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December 12, 2006

INTERNAL COMMUNICATIONS: Making your messages Crystal clear

Anyone who has watched our interview with Crystal Interactive’s Chris Elmitt will be aware of the impact of the recent research, entitled The Human Touch, that the company has conducted into internal communications. The study shows that while many companies are extremely good at communicating with the outside world, 55% of those questioned struggle to get their internal communication right, and 47% are poor or very poor when it comes to communicating with their most junior employees.

Of the 103 managers studied, 95% said that staff ideas and opinions are not always valued. When you consider that those that were judged to be the best communicators got 90% of their best ideas from their staff, yet the group average for this was just 20%, you can see a major bottom line benefit to getting your internal communications right in terms of research and development costs alone.

Another quick bottom line hit is that better communications reduces staff churn by making employees feel as though they belong to a company. “It’s madness that companies worry about huge churn costs, go to enormous lengths looking for even modest improvements in margin and spend time debating flexible working – yet many still haven’t mastered how to simply interact with their staff,” opines Emitt.

It's good to talk... honestly
The study makes some quite horrific discoveries on this note: 79% of senior teams make important announcements via email; 65% also rely on managers to disseminate news; and 2% admit to texting staff with vital announcement. The irony being that many of these companies are probably involved in various forms of face-to-face marketing with their clients, yet seem to have overlooked their most important asset.

On this note, the report goes on to state that UK boards appreciate the importance of their staff as an audience, placing them ahead of prospects and partners. Companies also say staff are the second most important asset, coming second only to brand name/reputation.

Even to the untrained eye, there is a major contradiction here: if something’s that important, why treat it with so much disrespect? Could it be that many companies are simply paying lip service to the idea that their staff are important, and merely ticking the right boxes so they’re not found out? Let’s sincerely hope not.

Good communication starts at the top
Elmitt sheds some light on this later on in the report, saying: “While using a mix of communication methods is important, and cascading information through managers is no doubt the right approach for large companies, our research shows that these managers, who are relied on as the board’s mouthpiece, are not being communicated with effectively themselves. If you don get your message across to your managers, what hope is there that they will share your views and vision with the teams below as you intend?”

The survey backs this up stating that just 18% of those studied felt communication between them and the board is very good. In our video interview, Elmitt points out a company’s internal communication can very often be dictated by the individual style of those at the top. If they are not natural communicators then don’t expect their companies to be any better. For communications to improve in these situations there needs to be a wholesale change in culture.

Chris Elmitt elaborates: “It’s easy to see why corporate leaders have become more focused on their external communications.  An unconvincing presentation to analysts may have an immediate, negative impact on the share price, but the market will be less sensitive to the way leaders interact with staff. There is also perhaps a perception that ‘people skills’ are a talent you either have or don’t have, not something you can manufacture – but our research shows there are some very practical steps companies can take to build better communications into their organisations.”

Moving forward

So, less of the doom and gloom, what’s the answer? The survey highlights four practical areas where those judged to be the best communicators win over their counterparts:

  • Although they are likely to use more middle managers (77% vs 65%), the board is better at senior to junior management interaction (it is twice as likely to be rated very good at this). As a result, the dependency on managers as mouthpieces works well at all levels.
  • The board is more open – it is twice as likely to respond to a question from a staff member (38% vs 18%) and it is twice as likely to view employees as the most important audience.
  • Despite, an average, having more management layers, successful communicators don’t overly resort to email for major announcements (61% vs 79%) but instead hold more staff events (54% have events more than twice a year vs 46%). Finally, the events that they do hold always have staff interaction and 46% will use independent facilitators. This means the audience and board are put on a more equal footing and employees can be more candid.

So really getting your staff involved through the use of internal events and then using those events to actually listen to what they have to say will go a long way to improving internal communication. And this is not just something that Crystal Interactive’s study has turned up. Earlier in the year a similar study by Jack Morton Worldwide revealed that staff in only 33% of companies are happy with the way in which their companies communicate with them. On top of this well over 80% of staff felt that events were the most engaging and instructive way to communicate and that ultimately they were the most likely to influence and affect their behaviour.

On the back of all this evidence this year, there really is no excuse for people to say they don’t do internal events or value their impact… at least not if they want to be among the high achievers.


Related links on ER
Chris Elmitt’s video interview with EVENTS:review
Jack Morton's global internal communcations survey

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