Poll: internal comms hinge on actions of senior execs

STAMFORD, CT: The actions and attitudes of senior corporate leaders are the key to effective internal communications, found a new study by professional services firm Towers Perrin.

STAMFORD, CT: The actions and attitudes of senior corporate leaders are the key to effective internal communications, found a new study by professional services firm Towers Perrin.

The study was sponsored by a consortium of 17 large US- based companies, whose names were not released. Twenty-five thousand employees (out of a total work force of approximately 600,000) were surveyed to glean their beliefs and impressions of internal comms within their organizations.

The study suggests employees are acutely attuned to messages - intended and otherwise - emanating from the corporate suites. The 42% of respondents who said that senior leaders "demonstrate a sincere interest in employees' well-being" scored their companies' communication effectiveness 12% higher than those who felt otherwise.

A bare majority (51%) rated their companies as "open and honest," and only 45% said "senior leadership both talks and listens."

Charlie Watts, the leader of Towers Perrin's measurement practice, said that upper management should heed the call for clear, consistent, and frequent internal communications. "The role of senior leadership really emerged" in the survey, he said. "They have to set the tone and set the stage."

Instead of telling employees what constitutes effective communication and asking them to compare their companies to that standard, Towers Perrin used responses to assemble a definition from the employees' perspective. Among the key factors: timely distribution of easily understood materials, a system for two-way communication, and consistency in the company's message.

The survey also revealed a significant desire among employees for information about their companies' positions within the marketplace: 65% said they don't get enough information about their competitors. Furthermore, only 39% felt that they receive "information that differentiates their companies' products and services from the competition."

Watts said that members of the consortium that sponsored the study were already putting their findings into action. He offered the example of a financial services firm that created a new staff position devoted to internal communications and educating employees about the company and its competition.

Still, Watts believes that a company's message must be fully integrated from top to bottom. "Communication effectiveness goes beyond what the director of communications controls," he said.

Towers Perrin plans to repeat the study on a yearly basis and hopes to expand its group of participating corporations to further refine the data.

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