Internal Communication Strategy at small companies?

Some days ago I was taking part in an online debate about internal comm strategies at small companies. Do businesses with a few employees -they could fit just in a one-room office- really need internal communication strategies? For sure, they do. The risk comes when you think that a small team can be led with -so to speak- one hand and that one first message is enough. Or, perhaps, you may think that different roles and tasks have nothing to share among them. Here is the mistake.

Employees need to feel a part of a whole project; they need to know where the company is going and must contribute the company’s goals from their experience and vision. Even the most uncooperative employee is a part of a whole and needs to feel like that. Are your employees identified with the company’s goals?

Values of team working are being polite, helpful, respectful, collaborative; they must understand each other, meet mutual needs and cover each other to supply a good service. A good team-working employee has a good eye for realising that a colleague may be a bit Imageoverwhelmed at some point and replaces him/her for attending a phone-call or whatever the colleague may be required for.

This attitude can be based on natural skills, but the company can also contribute them without leaving everything to the nature. This is part of an internal strategy as well.

In our century, we are evolving from managerial business roles to collaborative ones. This also requires the CEO’s attention: how to make the employees partake in meetings, goals’ design, give them a say, give them voice, ask for their opinions, etc.

Employees want to promote themselves and to keep growing from a professional point of view. The company must also offer them opportunities to improve their skills, their professional qualification, their formation… It will have an positive effect on the whole business. New languages, professional courses, … There are many institutions to finance these courses .

Employees like enjoying as well. The workplace can not be an unpleasant space. They spend more hours a day at the job post than with their own families of in their private lives. So, the office has to be a comfortable place to be in, from all points of view: furniture, environment, kitchen points, cleanliness, rest areas … It could be the first place to have a nice environmental behaviour. Let us start recycling in our own offices!

Employees are a community. They may like sharing informations, opinions, events… And the CEO must be aware about this and facilitate the means, social media platforms included, to share whatever they want.

These are basic fields, most of them deduced from ordinary life at a small company. The advantage in large companies is that there usually is a person in charge of these matters; the risk in small companies is that nobody cares about this function.




The experience with speakers through this MA in Public Relations

The MA in Public Relations provided by the University of Westminster consists of both an academic and practical experience.
Besides the group works and constant practical assignments, I would like to share with my readers our experience with the speakers.
We met some of them in their workplaces (the Ministry of Defence, the agency, The British Library) and others came to the campus to give their lectures.

In this second term, we have received the visit of four speakers in the module about Corporate Communications at Marylebone Campus.

Images provided by LinkedIn

Images provided by LinkedIn: J. Frost, K. Ruck, M. Hoevel and C. Lowe

The first speaker was Jessica Frost, from Regester Larkin. She talked about reputation and risk management, and one of the things I liked most was her CV and her professional attitude and skills, coming as she did from another professional area. Apart from that, she described reputation management through those six verbs: predict, prepare, prevent, resolve, respond and recover. She talked about crisis management and the role of social media when an organisation is being challenged by a crisis: to what extent the organisation needs to understand its audiences, influencers, the social media platforms and channels, and the rules of engagement on social media. And the big piece of advice for preventing crisis: rehearse, rehearse and rehearse.
Next speaker was Kevin Ruck, from PR Academy. His lecture was about Internal Communications, and he described a broad landscape about internal communications theories and practices. He proposed public relations as a strategic management, according to J. E. Grunig´s model, and through an interactive lecture guided us within the employee voice concept, the importance of employee engagement (built from leadership, engaging managers, voice and integrity). He was a wise expert with a recently published book, ‘Exploring Internal Communication’. Usually after the speakers’ lectures we the students had to present a case study about the same topic; none of the speakers used to remain during our presentations, but that day the guest decided to stay. Guess who was presenting that day… It was me!!
After Mr. Ruck’s visit, we received an expert in Corporate Social Responsibility: Michael Hoevel from Glasshouse Partnership. It was a clever lecture about the reasons why business do CSR, the concepts of power, influence and efficiency, the accountability structure and the need of an integrated CSR aimed to benefit the whole organisation.
The last speaker in the term was Chris Lowe from College Public Policy. It was the first time I heard about lobbying from a professional practitioner. It turn out amazing and I particularly enjoyed when he described his activity as a perfectly legitimate task not as terrible as it is perceived in my country, where lobbying is still pervaded with secrecy and suspicion.
Bringing professional PR to this MA has been absolutely rewarding and effective for our knowledge and experience. It encourages us to face the future with good prospects.

A visit to the British Library

It is 10.30 in a cold London morning (12.03.2013). The hall of the British Library becomes a warm meeting point for the whole class group from Corporate Communications module. This impressive building hosts since 1998 the British Library.
We meet Micke, the Director of Communications and Ben, the Internal Communications manager. They both insist on the fact that the British Library is not a museum or a lending book organisation, but a research institution.
They offer us a very welcome cup of tea in a meeting room which is mainly dedicated to their deals with their stakeholders. They are 13 people within the communications team, which reports to the Marketing and Communications Department -this is an interesting point: Marketing and Communications in the same department.
During an hour and a half our hosts describe for us what their job consists of: the projects they are setting up, their media activity, their advocacy plans.
The responsible for Internal Communications describes they are two people working in that area, and the tools they count on to develop their important function in an organisation with more than 700 employees and a website with 20 blogs run by the employees themselves. When asked about how they control those 20 blogs’ content, the answer comes straightforwardly: there is no control; the employees know the British Library policy and guidelines and that is it.
Intranet, internal emails, staff surveys, video interviews, especial channels, newsletters, and a special social media platform for the staff made by Microsoft: Yammer…, are the means they work with to spread their messages to their public. They also have a staff engagement plan and an updated social media strategy. They encourage their employees to use social media but providing a frame to assure they do it properly.
Marketing and Communications work together in the organisation and they feel they are colleagues, not competitors. Marketing defines the audiences and Communications works with those audiences through different means. Another case of blurred boundaries between what some years ago would have been a real battle.
They evaluate their job through external agencies: monitoring, financial or GRP areas are evaluated by different companies.
If you have a look at the British Library website you can see that it is quite complete and updated.
Definitively, The British Library communications team works.

Internal Communication, Engagement and Social Media

engagementInternal communication is coming again to the fore within corporate communications since companies are more conscious about the value of employees as an important part of their stakeholders. Many organisations are suffering the consequences of a changing business environment (which implies employee movements after mergers or acquisitions, brain drain, etc.) and globalisation is reducing differences among companies, which perceive the need to distinguish themselves from the competition, their rivals. Employee engagement is becoming one of the main strengths in organisations. This engagement does not only affect to employees who are in the public-facing line, but to all of them in general. Public relations can contribute great value to the organisations by developing effective internal communication.

Organisations are discovering that engaged employees form a real asset to the company, contribute to productivity and are a saving money source. Organisations want engaged employees to stay within the company, but to make this real they need to improve the way of building mutual relationships. Old one-way management styles are ineffective in this new business environment.

Social media activity is increasingly becoming part of the daily life in developed societies and it is developing more and more digital ways to connect people. This fact is provoking a deep change in people´s behaviour, building up a more interactive society. The employees, as a part of this interactive society, also feel the need of being better informed within the organisations, they demand to participate in decision-making process and require quicker and more functional communication channels. The Net generation (people who could be qualify as `social media natives´) is increasingly gaining access to the workplace and this fact reinforces the current demand of change in an organisational dialogue which can be no more one-way style because there is no more one-way outside. Stakeholders have become more demanding, better informed and more critical. They are empowered because of the digital revolution and in consequence organisations must improve the ways to deal with them.

Social media tools, as a component of this organic social change, could provide the organisations the means to develop an improved communication strategy between employees and senior managers, who should integrate this practice into their strategic management and improve their current internal communication practice. But there are still many reservations, since these new tools suppose a big innovation.

A case study about Internal Comms: CAJASOL AND ITS EMPLOYEES

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J. Cornelissen in his book `Corporate Communication´defines organizational identification as ‘the perception of oneness with or belongingness to an organization, where the individual defines him or herself in terms of the organization(s) of which he or she is a member’. (…) `When employees strongly identify with the organization they work for, they are more satisfied in their work, they will be more cooperative and they will also demonstrate behaviour that is helpful to the organization´.

When a company suffers changes such as mergers and acquisitions, the existing identity and culture are immediately outdated or, at least, modified. Deep changes raise the concern among the stakeholders; in these situations Communication should be an essential strategic function to turn the worries into an opportunity to capitalize the newsworthiness of the merger or acquisition itself.

However, it does not always happen. Many often communication management is seen as a secondary matter, while the board gets focused on new functioning procedures.logocajasol

In CASAJOL’s case, a Spanish group of saving banks which has suffered four structural changes in four years, the internal communication department carried out a shining example of professional practice during the period of business transformation. However, the organizational identification was not enough improved among the employees.

Saving banks were institutions created to provide little loans for poor people and promote saving funds from modest families; the first one in Spain was founded in 1702. Together with the financial institution there was something like a foundation usually called `Social Work´. The Social Work is considered today as CSR, and its existence supposes one of the strongest motivations both for customers and employees when choosing this kind of companies among other banks.

CAJASOL suffered three mergers in four years; the mergers originated two new brands in the timeline: first Cajasol, and then `Banca Civica´. In the middle of these operations, the employees could see how the offices were redistributed, employees relocated, procedures redefined. But they perceived a lack of information and transparency which became a lack of trust in company and senior managers.

We have tried to find out the reasons of this effect. After analyzing the goals and tools developed by the Internal Communication department, our conclusion is that they were not responsible of the employees´ state. The explanation could be that a company that follows Ch. Handy´s model of `power culture´ –an organization whose organizational structure is centrally controlled by a single individual or group- can hardly develop a transparent communication strategy in a changing business environment such as the banking sector, an area strongly affected by the current economic crisis.

A direct consequence of the internal communication management is that it builds the ‘organizational identification’. And, as we quoted in the beginning,

‘when employees strongly identity with the organization they work for, they are more satisfied in their work, they will be more cooperative and they will also demonstrate behavior that is helpful to the organization’. It is time for Internal Communication practice.