Some management mantras are honoured more in the breach than the observance. One of my favourites is “Our own people are our own best ambassadors”. Easy to say, harder to live by.
After all, a cynic might say, how do you reconcile the idea of staff being valued “ambassadors” with phenomenon such as outsourcing, pay freezes and the decline in final salary pension schemes?
But some firms do get it right, as some of us here at Hanover have been witnessing.
We have a client facing a hardware shortage because its supplier is in crisis. This could have meant a severe interruption to consumer-facing services. That won’t happen. Our client – a household name company – has worked with staff representatives to agree temporary suspension of working agreements. Gaps left by the hardware problem will be plugged through flexible rostering.
Among those who deserve credit are the often overlooked troopers in charge of internal communications. Hours of weekly effort have paid dividends. Management established a track record for honesty when it comes to sharing information about good and bad news. Staff know this particular management doesn’t “cry wolf”.
Achievements like this deserve publicity, because internal communications deserves a better reputation, both as a discipline and as a career.
Just about any communications director will tell you of the problems they have recruiting able internal comms professionals.
Stand-out talent too often gravitates towards external-facing roles. Ambitious individuals like the idea of lunching journalists and shaping headlines. They underestimate how, done right, internal comms takes you to the heart of any company and inside its treasury of secrets.
Similarly, too many comms folk are oblivious to the skill and application needed to capture the bosses’ authentic “tone of voice”, understand the audience and judge what messages work. We live in a cynical age where the profit-motive alone isn’t enough to fully motivate those working for many organisations. The workforce wants to understand the employer’s vision and values. Succeed here and your company will be better prepared for any ill fortune which strikes.
Internal politics also sometimes conspire to deter talent from entering internal comms. Human Resources departments want to talk to the company’s own people. So, some of them plot to grab control of internal comms. Thankfully, only a few succeed. But in many companies, this tussle between Group Communications and Human Resources adds to the impression that a better career can be made in roles which are externally-facing.
It does not have to be this way. External and internal communications have to be aligned. That means internal comms professionals should be as involved in message management, and as privy to company confidences, as anyone else at corporate HQ. And internal comms should be central to shaping public relations. A well-run internal comms team should be a font of content rooted in stories about stand-out moments within the company.
Layer on top of this the sheer amount of time the internal comms chief spends with the CEO, often becoming his or her “voice” and trusted counsellor. It is a top-tier job.
And yet, as I say, too often the necessary internal comms talent is thin on the ground. At Hanover, we have been reflecting on how to improve things.
One way forward – and of course, any consultant has to declare an interest here – is to use agency resource in order to plug gaps, lever up standards where necessary and help everyone in-house realise anew the importance of getting internal comms right. We have just developed a new offer here, in response to market demand.
Another way to help internal comms boost its profile, reputation and talent is to make a spell in (or in charge of) internal comms a part of the career development for the comms directors of tomorrow.
There is a saying that “a General who is a mile ahead of his army is no General”. CEOs care about internal comms. It’s time that more people in PR did likewise.