Empowering employees can reap many rewards for a company and its brands and often requires a structured and measured strategy around internal communications, writes Alan Tyrell.
Organisations with high levels of employee engagement have higher productivity, lower absenteeism, lower employee churn rates and higher profitability. These are among the reasons why progressive companies in banking, retail, food, pharma and every other sector are taking Internal Communication (IC) centre stage.
For marketers the internal brand is increasingly the key success factor in the marketplace – rather than thinking outside the box, marketers are focusing increasingly on getting the brand right inside the box first. Getting it right means building IC capability and creating a culture of trust where employees are empowered to reach their full potential.
What’s the right structure?
As with any other discipline, there is no silver bullet structure for your IC Team. What’s right for one company will be wrong for another company – even one in the same sector. PSG PLUS, working with its international partner K-Change, works with clients in many sectors to help them create or evolve their communication structure and strategy.
Getting structure right involves an initial assessment regarding the purpose and functionality of the IC team. In very simple terms the best IC teams operate on the following broad levels:
- Strategic IC – heavily focused on organisation culture, leadership development, HR comms, overall tone and direction of the brand and driving alignment between internal and external brand perceptions.
- Operational IC – the day-to-day communications around the orderly running of the business. The central function of the IC team is to ensure that operational comms are delivered consistently in a tone of voice that underpins the overall brand values and reputation of the organisation.
- Programme IC – focused on short or longer term projects including change management, new process implementation, restructuring (including redundancy programmes and scaling up).
The other questions that usually crop up are where to locate the IC function; who pays for it; how big does it need to be and what tools should it use.
The budget line will usually have to be paid for out of central or group budgets. However, the IC team can operate as an internal agency with project and billing fees for the work it undertakes.
The size of the team can vary across industry sector and depending on whether the organisation is multi-site with heavy operational comms support at each site. For larger organisations, a ratio based on the number of comms pros (internal and external) to total population is about 1:250
One of the most important roles for a high quality IC team is to be the conscience of the organisation. This means that IC teams need to work hard to build and retain trust at all levels and for that reason IC should never be positioned as part of the CEOs office. C-suite engagement for the IC team is vital but it must retain its independence – both real and perceived to be effective.
A culture of trust
Trust is hard won and easily lost. This applies as much, if not more, to internal relations as to external. Take any scandal in any sector in recent years and the damage to morale at the front line from breaches of trust by senior management is devastating for front line employees who then feel personally compromised when dealing with customers face-to-face.
When workplace trust is low, it breeds employee disinterest and disengagement. ‘The Inside Story’ is a new research report from PSG Plus (www.psgplus.ie) focusing on communications in the workplace and has identified some causes and outcomes of poor trust in the workplace.
On the key question of trust in the workplace, just 20% of employees fully trust their employer to keep them fully informed of important changes in their organisation.
This gap in trust and communication has a direct impact on company reputation externally too. On the question of recommending their employer to family and friends, just 17% of 25 to 34 year olds agree they always talk positively about the company they work for.
The Inside Story research also shows that just one in five people feel that everyone in the company they work for understands the company’s business objectives and their individual role in helping to achieve them. Communication that is consistent and genuinely focused on developing employees to reach their full potential is central to helping them understand and achieve their performance objectives.
Like all great strategies, the implementation is tough. Central to success is a consistent, clear and cohesive internal communication strategy. Opening up lines of communication at all levels of an organisation empowers employees and encourages increased engagement in their work.
Direct communication between a manager and their frontline team is the most effective force in bringing about changes in workplace behaviours. In fact, hearing about a change programme from a direct line manager has four times the impact of hearing it from a senior leader. Basing the IC strategy on the principles of being Simple, Actionable and Meaningful will achieve cut-through.
So, some tips for successful internal communications are listed below.
Communicate, communicate & communicate: Ensuring transparency and maintaining open lines of two-way communication is key to creating a happy, motivated workforce. Open discussions help build a culture where employees feel confident within their roles and tend to outperform expectations. An increase in informal, face-to-face contact between line managers and their teams will help ensure all news is company led rather than rumour led.
Share the goal and vision often: If employees don’t fully understand what is expected of them, then it is impossible to get the best from them. Regularly sharing the goals and vison with employees generate a marked improvement.
Listen actively and take authentic action: Telling employees about company updates and news is one side of the equation. It is more important to listen to feedback and act upon it. Actively seeking the opinions of employees and showing a genuine interest in their development will demonstrate commitment to ensuring they are part of the success. Bottom-up communication as well as top-down communication is the winning formula for IC.
Acknowledge and reward: It may sound simple but acknowledging an employees’ hard work with a straight forward ‘Thank You’ is sometimes all that is needed. Regular performance feedback and positive reinforcement can motivate and inspire employees. Allocate budget within the internal communications model to recognise excellence with softer rewards such as thank you vouchers.
Measure: Measure the effectiveness of your internal communications strategy on an ongoing basis to ensure its working. Survey staff, review targets, revise any initiatives that aren’t quite working. By doing this you’ll maintain effective internal communications and continue to foster a happier, more productive workforce.
The best business leaders know their organisation’s greatest asset is their people. Approaching your teams with simple, actionable and meaningful communications will have a measureable impact on your workplace environment, and your bottom line. Whether in banking, food production, retail, professional services, or any other sector, thinking about communications ‘inside the box’ will inevitably lead to success “outside the box.”
Alan Tyrrell is the Director of PSG Plus, the award winning corporate reputation agency within Ireland’s leading communications group, PSG.