CEOs undervalue the common touch

In their quieter moments chief executives sometimes say the biggest challenge facing any big business these days is in defining the aims of the business in a way that will win the engagement of the staff.

Anthony Hilton: "There is excitement at Aviva rather than fear of the new regime, showing internal comms is hugely powerful."
Anthony Hilton: "There is excitement at Aviva rather than fear of the new regime, showing internal comms is hugely powerful."

The chief executive should be able to say what the business is for and to put it across in a way around which the employees can unite.

The most important communication any business does is with its own people, and in the long term the results of good internal PR overshadow most of what can be achieved by external PR. Or to put that another way, if the internal PR is not striking the right notes, there is always a danger it will undermine external messages.

Whether this happens depends a lot on the personality of the chief executive. Some are insecure, which they seek to soothe by being ultra-competitive.

Others are aggressive. They bullied their way to the top, and have no intention of changing their style just because they are in charge. They too tend not to be great at internal PR, though they work hard to be on their best behaviour when dealing with the media.

Most when asked will say they believe in teamwork, and in having employees free to challenge and question so they can make a full contribution to the business. A few have the self-confidence and style to achieve this and it usually shows in the results.

With this in mind, it is interesting to hear Mark Wilson, the New Zealander recently appointed to take over Aviva, has apparently been spending most of his first few weeks in the insurance company not on the top floor of the head office in the City, but in getting to know what he has taken on, who he has to lead, and what they think the company stands for. Given it is a genuinely global company, it has not been easy.

It has been worth it though. His personal appearances have created a buzz to the extent that the staff who have not yet met him almost feel left out. There is excitement rather than fear of what the new regime will bring, showing once again that internal comms is hugely powerful.

It is such a pity so few CEOs have a clue how to do it.

Anthony Hilton is City commentator on London's Evening Standard

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