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Monday, 23 November 2015 11:52

Gems: Start With The Home Team First

Linda Moir led the frontline event services team at the London Olympic and Paralympic Games where 15,000 volunteers hosted nine million spectators. Here - as part of the IoIC's series of gems on 'the most important thing I've learned about IC' - she discusses the negative repercussions of employees hearing about important organisation news from external media first.

‘I see your lot are in trouble’ a friend of mine was told in the pub when his company announced a withdrawal from part of their business in the Evening Standard. The next day a fantastic face-to-face internal communications programme rolled into action in said company but too late. They had left their people exposed and rather than being company advocates they joined the throng of critics.

The most important thing I have learnt about internal communication is that the very worst thing you can do is allow your people to read about something in the press or on the web before they hear it from inside the business. This sounds so ridiculously obvious yet my best guess is that the majority of ‘breaking company news’ is read about on Twitter or the BBC home page rather than the internal company channels.

When you work for an organisation, especially a high profile one, friends, family and people in bus queues expect you to be knowledgable on all things to do with that company (and often that industry) The more confident staff can be in demonstrating organisation knowledge, the more likely they are to be real advocates for the organisation. Our Olympic and Paralympic Games Makers were a tremendous example of this; they took it as a personal challenge to change the minds of the cynical British public on all things Olympic and how right they were!

There are often lots of objections to treating staff as the priority audience; the PR Director wants the story to have impact, the Sales Director wants to brief the top customers first and even the Finance Director can quote stock market rules. There are endless places to hide. In my experience, however, all this can be overcome if there is a will and an understanding that communication with the home team first is non negotiable. The internal communications team should join forces with HR to drive this point home.

When British Airways changed its company branding a few years ago there was a lot of discussion inside the company about whether the staff should be briefed before the press. I am delighted to say the right argument won and nearly 20,000 British Airways people saw the new logo and livery before it was announced to the press. Not one of those people leaked what was commercially sensitive information. Case proven!

Linda Moir works with high-profile organisations through consulting and conference speaking to drive high levels of customer service.

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Published in Resources & Guides
Monday, 23 November 2015 11:54

Gems: Simplicity On Sustainability

Ben Richards, head of sustainability at Radley Yeldar, shares the ‘most important thing I’ve learned about internal communication’ as part of the Institute’s ‘gems’ series.

Sustainability offers internal communicators a great opportunity to add colour and texture to communications, and we often find that shared interest around environmental or social issues, big and small, can be the ‘glue’ that binds together diverse audiences or geographies within your organisation. However, it’s not without its challenges. Finding a way to describe your approach in a way that makes specialist content meaningful for generalist audiences can be tricky, but over the years we’ve learned a few techniques to make sustainability communications really engaging.

One of our values at Radley Yeldar is simplicity – and that’s the one big thing to bear in mind for any organisation looking to make more of its communications on environmental or social topics. This simplicity can be considered from a number of different angles, some of which are explored below.

A clear story

Constructing a clear story about what sustainability means for your business, and why it makes a difference, is essential if you’re going to communicate in a way that’s relevant to your people. Keeping the story simple will help to keep sustainability communications memorable, and will often help to bring together a range of sustainability issues your organisation is managing.

Good sustainability stories also connect sustainability with business strategy and brand narratives, showing how these issues relate to core business. And, in partnership with you sustainability team, the story should also make reference to the four or five issues you really want people to understand or act on.

Watch your language

Carefully chosen language is another dimension to consider to keep sustainability communications simple. Where possible, we recommend that clients avoid entering the debate around what sustainability – or corporate responsibility – or CSR – means. People bring their own baggage to these words, so removing this barrier by relating specific environmental or social issues directly back to business strategy or brand makes it easier for people to see how everything fits together.

One way around this is by ‘badging’ sustainability programmes – which is something lots our clients ask us about after the success of programmes like Marks & Spencer’s Plan A or O2’s Think Big. These ‘big idea’ campaign names can be really effective at signposting sustainability communications – acting as a shorthand for the collection of issues you want people to focus on (which is particularly useful for time-poor audiences. That said, do watch out for wordplay if you choose to badge your sustainability programme, particularly in global organisations where a clever pun might be lost in translation.

Include a call to action

Sustainability communications can fail to engage people without a simple, clearly signposted call to action. To make your sustainability communications as hard-working as possible, always try to include a relevant and achievable call to action. Showing how the topic you’re discussing is relevant to your organisation and giving people permission to contribute can help to build engagement – as can reporting back to show momentum or illustrate impact.

As mentioned in the introduction to this piece, there are many benefits to talking about sustainability. Ultimately, good communications drive better performance on sustainability issues – which in turn, should add value to your business (provided the right issues are talked about in the first place). Moreover, sustainability communications help you to articulate your brand’s purpose, bringing your people together around a common cause.

Want to join in the discussion? Tweet about the most important thing you’ve learned about internal comms with #ioicgems or comment at IoIC's LinkedIn company page

Published in Resources & Guides
Monday, 23 November 2015 12:50

Gems: Beware The Perils Of Not Communicating

Cary L. Cooper CBE is distinguished professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University Management School and co-author of The High Engagement Work Culture: Balancing Me and We (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). Here he considers key aspects of communicating change in the latest of IoIC’s ‘most thing important thing I’ve learned about internal communication’ series.

The former US President Ronald Reagan once quipped “I’ve always believed that a lot of the troubles in the world would disappear if we were talking to each other instead of about each other”. This particularly applies to internal communications within an organisation.

In many employee surveys across the private and public sector, there is a common refrain from employees: “communications within the organisation are poor or non-existent”. This is particularly the case since the credit crunch, downturn or turbulent times, whichever euphemism you care to use.

In many organisations now, there are fewer people, doing heavier workloads, feeling very job insecure and with increasing organisational restructurings, downsizings and delayering. These latter changes lead to rumours and concerns about job security.

As Machiavelli wrote in The Prince “It should be borne in mind that there is nothing more difficult to arrange, more doubtful of success and more dangerous to carry through than initiating change…the innovator makes enemies of all those who prospered under the old order, and only lukewarm support is forthcoming from those who would prosper under the new”.

Given that ‘change is here to stay’, the importance of communicating accurately and honestly about its consequences is now a high priority for anybody managing the internal communication strategy.

Unfortunately, many senior executives are resistant, in these difficult times, to own up to the potential negative consequences of their change agenda, but it is better to be honest than have to deal with the fallout of saying one thing and doing another. In the latter circumstances, the credibility of senior management is undermined, and any attempt in the future to initiate change or get ‘buy-in’ is forfeited.

Internal communications is now a vital tool in preventing rumour-mongering, to get ownership of change, and to enable people to feel engaged in the direction of movement of the organisation, even if some of the messages might temporarily frighten some. It is better to know the reality, so that people can take control, plan and develop their own personal strategies for their career in an environment of ‘trust’ rather than ‘spin’ and deceit.

More than ever before, honest and open communication is vital to create the kind of organisational culture that engages the staff and gets them to own and help create the change that will take their organisation forward.

Want to join in the discussion? Tweet about the most important thing you’ve learned about internal comms with#ioicgems or comment at IoIC's LinkedIn company page

Published in Resources & Guides
Monday, 23 November 2015 13:09

Gems: Don't Lose Sight Of The Business Goals

Neil Jenkins, director of internal and digital communications at Coca-Cola Enterprises (@neil_jenkins on Twitter), reflects on the ‘most important thing I’ve learned about internal communication’ in the latest of the Institute's series of 'gems'.

You’ve probably heard the story a million times. While visiting NASA in the 1960s, President John F Kennedy asks a cleaner what his job is and the man replies: “I’m helping to put a man on the moon.”

Apocryphal or not, I would argue it’s the essence of what we as internal communicators are here to do: help people understand how they help their organisation to meet its objectives. And it’s a rule that I believe we should apply to everything we deliver for our organisation. How is our work helping the business to succeed?

Chatter, our internal social network at Coca-Cola Enterprises, wouldn’t have come close to lift-off last year without a strong business case. It’s hard to launch just because social is the latest communications craze. Business leaders want to know how it supports their strategic goals. And we have to know the business well enough to understand those goals and what we can do to support them.

For us, there were two clear drivers. First, our business is operating much more in the digital world – selling our products online is becoming as important as from a supermarket or café. Our employees need to be more familiar with this environment and its commercial opportunities. Second, we’d like them to be more productive. Like a lot of organisations, we suffer from information overload. Many of our people are field-based and can struggle to keep up. We needed a way for them to share information and best practice more quickly and effectively, especially on the move.

Even with clear goals identified, senior leaders may still need convincing that a social network is the right solution. Mention ‘social media’ to some and it still conjures up images of employees whiling away precious company time on Facebook or YouTube. So take time to do the research. Ask as many people as you can what difference your solution will make to them. Before we even approached our leaders, we put in hundreds of hours of measurement to be sure we could demonstrate we weren’t proposing a solution on a whim.

High-level support is critical, as is the right governance structure to get decisions made. Digital communications at Coca-Cola Enterprises is governed by senior executives representing all areas of the business, including members of the CEO’s team. Their endorsement gave our own project confidence and credibility, as did the moment when one of our VPs spoke at our annual leadership conference about Chatter shortly after it went live. It was powerful having a respected commercial leader explain how it helps his teams to share best practice, and him to visibly recognise their efforts. Don’t underestimate the importance of champions who will support your solution and say how it benefits the business.

Even once you’ve made it to the launch pad, don’t assume that your people will get it or use it, just because you do. We’ve never positioned Chatter as a sexy new way of communicating – we had to talk their language and focus on how it helps them achieve their goals on the ground. For us, it’s all about making people’s jobs easier, faster and better. This was an important message, especially for any sceptical line managers who may have seen it as the exact opposite, a time-waster.

Our own launch, in February 2012, couldn’t have gone much better. Thousands of our people signed up within weeks and we got extra rocket fuel a few months later from the Olympics, when hundreds of them used Chatter as a way to share their experiences of supporting the Games. This went beyond our expectations – yet as magical as the Olympics were, it was only one stage of the journey. Since then, we’ve been working to put Chatter at the heart of our field-based teams’ working day and to improve opportunities for it to be used in our manufacturing plants, where nearly half of our people work and for whom digital access isn’t as easy. And each time, conversations with business leaders in those areas begin with the same line as they did nearly two years ago, when we were first starting out: “What is it that you need to achieve?”

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Published in Resources & Guides

Jonathan Nicholls, research director at Ipsos MORI, shares recent research insights in the latest in the Institute’s series of ‘gems’.

Generation Y – that digitally literate group born in the eighties (see chart below) – have been getting a lot of attention from both employers and comms leads. For some, the question is, “If they’re so different, how do we engage them: how do we keep our Gen Y talent?” For others, the more compelling question is “Do Gen Y even exist – or are they simply a marketing construct?”

So, two contrasting views. Recent Ipsos MORI research attempts to shed light on which view is right.
The case for...

Well, Gen Y certainly feel different! Brought up in the sea of social media, and believing knowledge is a few clicks away through Google and Wikipedia (rather than built through years of graft, as we old timers quaintly maintain!), they seem disconcertingly sure of themselves. As Professor Roger Carpenter from the University of Cambridge notes, “What is enviable is the self-confidence that comes from not recognising their limited abilities” (Guardian, 21 June 13).

And certainly our own Gen Y research (A New Reality: Government and the Ipod Generation) highlights some distinctive features about Gen Y:

• They’re less loyal: 38% want to work for as many organisations as possible during their career, versus only 25% of Gen X
• They’re more likely to see social responsibility as important (45% v 38% of Gen X)
• And they expect employers to welcome their opinions: “Why would an employer not want someone confident, who can stand up for themselves?”
The case against...

But does this really make Gen Y a distinct group – with different attitudes and different ways of communicating? Isn’t it simply a case of people’s views shifting as they get older? Wasn’t everyone like that when they were younger? Didn’t we all want to move around different jobs when we were first in the workplace? Didn’t the Baby Boomers have their own take on social responsibility (CND and Greenham Common, anyone?) Didn’t we all think we were invincible – and right – when we were in our 20s?



Ipsos Generations

To resolve these competing views, a recent Ipsos MORI study looked at how public attitudes have changed over the last thirty years (www.ipsos-mori-generations.com).

Is it just that people’s attitudes change as they get older?

Or is there something deeper at work: are there real differences in attitude from one generation to the next?

Our analysis clearly shows real generational differences exist.

For instance, despite Gen Y caring about social responsibility, they are far less likely than older generations to support a political party.

And the older generations did support political parties even in their twenties. So Gen Y’s lack of support for political parties isn’t because they are young. It’s because they’re different to the older generations.

Similarly, there’s the cliché that as you get older, you become more “right wing”.

Our Generations analysis supports this: as every generation has got older, support for welfare spending has declined.

But looking at where the other generations started from, it’s clear it’s more than that: it’s not just that people get more “right wing”; Gen Y also started more “right wing”..





So what does this mean for engaging Generation Y?

So Gen Y is not simply marketing spin.

They are different – and employers and comms leads do need to think about how they engage them.

It’s quite an ask:

• How do you appeal to people who combine being right-wing, un-politicised and socially conscious?
• How do you engage people who are more interested in their horizontal peer networks than in career paths in your vertical organisation?

A key starting point is to get more specific. Our analysis shows overall generational shifts, but despite media attention on “Generation Y” as an entity, they’re not one homogenous group. Gen Y in, say, the retail, media and service sectors will be very different: the nuances of needs, wants and aspirations will differ across every sector – as will each sector’s ability to meet those expectations. So if you don’t want to lose your Gen Y talent, you could do worse than start by exploring, “What do the aspirations of Gen Y look like in my sector?”

Want to join in the discussion? Tweet about the most important thing you’ve learned about internal comms with #ioicgems or comment at IoIC's LinkedIn company page



Published in Resources & Guides

Lee Smith is co-founder of Gatehouse, an international consultancy specialising in employee communication, engagement and change. Here he shares the ‘most important thing I’ve learned about internal communication’ in the latest in the Institute series of ‘gems’.

The wi-fi signal in my mum’s new house won't reach the kitchen. Apparently, modern homes have foil-coated plasterboard – which is good for the planet, but bad for your iPad.

The fix is a wi-fi repeater. It's a small gadget that plugs into the wall and repeats the signal, extending the range.

Like my mum, communication leaders inside large organisations are finding their 'signal strength' isn't what it used to be. Their messages no longer reach all corners of their world as they find themselves grappling with their own signal-destroyers like email overload, employee cynicism, gossip and rumour.

What I’ve learned over the years is that the solution – indeed the very key to great internal communication – is to invest in their own signal boosters, namely line managers.

Line managers are, for me, the single most critical part of the communication mix. They are the people who make the link between what’s gets said and what gets done; who unlock engagement and stimulate behaviour change. They are also the people who, if they’re not on side, can undermine your best efforts. Yet they remain one of the most overlooked and under-utilised dimensions of employee communication.

The military mastered complex organisational communication a long time ago. In most large organisations messages decay as they cascade, but in the military commands actually clarify as they trickle down. The result is troops who know exactly what they need to do to move forward.

In their book Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath outline the concept of Commanders Intent – where orders take shape as they're passed down the chain of command. Messages start out simple and strategic: "Occupy the capital". Then, colonels and captains fill in the details. "Have the 1st Royal Tank Regiment approach the city from the East and secure the airport and the power station."

Sadly, what happens in most organisations is more akin to a game of Chinese whispers.

Hertz, the car hire company, has 24,000 employees in 113 countries and most of them are too busy serving customers to check their email. As a result much of the responsibility for communication rests on the shoulders of managers. Those managers receive some core material from the corporate centre to share, but are given considerable freedom to decide on and shape what’s most relevant to their teams. Like the military, it appears to works well.

It sounds simple, but getting it right isn’t easy. We have conducted dozens of internal communication audits over the years and one of the most consistent findings is a weakness around line managers. All too often they are the missing link – the ingredient that, if added, would move an organisation’s internal comms from average to great.

There are a number of reasons for this continued poor performance. As a profession we are still too focused on messages and tactics –more concerned about the stuff we send out than we are about equipping and supporting others. As a result we tend to treat managers as ventriloquist’s dummies – seeing their role as merely to pass on our messages and keep the cascade flowing downhill. That’s shortsighted.

When we work with our clients on improve line manager communication we focus our efforts in five key areas, which we refer to as FASTT:



  1. FIT– ensuring there is clarity about the role of managers within the overall communication mix and where they fit as part of an integrated channel framework.
  2. ACCOUNTABILITY – hardwiring communication and engagement into managers’ roles. If it gets measured it gets done.
  3. SKILLS –building line managers’ communication knowledge and skills.
  4. TARGET – engaging managers as you want them to engage others. This means treating them as a distinct and special audience by, for instance, giving them early warning on upcoming developments.
  5. TOOLS –providing managers with the right materials and the right toolkit.

I believe that only by focusing on all five areas can we successfully address the challenge of line manager communication and ensure those in the middle amplify, rather than deaden, the signal.

It's cliché, but no matter how good your business plan is, it’s the people ‘doing the do’ who will ultimately make it a success or drive it into the ground.


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Published in Resources & Guides
Monday, 23 November 2015 14:39

Gems: It's Not All About Me

IoIC Board member and change communication specialist Justine Stevenson reflects on the ‘most important thing I’ve learned about internal communication’ in this latest in the Institute’s series of ‘gems’.

Too many times when I’m working with teams on their communication strategy I hear: ‘I want them to….’; ‘I think they need….’; ‘I need to tell them….’ Which is entirely understandable but, when you analyse it, a curious stance from which to start. Why would anyone be interested in receiving communication about something that I need or want?

So my advice when working with teams on their plans and strategies, always comes back to that key question….’Why?’ Why do they need to know; Why is this the right way to tell them; Why would they bother to take any notice of what you are telling them?

I’m not pretending it’s easy. We’re programmed to put our own thoughts and feelings first and one thing that we are all experts on is what we know and believe. It’s sometimes really difficult to put ourselves in the shoes of others and adopt their point of view. This is especially difficult in complex organisations with multiple audiences and where the information needing dissemination is technical or even routine.

And we are very adept at assuming that what we have to say is blatantly obvious and easily understood by others (even if they have no background or previous knowledge of the subject).

I’m not saying that this ‘me first’ approach will never work, but experience tells me that you’re likely to have a better result if you take that step over the line and try and get inside the head of your audience.

And if I am allowed one additional learning, increasingly I have recognised the benefit of measurement. I won’t write at length as Alex Aiken has already outlined the importance of being able to measure the impact of what we do in his post in this series, but increasingly as our profession becomes more established and confident about what we are here to achieve, the more effort we need to put into defining appropriate measures and confidently demonstrating the value that internal communication brings to a business.

Want to join in the discussion? Tweet about the most important thing you’ve learned about internal comms with #ioicgems or comment at IoIC's LinkedIn company page

Published in Resources & Guides

Emma Leech is Director of Marketing, Communications and Recruitment at the University of Nottingham and IoIC’s Internal Communicator of the Year 2012. Here she shares her thoughts on the ‘most important thing I’ve learned about learned internal communication’ in the latest in the Institute’s series of ‘gems’.

Excellence in internal communication is the Holy Grail of the communications industry. The quest is to find the perfect balance between the strategic and the operational, to fuse engagement with empowerment, and to harness information to support culture change and organisational success.

For me, good internal communications depend on governance and information flow (you can’t communicate without a message and ownership of the message), a flexible and accessible range of platforms and channels, and an instinctive understanding of people.

Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned over the years is that you can manage information and develop creative and exciting channels, but understanding people is often intuitive, volatile and strategically challenging.

“The people thing” is still a mystery to many in senior management. When you live and breathe strategy and your focus is on driving and developing the organisation, it can be difficult to remember that those further down the organisation have different priorities. Change at the senior level equals opportunity, strategy shifts, major new developments and organisational change. Further down the hierarchy, change more often prompts uncertainty and anxiety – will jobs be impacted? What will I be doing if my role changes? Where will I sit? How will I be managed?

Human nature is instinctive – when change is perceived as a threat, our survival instincts kick in. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a must for fans of models and diagrams, is a brilliant blueprint for starting to map reactions to our needs and desires. It’s human nature in the shape of a pyramid and a great starting point for understanding how people react if you’ve ever struggled with “the people thing”.

A good internal communicator has to balance scoping the positives (and supporting them strategically) with understanding worst case scenarios, grass-roots perceptions and probable responses. Our job is to listen, engage, prepare and often moderate the conversation whilst gaining senior management buy-in not only to ensure success, but to prevent potential failure.

Listening is a crucial skill and one that is essential to our craft. We also need to have the confidence to ask difficult questions of our peers and senior colleagues. Courage is not an optional extra either – listening, feeding back and questioning decisions and drivers can be uncomfortable at times but to do the job effectively you must have the courage of your convictions when it comes to probing the detail. A previous boss once asked me why I “chose to be difficult” and to “ask such awkward questions”. My response was simple. “Better that I ask the questions now so we can think about the answers and improve our strategy, than wait for the same questions to be asked by our staff, the media and our stakeholders”.

Good communications are rooted in honesty. Being authentic isn’t an optional add-on. Clarity, simplicity and truthfulness are crucial to all that we do and listening – to all involved – is important in understanding not only how to craft a message and engage with feedback but in anticipating outputs, actions and responses. Listen, observe, understand and empathise.

The author Dan Brown once said: “Men go to far greater lengths to avoid what they fear than to obtain what they desire.” To a large extent this is part of human nature. If we can understand fears and reservations, as well as hopes and dreams, we can communicate authentically and in a way which will be valued by stakeholders. And that’s the most important thing I’ve learned about internal communication.

Want to join in the discussion? Tweet about the most important thing you’ve learned about internal comms with #ioicgems or comment at IoIC's LinkedIn company page

Published in Resources & Guides

Viral change pioneer Leandro Herrero shares his thoughts on the ‘most important thing I’ve learned about internal communication’ in the latest in the Institute’s series of ‘gems’.

This is the most important thing I’ve learned about internal communication: domesticate it at your peril. A couple of years ago I was invited to speak about informal networks at a conference. The conference was organised with a great deal of sponsorship from vendors of digital tools to collaborate; to imitate an internal Facebook; provide enterprise micro-blogging etc.

Since every other speaker seemed to be ready to praise the unlimited power and unbounded benefits of internal social networks, I replied to the organisers with my suggestion to speak about the risk of domestication of internal communications and the potential liabilities of tool-driven conversations. I think I used the word straightjacket to describe the need to talk, collaborate and discuss via a specific tool. It had never happened before and it has never happened since but I found myself ‘de-invited’ to speak. When my staff double checked about a possible ‘lost in translation’ effect, we could confirm that this is what it was: a ‘de-invitation’. My naivety took me to write to the CEO of the professional association (or is it a club?) requesting some modest clarifications. Two years later I am still waiting for that email back.

Leaving aside issues of business etiquette, this episode told me about the difficulties of going against the tide and pointing to the ‘problems of communications’ in a business culture, mainly Anglo Saxon, where communication is always portrayed as unequivocally good. In fact, we have been taught that ‘you never communicate enough’ and leaders should ‘communicate, communicate, communicate’.

But internal communications is a delicate affair. It is not as simple as the mechanics of messaging through a top-down spaghetti highway system. There is a significant percentage of the internal communication flow in organisations which should be left alone, allowed to be fluid, defined as ‘of unclear purpose’. This un-managed flow is the oxygen of the organisation. Domesticate it and then the air gets contaminated. The problem is that the border between facilitating those conversations via a digital social platform and suffocating them is very thin. Many well recognised and solid digital platforms used today under the broad name of Enterprise Social Networks (ESN) have an initial peak of activity and then decline and fade. The more one intervenes with force (‘everybody to post a story every week’), the more antibodies are created and a spiral of decay takes over.

Acknowledging that internal communications are mainly spontaneous, informal, emergent and ‘lacking focus’ (the latter when assessed by the ROI or KPI police) is a good starting point from which to switch to facilitating, enabling, even scaling up with technology. The more the starting point is ‘here is the new ESN, we shall use it’, the greater the risk of underuse and fiasco.

Many of these observations should be pretty obvious but given the tremendous appeal of ‘the tools’ it is worth remembering that those tools are not an end in themselves. These days, when confronted with a potential ESN which is brought to us as a solution-vehicle for the communications arm of any of my change programmes, the first question I ask myself is: what is the domestication index of that beast?

And still waiting for that email back ….

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Published in Resources & Guides
Monday, 23 November 2015 14:53

Gems: Employee Voice Is A Crucial Dimension

Peter Cheese, chief executive at the CIPD, shares his thoughts on the ‘most important thing I’ve learned about internal communication’ in the latest in IoIC’s series of ‘gems’.

The world of work is changing at a rapid pace – in terms of what we do, where we do it, the technologies we use and the relationships that exist between employers and employees. All this means that the context for internal communications is taking on new dimensions – not just because new technologies open up new channels, but also because expectations between employer and employee are evolving and the environment in which we all operate, whether organisational, economic, or social, is also changing at a rapid pace. Clear, open, consistent and regular internal communications have never been more important.

In my world, the world of HR, a crucial dimension of internal communication is employee voice. CIPD research has shown that the two most important drivers of employee engagement identified are providing staff with the opportunity to feed views upwards, and keeping staff well-informed about what is happening in the organisation. In other words, internal communication must be seen in both directions, not just top down. The context for employee voice has taken on a critical edge in recent times with the series of scandals and revelations about poor organisational behaviours and cultures, and what has been termed whistle blowing. In my view, whistle blowing is the ultimate outcome of poor internal communication, and the actions of desperation where employees feel they are not being heard or management doesn’t want to listen.

In the not so distant past, internal communication was all about delivering a message to your staff, while employee voice was often seen to be about a ‘collective’ representation, for example on pay and conditions, and in that context was often channelled through trade unions. Now, as more and more social communications channels open up, individual employees can more easily engage and communicate directly with one another and with their employer, meaning internal communication functions today need to be just as good at listening as they are at talking. Some employers ‘welcome’ this shift with fear and trepidation, but the most savvy employers, just like savvy marketers, are recognising the opportunities that multi-way communications afford. Good two-way communication can help to build the psychological contract, in which employees feel valued by their employer, and the employer values (and is seen to value) their employees’ contributions. What’s more, by opening up channels for employee voice, employers not only get the opportunity to deal with staff concerns before they escalate, but also get to hear new ideas that may help drive the business forward.

In my experience, the most effective internal communication strategies are implemented much like external communication strategies, with due consideration to core messages, audiences and channels. Social media opens up a wealth of opportunities, but brings its own challenges in terms of finding ways to use each channel appropriately. We should all be wary of relying on any one channel alone, remembering that one of the most effective and impactful channels is still face to face. The value of staff forums and advisory groups, and the old axiom of ‘managing by walking about’, are not diminished in our modern world, and indeed arguably have become even more important. There are many issues of trust, or uncertainty and concern in the face of rapid change, and there is no better way to really communicate and connect with employees at all levels than by talking with them.

All the potential channels of internal communication should allow direct connections between staff, cutting through the traditional hierarchies and structures. Too often messages get diluted or even changed through a series of ‘Chinese whispers’ where messages are percolated down through each level of an organisation, or indeed back up.

Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned, however, is that internal communication and external communication strategies must be developed in tandem to build employee trust and engagement. What my staff hear me say inside the organisation must be consistent with my external narrative and my day-to-day actions and behaviours, from how we talk about strategy, to how we talk about purpose and values and the change programmes we are going through. The external customer brand and values should be consistent with internal employee brand and values and vice versa. If we can accomplish all of that, then we will have made a major step towards an engaged, open and aligned culture for our organisation.

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Published in Resources & Guides
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  • 28th June 2022
    Head of membership at CIPD and former IoIC board member Oli Howard has recently joined our impressive list of internal communicators who have received Fellowships. Here, he shares some valuable...
  • 21st June 2022
    Our latest IoIC Fellow Joanna Parsons, head of internal communications & culture with teamwork, discusses overcoming a case of imposter syndrome, being a “silo surfer” and the impact...
  • 14th June 2022
    After over 20 years of working in internal comms, Jo Bland, head of strategic engagement and internal communications at NHS Digital, has received a Fellowship in the profession. She tells us why...
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