Ask any senior company executive about the merits of their
workforce and at some point, they will spout the phrase ’our staff are
our most valuable asset’. In the past, this assertion has tended to
focus on feel-good factors such as treating staff well. But in the
current climate of mergers, downsizing and outsourcing, an increasing
number of companies such as British Airways and Barclaycard are
rethinking the genuine value of employees. They are striving to capture
both the hearts and minds of the workforce to make a tangible difference
to the bottom line.
Kevin Thomson, chairman of internal marketing and communications
specialists MCA, says such organisations recognise that their future
success lies in their internal culture. ’Virtually everything a company
does, from launching a new product to issues of quality and service, is
So to steal a march on competitors, you now have to look to the last
differentiator, an organisation’s personality,’ he explains. ’This is
decided by the people within a company, so effectively, they are your
In a retail or customer service environment, it is easy to see how
customer attitude to a business brand is directly affected by
interaction with the workforce. But the importance of an organisation’s
internal climate is also becoming more pertinent to stock market
performance. A survey of 275 analysts and portfolio managers, conducted
last year by Ernst and Young’s Centre for Business Information, shows
that institutional investors base one-third of a decision to buy or sell
stock on a company’s non-financial performance. In addition, the study
reveals that investors’ perceptions of improvements in areas such as
corporate strategy, innovation and the ability to attract and retain
talented people, can have a major impact on share price.
So for companies to flourish financially, it seems they need staff who
understand business goals, and act as internal and external evangelists
for the business and its brand. According to Thomson, developing such
individuals involves more than gaining intellectual buy-in. ’Harnessing
and managing knowledge is one thing, but organisations need to manage
the emotion, feeling and beliefs that motivate people to apply that
knowledge constructively,’ he says.
Last autumn, to gauge current employee buy-in and its relation to
business performance, MCA commissioned MORI to conduct a survey of UK
Conducted on a sample of 350 staff across companies employing 1,000
people or more, this revealed that only 35 per cent of respondents
strongly agreed that they would recommend their organisation to others
such as customers, consumers and recruits. Furthermore, while only half
said that their understanding of organisational goals was high, barely a
quarter strongly agreed that they were committed to giving their best to
help their organisation succeed.
This lack of commitment, or emotional buy-in, to the business brand, is
where many believe internal communication tends to break down. ’The
reason internal campaigns often fail - especially mergers - is because
at the research stage, people don’t ask what the emotional hooks are for
people within an organisation,’ says James Harkness, director of
consultancy at Banner McBride. He adds that his agency undertakes
’discovery days’ with new clients, to uncover employees’ attitudes and
get involved with what makes them tick.
At the moment, Banner McBride is working with IT giant Compaq, following
its acquisition of Digital. ’People feel the reasoning behind the coming
together of the two companies was well explained,’ says Harkness. ’But
now we are communicating issues about maximising the benefits of the
merger to people working for an organisation that has dramatically
changed in size and for some, identity.’
So how might you use communication channels to convert your
Bill Quirke, managing director of communications consultancy Synopsis,
says: ’You need to use different media to take staff through the various
stages. So newsletters, posters and videos are good for creating
awareness, but small discussion groups are better for generating the
conversation and involvement that ultimately leads to commitment.’
While creating brand evangelists who sing the praises of an organisation
is vital to its success, it’s possible for employees to go further and
actually live the brand.
Alaric Mostyn, managing director of Burson Marsteller’s change
communication practice, says: ’Talking about the brand is not enough.
What about the bottom line? What do real people doing real jobs have to
do differently on Monday? Everything employees do, everyday, must
deliver the brand.’
Mostyn thinks using staff as evangelists or ambassadors is only the
’Sure, you shape your communication plans and activities to be
brand-consistent,’ he says. ’But you also need to adjust your business
processes, pay and recognition processes, your recruitment, your
innovation processes, every management initiative - everything that
shapes the perceptions and performance of employees.’
As an example, Mostyn cites the horror story of an international
financial services company which redefined its corporate brand and
’The new brand was built around ’innovation’. This was communicated to
employees and brand champions were identified and trained,’ he says. ’At
the same time, the human resources department launched a major quality
initiative, with the slogan ’Right first time, every time’. It had
incentives and rewards. So employees had to choose between two apparent
contradictions - innovation or right first time. Brand ambassadors were
of no consequence, because the incentives and rewards had more
influence.’ He concludes: ’Employees were cynical and ignored both.’
So how do you get it right? Liz Stanley, consultant at Smythe Dorward
Lambert says her agency uses a framework to highlight to senior company
executives the influence employees have on the delivery of the
’It captures the essence of the ’what we say is what we do’ sentiment,
emphasising the need to align external marketing messages, the products
and services delivered and the actual behaviours of employees,’ she
’All of which impacts on the organisation’s reputation and the customer
This attention to consistency of both internal and external messages is
a view echoed by Nicholas Wright, head of Fishburn Hedges’ internal
communication consultancy. He says that recent research by Shell
International shows that 20 per cent of the hits on Shell’s external web
site come from employees. ’You have to recognise that staff also
experience external media, so messages have to be in tune,’ he says.
He also suggests that many organisations are tempted to stick their
heads in the sand when communicating more tricky issues - such as crises
- to staff. ’Companies say ’We can’t discuss this internally, it’s too
controversial’, so people simply take their cues - right or wrong - from
outside sources,’ he says.
The importance of the entire organisation living the brand should not be
underestimated. Nicola Fawssett, joint managing director of strategic
marketing consultancy New Solutions, says that it is this holistic
vision that allows organisations such as Virgin to operate successfully
in different product areas. She uses the analogy of cutting a stick of
rock and says: ’The brand should pervade through everything. It’s the
internal glue that ensures all employees and departments are facing in
the same direction.’
For the future, it seems that many organisations need to take their
employees more seriously and evolve systems that go further than the
’customer service with a smile’ approach. If the brand or frontline
staff are saying one thing and the people and systems that support them
doing another, people will not be fooled. A recent study by the Journal
of Marketing startlingly revealed that the main reason customers defect
from an organisation is related to employees. While nine per cent are
lured away by competition, 68 per cent walk away of their own accord,
because of staff attitudes or indifference.
ABBEY NATIONAL: INVITING BRAND INPUT FROM EMPLOYEES
When Nick Chaloner joined Abbey National 18 months ago as director of
corporate affairs, he conducted a communications audit of both internal
and external audiences. This revealed that while staff were very loyal,
they didn’t really understand the vision of the company.
Newly appointed chief executive Ian Harley developed a statement of
simple values that represented what the company was about. ’Called ’the
four pillars’, these were focus, communication, synergy and, most
importantly, partnership,’ says Chaloner. Three quarters of employees
hold shares in Abbey National, so Harley was keen to make staff feel
they had ownership of the company.
To inspire confidence in these new values, the corporate affairs team
developed a strategy to get Harley in front of as many employees as
’It’s not just about what the chief executive says and does,’ says
Chaloner, ’it’s that every employee is as important as another and their
Inevitably, this involved improving some of the channels of
’When I joined the company there was a rather inappropriate staff
newsletter in place called Talking Shop. This was fine for our retail
division, but didn’t sit well with the other half of our business, such
as our treasury group of investment bankers in the City,’ explains
A glossy quarterly magazine, Abbey View, was developed to cover popular
subjects such as football next to issues that affect the business. As a
personal touch, this is mailed to staff at home. It also ties in to the
group business television programme that positions hard news on topics,
such as the company results, next to features on different parts of the
business and community affairs activities.
However, as these delivery methods are one-way, the company has used
other means to breathe a sense of partnership into the organisation. A
new company intranet site is up and running and Harley holds informal
lunches for a cross-section of the workforce to discuss ideas and takes
part in monthly ’talk back’ sessions.
The sessions are held at different sites around the company, are open to
all local staff and include local directors and members of senior
The meetings enable staff to put the top team on the spot and gain a
picture of how their individual responsibilities fit into the overall
company strategy. There are also presentations of awards of up to pounds
20,000 to staff who have come up with successful efficiency ideas.
Chaloner says that a communications audit at the end of last year showed
that all these initiatives have had a dramatic impact on staff and the
business. On average, staff rate internal communications at eight out of
ten and last year, the company saved over pounds 8 million through
INTERNAL IMPACT: IT’S TIME TO COMMIT TO MEASUREMENT
Published last month, the PR Week/Countrywide Porter Novelli (CPN) Proof
survey reveals that almost a quarter of those working in internal
communications are doubtful about measuring their work.
Conducted by CARMA International, this detailed study of more than 200
respondents shows there is much confusion about which evaluation
techniques are the most effective. CPN director Keith Taylor thinks much
of this uncertainty stems from a lack of commitment by senior
management. Taylor states that measurement is the biggest challenge for
internal communications as it moves forward.
’Many people still treat it as something which they instinctively know
is the right thing to do, but can’t be bothered to spend time or
resources on,’ he says.
A further problem, identified by Hilary Scarlett, associate director of
internal communications specialist Smythe Dorward Lambert, is that
organisations are not always prepared to accept measurement findings, or
the need to act on them.
Mel Lowe, director of Burson-Marsteller’s change communication practice
goes further and criticises the validity of much of the current
evaluation methods. ’A lot of internal communication research is
ineffective because it simply measures what people think about various
communication channels, asking whether people ’feel’ well-informed,
instead of testing whether they really are,’ she says.
In other words, if the aim of an internal campaign is to improve
productivity or staff retention, knowing that employees have understood
the message only goes half-way towards measuring its success. It is not
an indicator of any change in behaviour and performance, and is highly
unlikely to have any impact on those who hold the purse strings.
As with external relations, the key is to link measurement of internal
messages with business objectives. Lowe says: ’You have to do internal
communication research which measures whether people are actually
well-informed about what’s going on in the organisation, tells you what
impact communication is having on performance, and produces specific,
’You have to ensure research and measurement is co-ordinated across an
organisation,’ says Nicholas Wright, head of the internal communication
consultancy at Fishburn Hedges. ’For example, many companies have
external customer satisfaction indices, but fewer have internal employee
satisfaction indices. You can only look at performances between the two
and demonstrate where internal communication has made an impact,’ he
As with all measurement, this involves some initial benchmarking and
agreed measurable objectives. But evaluating internal processes also
needs to be a serious matter for the whole company and built into the
business cycle. For example, individuals’ communication skills ratings
should be tied to incentives such as remuneration and perks.
However, hooking into business aims does not mean discarding the
individual components of communication or ignoring employees
CPN’s Taylor says it is equally important to measure the detail of
specifics, such as information cascade systems or the impetus of the
And he also thinks it is vital to check people’s attitudes and awareness
of broad themes across sites or internationally, with a mix of
questionnaires and face-to-face interviews.
’This helps to identify problems such as staff who feel a manager is
taking the credit for others’ work, or difficulties with downward or
upward communication,’ he says.
The crux for internal communications specialists seems to be that for
many, this is where the measurement process ends. For the future, Taylor
thinks the discipline needs to take itself more seriously. ’If internal
communications doesn’t have self-esteem, how can you expect anybody else
to believe in it?’ he concludes.
BEST FOUNDATION: EMPLOYERS PRACTISE WHAT THEY PREACH
Before a firm has any hope of getting employees to buy-in to its brand
and ethos so they can act as ambassadors, it needs to ensure that those
at the top of the company also believe the hype.
A survey carried out by MORI at the end of last year for PR consultancy
Smythe Dorward Lambert found that while employees approve the values of
their organisation, they do not always trust their leaders.
Just 11 per cent of all workers in the UK strongly agreed with the
statement, ’I trust and believe what the directors of my company
Trust in directors is lowest among blue-collar workers - 47 per cent
don’t believe a word they say - and highest among professional women
under 35, where 28 per cent distrust their bosses.
Staff in the South are twice as likely to have a strong trust in their
directors - 18 per cent - than in the North.
At the same time, more than three-quarters of all workers endorse the
core values of their organisation and seven out of eight feel they
understand what their company is trying to achieve.
Smythe Dorward Lambert - which bills itself as ’the consultancy that
puts people at the heart of business change’ - has used a selection of
techniques to overcome the trust gap with clients such as Microsoft,
Scottish Power and Pfizer.
These include shadowing the board to review behaviour and performance
against the company values, to help senior executives ’walk the walk’
and to be seen to live by the values the employees accept.
Agency chairman John Smythe says: ’UK companies’ recent enthusiasm for
internal communications is already starting to pay off. That so many
employees understand what their company is trying to achieve is
fantastic for business.’
But he adds: ’The fact that so few believe their leaders is much more
distressing, particularly for companies embarking on a major change.
Trust does not come from the stylised video or slick conference. It
comes from listening, involving others in decisions, admitting mistakes
and personal difficulties, and being consistent in the way leaders
behave, day in, day out. This research suggests there is still a way to