Internal Communication case studies – the terrible and the terrific

Stuart Sinclair - November 16, 2018
Internal Communications

Key points from this blog

  • Tailor your approach
  • Encourage leadership by example
  • There are different ways to judge success

In our blog Internal Communication Examples we took you through four examples of IC in practice – two good and two bad. Those stories were based on FitzPatrick’s 7 Golden Rules[1], and below we share three more case studies to complete the picture.

They can guide you as to best practice, help when you are writing an IC Strategy or an IC Plan and remind you that even the biggest corporations can get their Internal Communication badly wrong.

Rule 5: I did it their way

Understand the working methods of those you need to convince. If leaders seem bound up in stats and spreadsheets and don't get your dazzling creativity, go with the flow. Gather data to prove your ideas work, show them a process, outline a clear outcome and they’ll soon be on your side. On the other hand, if you need to tear up past precedent and innovate, again tailor your IC to the way users like to work.

Case study for good Internal Communication: Seymour House

Seymour House runs ten outstanding childcare nurseries and wanted to get staff across the group engaging better with each other to share great practice. Talkfreely innovated with an app called Community. Community replaces static web pages and posts with highly personalised, bite-sized chunks of information presented on “boards” displaying relevant “cards”. These communicate quick stories and are far better at connecting people across teams. Seymour House team members love using it.

Rule 6: Make the most of managers

However big or small your organisation, line managers and local leaders are your allies. They are essential to motivating employees and getting them on board: through discussion, allaying fears and leading by example. So write them into your IC plan. But the message has to be right, as tech pioneer Yahoo learned to its cost.

Case study for bad Internal Communication:

Yahoo’s Head of HR sent out a motivational memo full of praise for the company’s “positive momentum”, “the buzz and energy in our offices”, “remarkable progress” and promising “the best is yet to come.” Oh yes, and all staff working from home must move back into the office or quit. No strategic business rationale for this order, and a communication of this importance should have come from the head of the business.

Rule 7: There is no silver bullet

Social media, the intranet (and, in days gone by, the typewriter and the photocopier) have all at some stage promised to revolutionise IC and make everything else redundant. But it hasn’t happened, which means the role of the Internal Communicator remains absolutely pivotal. You can’t put a positive spin on everything, because not every cloud has a silver lining. And cut yourself slack in how you judge success.

Internal Communication case study: what counts as success?

Let’s look again at the story of logistics company XPO, described in our blog Internal Communication Examples. Talkfreely’s Ideas Matter app has seen 28% of employees actively taking part in XPO’s drive to gather great ideas from its workforce spread across 104 sites.

In some sectors and campaigns, 28% would be a pretty modest engagement score. For XPO, however, it has seen hard-to-reach workers given a voice for the very first time. It has increased engagement, with remote colleagues now feeling part of the XPO “family”. It has produced a stream of ideas that are improving operations across multiple sites, with staff getting a say in changes they will have to implement. And XPO has created a stronger connection between the company and its employees. Their enthusiasm is infectious:

“Wow what a powerful tool to bring people closer together and at the same time improve all areas of our operation. WE LOVE IT.” Paul, Site manager

Good idea or bad idea: what do you think?

Four more case studies

Read our first four IC case studies in our blog Internal Communication Examples. They cover:

Rule 1: Activity means nothing without results

Rule 2: Value benefits the business

Rule 3: In the thick of it

Rule 4: Shut up and listen.

The benefits of great Internal Communication

Employees flourish in an organisation where senior leaders take the time to communicate well about organisational change, profit forecasts and a multitude of HR matters. Doing so creates effective and transparent workplaces, which encourage staff to stay, attract talented new recruits and lift levels of job satisfaction. When a business takes the IC initiative to open a two-way dialogue with employees it can head off rumours, keep control (as far as possible) of the message and stay on brand.

The case studies above demonstrate how communication with clear goals leads to positive results, whereas a confused (even devious) approach is counter-productive. These lessons underline how essential it is that the Internal Communication function be enmeshed in the very fabric of your organisation.

“71% [of companies surveyed] felt that leaders view the IC team as trusted advisors and a similar proportion said that the IC team is usually involved at all stages of communicating complex messages.”

Gatehouse State of the Sector Report, 2018

[1] Internal Communications, A manual for practitioners, Kogan Page (2014)

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