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
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.