Poor internal communication is one of the most common criticisms employees have about their companies can lead to a range of other problems including low staff morale, misunderstandings, wasted time and lack of feedback, not to mention impacts on the company’s external reputation. If your staff don’t have an up to date and accurate picture of your company, there is little hope of your customers and other stakeholders – from local people to Government – understanding what the company is about. Furthermore if your staff are unhappy or ill-informed, the chances are that they will communicate this to your customers.
For a quick assessment of your company’s internal communications, glance down the two lists that follow and calculate which is a more accurate description of your company.
- Individual departments / staff work well together
- Senior managers care about their employees
- Decisions are made through discussion with those who will be affected
- Managers take an interest in their staff
- Projects succeed through teamwork and co-operation
- The company’s mission is known to all and be believed by all
- Information flows readily from managers to staff and feedback is encouraged
- In larger companies, management is decentralised
- Advancement is based on who you know rather than how well you perform
- Rigid management control makes it difficult for individuals to put forward ideas
- Managers believe that employees lack initiative and need constant and detailed instruction
- Decisions are based on authority and tradition
- Decision-making is centralised
- Different departments have competing agendas
- Information flows down the management structure but never upwards from employees
- There is a feeling of ‘them and us’
All companies should aim to achieve the eight points set out in List A, which describes a participative culture. List B, on the other hand, describes companies which are too authoritarian.
While elements of the participative approach may be seen as unrealistic or idealistic in some circumstances (for example during a merger or in advance of redundancies), these should be aspired to where possible, leading to a happier, more loyal and more committed work force.
In practice, a move towards a more symmetrical culture can be achieved without substantial effort or expense. A manager should aim to communicate with the workforce in a variety of ways – through spoken and written communication and less directly, in the manner and style in which work is carried out.
If it is not already the case, you should consider informal as well as formal contact with junior staff – chatting to someone in a corridor or over a drink after work is likely to develop a positive working relationship, and reveal important information in such a way that a formal meeting could not. New ideas should be discussed and responses sought, rather than instructions being imposed from above.
In larger companies, middle managers should be involved in regular inter-departmental meetings to review working practices and discuss how effectively the organisation’s key aims are being met. Feedback – both formal and informal – should be encouraged and communicated back to the senior management team. You may also consider award and bonus schemes as a means of motivating staff and encouraging development.
Staff motivation is key – without it the company cannot communicate positively with its wider audiences. But even in the inevitable circumstances where employees are dissatisfied, ensure that you are operating a symmetrical culture with opportunities for staff feedback. In doing so you will be altered to potential problems before they erupt and can take the necessary steps to avoid your bottom line being affected.