt engineering is an iterative process. Encouraging feedback from team members helps fine-tune the prompts and enhances the AI model’s performance — making it more adept at generating valuable insights faster in the future.
Each one of those considerations could improve any type of communication, AI-powered or not — meetings, emails, presentations. If our colleagues are fundamentally challenged and encouraged not just to acknowledge communication best practices but also to actually practice them, we start to treat communication like the muscle we need to build and maintain rather than one that’s peaked.
When we’ve put this into practice, our most essential internal communications all got 40% shorter, on average, without sacrificing anything essential. It just made us all a lot more aware and intentional about what we shared, when and how. And we experienced many advantages across the organization:
- Less ad-hoc email: People have the clarity and context they need and can focus on execution.
- Fewer but higher quality meetings: Effective pre-reads help everyone come prepared, so the meeting can focus on solving problems and advancing on projects, rather than catching up.
- More informed and engaged colleagues: Smart, relevant communication leads to smart, relevant decision-making — and teams that appreciate the growth that comes with it.
- Faster, more aligned progress: When folks can stay focused on work that’s valuable to the organization and valued by leaders, they have more creative energy and bandwidth to offer.
The bottom line: Generative AI is radically transforming how organizations operate and communicate. And while it will never replace the long-term planning and critical thinking that only your team’s best minds can do — it can set them up for stronger and faster success. It can teach them modern skills. It can empower a workforce to work more efficiently. And it can create stronger, more productive teams.