Effective internal communication (IC) is proven to foster employee engagement and drive profitability. It's a cornerstone of any organization's success. How come the value of IC gets lost in translation?
A 2011 online survey conducted by the UK's Institute of Internal Communication provided an interesting finding that helps shed some light on this point. The survey showed that internal communicators are most likely to pull back from what they believe is the appropriate course of action because of problems with employee relationship management. In fact, 45% of internal communicators cited problems with employee relationship management as a block to progress in key areas.
When I was managing a team of 60 internal communication professionals for one of Australia's largest banks, I learned a thing or two about senior managers blocking or being major blocks to progress in key areas. From where I sat, the problem didn't solely lie with senior managers. I felt that we, as internal communicators, were also part of that problem. Let's face it, corporate life is a game. As with all games, those who understand the rules and can develop game plans based on those rules are most likely to come out the winners.
Now over the past 28 years, I've learned a few lessons about employee relationship management as an IC specialist. The most critical insight that I've learned, well, it's that leadership is primarily a game of "No." Here's what some of the world's great leaders say. Tony Blair, former UK Prime Minister says, "The art of leadership is saying 'no', not saying 'yes.' It's very easy to say 'yes.'" John C. Maxwell, one of the world's great business philosophers says, "Learn to say 'no' to the good, so you can say 'yes' to the best."
If your leader is effective, then it's practically guaranteed that when you propose a recommended course of action, the response will be "no." That's not blocking progress. That's merely a leadership tactic to ensure that the best possible solution is arrived at.
The challenge for we IC practitioners is that we play the leadership "no" game with one hand tied behind our backs. Our first challenge is that IC is highly subjective. There's no formula. Two and two equals four. That's an indisputable fact. But we play a subjective game. It becomes a matter of opinion whether the right word to use in a particular sentence should be "a" or "the." Usually the person with the loudest voice or the biggest ego wins.
The second challenge is the perception that anyone who is good with words can do IC. Let's face it. Lots of people in organizations are good with words. So why would a senior manager listen to you and support your recommended course of action just because you have the initials, IC, in your title?
When it comes to returning a "no" ball, which is what the leaders are expecting us to do, what's the most effective return shot? Well, I've found that the best way is to use numbers backed up by research findings, either internal research or external research that is relevant in some way to your recommended course of action because there's power in numbers. Citing the numbers literally stops senior managers in their tracks. Numbers give substance to your ideas, and they give weight to your arguments.
That's my suggested tactic for this Tuesday. Expect to receive a "no" ball from senior managers and be prepared to return that "no" ball with a reasoned response based on numbers from relevant research findings.
What do you think? If internal communicators are most likely to pull back from the most appropriate course of action because of perceived problems with employee relationship management, does the problem lie solely with that employee relationship management?
I look forward to seeing you next time. Until then, happy communicating.
Lorri Lennon is an award-winning advisor, trainer and author in leadership communication. She has 20 years’ experience managing communications for large global organisations.
Lorri conducts master classes to help participants maximise their communications ROI.
Mariska Mannes is an experienced communication consultant. She holds a Master of Management majoring in Communication, which allows her to bring a blend of qualification and practical experiences to her training programmes. Her expertise is in business and cross cultural communication and behaviour. For more information visit Mariska's LinkedIn profile.