top tips for communicating internally within professional services

By Natasha Gonsalves

,February 11, 2017

Our committee members regularly share their experience with us here. Today we hear from Natasha Gonsalves. Over to Natasha: 

Professional services firms provide specialist business support (eg. accounting, legal services, management advice) to businesses and organisations such as large corporations, small businesses or governments.

Some of the key characteristics of professional services firms include:
- may be a partnership ie. the firm’s owners (partners) work within the firm
- serves a range of clients such as large corporations and government organisations
- may traditionally be hierarchical in structure
- likely to adopt a highly professional approach to conducting business

These specific characteristics influence the communication approach needed. Internal communication professionals at Linklaters, a leading global law firm, have shared their tips for internal communication within professional services.
In a partnership, leadership communication is key.

As the owners of the firm (partners) work within the firm, an internal communication practitioner is likely to be responsible for advising senior leaders on communicating to peers; for example partners looking to build consensus with other partners, as well as communicating with the rest of the business.

There needs to be an emphasis on leadership communication to support partners striving to influence other partners to think/act in a particular way (as opposed to a more traditional command and control/top down approach seen in other types of organisations).
Plan ahead to account for the busyness of client-serving colleagues.

Client-serving professionals are extremely busy and may need to work ‘on the move’ or in client offices so they may filter or scan communications. Planning in advance and focusing on key messages can help you utilise every channel at your disposal to avoid the audience not receiving or understanding your message. Planning will also help you to consider timings – your aim may be to build momentum a few weeks in advance of an event/initiative but you risk people dismissing or forgetting messages communicated too far in advance.

Adopt a multi-channel approach – but avoid information overload
Communicate using a range of channels - both ‘pull’ channels and ‘push’ channels - to allow for personal preference; use all of the channels at your disposal. Establishing a dialogue between partners, client-serving professionals, and business support colleagues can be achieved by utilising two-way channels where feasible – examples include team meetings, briefing sessions, an enterprise social network (ESN).
Make use of local communication champions to help you reach employees across different functions/regions/practice groups
Utilise communication champions/local comms reps choosing peers of those colleagues you are targeting – these may be line managers or local partners. For example when launching a new internal scheme or programme (such as an employee engagement programme), work with the champions network to help them to understand the role they play in supporting communication across the firm, provide them with guidance and the right information, and prepare an FAQs document so they are equipped to answer questions. You can also use your champions to peer-review content/materials before it’s issued to avoid any local nuances (or errors) which could cause confusion.

Use a professional language and tone and tailor communications to the audience

Communicating to an audience of highly skilled professionals requires a professional tone and consistent style across communications – yet there is still the need to tailor the language to different audiences as necessary. For example communicating to lawyers or other specialists may require a different tone and different use of terminology to targeting audiences in support services. Audience segmentation can help you to identify different groups’ communication needs and preferences in terms of content, tone of voice, and channel. Creating a language style guide that offers guidance on terminology and tone for communicators (or anyone who needs to communicate), and channels guidance can help ensure effective communication as well as consistency across channels/materials.

Incorporate metrics in your measurement and evaluation tactics
Communicating within a law firm presents a measurement challenge as lawyers are great fans of facts and figures – they look for evidence. Having access to clear metrics (such as intranet hits) can help here in addition to supporting these with more qualitative data. Clearing defining metrics and gaining agreement on them with the project lead/owner at the start should help avoid the risk of people blaming communication for any project challenges or issues that occur.

We love to hear from our committee members and welcome guest posts from anyone working in and around internal communication. So if you have something to share please do get in touch. On email [email protected] or on twitter @ciprinside.