FOCUS: INTERNAL COMMUNICATIONS; Getting inside the heads of your staff

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

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,’

says Mostyn.

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

external resources.

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.

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