Insight: Energising internal communications

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Tom Harvey, communications manager at Nationwide Building Society, explains why Powerpoint presentations no longer cut it in the communications field.

There is more to communication than providing information. Understanding something doesn’t mean you care and it can fall a long way short of being inspiring and motivating. The enemy of internal communication is not so much misunderstanding as apathy.

Why is it, then, that British managers are such bad communicators? If you travel to the United States and meet high-school kids, you feel like they’ve done media training. I don’t think standing up in front of other people – public speaking, engaging other people – is something that is naturally taught, and is naturally experienced in the UK. Most people are embarrassed about it, embarrassed that they’re going to be laughed at, embarrassed that they’re going to fail.

In business it is critical to show a manager how to cope with moments of stress, if forced to do face-to-face communication. However, we don’t train communication in most organisations. We train presentations. Everybody can do Powerpoint these days – they used to be able to do acetates – but not that many people are actually trained in facilitation skills.

If you’ve made it to manager and you think you’ve got to be omniscient and answer all the questions in a meeting, then in terms of being a good communicator that’s not how to run a good meeting. It might look like being a powerful leading manager, but it doesn’t produce an effective communications ambience.

If we’re going to make real progress in terms of getting better at internal communication, we’ve got to recognise that communication skills belong on people’s performance agreements; and not only do those skills have to be there, they have to be taught, they have to be monitored and they have to be enhanced. Once people realise that they can do it, they start to really enjoy it.

A particular example springs to mind about how one team’s enthusiasm can reap great results. An organisation wanted more employees to buy into their share scheme. They publicised it, sent out paperwork, had team sessions but still nobody bought into it. This was due to the predominantly transient, youthful workforce that were not necessarily thinking about the future. However, this was one of their corporate objectives and they needed to make it stick.

Nevertheless they had the enthusiasm to do something completely different. In the middle of the night they put a little bag of chocolate money next to every single workstation. They also organised their IT so when each employee turned on their computers the next morning, a message popped up saying; ‘This money could be yours’.

Suddenly, they had a massive take-up. By having the courage and enthusiasm to do something that stepped out of the normal run-of-the mill briefings, they managed to bring the idea of money to life. In other words, all the normal disciplines of internal communications had failed them but they had the keenness to do something which went further, something more creative and more exciting.

In my opinion, the move from simply informed employees to engaged employees really does entail having the enthusiasm to do something different.

This is an extract of a full interview, Internal Communications: From Information to Inspiration, published by Shoulders of Giants www.shoulders-of-giants.co.uk, priced at £14.99.

HR Zone members’ offer:
HR Zone readers can snap up a 10% discount on the audio CD by ordering through the website (www.shoulders-of-giants.co.uk) and entering the following code: HRZOFFER06. Offer expires 30th April 2006.

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