What if you never ever sent out an internal comms message again?

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And rather than focusing on creating internal content, you developed a training package that enabled every one managing a team to engage their staff so that they felt supported, informed, engaged and enthused?

What would staff and managers miss?

If we were uncharitable (and bear in mind I’ve written both strategies and plenty of content), we might say that staff would miss nothing that they couldn’t live without.

We know, for example, that during times of change, messages are tightly controlled and that gossip and speculation probably create more content than corporate communications. And whilst we might talk about councils having a single mission, how much are people in environmental services really interested in new quality management processes in finance.

What interests most people is what matters to them. Their future. Their job. Their salary. And how they feel about it all.

Feelings are what matter the most.

Here’s something that illustrates this point (it’s based on research I’ve read but can’t lay my hands on the source). Two people who work together and know who each other are both paid £50,000 a year. They know this because they share such things. Not everyone does. Both are given pay rises. One gets an extra £3,000. The other an extra £5,000. Both are better off but the person now earning less is now deeply unhappy. This may manifest itself in poorer productivity or worse, they may leave the organisation (probably not helpful since they’ve just been rewarded).

(You should also read the research around Reward Prediction Error and the way that the brain reacts to dashed expectations by not releasing dopamine – but that’s for another time).

No amount of internal communication will make the second person feel better. They would have felt good had they been awarded the same as their colleague. And now they feel undervalued and discarded, even though they’re earning more for doing the same thing.

How would you feel? Think about it for a moment and consider whether such a scenario would affect your motivation.

This scenario will play out all over the country as councils wrestle with resource challenges. Posts will be redefined, structures altered, sensibilities upset. Managing the impact of this will depend upon highly effective managers and leaders who can engage with people emotionally and both mitigate negativity and inspire in spite of harsh realities.

So if you’re in communications, how can you help?

Well, probably not by producing and internal strategy document, Transforming Our Future booklet and a set of Q&As. But you can help train managers to be brilliant communicators. You can help them develop their listening skills, work with them gain a deeper understanding of the people they manage and support them as they tackle uncomfortable conversations.

In the last two LGcomms conferences I’ve run workshops focusing on engaging people, both by looking at and understanding the other person an by focusing on ourselves and how we convey our brand and personality. These sessions have been based on workshops I’ve run with senior leaders up and down the country and across the public sector.

Some themes always emerge. Most people don’t know what impact they have on others. The more powerful they are, the less insight they have (who is going to tell the leadership team that staff are frightened of them?). Getting the right words to deliver difficult messages is hard. Challenging messages are rarely trialled. And things often go pear-shaped in the moment and can quickly escalate with poorly nuanced phrases triggering negative reactions.

My experience would suggest that internal communications – at the one-to-one level – is very hard. But you could help.

Set aside time and put together a training package that would enable all managers and team leaders to:

  • Listen effectively
  • Be self aware
  • Engage and enthuse people
  • Deliver bad news
  • And manage performance by engaging staff in real and difficult conversations about standards of work

If you do, put together a set of baseline measures that illustrate the effectiveness of your programme. Look at productivity, discretionary effort, days lost to sickness, retention of staff, acceptance of change and confidence in managers.

If you can get all the arrows pointing upwards towards improvements, then every minute of your time will have been brilliantly spent.

And you’ll never have to write a We’re Transforming Our Future headline ever again.

To read Be Smarter by Mark Fletcher-Brown, visit the resources section of the LGcomms website.

Posted on 12th December 2017