Talking the right language

Communication surrounds us 24/7. We may not always do it well, but we do it all the time. Little wonder that internal communication in business is taking on new significance.


The rise of social media has made communication something of a global obsession. What’s perhaps not so apparent is the growth of internal communication – the discipline whereby employers, employees and colleagues share information and talk to each other.

Ryan Funnell, head of retail communication, Santander UK, says: “Effective communication is vital in ensuring there is mutual understanding between management and staff. The company’s strategy and goals should be explained so people can align their individual objectives accordingly. Effective communication is when a clear message is delivered through the appropriate channel(s) and tailored to the audience. In a company, this should result in employees knowing how their own work contributes to achieving the company goals, which helps keep people motivated.”

Internal communication has been growing steadily in importance and sophistication, embracing the latest technologies, publishing trends and thinking around face-to-face communication. But it walks a fine line – unadulterated honesty in hard times can lead to low morale, whereas company spin and top-down communication – where employees are communicated at, not with – often leads to cynicism. In short, poor internal communication can be extremely damaging, particularly when the main objective for the discipline is employee engagement.

Nic Taylor, marketing director of Dowlis Corporate Solutions, says: “Engaging employees through internal communication is about leaving the member of staff informed, educated and/or inspired. We work with a number of organisations to ensure their internal communications are memorable, approaching the project from the point of view of the message to be conveyed, we then use this as our starting point to brainstorm the idea and generate creative ideas that match suitable promotional products to be used as the carrier of the message.”

Why is it so important to engage employees? John Sylvester, executive director, P&MM Motivation, says: “An engaged workforce feels valued, involved and that they genuinely matter. Higher levels of engagement improve morale, boost productivity and lead to a better working environment in general. Effective communications ensure that employees fully understand their company, its values and purpose, what is expected of them to achieve the company goals and how to fully engage with their own roles.” 

In short, there are benefits for employees and employers. But how do you deliver and sustain great internal communication? The key is to research the audience (the employees), listen to what they have to say, tailor the communication, tone of voice and medium to their needs.

It’s also important to define your key audience. As a general rule of thumb, senior managers and directors have the greatest access to company information and the clearest understanding of the direction and strategy. Middle managers tend to – but don’t always – have this information cascaded down to them by those senior people. Whereas junior or front-line employees have the least access to information, despite the fact that they are often the most important audience to reach, as they are at the ‘coalface’, interacting with customers, delivering services and so on. They should be the ambassadors for your business, but they will not attain this status unless they are communicated with in a regular, meaningful way that allows them to voice their views.

The issue that faces many internal communication professionals is getting senior management to buy in to communication that’s relevant to a front-line audience. Look away now if you’re offended by stereotypes, but proposing a tabloid-style employee newspaper to your average FT-reading, tech-smart director will leave the latter cold. Conversely, there’s no point spending thousands on all-singing, all-dancing e-comms if the vast majority of your staff are out in the field, with little or no access to technology.

The power of communication lies in keeping your audience involved in its evolution, because it is their interaction and interest that will mean the difference between communication that goes nowhere and is read by no one, and communication that can motivate entire workforces.

Case study 1

Summersault Communications helped Thomson Airways to communicate a change in the way its food was offered in-flight. The number of customers pre-booking in-flight meals was declining and research showed they favoured a choice of hot and cold menu options. This meant a significant change to cabin crew’s working practices, so the airline launched ‘the eatery’, to engage and reassure in-flight employees in the run-up to the menu launch.

The primary audience was 4,000 in-flight employees. Time poor, their schedules allow limited amounts of time prior to flights for briefings. Based out of geographically disparate hubs and working varying shift patterns, the challenge was to engage them quickly without affecting their work schedules.

Given the variance of shift patterns, locations etc, Summersault knew it would be impossible to co-ordinate a work-based, face-to-face briefing session to kick off the campaign. Therefore, it created the eatery-branded information pack that could be posted to all in-flight crew. The pack contained a letter, a handbook (of similar style and tone of voice as other crew training books)/QR code for smartphones, operational flowcharts and an invitation for a prize draw to win a VIP cookery experience.

Summersault also built a microsite that echoed the launch creative. The aim of the microsite was to act as a learning and information tool, as well as a place for crew to discuss the eatery.
Branded materials were sent to each crew room, and the launch was supported by ‘experience events’, where crew could sample menu items. 

The campaign was very well received. Just one example of the many positive pieces of crew feedback was as follows: “As a manager, I found I had access to all the answers required and subsequently could provide my crew with the support they needed.”

Case study 2

Scottish Gas provides energy and home services to Scotland and employs around 3,500 staff throughout the country. 2009 was the ‘Year of the Customer’ for Scottish Gas, with the focus on delivering premium customer service. The objective of its Golden Ticket call centre incentive was to reinforce the delivery of excellent customer service and to increase the quality of calls.

The Golden Ticket, created by P&MM Motivation, was split into two sections: The Golden Call focused on qualitative measures and The Golden League focused on quantitative measures. The aim was to incentivise individual customer service agents, team and customer service group performance. High-impact prizes were awarded quarterly and a range of smaller prizes awarded weekly and monthly. The programme was communicated throughout the call centre, using window decals, holiday boards, posters and tent cards. A bespoke website was created to display weekly and monthly leagues to encourage and drive performance, latest news and winner details, dream holiday winners, along with pictures of their holiday and printable leagues and team posters. Weekly emails were sent to all agents providing them with a motivational message and advising them of their league position.

The Golden Ticket has helped Scottish Gas meet it objectives by:

  • Providing a direct ‘what’s in it for me’ reinforcement to the ‘Year of the Customer’ initiative by rewarding 1,874 prizes to 78% of the audience
  • Providing a measurement structure that explained the elements of excellent customer service and showed how each agent could directly influence it
  • 673 (89%) staff actively participated in the incentive.

Good internal communication consists of:

  • Open and objective communication
  • Clear, jargon-free, succinct language
  • Consistent and regular communication
  • Two-way dialogue
  • Understanding the audience and what appeals and is relevant to them
  • Using good verbal, non-verbal and written communicators
  • A communication identity that people recognise and use
  • An accessible medium.

As Funnell says: “Internal communication must also be consistent with messages to audiences outside the company. For the introduction of the 123 Credit Card, we made it available to staff before it was launched to customers. This gave them a chance to ‘test drive’ the card, understand the benefits and believe in what they were selling. When we followed up with the public launch, staff were fully engaged with the loyalty strategy and the proposition.”

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