Platform: Being cruel to be kind can increase profits - If you want to achieve effective internal communications you can’t always afford to be Mr Nice Guy, says Alan Riley

It’s official: effective internal communication affects profits.

It’s official: effective internal communication affects


Confirmation comes in a report published by the Institute of Personnel

Development earlier this year, based on work undertaken by Sheffield

University and the LSE.

The report looks at how employee satisfaction, the influence of company

climate and the effect of human resources practices affects profits. It

highlights bottom line improvements of between five and 29 per cent for

companies which take these topics seriously. The Financial Times is

currently running a series on the best performing companies identified

in the report.

Communications experts might rejoice at the findings. But the path from

internal communications to profits can be more painful than much of our

industry’s literature on the subject would have us believe.

It was striking to read in the FT series in July of what Glenn Cooper,

managing director of Essex-based safety and control systems manufacturer

ICS, did. Cooper describes day one as the new MD: ’I arrived at 10am and

at 11am I sacked the manufacturing director. At 12 noon I sacked the

technical director, so by lunchtime everyone knew I had arrived.’

The article goes on to talk about how Cooper transformed the culture and

performance of ICS by a process that included enforceable internal

communications and personal accountability for business plan


What makes this account so unsettling is that it explodes the warm and

woolly thinking that can easily bedevil discussion of internal


To read half the articles on these topics you’d think that all a company

had to do to be effective was empower people; have managers who give

plenty of praise; create a listening culture and lo! the bottom line is

magically transformed.

These things help, but effective internal communication in itself won’t

solve anything. It never exists in isolation from other aspects of

organisational life, as ICS’s improved bottom line demonstrates.

Cooper’s sackings, undertaken in less time than it takes to read a

couple of chapters in the latest tome on empowerment, were at ICS an

effective communication move - though not of the sort that generally

features in our industry’s handbooks. The sackings also raise a wider

point: how internal communication relates to an organisation’s

functioning. Communications professionals involved in internal

communications programmes will testify that sometimes they are asked to

develop initiatives that seem to be isolated from other organisational

realities. In my experience, a key issue is for managers to take on

board what I call the behavioural implication of internal


Take openness and honesty - much touted in the communications


We need to graciously, but firmly, remind our clients that they can’t

just talk about these qualities, they have to live them out. That is

where Cooper scores at ICS. His managers are asked to undergo

personality tests to see if they fit the job, for example. But Cooper

first shows them one that has been done on him.

From the FT piece, it is clear that effective communication is a byword

at ICS. Classic systems such as cascading of decisions down the

organisation, consideration of employee suggestions and employee

feedback are all part of corporate life. So too, though, is rigorous

accountability - senior managers have to put their names to the business

plan, which is posted up so that everyone can see it.

Presumably Cooper felt that without this kind of personal accountability

and the tough management decisions that preceded it, the internal

communications systems would have been total non-starters.

Alan Riley is a founder partner of the Maxim Partnership.

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