I’ve been wanting to write a post about the importance of internal stakeholder management or internal communication in the current scenario of economic recession for a while. Now, after having participated at the 4th Internal Branding and Employee Engagement Conference, here are some fresh ideas.
The issue of how Internal Communication is acquiring a more and more important role in the current scenario is not new to this blog. Recent studies point to that, but the question is how is this translating into practice and changing the panorama of internal communication.
This was precisely one of my main questions when taking part at the recent Internal Branding and Employee Engagement Conference in Amsterdam, a forum with internal communication managers and brand managers and specialists from consultancies. Though most of the case studies presented at the Conference are still from the pre-bubble period, late 2008 or early 2009, they translate a concern in adapting and adjusting tactics (or launching new ones) to deal with the economic downturn.
Here are some of my main takeaways:
1. The economic crisis doesn’t mean direct cuts in internal communication – All participants revealed that they are not experiencing strong cuts on their budgets, but in some cases they are redirecting their budget more to the “listening mode” of communication rather than to the “speaking mode”. A participant explained indeed how the budget of a product advertising campaign was converted into a corporate advertising campaign (including internal activities), thus in some cases investments might be increasing.
2. In the recession, employee engagement can be leveraged through significant participation in the corporate strategy – Peter Jones from British company BUPA revealed important data from an internal survey demonstrating that 83% of people declare that the future of the company is one of the issues that engages them the most. (Note to readers: Do you have similar data from other studies confirming this?) On the other hand, if companies believe they have to earn their “license-to-operate” why not start internally and why not start with employee’s participation in the corporate strategy? Inspirational example from Budapest Bank in creating an internal change agents network to facilitate the engagement in corporate identity renovation campaign. Also, in the current scenario, companies seem to be giving a lot of attention to communicating their values in innovative and consistent ways to employees.
3. Going too fast on the action/ communication regarding the economic downturn can create you more trouble than help – The effects of communicating the crisis and some unpopular cost cutting measures – including employee’s wages and benefits or strong travel restrictions – took HP’s European Imaging and Printing business to deal with another problem. As explained in a brilliant presentation by Rupal Ulrich, a strange silence and a sharp reduction of employee’s participation through the normal channels, demotivation and rumors where the consequences of the company’s reaction to the crisis. Folks at HP found their way to at least invert the negative tendency (“We got our employees back”, Rupal stated), but the problem is far from solved. I wonder how many of you out there are facing similar situations in your company or clients which still haven’t been properly addressed? What are the risks of a “disengaged” or “actively disengaged” workforce in a time when simply waking away is not an option due to the difficult economic scenario?
4. Impacts for the future: more professionalism in Internal Communication and the end of “Do Me” Departments – Already now but more in the future to come, Internal communication cannot be a service to get brochures, events, e-mail blasts, newsletters or whatever (illustrated here by the “Do me this, Do me that…”). Peter Jones gave a very good hint explaining the experience of the positioning of his Internal Comm. Department under the premise that there are no fundamental differences between internal and external communication in what regards the need to take decisions based on numbers. Know the demographics of your people, measure the results and argue for your budget based on numbers are some of the basic assumptions of his work – valid not only for internal communicators I would underline.
5. Lessons to be applied: written policies on Internal Communication – In the times of crisis, seems pivotal the need for written internal communication plan and the need for a written policy on internal communication (Peter Jones mentioned to it as a code of conduct, but I prefer this idea). Because you cannot fail on communicating issues due to manager’s will to keep their reputation internally; because aligning internal communication with business objectives requires a consistent and legitimised approach; because manager’s should commit to internal communication through their own MBO schemes. Is this something that your organization or your clients have?
Please share your views!