NZ’s casual workplaces mean we’re sitters for leader-led communications

Back in the mists of time, “internal communications” used to mean the comms person having five minutes with the CEO each week to grab a few idea threads and subsequently issue a finely crafted staff message.  

Staff communicated with? Tick.

Ok, so that’s simplifying things but there’s no doubt that the challenges, complexities and available channels for internal communicators grows each year - as does the pressure for the function to better support organisational success. 

There is a clear link between good internal communications and bottom line results; companies highly effective at both communication and change management are two and a half times as likely to outperform their peers as companies that are not highly effective in either area (Towers Watson, Clear Direction in a Complex World, 2011 – 12).

Victoria University’s recently released Language in the Workplace research into the culture of New Zealand workplaces provides a strong lead as to where internal communication resources should be invested to get the best bang for buck in terms of engaging staff and lifting performance. 

Among other findings, the research (carried out over 15 years in more than 30 NZ workplaces), reveals that our workplaces are, by global standards, very informal and that the comparatively high use of small talk in the workplace helps build relationships between management and more junior staff. 

What a gift for internal communicators!  Repeated research on organisational communications shows that the strongest, most engaging communication channel is between an immediate manager and their team.  It’s in these interactions that complex ideas, such as a new strategy, can be communicated and organisational values can be translated into behaviours.  It’s also the best forum for staff to open up and share ideas and feedback which can be sent up the organisational food chain.

There will always be a role for the high level CEO type messages, but these more formal written pieces need to sit alongside other channels in a carefully considered internal communications strategy that prioritises people leaders and understands the changing environment that the increase in social media is creating in our workplaces. 

For many organisations, a shift to strategically using people leaders as communicators will be a big deal. Not just from a resource allocation and training perspective, but also as a cultural shift where active communication is an expected, and measured, function of leadership.  Working with Internal Communications, it requires the commitment of the Executive team and a partnering relationship with HR.  

Having one of the smallest gaps between management layers means we’re in a prime position to activate leader-led communication and reap the known business and performance benefits. According to our bi-annual Internal Communications research though, this shift is just not happening despite there being high awareness of leader-led comms within communication teams.  Are we too stuck in the mud using the written word? Do we have trouble building the case for executive teams? What exactly is stopping us?

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Posted by Juliet Montague on Friday 17th Feb 2012