Placing value on employee feedback through a committed internal
communications policy, may sound like 1990s psycho-babble, but many
believe it has a direct impact on bottom line profits.
Employers who ignore staff feedback can find their employees’ initial
enthusiasm for the job or the company wanes and the best people leave to
join other companies.
James Harkness, Banner McBride’s director of consultancy, believes there
is a definite link between staff motivation and the effectiveness of an
’Those organisations which make a real effort through internal
communications to include the views of their staff will not only
increase their financial effectiveness, but retain staff longer,’ he
He believes this is especially true in the IT sector, which has a
traditionally high turnover of staff, who leave to set up on their
Banner McBride managing director Michael Pounsford recently worked on a
campaign for Lloyds TSB, which linked internal communications with the
bottom line. Following its merger, Lloyds TSB wanted to re-establish
itself in an increasingly competitive marketplace, which included
players in financial services, such as Virgin and Marks and Spencer.
’We knew that some branches were more effective in customer service and
others were average,’ says Pounsford. ’We wanted to know why there was
that difference, so we implemented a rigorous analysis of the branches
through staff feedback.’
The research showed there was virtually no difference in this feedback
between the branches, except in one area. Managers and supervisors were
viewed more positively in the branches that performed best.
’In practice, these managers were more flexible with staff and allowed
them to work across the three main areas of banking: business banking,
personal banking and operations, if there was a shortage of staff in any
one area. This strategy cut queues and improved customer service,’ says
Kevin Thomson, chairman of the Marketing and Communications Agency (MCA)
and president-elect of the International Association of Business
Communicators, believes that most businesses undervalue their workforce
and that traditional top-down internal communications do not work.
’Expensive internal communications systems don’t work because employees
feel management is talking at them and they have no means of response,’
Thomson believes companies should treat staff like customers. ’If you
look at the progress of external marketing, you’ll see it has gone from
the ’tell and sell’ of journalism to PR, to mass marketing, to niche
marketing, to database and finally to one-to-one marketing. But in
internal communications, we are still ’telling and selling’ with things
like company newspapers and memos. We should be using all the external
marketing tools and strategies like databases to target employees on a
Thomson has put down his thought in a new book entitled Emotional
Capital - capturing the hearts and minds to create lasting business
success. It includes case studies of work from companies including the
Royal Mail and Walkers Snack Foods. In his book, Thomson goes one step
further than most internal communications practitioners. He argues that
the commitment and motivations of employees are a company’s most
valuable assets and they should be capitalised on its balance sheet as a
Harkness, of Banner McBride, believes that communications that begin
from the bottom can benefit many companies, for which the bottom line is
not necessarily the most important factor. Banner McBride has been
working on a re-branding campaign for Barnardo’s, the UK’s largest
children’s charity. Barnardo’s wanted to communicate its new message
both internally, to its 300,000 volunteers, and externally, to attract
new income from corporate sponsorship.
Harkness says that Barnardo’s believed it had an out-dated image, the
public equated it with orphanages and children’s homes - work Barnardo’s
had not been involved in for over 20 years.
’The brief was to review Barnardo’s existing internal and external
research, determine how people perceived the organisation and then to
identify a new position for the Barnardo’s brand,’ he says.
The Banner McBride team interviewed a range of managers, employees and
volunteers to ensure the internal stakeholders were involved in
establishing the revised brand and how it could be communicated in more
relevant and appealing way.
Once the new style guidelines were developed by the Barnardo’s internal
communications team, Banner McBride ensured they were communicated to
employees so the internal and external message were the same.
’This was achieved by developing a series of one day communication
events for all employees and volunteers across the UK. Nine events,
called ’B Live’ were held every three weeks in June and July 1997’, says
’Because the internal audiences were involved in developing the new
brand position, they are more likely to support it.’
Mike Rigby, managing director of Countrywide Porter Novelli’s Internal
Communications Group also puts enormous value on the feedback of the
employees of his clients.
’We believe we have to work on both a left brain (rational) and a right
brain (emotional) level. Our goal is to help companies build shared
values between companies and its employees. We employ a team of
psychologists to go into client companies and work with them. And we
audit what employees take out of the communications process, their
beliefs and awareness.’
Charlotte Wilcox, senior writer internal communications, Countrywide
Porter Novelli, says: ’The messages, values and philosophy a company
puts out externally should be the same internally and employees should
buy in to that message.’
She believes it is important to fuse together a number of different
departments to deliver an effective internal communications message.
’If it is left to marketing managers it can be tricky, because they see
their role as purely external and human resources staff aren’t
necessarily aware of the wider role of internal communications.’
Wilcox agrees that communication should be bottom up. ’Employees should
feel they have ownership and an effect on the operation of an
organisation. Companies should be seen to be acting on what they’re
She says the tools to achieve this include staff surveys, developing an
employee publication, focus groups and incorporating feedback mechanisms
such as questionnaires and contact boxes.
But not everyone agrees that taking on staff feedback automatically
increases profits. Anthony Goodman, director of Smythe Dorward Lambert
says there is no proven link between morale, motivation and output.
’The value of so-called ’emotional capital’ hasn’t been validated. You
may instinctively feel that it is important, but it’s almost impossible
to prove. I think the idea of putting emotional value on a balance sheet
is decades away from reality. If you look at the debate about brand
valuation, it has taken over a decade to get companies to understand
this, and it is still not accepted practice.’
Whether or not ’emotional capital’ becomes the buzz word for internal
communications in the millennium is as yet unknown. Thomson says: ’The
PR and internal communications practitioners have been traditionally
viewed as the touchy-feely sector. This new thinking takes us up the
It’s no longer just internal communications - it’s people
CASE STUDY: FIGHTING BACK AGAINST POOR TRADING CONDITIONS
In 1996, the titanium dioxide industry was in the throes of the worst
trading conditions it had ever experienced.
ICI Tioxide, a global producer with 3,000 employees - spread across
sites in Western Europe, South Africa, the US and Asia Pacific -
introduced a two-year continuous improvement programme across its
Redundancies were inevitable and the company realised that an effective
internal communications programme was essential to guarantee employee
understanding and to reinforce its world leading position. Countrywide
Porter Novelli was employed to take on this task.
Countrywide launched a global internal communications programme under
the banner ’Beating the Best’. The strategy was to focus on the five
themes which were most important to the business - people, assets,
environmental performance, marketing and communications.
Countrywide’s first step was to organise a global senior management
Held in London, it was organised like a trade fair, with stands relating
to each of the five themes. Countrywide then produced a series of
videos, filmed at each manufacturing site and again reflecting the five
These were shown to employees, supported by briefing notes.
The consultancy’s next step was to launch a quarterly global employee
newspaper, entitled World Focus, produced in five languages. Countrywide
set up a reader panel to get feedback on the publication. It also
produced a corporate brochure and an environmental report.
Countrywide realised that a professional network of communicators was
essential to unite the global business. It installed a communications
manager at each site to liaise with the local media and corresponding
managers at other sites. One of Countrywide’s own employees was seconded
to ICI Tioxide to work as a communications manager for the European
business for a year. In addition, a crisis training programme was
introduced at each site.
Countrywide reviewed and evaluated its activities throughout its
internal communications programme. It also invited the Industrial
Society to carry out independent research into the effectiveness of the
programme. The results showed that 63 per cent of employees felt
well-informed about the business and its plans and 87 per cent
understood the ideas and purpose behind ’Beating the Best’.
Countrywide director John Orme says the best endorsement came from ICI
Tioxide’s newCEO. ’He joined a year into the programme and spent the
first six weeks touring Tioxide’s sites,’ says Orme. ’He said that he
was amazed at the level of understanding of ’Beating the Best’ from the
packing floor to top management.’
CASE STUDY: A SMOOTH MEETING OF TWO CORPORATE MINDSETS
When a company is the subject of a takeover and has to change its name,
internal communications consultants face a unique challenge. Not only do
they have to ensure that staff morale levels remain high, they also have
to help employees accept their new identity and adapt to what may be a
very different corporate culture.
This was the challenge faced by Biss Lancaster when it was brought in to
manage the takeover of car hire firm, Eurodollar by American giant,
Republic Industries Automotive Division Europe. Both Eurodollar (for
business travellers) and its sister company, Alamo (leisure travellers)
were to be christened with the American name - National Car Rental -
creating the biggest car rental company in the UK. The task was made
still more difficult by a very short time scale: legal requirements
meant that Biss Lancaster had just two-and-a-half weeks to complete its
’It was a time of great change for Eurodollar employees,’ says account
executive, Alison O’Leary. ’They had to come to terms with a new brand
name and working for a bigger, global organisation. They perceived that
the culture would be very different because it was an American company.
Eurodollar staff and Alamo staff would also have to get used to working
Biss Lancaster’s first step was to organise a series of road shows
across the country for branch managers. Senior management gave
presentations about the launch of National Car Rental and each attendee
was presented with a pack containing colour copies of the new
advertising campaign ’Green means Go’. The pack also contained a leaflet
detailing National Car Rental’s history, a copy of employee Q&As drafted
by Biss Lancaster and an employee newsletter which included an
Each branch manager received a personalised letter from John Leigh,
senior vice-president of Republic Industries UK, a branch list and a
copy of the company’s press release. Biss Lancaster organised screenings
of a video to help staff feel part of the new company.
On February 1, 1998, the day that Eurodollar became National Car Rental,
all employees received a folder containing a ’Green Means Go’ lapel
badge, a green pen, jelly beans and a z-card with the company’s mission
A dedicated e-mail address for staff queries.
O’Leary says the campaign was very successful. ’Staff are very positive.
They’ve discovered the National Car Rental culture is very similar to
Eurodollar’s. The volume of business has increased and the new company
is involved in many activities, including being the official car
supplier for the Grand National.’
CASE STUDY: PROFITING FROM INVESTMENT IN EMOTIONAL CAPITAL
When MCA was invited to work with Walkers - ’the number one producer of
salty snacks in the UK’ - the consultancy had the chance to put its
’emotional capital’ theories into practice.
Walkers aimed to be the ’best company in the UK’, the ’employer of
choice with the best staff’. It had a well-established internal
communication policy, but felt that its investment had not given the
expected returns in terms of employee motivation or business
’To avoid repeating our past experiences, we decided to work with the
Marketing and Communications Agency (MCA) in order to take a more
results-oriented approach to communication,’ says Emma Westcott, manager
of management development at Walkers Snack Foods.
MCA set up focus groups and conducted one-to-one interviews. It
discovered several gaps in Walker’s internal communication processes.
’We asked staff what they would change about communication and if they
wanted to be more involved,’ says Lorrie Arganbright, director at MCA.
’Our research found that there was not enough cross-functional
communication or enough feedback to senior management. There was also a
false assumption that people were only interested in their own jobs, not
in the whole picture.’
MCA instituted regular team meetings and trained a group of
communications ’champions’ who could in turn train line managers. This
removed the previous ’top-down’ approach by ensuring there was a
committed communication resource right across the organisation. It also
launched an employee newspaper to provide common information about
business developments and best practices to all employees.
Westcott says the new communication process has created visible business
benefits: ’Several times since its launch, we’ve been able to use the
process as part of an internal crisis communication, and it provided us
with a responsible and effective channel. We’re seeing teams finding
ways to improve quality, simplify work processes, satisfy their
customers more effectively, to save time and money and make our products
and service better.
’It’s amazing to see ordinary people at all levels and in all functions
go well above what’s expected to really improve the business. You can’t
ask for much more than that.’
Arganbright says MCA’s work for Walkers is a good example of ’emotional
capital’ in action: ’Walkers recognised that it could not use its
employees’ intelligence effectively if it did not take account of the
way they felt.
’Emotional capital’ is like petrol - you may have a top of the range
car, but it’s no good unless you fill it up with petrol.’