In this guest article, Rachel Miller wonders ‘whose comms is it anyway?’
I’m thrilled that Wedge’s blog is back online. He’s been sorely missed and challenged me to write something thought provoking or experimental.
So here we go – I’m going to suggest scrapping corporate communications. Hear me out…
Answer me honestly: Would anyone miss the corporate communication in your organisation if you stopped it?
Imagine the scenario. It’s Monday morning, your employee magazine is on deadline, the pages are done and you’re about to go to press (either physically or digitally). You’re commuting into work and thinking about the issue. You have a thought… what would happen if it didn’t publish?
Who might miss it? I have a checklist for you and I bet the people who would miss it would arguably be:
- the comms team;
- your agency if it’s outsourced;
- HR, who are probably looking out for their campaign;
- the senior leader who had a photograph taken especially for it;
- the CEO who asked you to ghostwrite their column (that’s a whole other issue I’m not even going to get into now…);
- the Finance Director who is looking to see how you spend the money you successfully managed to secure in your comms budget;
- the frontline employee who you managed to persuade to appear on the front cover in order to have ‘our people in real situations’.
I’m being facetious, but hopefully you get my point – did you spot who was missing from that list? No? Look again.
Yes? Gold star for you. The missing group are your employees. Would they notice or care if your corporate communication stopped and that magazine never made its way to them?
If your internal communication serves solely as the mouthpiece for head office, alienating the rest of the organisation in the process, or as the egotainment for your CEO, it needs to be paused and re-evaluated.
We hear about demonstrating return on investment all the time in comms. Or to use a 2013 buzzword, return on involvement. What involvement do you have as a comms pro or team? I bet that magazine issue was brainstormed, flatplanned, written, edited, designed, proofed, approved and then led to the stage you’re at now.
At what point did you involve employees? What do they think of your employee communications? After all, you’re not writing them for your own amusement, you’re writing them to communicate with employees. When did you last ask for their feedback? No, your annual employee survey doesn’t count. When did you actually ask them?
Did you have a conversation with someone with the magazine plan in front of you for example and discuss it together? What did they like? What didn’t they like? Why? What did they say? Did you take it on board? When are you going to ask them again?
How many times have you sent an all company email and expected to hear drastic feedback, just to get radio silence? What did you do about it? As a comms pro or team, if you sat waiting for the feedback to come flooding in and thought it was a situation that people would care about and react to, what did you do when nothing happened?
Who are the loudest group in your company? You know who I mean. The people who regularly share their opinions about everything from the choice of coffee, to car park bay widths and change to HR policies. What did they think of your communication?
I’ve experienced situations where Directors want “less comms” and employees want more, and vice versa. Do you know what the situation is in your organisation and how and if it changes?
What’s the answer?
If thinking about employee communication, ensure you’re thinking about and talking with your employees.
That’s it. No magic formula or lotions and potions. You need to think about your employees and importantly, know what does and doesn’t work for them. The best way to do this is to communicate, in the very best sense, by having conversations with them.
There are many ways you can do this, such as ad-hoc surveys, face-to-face focus groups, Yammer polls, informally among your work network over lunch or coffee – the list is endless. You just need to choose and listen, listen, listen. Then importantly, act, act, act. Your behaviour speaks as loudly as your voice and actions. Knowing this information is vital if you are to have a realistic and informed view about the culture of your company.
I’ve fired lots of questions at you, so I’m going to leave you with some food for thought and in the spirit of this piece, I encourage you to let me know what you think of this article. Do feel free to comment below or tweet me @AllthingsIC,
Things to consider:
- Do you champion two-way feedback and ask employees to share their views?
- Do you encourage feedback and then highlight both the good and bad. Yes, the bad.
- Are you approachable? Comms pros are often seen as the gateway to leaders, particularly if your culture is such employees feel they cannot share their thoughts with them directly. Are you making yourself available and facilitating conversations and discussions?
- If you ask for feedback, are you open to receive it?
So you know my views, what are yours? Would you send that magazine to print or would you stop, evaluate and start afresh?
[ Rachel ]
Image credit: schoschie
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Rachel Miller, MCIPR, PG (Dip) is an internal communication and social media strategist. She started her career as a journalist and has worked in internal communication in-house and agency side for companies including BSkyB, L’Oréal, Visa, Tube Lines and London Overground. Rachel was named in PR Week’s Top 29 under 29 professional communicators list and is a Kingston internal communications management postgraduate. She is part of the Engage for Success guru group and regularly speaks about, writes and teaches internal communication and social media.