Can you avoid the pitfalls of these Internal Communication examples?

Stuart Sinclair - November 16, 2018
Internal Communications

Key points from this blog

  • Define your purpose
  • Link Internal Communication to value
  • Listen!

“Internal communications is like a bank account – you have to make a few deposits before you can write a cheque that won’t bounce.” Anon.

Organisations want good people to stay, be their best, be flexible and be positive about the business to family and friends. Staff do this when they feel involved because leaders have taken the time to listen and to explain how their job fits into the overall vision.

Good examples of Internal Communication – ­and bad

Below you will find four examples of Internal Communication in different situations using different channels and speaking to different people. They can be a source of inspiration if you are stuck with a particularly tricky communication challenge and they can serve as a warning of the IC pitfalls that loom up at us all from time to time.

These examples are based on FitzPatrick’s 7 Golden Rules[1]. You will find three more examples in our blog Internal Communication Case Studies, completing the seven.

The stories below include two good ideas and two bad ideas.

Rule 1: Activity means nothing without results

The starting point for every IC has to be: “What do we want people to do?” Being busy and generating a constant stream of campaigns, videos and newsletters is a waste of time if nothing changes as a result.

Example of good Internal Communication: Nationwide Building Society ran an award-winning five-week BIG Conversation[2], gathering ideas from all its 18,000 employees in a company-wide collaboration, including TalkBack events, online surveys and a huge listening exercise to give staff and members the chance to contribute to its future. A vast amount of activity – but all directed to reinvigorating Nationwide’s sense of purpose. The result has been a refreshed strategy and a marketing campaign based on the new concept of ‘building society, nationwide’ – helping people improve the quality of their lives.

Rule 2: Value benefits the business

You will only be adding real value if your Internal Communication links directly to the business needs of your organisation and helps to achieve a defined strategy or a specific project.

Example of good Internal Communication: Transport and logistics provider XPO wanted to leverage great ideas from its colleagues across its 104 UK sites to help its customers improve productivity and reduce costs. Its large, flexible and hard-to-reach workforce (from drivers for Asda to B&Q warehouse contractors) don’t usually have a company phone / laptop. To spark engagement, TalkFreely developed the Ideas Matter App, which any employee can download to their personal phone. Linked directly to business needs, this produced exceptional value: 1 in 4 of all ideas submitted are being put into practice and return on investment is 6.5:1, with £156,000 of savings in the first year alone.

Rule 3: In the thick of it

When you are looking for ideas, trying to work out how people tick or wondering why a previous IC plan went wrong, don't sit pondering at your desk or researching online. Get out to talk and listen to employees so that you know them, their worries and their interests backwards. Sit on a pedestal, and disaster can follow …

Example of bad Internal Communication: AOL CEO Tim Armstrong fired an employee during a call designed to boost morale among 1,000 staff. The conference call[3] was set up after AOL announced it was slashing its Patch local news network by a third. As Armstrong talked, Patch Creative Director Abel Lenz began taking pictures of him – and was immediately sacked. Perhaps Armstrong did not know that Lenz’s job included photographing meetings with key leaders for the Patch intranet, for the benefit of remote workers. But he should have.

Rule 4: Shut up and listen

Internal Communication is a two-way street. The megaphone approach is never going to work best because people only feel connected and motivated if they are part of a conversation. Listen to what they have to say … and learn.

Example of bad Internal Communication: PayPal President David Marcus told his staff to use their product or quit, in a memo sent in 2014. “If you are one of the folks who refused to install the PayPal app or if you can’t remember your PayPal password, do yourself a favor, go find something that will connect with your heart and mind elsewhere,” he wrote. A better policy would have been to find out why his employees weren’t using the payment app, whether they felt competitor products had better features and ask for their suggestions. Instead the memo was leaked, generated widespread coverage and left customers wondering what was wrong with an app that PayPal’s own staff wouldn't use …

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Three more examples

In our blog Internal Communication Case Studies, you can find out how tech giant Yahoo got it wrong, how childcare group Seymour House got it right … and you can make up your own mind with another case study from logistics company XPO. These examples illustrate FitzPatrick’s remaining three rules:

Rule 5: I did it their way

Rule 6: Make the most of managers and

Rule 7: There is no silver bullet.

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

[2] https://www.ioic.org.uk/files/Awards_book_of_the_night_v3.pdf (page 7)

[3] Hear it here: https://soundcloud.com/jim-romenesko/aol-ceo-tim-armstrong-8-9-2013 at 1min 58secs.

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