The internal communication timeline

1. 'Telling' mode

In-house newsletters and newspapers: journalism (friendly or investigative depending on the zeal of the editor, and how much they value their job)

Internal or team briefings: messages of instruction or information which require no action, cascading downwards (from that shower at head office) also see 'sell'

Manuals: training and instructions (otherwise known as book ends or door stops)

Policies and procedures: safety, expenses and the like (gathering dust - see manuals)

Memos: information ('need to know,' or more of ten 'don't need to know,' or even 'that's my back covered!')

Bulletin boards or notice boards: more information (last year's company picnic and ads for second hand cars)

Guides: more training (more dust)

E-mail: see memos (modern version with ability to cover your back with everyone, or blame everyone else).

This entire media is basically telling or informing internal customers, with little to no opportunity for feedback or dialogue. Journalism, for example, relies on newspapers to deliver messages, usually these are the type fondly referred to in the UK as 'hatches, matches and dispatches,' or more simply births, marriages and deaths. In the US, Michael Brandon of Northern Telecom refers to these as the 'Three B's' of birthdays, babies and ball scores.

The company newspaper represents the belief of management, and the editor, that as long as the information is imparted the job of communicating is done. So alongside the Three B's will be articles about the senior management team and their hopes, dreams and projects.

All too often, however, the newspaper and the organization come unstuck. If journalists treat the company newspaper as a vehicle for investigative journalism, the management team is uncomfortable to say the least. When information is power, limiting information is the source of power. Besides, investigative journalism is not intended to be flattering!

'Tell' mode also requires fast methods of communication. Business TV, and often 'screen savers' are used to 'tell' people about things they need to know. Even the UK's much-used process of team briefing meetings (which begin with board meetings and end with a cascade of information through managers presenting the information to their team) was designed as a military 'tell' process.

Now don't get me wrong, the marketing and communication mix may mean that all forms of media may be necessary. None are 'wrong'. The problem is that they are used at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons, in the wrong way. 'Tell' is OK if people need and want to be told.

Such has been the case for Ernst & Young, as Nick Land, UK Managing Partner, explains: 'In the first two or three years in the life of Ernst & Young we were very top down - telling people what they had to do. This was the right strategy at that time because we had a lot of basics to get into place quickly.'

There are occasions when speed is critical, in a crisis for example. You do not debate whether to evacuate a building that is on fire. You would not be consulted if someone were making a corporate raid on your business. 'Telling' is good when 'telling' is necessary.

2. 'Selling' mode

Team briefing: messages of information which require some degree of staff commitment, so the briefer role is to 'present' the information in a way which convinces the team of its worth (see presentation skills)

Presentation skills: how to convince your (gullible?) audience with the 'top ten tips of terrific talks', or even better, 'how to get your message across in 30 seconds or less'

Company magazines: 'hatches, matches and dispatches' and messages from above (all too of ten seen as propaganda)

Videos: more messages from above (in 'user friendly' 20- minute sound and vision bites)

Road shows and conferences: launches, hype, with high impact but low absorption

Business television and other broadcast messages: instantly over the airwaves, often loved by CEO's. See company magazines, videos, and screen savers, all rolled into one

Screen savers and other push technology: more high-impact from managers trying to force their point across.

As companies move into sell mode, they turn to media that tends to be more complex or sophisticated. Team briefing, for example, moves up the communication ladder to sell by giving managers better communication tools and more sophisticated presentation skills - they are effectively being asked to sell the messages from above. Team briefing often fails to deliver, however. Neither the strategy of tell in a one-way cascade, nor the execution of getting managers to sell the messages tends to work.

A natural move up the communication and marketing time line occurs as corporate spin on stories, events, product launches and the like become commonplace. If in journalism mode, 'the answer is a newspaper, what's the question?’; in PR mode, 'the answer is a conference with dry ice, or a glossy poster and magazine, what's the question?'

Pushme - pullyou

The internal media choice of magazines, posters, conferences, road shows, videos and cassette tapes all point to a sell mode. The objective is to create as much hype as possible with a view to convince people by sheer weight of promotional 'push.'

As part of the push, the more colour, design and motivational bells and whistles, the better. The theory is simply that if the medium is 'sexy' enough it must work. If this were the case we would buy everything we see on TV or the supermarket shelves - not! (as they say).

Many organizations are stuck in tell and sell modes. With top down messages being delivered through ever increasing numbers of channels of communication, the strategy is simply one of push. Yet organizations recognize a push strategy is not the way forward into the future. The study by MCA and Salford University showed in 1996 that senior managers in organizations were beginning to recognize the concept of internal marketing and the need for a different approach to employee communication in order to create a pull for information. This brings us to buying mode.

3. 'Buying' mode

Workshops: interactive training sessions allowing feedback: for participants 'ownership'

Attitude surveys: researching employees' feelings and concerns about the organization in order to be seen as a caring employer

Breakout sessions: at conferences (see workshops).

Organizations begin to make more of an effort to create processes that allow employees to voice their opinions and concerns, Unfortunately, the move into a new mode of marketing internally still overly focuses on media and the latest fashionable management methods like 'empowerment' and 'teams', not on the principles behind marketing - basically to create 'pull' from customers. The paradigm shift of getting internal customers to buy is still coloured by a trusting belief and excessive focus on different forms of media.

4. 'Buy-in' mode

Project meetings: team meetings to create awareness of issues and develop team buy in to solutions and plans

'Town hall meetings,' forums and 'talk backs': meet the bosses, fire questions around the coffee table (often only covers tiny percentage of workforce, but bosses feel they are really listening)

Management by walking around: one-to-one version of town halls and talk backs.

Internal Web pages, discussion group s and databases: enabling employees to select the information they want to receive and the feedback they want to give

Employee hotline: telephone feedback channel

'Skip level meetings': boss meets his or her subordinates' staff to 'get to know you’, while subordinate worries about what will be said to the boss

Video conferencing: I watch you, watching me (in the corner of the screen) while talking to each other, while being phased by the time lag.

The characteristics of buy-in involve far more two-way communication, combining both face-to-face interactions with technology-based communication. The fact is that buy-in comes not from media itself, but from a well-targeted message and a feeling of ‘what's in it for me?' (WIIFM) in the target market. So much more important than media is to use methods of communication and marketing which generate involvement and encourage high levels of face-to-face meetings, which helps understanding, secures commitment and builds real relationships.

5. 'Friends' mode

Psychometric surveys: tools for understanding individuals during interview, often used for executive away-day sessions (never used again). Also see 'Best Friends' for when these tools are used really well as an on-going method of developing relationships

Breakfast sessions: meet the CEO over breakfast

Team meetings: any form of personal contact in any group consisting of team members who are working together over enough of a period of time to get to know each other well

Team feedback: Morning sessions in a team type meeting, providing feedback on achievements and goals. These are a powerful way of communication in short sharp bursts and creating knowledge of ‘what's happening'. Great for building awareness as well as people feeling they are kept 'in the know'.

The characteristic of Friends - just like the TV series - is a simple one: people like and respect each other. How can you tell? They listen. They listen to understand; then they can act. They may not, but they can because they recognize the need of the others. And here is the other characteristic. Friends tend to involve a group. This is not quite yet one-to-one. What happens with friends? They move from being 'friends - for now' to becoming 'best friends - for life'. This is when the communication media really becomes very powerful, often using intimate tools for understanding and mutual discovery.

6. 'Best friends' mode

360-degree feedback: if practised well, another name for research. This is the bedrock of relationship marketing. If it is done badly, it becomes more a case, 'how will I tell the boss he/she is lousy without being fired?'

Psychometric surveys: this time used for deep understanding of team dynamics and individual personal types and traits} and how to maximize the relationship by developing communication styles suited to the recipient (in other words targeting).

Customized electronic media: see 'Tools of the Trade' below for a closer look at the possibilities and pitfalls of the latest uses for electronic media.

Regular face-to-face meetings: the best of all forms of communication; people getting together frequently, because they want to. A win-win where added value comes from every meeting. The benefits may be tangible like plans and decisions made, or intangible like personal help. However they come, the meetings are good for the individuals and the business.

Best friends modes are a mixture of highly personal and interactive communication, coupled with far more sophisticated use of electronic tools to gather, analyse and explore the perceptions, skills and emotions of internal customers.

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