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Working in internal communication, I’m often reminded of the importance of putting people first when we communicate.

Sounds pretty easy – we’re all people, so we should automatically know how important it is for us to feel informed and involved in our work and treat others like we would like to be treated – shouldn’t we? What seems simple in theory can turn out to be not so straightforward in practice…

I have a few thoughts on the reasons why and how we can help turn this around by better understanding and meeting employee expectations:

– Historically, leaders have been taught that they don’t bring our whole selves to work. There’s good reasons, right? Like not letting people get to know who you are as a person rather than as a boss? Wrong. Authentic communication from leaders requires the ability to cut through corporate speak and convey simple messages that reveal your personality.

– The dominant communications paradigm in the workplace has been influenced by peoples’ experience of media management where information flow is tightly controlled and heavily scripted. This has provided a security blanket for leaders. As long as they stick to their key messages and talking points, it will all work out ok. However, effective internal communications requires a very different kind of conversation. Increasingly, we are moving from a cascade model to use of dialogue with improved two-way communication to provide greater understanding and commitment. This gives employees a stronger voice and more power in the decision-making process.

– Internal comms is still a profession in its infancy. I believe its role and purpose in organisations is strongly aligned to key business outcomes such as employee engagement and organisational reputation. Yet how many times when the going gets tough do organisations choose not to communicate with their staff? ‘No comment’ has become a rarity in the media landscape while this is often the path of least resistance chosen for staff, rather than communicate in a responsive manner. Why do we rate the risk of disengaged employees and associated problems of presenteeism, reduced productivity and retention, lower than the risk of harming our external reputation? The two are intextricably linked. This is not a case of ‘telling and selling’, rather, keeping employees regularly informed with open and honest communication that helps them understand the thinking behind the decision and building in feedback mechanisms is vital.

Employees today expect to have their say – to be able to question, disagree and debate. As communication leaders, we have an important role to play in helping create the right environment to enable this process.

What do you think makes leaders effective communicators and how can we as practitioners best support them?

Rebecca Cattran is a communication strategist and change agent who works in partnership with leaders and staff at VicRoads to help them be their best at work. She currently leads their Internal Communications function and has a background in employee engagement, change management and community education within government and not-for-profit organisations.

The views expressed in this post are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of VicRoads or the Victorian government.