Building Internal Communications

By O'Connor, James V. | Public Relations Journal, June 1990 | Go to article overview
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Building Internal Communications

O'Connor, James V., Public Relations Journal

Building internal communications

For many years, corporate communicators eager to advance their careers concentrated on the areas of most concern to management. Invariably, employee communications ranked below investor relations, corporate image building, marketing communications support and other tasks that helped sell products and incrase shareholder value.

Likewise, public relations firms recognized the risk in trying to build their business by offering employee communications programs. If client budgets got tight or major problems surfaced to occupy management's attention, employee programs were more likely to be canceled than other communications projects.

During the last decade, too many companies not only failed to enlist the full support of employees, but alienated them through restructurings, downsizing, acquisitions, divestitures and leveraged buyouts. Management did not properly explain the rationale behind strategies that seeemed to overlook the impact on the lives of loyal employees. They were unaccustomed to speaking candidly to employees about the company's problems, and were not inclined to solicit, welcome and act upon their ideas for improving products, services and operating efficiency.

Times hav clearly changed. Company after company has come to the realization that employees who are well-informed and encouraged to suggest improvements are the key to survival in an increasingly competitive environment.

The definition of employee communications has changed along with autocratic attitudes. The audience is composed of every employee: executives, managers, office workers and plant personnel. The flow of information is not just downward, but upward and between departments. The methods used are written, verbal and visual. Even the old standby, the employee publication, has become a vehicle for two-way communications.

If your company or your clients haven't latched onto this revolutionary movement in internal communications, you should recognize the opportunity to improve your value by taking the initiative, CEOs need someone to take the lead, to convince them that the theory of empowering employees will work at their companies and to provide the techniques to get it done.

Team up with human resources

Employee involvement programs cannot begin and cannot continue without internal communications. This is your responsibility -- or is it? According to a 1989 communications survey by the Wyatt consulting firm, companies are increasingly making the human resources department responsible for these programs. Of the 2,120 companies that responded to the survey, 53 percent said the human resources department handles employee communications, up from 46 percent in 1986.

Personnel issues multiplied during the '80s, and dealing with them is considered a management function. If your role in employee communications diminishes just as the function is finally gaining respect, you will miss the chance to make a significant contribution to the crusade that is predicted to redefine corporate leadership in the 1990s.

Battling for power is no longer acceptable corporate behavior. Teamwork is the rallying cry, and you can set the example by forming a partnership with the human resources department. The HRD manager probably has his or her hands full, and realizes that better communications throughout the company will reduce conflicts and other personnel problems. Your offer to take on much of the responsibility will be appreciated. In return, support from the human resources department will give you credibility with top management, necessary because you will be stepping over the boundary of pure communications into management theory and practices.

Get the CEO's support

Communications within a company will not improve without a commitment from the president. If you are not certain how he or she will react to your proposals, begin by gathering support from the executives and department heads who communicate well with their staffs and other departments.

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