Internal communication is good strategy
AT THE BEGINNING of the millennium, in a survey titled Competing In The Global Economy, human capital consultants Watson Wyatt (now Towers Watson) asked 2 000 top executives in 23 countries to list what they felt would be the most important conditions for success.
Here are the top three: people are the key to maximizing shareholder value and increasing profits, growth now hinges on creating a culture where behaviours are aligned with goals, and it means having leaders who can manage the people side as well as the financial.
Internal communication isn’t mentioned. It doesn’t have to be. It is implicit: none of the three conditions listed above could possibly be achieved without it.
That same year, another survey by the same firm, Effective Communication: A Leading Indicator Of Financial Performance, revealed the positive impact internal communication can have on the bottom line.
For example, companies with effective communication experienced a 57 per cent higher total return to shareholders over a five-year period than companies with ineffective communication. They were also 20 per cent more likely to report lower turnover rates than their peers.
But what do employees today feel – the so-called millennials? Do they even care whether they are communicated with or not?
Apparently they do. According to a recent survey conducted by Geckoboard, a London-based software company with operations in the United Kingdom and the United States, more than 80 per cent of employees said they want to know more about how the company is doing. Only ten per cent said they had any knowledge of the company’s progress in real time.
When they heard nothing, 60 per cent said they do their own detective work to find out. Ninety per cent said they would rather hear bad news than no news, and 75 per cent said they didn’t trust managers who don’t share information.
In contrast, 60 per cent said they are more productive when they know more, and 50 per cent said more information motivates them to perform better. The evidence is there, the case is clear, and yet organisations in Barbados are still reluctant to recognise the strategic value of internal communication. It’s as if no one wants the responsibility for making it happen.
All too often, senior management distances itself from any real participation and delegates the responsibility to human resources or marketing and communication. The mandate is: “Put employee communication on the menu and cook up something tasty. But try not to bother us too much because we are busy with the real work of the organisation”.
Problem is, neither department really wants the responsibility. Human resources, while they may support internal communication in principle, seldom possess the skills set needed to develop it and produce it. Since it is “communication”, they feel it should belong to marketing and communication.
But marketing and communication aren’t keen either. They are focused on getting consumers to “love” the brand through advertising and social media campaigns: the really cool and creative stuff. Internal communication is so dull by comparison; besides, it will divert valuable staff and resources.
Companies in Barbados need to turn this around and soon, because their employees are turned off by old-fashioned command and control management with its emphasis on need-to-know. They are disconnected from issues, goals and decisions.
Most of them of them want to know where the company is going, how it plans to get there and how they can help. There is no good reason why we shouldn’t tell them. And there is no way we will get the behaviours vital to success if we don’t.
Richard Thomas is the principal of Clarity Communication, a Barbados-based corporate communication practice. ([email protected])