Talking with your people

By Ron Murray

Employee engagement surveys are a common occurrence within large organisations these days. They aim to take the "pulse" of the workforce: How's it going?  Are you happy? Anything wrong?  What can we do to make it better?

In my experience, a common theme of disgruntlement tends to stand out from the survey responses: communications is lousy.   That's often not entirely fair - plenty of earnest communications takes place in most workplaces and engagement surveys can be a rare opportunity to vent.  But it's a singularly (and spectacularly) rare workplace where nothing in internal comms needs to be improved. Those places may exist - but I haven't come across one yet.

The thought that internal comms could be improved - based on 20 years of experience in organisations trying to do just that - is what drove me to write my first book, which I've just self-published.  Talking With Your People (subtitled A Roadmap to Achieve Better Employee Communications in the Corporate World) is a journey through what typically you find in organisations under the heading internal communications - and my views on how I feel those structures, practices, tools and channels could be better.

A seminal quote in the book is Lewis Carroll's "If you don't know where you're going, any path will get you there".  Having objectives should be core to any planning and planning should be integral to all communications activities - internal comms is no exception.  But you often find there isn't much in the way of internal comms plans, just a reference in the overall comms plan (if there is one) and a few well-meaning tools like a newsletter, an intranet and perhaps a formal all-company meeting every now and then.

The nature of the tool should always be a response to the communications need. Making a video may be cool and fun, but if a simple 30-minute meeting with the 10 people that need to have the information will meet the need, the vid is a frivolous spend.

And to know what the communications needs in a workplace are, what better way to find out than to ask the troops?  That's the other important part of the internal communicator's kitbag: an internal comms audit that gauges what information is important to employees, finds out if they're getting the volume and quality they want, and how they best want to receive that information.

But the information also has to be interesting and well-delivered and I dwell a lot in my book on "cut-through", by which I mean making your information stand out somehow. "Content is king", to quote Bill Gates.

And who does the work where internal comms is concerned?  Comms teams are usually fairly lean - and it's relatively unusual to find a fulltime internal comms specialist on the team.  But the lens to view internal comms through is not to see it as one person's task but as a practice everyone should - and informally does - share in, even that gent in the faraway office that corrects your grammar or tips you off about some nifty piece of work happening in the hinterland (what I call a "coastwatcher").

Every manager also has - or has the potential to have - communications in their skillset, but they rarely invest much in developing comms skills beyond some media training perhaps. Yet managers are so crucial to comms in organisations.  The gold standard in comms is face-to-face communications (done well that is) and that's about meetings and two-way dialogue. Who drives meetings?  Managers and leaders. But meetings are often poorly practised; rife with bad behaviours and ill-structured and managed.

The prime role of meetings in internal comms is particularly true at times of change and disruption in organisations - another area I dwell on in TWYP.  Such times are occasions for greater communications and more visibility from leaders, not less - which is often the case as they hunker down to see out the "storm".

In 2018, with a new Government at the helm, much is changing - new policies, increased industrial action as long-latent grievances surface, a range of business and social pressures that affect employees.  The truism about "happy staff = happy customer" still applies, and the first place to address employees' levels of happiness is communications - open, honest, regular dialogue with the people who make the business hum.

Ron Murray

Ron's book is available on Amazon, Kindle and Book Depository or from the author via his website at

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