As I’ve said more times than I’d care to remember over the past seven months, change communication is a vital skill for communicators to master.
And one vital dimension of this is internal communication – ensuring this important group of stakeholders understand what is happening, their role and their contribution to the eventual outcome.
That’s why I’m dead chuffed that Kevin Ruck, author of new book Exploring Internal Communications, agreed to an interview about change and internal communication.
Kevin is a founding director of PR Academy, a CIPR qualifications centre providing education, training and coaching for communication professionals. He has spent more than 20 years in various communication roles within the telecoms and ICT sector, latterly specialising in internal communication.
Kevin’s book, Exploring Internal Communication, is a companion for Chartered Institute of Public Relations qualifications in internal communication and a general introduction to the fast developing fields of internal communication and employee engagement. It’s relevant to people currently working in these areas, from either a corporate communication or human resources background, and also to operational managers seeking a better understanding of internal communication.
In his book Kevin emphasises that there is no magic internal communication “silver bullet”. Instead he aims to provide a basic grounding in theory and practice that can be used to tailor effective internal communication to the enormously varied organisational situations that exist.
But the book is clearly written from a perspective that argues that effective internal communication puts the employee at the centre of the organisation and that genuine, honest, two-way dialogue forms the basis of effective, strategic, practice.
Anyway, here are Kevin’s insights for public sector communicators:
Simon: So Kevin, what are the links between internal communication and service delivery /organisational reputation? How do we demonstrate the business value of internal communication?
In a service based organisation, your employees are your brand. Internal communication is fundamental to employee engagement. Engaged employees create an engaging brand. And engaging brands are more successful.
The evidence for this simple equation is overwhelming, though, as ever with communication it is difficult to prove direct correlations.
In terms of return on investment, the Towers Watson Communication Report for 2009-10 found that companies that are highly effective communicators had 47 percent higher total returns to shareholders over the last five years compared with firms that are the least effective communicators.
However, in the same report, it was found that a little more than half of companies are effective at educating employees on company values. This is reinforced by research conducted for the CIPD in 2006 that showed that only 32 per cent of employees feel that they are both fully/fairly well informed and also have opportunities for upward feedback. This is group is, unsurprisingly, highly engaged.
In their report to the UK government in 2009, MacLeod and Clarke argue strongly that “there is evidence that improving engagement correlates with improving performance”. According to Gallup, in addition to profitability, other benefits of employee engagement include higher customer advocacy and higher productivity.
Gallup also found that eighty-six per cent of engaged employees say they very often feel happy at work and happy employees are more likely to provide a good service that reinforces organisational reputation than unhappy employees.
Simon: Significant organisational change is going to be widespread in the public sector in the coming months. What should communicators be thinking about now to get ready for the internal communication challenges this change will bring?
Kevin: Coming changes in the public sector will really stretch internal communicators. Firstly, they will be part of the change so will have to do more with less, so this means thinking laterally about how to use channels effectively.
Secondly, they should be talking to senior managers about the importance of involving people, as far as possible, in the way that change is managed.
Thirdly, they should be emphasising that communication should be based around people and their concerns as well as what the new strategy and organisational structure might be.
Simon: What can internal communicators learn from the private sector when communicating change?
Kevin: We shouldn’t assume that practice in the private sector is necessarily better or ahead of that in public sector. A lot depends on the organisation and its history. Some private sector organisations are more used to change than public sector organisations, so internal communicators may be more experienced in change communication.
One aspect that crops up a lot in the classes that I run is that technology tends to be more conducive to social media in the private sector than in the public sector. Though there may be technological limitations in the public sector, some private sector organisations that have embraced social media may have some good tips.
Simon: Employee engagement is really important in maintaining service delivery, especially during times of change. What evidence is there for what does and doesn’t make a difference to employee engagement?
Kevin: A lot of the thinking about employee engagement is based around the individual’s role and work. This is clearly important. However, there is also more and more academic evidence emerging about the importance of organisational identification.
Research for the CIPD in 2006 identified three key factors for employee engagement; feeling well informed, opportunities for upward feedback and line manager commitment to the organisation. This sounds straightforward, the challenge is getting all three in place so that employees get all the information they need to then have their voice heard in a way that helps organisations improve processes and service.
Simon: What roles should senior leaders in organisations be playing in times of change? What advice should communicators be giving senior leaders?
Kevin: Above all, leaders should be visible.They need to be very clear about what is happening and ensure that all employees feel fully informed and have opportunities to have a say in what is happening.
Leading organisations is not about democracy, but employees should have a say that is seriously considered. They should also show concern for employees and acknowledge the issues that major change involves. They should also set a firm timescale for when things will happen – something that many are afraid to do in case dates get missed.
Simon: Let’s talk tactics. Are there any case studies of good internal communication that you’d like to share with public sector communicators?
Kevin: It’s tricky to find examples of internal communication as they’re often not freely made available in any detail. However, there are some great examples of CIPR award winning practice on the CIPR website.
The Simply Communicate web site has some good case studies at www.simply-communicate.com.
There is a good slide pack on social media and internal communication at BT here too.