It is good business practice for a corporate to outsource the jobs it regards as not core business. Placing your communication in someone else’s hands, however, is the biggest mistake you can make.

There is a trend in South Africa, and from what I see on global news channels, in the world, for companies to give away their communication power. If they don’t put their communication channels at the mercy of the trade unions, they fall into the trap of setting up an internal communication function that is a one-way broadcast facility.

DevCom has conducted 37 communication audits in the past 7 years. Far from mere channel evaluations, the audits included quantitative and qualitative research to understand the communication effectiveness and flow within my clients’ environments, and the communication preferences and needs of their stakeholders.

I am both astounded and excited by the trends I see when I analyse these communication audits:

  • Company’s internal communication is mostly broadcast communication. A latter day addition to the mix is mostly one-way social media messaging. This is counter to the need for dialogue expressed by employees. It seems as if companies fear of the voice of their own employees.
  • Only 5 – 14% of the internal stakeholders audited indicate that they want to receive messages from their union or shop stewards. This does not tie up with the power and access companies give to trade unions. Employees want to receive important messages from you – they work with you, and they want to talk with you. Giving the union the information before you give it to your own line management is not good for your business, your management or your employees.
  • Around 80% of employees want to receive messages affecting them from their direct supervisor. They indicate that they understand boundaries, discipline and structure – especially in production areas. All they ask, mostly, is to be treated as if they matter: with fairness, respect and simple good manners.
  • Only two of the 37 companies DevCom has audited, had efficient line communication systems in place. Most companies invest in one-way communication tools, such as newsletters. One multi-national bank had more than 20 communication divisions, and it transpired that a single employee could receive up to 60 internal electronic newsletters. That is not spending your communication resources wisely!

The reasons why companies don’t own their communication channels are similar for most corporates:

  • We haven’t talked with each other in so long, that we don’t know how to start. When we do talk, only negative stuff surfaces.” There is no easy way out: you will have to start the conversations and bear the initial negativity. Once the muck and mess have been flushed out the system, you will be amazed at the dialogues focussed on business results you will have with your employees.
  • We fear the unions.” You don’t have to fear the unions if you don’t make them responsible for sharing your messages. Respect them. Work in partnership, but be clear about the boundaries. Shop stewards must also understand that you will communicate with your line managers first.
  • We work in silos.” Key departments, such as Production, Communication and HR, seldom communicate meaningfully and honestly about how they can serve each other in order to achieve business results. As long as your departments work independently and not in a symbiotic relationship, they do more harm than good.

Your role as a communicator is to actively encourage your leadership to change the nature of your organisation to be one of dialogue. The communication department should be actively embedded in the operational side of the business. Communicators have to assist with the day-to-day line communication over and above the collateral you produce to support internal communication.

Here is how to go make a real difference:

  • Understand the environment. Don’t just evaluate channels. Facilitate a full communication audit with the purpose of understanding your audience and how to meet their communication needs.
  • Rethink. If the results require a total rethink of how you apply the human and financial resources in your communication department, do it – quickly!
  • Sell the business benefits of strategic communication to the decision makers. Show the operational departments how communication adds value. Communication should always support business results and return.

Plan your communication tactics in this order:

  1. Business results, followed by
  2. Audience preference, then
  3. The message, and lastly
  4. The method.

Educate your audience through your process. Focus on the process of communication and the people in the process, not the message or the media. Once you understand the process and know your audience, focus your messages and media on achieving measurable goals.

Set up a strong measurement matrix – what gets measured gets done. To achieve credibility, you need to measure communication results. Develop a measurement matrix and negotiate with the senior executives how much of Production and Operations’ success will be attributed to Communication’s assistance. Then build your strategy to show those results.

Establish your credibility by gradually delivering results to the employees and the leadership. This means that you will have to be at the boardroom meetings and on the shop floor. You will have to ask critical questions and make tough recommendations. You will have to dust off your lobbying and advocating skills. You will have to abandon the comfortable office chair, and put on your safety boots.

You will have to be brave. Go on… be brave and taste the results.

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