Companies understand that internal communication is important to their business operations. Still, many fail to implement deliberate internal communication programs that address broader corporate needs such as revenue goals, brand consistency and company values. As a result, middle managers, co-workers, media, friends and outside organizations determine what messages employees receive.
Imagine finding out from the newspaper or a neighbor that the company you work for had purchased another company in a new industry, (to present an exaggerated example). You might feel embarrassed that you know less than outsiders, worried about your job and angry that you weren’t considered important enough to inform before the public. Lack of information can lead to misinformation, low morale, employee turnover and lackluster performance.
In a 2014 About.com on-line poll shows that the top three work complaints from employees were communication-related: lack of direction from management (38%), poor communication overall (14%) and constant change not well-communicated (12%). Employee morale is only the start of potential problems. David Brown, writing for The Albany Business Review, goes as far as to say that unmotivated employees and confused corporate communication can send negative signals to customers and investors, impacting every aspect of the business from marketing to sales and stock prices.
By contrast, a company that clearly communicates its values, mission and business strategy will have employees that are unified under a corporate vision. Now, imagine the example scenario again: Instead of being kept in the dark, employees were told about the acquisition, shown why the new company was purchased, how it fit with the long term goals of the business and how the transition was going to be managed. Instead of angry and fearful, you would feel excited and eager to take on the challenge.
So, if communication is so important to a business, why do so many fail to have an internal business communications strategy in place? Here are a few common excuses:
- We’re better than that – Some companies, especially start-ups and young businesses, pride themselves on keeping bureaucracy minimal. This “fly by the seat of your pants” attitude breaks down, however, as the company grows and matures.
- Our problems are too big – It is very tempting for senior leadership to assume that “big picture” issues are too complicated to burden the employee in the trenches. Some managers believe that subordinates should do their jobs and not ask questions. Aside from the morale problems illustrated above, this “top down directive” approach fails to take advantage of the skill and creativity employees can bring to problem-solving at all levels of the organization.
- We don’t have the resources – Senior managers sometimes shy away from investing in their “employee audience” because it feels like a frivolous expense. Why hire a professional communications team or take the time to create a strategy when that money could fund advertising or [fill-in-the-blank] immediate needs?
Georgia Everse, writing for the Harvard Business Review, instead recommends seeing communications just like any other business expense: what is the ROI? Compare the cost per employee of helping them understand and execute the company’s primary goals with the increased financial benefit of a highly focused workforce.
Everse also points out that it is ultimately the employees that hold the relationships with customers. She puts it this way: “If you don’t win over employees first, you certainly won’t succeed in winning with customers”.