Time to rethink employee communication

Good employee communication matters to business – it drives clarity and employee engagement, helps build trust between employees and leaders and facilitates the implementation of change. So why is it that so many leaders still do not see the importance of investing in communication? And why do so many professional communicators still feel they can’t make their voices heard?

The problem, I believe, is twofold: on the one hand misunderstanding of what IC is about (seeing it only as a means of transmitting information in order to inform and/or persuade), on the other lack of skill on behalf of leaders and professionals to make the necessary shift to a different, richer model of communication.

As Harvard professor Boris Groysberg and consultant Michael Slind concluded, having conducted a two year review of leadership and organisational communication (Harvard Business Review June 2012) the still prevalent broadcast model of communication no longer serves the needs of globalised, diverse, technology savvy, critical workforces.  A new, more honest, more intimate, less managed, leadership-as-conversation model of communication is what is needed and what pioneer businesses are increasingly adopting, they argued.

It is this conversation model of communication that can most effectively support leaders to create clarity, shape culture, motivate employees, promote creativity and engender trust across a diverse, geographically dispersed workforce.

What does this mean in practice?

  • It means introducing a simplicity and an immediacy to communication which is currently lacking in many ‘professionalised’, ‘highly managed’ environments
  • It means IC managers and leaders stop worrying about sending ‘messages’ and start having real conversations, listening to people and responding (talking with them, rather than at them)
  • It means authenticity and personality coming through in the way managers and leaders talk – no jargon, no polish, no spin, but real people talking about real things, sharing real concerns, aspirations and achievements . Inevitably some managers may need support to get to the point where they are confident to do this, but this is about helping them to discover their own voice,  not about ‘media training’
  • It means spending less money on costly, ‘high gloss’ channels and campaigns and concentrating instead on improving the quality of human interaction, whether that’s face to face or using available technologies.
  • Finally, it does mean that the focus of IC stops being the IC function – communication professionals are there to enable, to coach, to support; but it is leaders, managers and employees who are there to communicate!

The future of Internal Communication is no longer to be the function that ‘does communication’. To continue to contribute to organisational success the IC function has to shift away from a broadcasting mentality and towards a more coaching/enabling role. How the budgets are spent and what range of skills are needed has to be rethought too. Those responsible for communication departments should not only expect, but demand this!