August 29 2007 - Recent research from the Work Foundation calls for increased recognition of the
potential of internal communications (IC) to improve organizational cohesion and performance. The report,
IC: UK 2006-7 - The definitive analysis of current internal communication practice studied 596 large
organizations in the public, private and voluntary sectors, the majority of which were multi-site. It found that
IC departments were working increasingly closely with chief executives, with the primary role of enhancing employee
engagement. The report also suggests that IC teams can be reactive rather than proactive and that the highest
performing organizations are notable for using IC for both downwards and upwards communication.
Dr Michelle Mahdon, co-author and researcher at The Work Foundation said:
"Communicating effectively inside organizations is not something to be done for the sake of it - it
is a central performance and productivity issue. On the shoulders of the IC function rests the heavy burden of
ensuring the strategic direction of an organization is known, understood and, above all, acted on.
"Get it right and the result is increased engagement and productivity, with employees performing the
role of ambassadors for the brand. Get it wrong and top teams will soon learn just how contagious apathy and cynicism
"As we move towards a more knowledge-based, networked economic model, where teams do not necessarily
sit together in the same office, internal communication is almost certain to rise in importance and sophistication.
Yet it is also the case that with so much information whizzing about - not all of it high quality - getting good,
consistent messages across calls for increasingly complex sets of skills."
The report argues that IC specialists should establish better communication with line managers, and
not bypass them by dealing directly with staff. To convince boards that IC is a worthwhile investment, they also
need to build their "organizational constituencies" by developing links with colleagues in other specialisms such as
marketing, finance, communications and human resources departments.
Building on previous research from The Work Foundation, the report found that internal communications
was one of the "intangible" production factors that can contribute to long-term success.
Other key findings include:
- CEOs were felt to be the most important stakeholders for IC professionals (especially in the private
sector) followed by employees, the HR function and line managers.
- Smaller companies spend more of their budgets on IC: those with 500-1000 employees spent £66 per
head compared with approximately £10 for those with 5000+ employees.
- IC is involved in major decisions in 90 per cent of organizations. Budgets have increased in 42 per
cent in the last three years.
- Two key roles played by IC across all sectors were helping staff to understand the business and
internal PR. In profitable private sector organizations IC employees were more likely to see support of line managers
as their primary task.
- Although 91 per cent of IC professionals use email, it is considered the least effective means of
communication. More traditional techniques such as team briefings, newsletters, magazines and face-to-face events
were seen as the most effective.
- Over 60 per cent of organizations had no collective mechanism, preferring individual forms of
communication. High performing organizations across all sectors tended to mix individual and collective techniques.
Suzanne Peck, chairman of the British Association of Communicators in Business commented:
"It is often said that new technology has revolutionized the way we communicate. But although
organizations now have a whole bag of new tricks, it appears as if low tech trumps high tech in communications terms.
Email as a channel for communicating strategy is seen as largely ineffective, though this does not stop organizations
from using it.
"Interestingly, it is the more personal techniques such as face-to-face interaction and personal
presentation type events that are believed to be much more successful. It seems there may be some truth to the old
saw that effective communication involves the exchange of pheromones. Increasingly, leaders are seeking authenticity
in the way they communicate, which is adding to the difficulty of getting it right."