When we sat down to write our book on internal and change communications we quickly realised that you need to state some things that we thought were obvious. Looking at what was written on the subject, what was being said on-line and at conferences convinced us that there are a lot of people out there missing the point.
We realised that people tend to get obsessed about the latest cool channel or talk in riddles about cod business psychology. People like to pretend that there is some mystique about talking and influencing people at work.
But there’s not. Employee communication is more of a science than an art.
Internal comms is one of the fastest growing disciplines within our profession. People actually want to work in it, perhaps because it’s fun and gets you close to where decisions are being made. Internal communicators get to have conversations with senior leaders that colleagues elsewhere in the organisations can only dream of.
Yet, as we grow it is worth remembering that we can have a massive impact if we stick to a few sensible principles. Forget all the hype and try to follow these rules…
Rule No1 - It’s about results and outcomes; not activity
No matter how tempting it is to hide yourself in a flurry of activity and how appealing it is to generate beautiful films and websites, if nothing changes as a result of your work why are you doing it? Every conversation in Internal Communications begins with ‘What do we want people to DO?’
Rule No2 – It’s about the business
Whatever we want people to do, it should be rooted in the needs of the business or organisation. Party organisers and entertainers do things because they are fun, professionals do things because it helps deliver a strategy or plan. If we can’t show the linkage back to the needs of the business then we are probably not adding any real value.
Rule No3 – We don’t drive with our eyes shut
A communicator who doesn’t know their audience inside out, who doesn’t know how they are thinking and might react is of little use to anyone. Our job is to be the bridge between two worlds – a job that calls for us to spend as much time as we can away from our desks, talking and listening. No one else can do it for us because what we know is what makes us valuable and without it how can you produce communications that will interest anyone or talk to their concerns?
Rule No4 – People have two ears and one mouth – so should organisations
People are much more connected and committed at work when they feel they are in a conversation. Internal communications that is a one-way broadcast isn’t just rude it’s ineffective. We make sure the organisation shuts up long enough to listen!
Rule No5 – Come with data, leave with respect
Senior managers generally live in a world of facts and spread sheets, if you want to help them make good communications decisions, meet them halfway. Gather data about process and outcomes and present it simply. Use whatever evidence you can find to show how communications can help on the things that matter.
Rule No6 – Line managers matter
Line managers are not the universal solution to every communications problem, but they hold the key to a lot of the answers. In organisations where local leaders care about communications, can explain how events and plans affect their people and feel listened to, people work harder and are more committed. If you have few resources and little time, and after you have decide what you want people to do, you can do a lot worse by starting your communications plan with the question ‘What do we need managers to discuss with their teams?’
Rule No7 – There is no silver bullet
Continually we are told that some technology or idea is going to transform internal communications. This has yet to be proven to be true – the telephone, email, intranets and even social media might bring improvements but not revolution. We could be proven wrong, but until then stick with the Rules 1 and 2!
Rule No8 – What we do matters
Our job puts us in a privileged position. We get to stick our nose where we like and what we do has an impact on people’s lives. Best of all, we get the chance to change things at work in small and large ways. Not many people can say that.
The immutable truths set out by writers like Roger D’Aprix, Bill Quirke and Kathryn Yates remain; we want someone to tell us what our job is, how we’re doing and how it relates to the bigger picture. Organisations want good staff to stay, to do their best, to be flexible and to say nice things to their family and friends. And people do that when they feel involved and valued and when leaders at every level take time to listen and explain the connection between their job and their vision of the organisation.
It’s not rocket science, but we hope it keeps you out of mischief!
This article is based on an extract from Liam FitzPatrick and Klavs Valskov’s latest book Internal Communication: a manual for practitioners published by Kogan Page this week.