A recent survey paints a pretty black picture of the effectiveness
of internal communications and change management in British
The Buy-in Benchmark, a survey of 350 managers and staff in UK
organisations employing 1,000 or more people conducted in August by MORI
for the Marketing and Communication Agency (MCA), found that only nine
per cent of staff felt their views and participation were valued.
’Our research has identified that there is a dynamic that
disenfranchises staff which is threatening the future viability of some
of these businesses.
Very simply, people are not being listened to and action is not being
taken to market to the internal customer - employees,’ says MCA
chairman, Kevin Thomson.
MCA’s research shows a direct link between good communications and
strong buy-in. The effectiveness of communications in their
organisations was given a mean score of just six out of ten by
respondents. This matches the findings of MORI’s Communications Survey,
1997 Omnibus, which showed that the effectiveness of communications has
not improved in the last 27 years. But MCA says that if this score was
to increase to eight out of ten then levels of buy-in could effectively
Significantly, the survey also reveals that buy-in has a bottom line
impact on performance. Of respondents with a high buy-in to their
organisation, 48 per cent said it greatly improved their performance,
and a further 35 per cent that it slightly improves it.
If the effectiveness of internal communications in many organisations in
the UK is low, then at least the problem is recognised, according to a
survey conducted by Countrywide Porter Novelli (CWPN) in September.
CWPN’s report, The Future of Internal Communications, is based on
interviews with 35 FTSE 1,000 companies and finds that 68 per cent of
those surveyed were planning to increase their spend on internal
communications over the next three years, with 11 per cent expecting to
increase spend by 50 per cent or more.
Organisational change was cited as one of the main reasons for
increasing spend. One respondent stated simply: ’Change within the
organisation equals more communications which equals increase in
A heartening 85 per cent said that internal communication is very
important during organisational change, and 82 per cent said that it is
very important during mergers and acquisitions. With high feelings of
discontentment among employees, the latest buzzword being used by change
management gurus anxious to rectify the problem is ’involvement’.
’The biggest trend we are seeing is the increasing number of
modern-thinking managers who are committing time and resources to
involving employees directly in developing vision and strategy for the
’The logic is that they are closer to the customer and market and very
realistic about what is needed and what will work,’ says Helena Memory,
director of communication and change consultants Hedron.
Innovative ways to encourage involvement are now being developed by
change management consultants. ’We’re involving people much more in the
process of change and trying to do so in a way that enables them to have
fun in the process,’ says Mike Pounsford, managing director of Banner
’For Compass, a big catering organisation with 30,000 employees in the
UK, we needed to help managers understand the impact of technology on
staff and on the client service they could offer,’ he says. ’Rather than
push this through workshops or presentations, we designed a business
game which made the whole process much more interactive.’
When Eagle Star was trying to introduce a new brand, Banner McBride
designed a ’graf-fiti board’ which was put up in Eagle Star’s offices.
Employees were invited to write suggestions for change on it and give
ideas to managers.
’There is a common theme in our work which most companies ignore and
that is to appeal to the emotions as much as to reason,’ says
He gives another example involving TNT which launched a new brand
worldwide in April and had to ensure that its 55,000 staff understood
the brand and the implications for them. ’We felt strongly that before
we gave the logical reasons we had to engage employees emotionally,’ he
One of the solutions was surprisingly simple. Traditionally, managers
had been given models of company vehicles, which came to be seen as
status symbols. Banner McBride recommended that all employees were given
the vehicles. ’This had a huge impact on their emotional involvement,’
Once emotional involvement had been gained the company was able to start
to put forward rational explanations to a more receptive workforce.
British Airways World Cargo, working with management consultants Smythe
Dorward Lambert, is more than three years into a business re-engineering
’Having gone through two years of open and honest communication with
some fairly tough messages we wanted to move on to energise our people,’
explains communications manager, Angela Paterson.
Since June BA World Cargo has been staging an exhibition called Vision
to Reality which gives employees the opportunity to find out what the
company will look like in the near future.
Employees are taken around the exhibition in groups of six and their
three- hour tour culminates in a half-hour session with senior managers
in which they have the opportunity to debate and disagree with them.
The final stage in their vision to reality journey is the commitment
room in which they have the opportunity to write on the walls what their
commitment to the new business is.
As change management becomes a more involving process, responsibility
for the process is shifting.
’The change team at the centre is concerning itself with setting up
guidelines and frameworks for change and spending a lot of its time and
effort communicating goals and defining the licence managers will have,’
says Smythe Dorward Lambert director Colette Dorward.
’Managers are being invited to work in different cross-function
groupings and being allowed to discuss what needs to happen to effect
According to Thomson, different sectors of the organisation are becoming
involved with internal communication. ’We’re starting to see human
resources, PR and marketing merging and becoming responsible for
capturing hearts and minds inside and outside the organisation,’ he
Countrywide Porter Novelli’s survey confirms that internal
communications are enjoying a higher profile. ’Internal communications
are increasingly being seen as a strategic business tool to give
competitive advantage,’ says CWPN senior consultant Keith Bartlett, who
worked on the survey.
Half of those questioned by CWPN said they felt internal communications
played a more important role in their company’s business than
The key role internal communications plays in change management may now
be recognised, but only 15 per cent of the organisations questioned by
CWPN had a dedicated in-house department for managing internal
Sixty-four per cent used an external consultancy in partnership with an
’It’s the business drivers which invariably initiate the need for
change, and once the decision to change has been taken, there is input
from other functions. It’s very rare that someone in communications is
responsible for change management, but they do play a crucial part in
development and implementation,’ says Bartlett.
A good model for managing change, believes Bartlett, is that adopted
during the merger of Lloyds and TSB when one person took sole charge of
’Rather than just handling the logistics of implementation and
evaluating the business implications, a large part of their role was
selling the idea to staff so they got buy-in,’ he says.
Capturing the hearts, as well as the minds, of employees is now a very
important part of what successful change management is all about.
LEADERSHIP: Teaching top level staff to talk turkey
Senior managers play a crucial role in communicating change, yet all too
often they are given no formal communications training. ’A lot of
managers take communication for granted,’ says John van Maurik, managing
consultant at training company PA Consulting Group. ’They make
assumptions that the basic message is getting across.’
The problem is that all too often, particularly in high-pressure
situations such as organisational change, it isn’t. Fortunately, it
appears to be a problem that more and more organisations are
recognising. Van Maurik reckons that about half the training programmes
PA runs now cover change management. That means the company is now
training around 2,000 senior managers a year in how to manage change
’There’s been a noticeable increase in demand for this kind of
training,’ says van Maurik. ’Companies are saying, ’we want management
development training in the context of the changes affecting our
business’.’ PA offers an open course called Leading Change Strategy into
Action, as well as in-company courses that include many of the same
One of the main aims of the training is to get managers to look at their
leadership style. ’A lot of people don’t realise the difference between
leadership and management,’ van Maurik says. ’Management is about
managing processes and getting results, while leadership is about
working with and motivating people, having a sense of direction and
Van Maurik has a mnemonic, WIST, which he uses to sum up the attributes
needed by good change managers. W stands for wisdom, I for integrity, S
for sensitivity, and T for tenacity. PA’s courses attempt to make
managers aware of these desirable qualities, and to help them to develop
For example, managers are taught to be sensitive to people’s reaction to
change and to recognise the half-communicated messages they may be
Specific communication techniques are also covered. Managers learn to
appreciate the power of body language and of particular words, and how
to ask questions effectively so that assumptions can be tested.
But can all managers be taught to communicate well? Van Maurik
recognises that some people are better communicators than others, but he
says the courses can help senior managers recognise that good
communication during change is a necessity.
’Senior executives who are not the most brilliant communicators should
work with other people who are better at it,’ he suggests.
CULTURE SHOCK: Maintaining continuity after a merger
’I have always believed that the myth that you could not combine
cultures in the PR agency business needed testing,’ says chief executive
of the Ketchum Group in the UK, James Maxwell.
In 1996 Maxwell had the opportunity to test the myth when
Scope:Communications was acquired by Ketchum. Maxwell says he learnt
from the unsuccessful merger between Durden Smith Communications and
Shandwick in 1980, which ended with the Durden Smith team walking out
within a year, along with most of their clients. ’Nobody spent time
talking to them as individuals, understanding what their fears or
concerns were about the merger, or trying to explain what what the
benefits of the deal were for employees,’ he says.
When it came to merging Scope with Ketchum, Maxwell was well prepared
for the challenges that lay ahead. ’When we announced the merger we
spent a great deal of time with the Scope team promoting the benefits of
being part of a multi-national group, with greater investment in
technology and training, and a bigger stage on which to play.’
Ironically it was the Ketchum team of 22 people who felt like they were
being acquired by the Scope team of 60 people. ’The acquiree feels
threatened and insecure.
These are not fears you can allay quickly, and certainly not in one
meeting,’ comments Maxwell.
A daily bulletin was issued during the acutely sensitive first four
weeks of the merger (subsequently going weekly) carrying news of
restructuring, best practice from both sides, and updates on office and
This bulletin was able to voice concerns expressed in ongoing one-to-one
meetings between board directors and other employees.
’Every day we would take the pulse of the merger,’ says Maxwell. ’It was
apparent who had immediately bought into the opportunities presented by
the enlarged business, and who was feeling dislocated from it. In most
cases, through frank dialogue, we were able to solve most of the
problems that people had.’ Many of these problems were relatively minor,
such as office hours and canteen hours.
In May this year Ketchum embarked on another merger, this time with
consumer agency Life PR. Jane Boardman, formerly director of health and
beauty at Life PR, rejoined as managing director of Ketchum Life. After
the success of the Scope Ketchum merger many of the same techniques have
been used to try to effect a similarly satisfactory outcome.
’The measure of success of both mergers has been on two fronts: employee
retention and morale, and client retention and satisfaction. On both
counts, the first merger between Scope and Ketchum was an unparalleled
success,’ says Maxwell. Only two members of the Ketchum London team
left, and no clients from either side resigned. Employee and client
satisfaction surveys carried out in November 1997 showed a 94 per cent
level of motivation amongst employees, and over 90 per cent client
satisfaction with service levels and professionalism.
Ketchum Life is still in its infancy, but the signs are good. There have
been no client resignations, and although some junior staff have left
the senior management team remains intact.
TECHNOLOGY: The role of electronic mail in communications
Electronic communication, particularly in the form of e-mail and
intranets, has provided a powerful new tool for internal communications,
but not everyone agrees it has been beneficial. ’Technology has failed,’
states MCA chairman Kevin Thomson emphatically. An MCA study among 20
top technology companies showed that technology doesn’t improve
communication, and Thomson says ’IT people are dropping intranets like
But he still believes intranets have a future, provided they are used as
Mike Pounsford, managing director of Banner McBride, envisages a much
greater role for technology in communications. ’Technology is helping
people share information across a business,’ he says. He sees e-mail
replacing traditional paper-based communication, and intranets being
used more extensively so that employees are given more responsibility
for finding information.
’Ten years ago communication was top-down or bottom-up, but now with the
help of technology it’s lateral as well,’ he says.
Technology has a very specific role to play in internal communications
says Harvard group PR director, Gareth Zundel. ’Intranets and e-mail are
a perfectly satisfactory communications medium in terms of being used
for a follow-up memo once staff have been spoken to in person,’ he
’Because it is so easy to use, maybe a little too much has been done by
e-mail. But in the last year or so people have come to remember the old
values, and there is no substitute for face-to-face meetings.’
Hedron director Helen Memory has similar theories about the best way to
use technology. ’In the best companies technology is now limited to the
transmission of basic information that does not need discussion to be
understood by employees,’ she says.
At BA World Cargo e-mail is currently used to update managers on the
weekly business meetings between the managing director and the staff who
report directly to him. This information is then used by managers to
brief their teams. ’Partly because of the global spread of our business
we use e-mail a lot,’ says BAWC communications manager, Angela
Now the company is developing an intranet and considering the most
effective way to use this. ’Technology offers huge possibilities, but
there is the risk that it removes us from direct communication with
staff and colleagues,’ says Paterson. ’We are now looking at how we use
the technology available to support communications and move away from
simply communicating a process to building and developing commitment.’