IN TOUCH EMPLOYERS: PR departments are gradually taking over
responsibility for internal communications
HOME WORKERS: Without the social network of the office it becomes more
vital to keep home workers informed
STRESS RELIEF: Hypnotherapy and counselling workshops are two methods
of cutting down stress related illness
Public relations departments are working hand-in-hand with human
resources to ensure that motivated and well-informed staff reinforce a
company’s message to external audiences. Hilary Freeman reports
Internal Communications used to be a rather vague discipline, undertaken
as a loosely defined exercise in corporate magnanimity. That was in the
days of jobs for life, however, before downsizing, recession and
depression forced businesses to confront the stress-laden, insecure
marketplace of the 1990s.
Informing employees of company developments has become a necessity, not
a luxury. Internal communications has shot up the board room agenda,
forcing companies to reassess its importance as a discipline, redefining
its parameters, often snatching the handling of employee relations from
the hands of human resources departments to reposition it within the
remit of PR, marketing or sales.
Sue Sharp, who heads up Key Communications internal communications
division, cites research which shows that PR, marketing or sales are now
responsible for internal communication in nearly 30 per cent of cases,
with human resources departments responsible in 36 per cent of
organisations. Yet only two years ago, similar research showed 60 per
cent of human resources departments were in charge of internal
Sharp says this shift has come about because companies have begun to see
internal communications as a natural extension of their external
‘Companies now realise that their competitive edge lies with their
staff. If people are motivated and informed, they can better contribute
to their own job and to the company’s vision. People have become a
business tool, like a product or service and companies believe internal
communications should be handled by corporate business staff, rather
than by human resources - the ‘people people’ - who are still seen by
some as the police,’ she says.
In a move which would have bucked this trend, Inchcape at one time
considered transferring internal communications from corporate affairs
into human resources. But the group eventually concluded that internal
communications sat better in corporate affairs.
‘The corporate affairs department has the communication skills,’ says
Paul Barber, Inchcape’s group corporate affairs director. ‘By keeping
internal communications in corporate affairs we can ensure that we are
sending out consistent messages both externally and internally. In this
way, staff, the City, customers and press all receive the same
information. But we will continue to work alongside human resources.’
Alison Barnetson, director of Amersham-based Lumina Consulting, a
company specialising in internal communications and change management,
strongly advocates an integrated approach: ‘The importance of line
management and feedback systems which involve training and development
mechanisms means human resources must be involved in the internal
communications process,’ she says.
Last summer, Lumina undertook a cross-sector study of best practice in
internal communications. After interviewing staff at 31 blue-chip
companies it concluded there were several clear differentiators of best
practice. First, a company must provide a culture which supports and
enables open communication through line management.
The involvement of the chief executive is a particularly important
factor. Secondly, a company must excel at stimulating and acting on
feedback. Good internal communications require a rich mix of media
mechanisms, including use of new technologies. Finally, the study
flagged up the fact that the use of internal communications should be
measured and linked with business performance.
Although 23 of the 31 companies interviewed handled internal
communications within corporate affairs, rather than within HR,
Barnetson stresses that all the companies which were models of best
practice were collaborators, using input from HR, external
communications and senior management.
Key’s Sue Sharp says a holistic approach to internal communications is
essential. PR and corporate communications staff and HR have much to
learn from one another.
‘PR people understand how to segment audiences and tailor messages on
paper but they often leave out the people side. People are the
speciality of human resources,’ she explains.
Ilya Scott, divisional director of Barkers’ year-old Scottish internal
communications practice, says one of the consultancy’s main roles is to
improve the people skills of managers: ‘People have traditionally been
recruited for their technical ability, rather than their management
ability. Now companies are learning to look inwards before they look
outwards - and that’s where we can step into the mix.’
Anthony Goodman, director at IC specialist, Smythe Dorward Lambert,
predicts that it will soon become almost impossible for managers to gain
promotion unless they are accomplished listeners and communicators.
‘Internal communications is becoming a management discipline. It is
moving away from using channels such as newsletters and videos and
becoming focused on understanding employee behaviour and attitudes. I
believe human resources will therefore become more involved, not less
involved in the internal communications process,’ he says.
In companies where internal communications is handled by both HR and PR,
managers report huge advances in employee awareness and morale. Anne
Gillespie heads HR and PR at the Scottish division of computer company,
Compaq, one of Barkers’ clients. She says that research into internal
communications at the company revealed that face-to-face meetings topped
the list of staff requirements.
Compaq now organises monthly regional group meetings in addition to
using more standard paper or IT-based communications devices. All
managers have signed an information pact, promising to cascade
information down to their employees within a set time period.
But some IC specialists claim departmental ownership of internal
communications is not the main issue. Alaric Mostyn, managing director
of Burson-Marsteller’s internal communications division, says the
discipline has always been divided between HR and corporate
communications, with some companies employing an integrated approach.
‘What has changed is that the chief executives and strategists have
taken more interest in improving their commitment to their employees and
are now fitting internal communications into their business planning,’
He says that with the continuous change in organisational structures, it
is essential that a company builds core values into its communications
behaviour, so the communications chain does not break. New technical
innovations, such as the Intranet - an internal corporate website - help
to fulfil this role.
The recession may be over but the climate in the workplace appears to
have changed for ever. Government resistance to proposals for a 48-hour
week means internal communications is likely to remain high on the
board-room agenda, leading to a growth in independent consultancies as
smaller companies, without dedicated internal communications resources,
recognise its importance.
Book Clubs Associates, a London and Swindon-based company with 1,000
employees has just entered the internal communications arena by
commissioning Worcestershire-based consultancy, Active Learning and
Development to conduct a survey into employee attitudes.
BCA’s HR officer Shelley Sandler says an independent specialist can act
as a facilitator, offering an unbiased, external view of what is
happening in an organisation, and bringing in experience of other
companies. BCA has set up a staff working party to consider the survey’s
IC specialists are united in their vision of a buoyant future for
internal communications, but believe there are still many issues which
require attention. Ilya Scott of Barkers Scotland says it is not enough
for internal communications to be high on the agenda - it should be
right at the top.
‘Companies do not consider their internal communications early enough.
It should be part of the planning process,’ Scott says. Without proper
planning and resources, internal communications is ineffective. And poor
internal communications can have a bad, de-motivating effect on
employees - the very opposite of its purpose, she adds.
Case study: Communications within telecommunications
Six months ago, BT Global Satellite Services, a product specialist arm
of BT, undertook a dedicated internal communications programme with the
assistance of PR agency, Text 100.
The aim of the programme was to build a profile for the products and the
people within BTGSS using both an internal awareness programme and media
campaign. Jane Hannah, group marketing development manager, says: ‘In a
large organisation which is increasingly operating on a global scale,
effective internal communications are becoming more and more important
to our business success, particularly as we take products into new
markets around the world.
‘We wanted to get away from the idea that BT is just a telephone company
and increase our visibility as a group. We were aware that if BTGSS had
good coverage internally the sales teams would be better informed and
would use more relevant tools to promote our products.’
Hannah says the fundamental principle of the programme was to treat BT’s
internal audience like an external audience, using the same degree of
marketing professionalism and all available media. ‘Prior to the
programme, we would blanket information across product groups,’ says
Hannah. ‘In order to avoid information overload, one must segment the
audience and identify what each group needs to know. Internal
communications is not just about telling people what the company thinks
they should know. It must be more sophisticated.’
BTGSS held workshops for product groups, identifying the types of
information needed to sell services. The company found that while, for
example, the sales group wanted to know about the customer benefits of a
product, the engineering group wanted detailed technical information.
Using a central database, BTGSS was able to target particular teams with
specific information. In addition, BT’s internal newsletters were
carefully targeted and monitored. Hannah says the programme faced only
one stumbling block - a problem with resources.
Six months on, BTGSS claims that its programme proves that a dedicated
IC programme works. Close monitoring using questionnaires and
benchmarking has revealed a 200 per cent increase in employee awareness
of the satellite group.
Home working: The internal communications challenge
The second half of the 20th century has seen dramatic changes in the
workplace. Ever-advancing computer technology, a rise in the number of
female staff and the growing army of part-time workers have created new
challenges for management and IC specialists alike.
Now, with the advent of the Internet, a growing number of employees -
2.5 million at the last count - are choosing to work from home, linked
to the workplace only by their modems.
Bill Quirke, managing director of IC consultancy, Synopsis says home
workers present internal communications specialists with a unique
challenge. ‘The more organisations create teleworkers to reduce their
cost base, the more they have to do to give them a sense of direction.
It is not enough just to send information down the e-mail. This does not
address the wider needs of such workers.’
Quirke says few companies realise the importance of social interaction
between staff. ‘The saying that blue collar workers gossip, while white
collar workers network is true. Smokers are the often best informed
employees in a company. There is no such thing as idle chat - social
relationships drive communications and understanding.
‘By taking teleworkers out of the grapevine system, companies create a
problem for themselves. Teleworkers need to be put into teams, so they
have a sense of belonging. Research shows that home workers use
technology to chat to each other. This is not idle time - it’s vital
Quirke says IC specialists should not just concentrate on clarifying and
disseminating messages, they must develop an understanding of how people
relate to each other. ‘Internal communications has two strands -
information and relationships. IC specialists will have to be like good
hostesses at a party - they’ll have to know who will mix well and who
will start conversations.’
Colette Dorward, managing director of Smythe Dorward Lambert echoes
these views. ‘IC specialists must make sure that they structure meetings
and events for home workers. When teleworkers do meet up, it is
important that face-to-face time is not wasted on things that can be
done through another medium. People should be encouraged to network.’
The biggest challenge facing IC experts is how to create a sense of
loyalty in home workers, says Dorward. ‘IC specialists need to plan more
carefully and take a more oriented approach as to which media to use.
And it will become increasingly important to clearly set out the values
of the organisation, so teleworkers can be committed to these values.’
Coping with stress: The industrial epidemic of the 1990s
Britain is officially the most overworked nation in Europe. A new
Institute of Management study reports that stress has increased
substantially in the past three years, with an estimated 270,000 people
taking time off work every day, at an annual cost to industry of pounds
7 billion. People are literally dying to earn a living.
IC specialists have begun to realise that good internal communications
are not enough to alleviate the stress of overwork and job insecurity.
Businesses are also starting to sit up and take notice, following the
decision by the courts to award pounds 15,000 to an employee of
Northumberland County Council for stress suffered in his job.
Fear of litigation has led many companies to bring in stress consultants
to both prevent and cure stress in the workplace. Since stress
management is not an exact science, consultants employ a variety of
techniques including massage, counselling, hypnotherapy, lectures,
seminars and self-help audio kits.
Advanced hynotherapist Deborah Marshall Warren works with corporate
clients, through her consultancy Whole-Being Hynotherapy, on a technique
called ‘orange liquid therapy’. There is not a flotation tank in sight
at her Regent Street offices, the liquid being purely imaginary. For
around pounds 80 for individual sessions or around pounds 500 per day
for groups Warren soothes her overwrought clients by encouraging them to
imagine their bodies slowly filling with a soothing orange liquid from
the feet upwards, finally allowing their fears and anxieties to wash
away with the tainted liquid.
Following on from this is the Parts Therapy, a deeper technique which is
carried out on an individual basis. It accesses those parts of
subconscious mind responsible for stress and suggests other ways of
Warren has recently worked with solicitors in South Kensington Lloyd and
Associates. She has also worked alongside training firms and frequently
treats highly pressured workers such as company CEOs and investment
bankers on an individual basis. ‘Hypnotherapy refuels your body, so you
are on your way from 0 to 70 in a matter of seconds,’ says Warren.
Optimal Health is a London-based independent company providing health
checks, self-help audio cassettes and CDs and seminars to organisations
and their employees. The company has just worked with staff at American
Airlines to try to alleviate the stress caused by the airline’s
impending merger with British Airways.
Director Quint Boa says the key to stress management is to target top
managers. ‘Stress has a trickle down effect. Optimal goes as far
upstream as possible, educating managers in how to recognise and stop
stress and to look at their own behaviour. Often this means we are
working at cross purposes - the top man may be responsible for stress
because he’s not delegating, so he may feel that effectively we’re
telling him how to do his job.’
Mike O’Sullivan, an associate of Lumina Consulting runs a personal and
professional development company offering stress management courses and
counselling workshops. He points out that many people thrive on stress
but become unable to cope when demands outstrip their internal and
He sees his role as a facilitator, enabling people to take back control
of their lives and claims he has helped employees with stress related
illnesses to return to work.
‘Managers who use my services know it’s more effective to pay me than to
suffer the loss of an employee. Counselling is cost-effective for the
company. If a company has stress management services it also motivates
employees because they feel that senior management care about them and
support them,’ he concludes.