August 21, 2014

Inside track

The view from within the industry by Kay Marshall, Marketing & Communications Manager, Expro

Writing an article on the subject of internal communications has been challenging on a number of levels, but in the main it’s because I wanted to address the topic clearly, succinctly and with feeling – in exactly the same way we should be communicating with our employees. 

This is an incredibly important subject – primarily because it greatly affects the relationship we have with our workforce, who are the greatest asset of any business. Despite all the arguments that you need a combination of people, products and services to succeed it is widely accepted that we need to build a strong foundation – and that begins with our people.

Communicating effectively is a critical aspect of that. To understand why, I’ve gone back to basics.

I am an employee. I have worked in private, public, small, large, local and international organisations. Internal Communication (IC) within those organisations has varied, so what have I learned from that – what was the benefit to me personally and how did that benefit the business? (For the cynics reading this article, I didn’t always work in communications and wasn’t quite so biased!)

Put simply, I believe most people want to feel valued and that their work is contributing to both organisational and individual goals. They want to communicate and be communicated with on everything from remuneration, benefits, and personal development, through to business growth and expansion. 

Effective IC encompasses clear messaging, structure and is supported by a range of relevant communications tools. Importantly, they embed the company’s culture within them, for example its values, behaviours and ethos. Culture is the important ‘human’ element that helps individuals to associate with the organisation, which in turn drives forward and supports the organisation’s objectives. It’s important to inject some personality into your communications too – after all, we’re not robots!

Business benefits

The benefits in doing so, start with a more informed and empowered workforce.

I’ve always felt more involved, enthused and capable of making a valuable contribution within companies where there were clear lines of communication created between senior management and the workforce. Most importantly, this includes understanding the organisation’s vision and mission, how your role fits within that, and how you can deliver the very best results for the company – this heavily dictates the level of customer service and impacts on the organisation’s bottom line. 

This leads to another benefit of effective IC: advocacy and brand recognition. We all know how excited we feel starting at a new company – preaching its merits and displaying the branded T-shirt/key ring/pen with pride. If people are engaged, they feel part of an organisation and can be its biggest advocate; ranging from selling the company and its products or services, through to encouraging others to work there. They are in effect, the walking brand. Rather than simply relying on initial enthusiasm, effective IC should develop and embrace it in the long-term.

This all leads to the benefits around increased productivity, whether that is in performance (quality), productivity levels (quantity), staff retention rates or indeed attendance levels. Generally speaking, a more engaged workforce results in increased performance across the business, which adds to the organisation’s bottom line – clinical but true. At a recent internal communications course held by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) it was highlighted that fully engaging with the workforce can boost levels of productivity by as much as 43%.

No matter which perspective you view it from, there are clear benefits to effective IC. Which begs the question, why do some businesses choose not to fully engage with their staff?

Overcoming the challenge

There are a number of hurdles to be overcome to achieve success in your internal communications, and it is by no means a linear process, so it requires commitment from the outset. Effective engagement requires support from ‘the top’, demonstrating the importance and agreeing an approach. Increasingly organisations and their leaders do now understand and support this, but their engagement levels can vary, as can their interpretation, involvement or appreciation of it. I’m sure that gives many IC practitioners sleepless nights.

For large global organisations, particularly those with diverse cultural differences, creating a range of communications that spans these can also be difficult. Having experienced a recent visit to Latin America, strong relationships are extremely important and almost integral to running an effective business. As such, regular one-to-one communications (particularly in person) are more important than simply relying on written communication via emails or newsletters. Equally we Brits may squirm at too much personal engagement – so there is a balance to
be struck. 

No matter which perspective you view it from, there are clear benefits to effective IC. Which begs the question, why do some businesses choose not to fully engage with their staff? 

Integrating your communications

That leads nicely to thinking about the audience – who are they, where are they and how do they prefer to engage? Workshops, building sites, office, home- workers and remote-location workers all demand different communications. Creating a range of communications that will reach everyone, regardless of their environment or location, is vitally important. This is before we consider whether or not they’d view webcasts, take part in Q&As, access publications or participate in surveys.

All of these lead me to my final point, resources. Quite honestly it doesn’t matter what company/ sector/role you work in – having the resource to support this is key. Recruiting the right people is part of that, but internal collaboration is vital. This includes working closely with other departments such as HR, where our paths cross frequently across a range of IC subjects. However the support of all middle and senior management is key to ‘rallying the troops’ and truly cascading communications across the entire organisation. For example, starting with a CEO webcast, through to local ‘town hall’ meetings, employee publications, department meetings and Q&A sessions.

However, that issue is an article in itself. I’ve only scratched the surface of what I see as an integral part of the success of any organisation. I’ll leave it with you to consider and debate further the impact a successful internal communications strategy could have on your own business. 

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