Communication’s Ugly Duckling

In the fairy tale, written by Hans Christian Anderson, a homely little bird is born on a farmyard and suffers much verbal and physical abuse from his neighbours until, much to his delight and the surprise of all the others, he matures into the most beautiful bird in the world, a graceful swan.  This beloved tale is known all over the world as ‘The Ugly Duckling’ and tells the story of transformation for the better.

Just like the ugly little creature, internal communication is usually the last egg to hatch and never gets any attention until it lies dying in the snow.  Often it is too late to rescue the situation and companies call on the expertise of a communication consultant to save the day.  Showered with the kindly care of the specialist, internal communication is transformed into one of the most powerful elements in the business’ communication strategies.

Internal communication, or organisational communication as it is often known, is a very important element in any business’ strategies.  With reference to the King III Code on Governance Principles of Stakeholder Relationships, the board should appreciate that stakeholders’ perceptions influence the business’ reputation.  But how many businesses really see their employees as stakeholders?  Admit it; most businesses only think of its shareholders, clients and consumers as important stakeholders and that is why most communication strategies are built around those aspects only.

Strange however that most businesses still expect their employees to be ambassadors for its brand.  How is it even possible without transparent and effective communication?  The King III Code says that stakeholders, in this instance the business’ employees, should have access to complete, timely, relevant, accurate and honest information.  It continues by saying that the board should consider not only formal, but also informal, processes of interaction with the employees of a business, and that management should be delegated the task of ensuring this is achieved.  If internal communication is continually managed and nurtured as an integral part of a business, its employees will be the most graceful ambassadors the brand can ever ask for.

The challenge for management however, often lies in the fact that they are not all communication experts and may find it difficult to communicate with their teams.  This need not be an obstacle in them achieving their end goal – that of effective internal communication.

With the wide array of assessment tools available to businesses it is possible to measure the factors that influence the way its employees perceive communication, thus allowing it to improve its internal communication strategies.  Typical factors that influence communication in general includes, but are not limited to, values, culture, background, behaviour, sex, feelings, knowledge and attitudes.

Take behaviour as an example.  One can generalise by saying it is fair to assume that members of a sales team are driven by the need to achieve tangible results thus displays a more dominant behaviour that will enable them to reach their goals.  On the other hand, members of a financial team will be driven by the need to be accurate and in light of this will display the behavioural trait of being thorough in everything they do.  Then there is the team that works on the production line, who displays a different behaviour in the fact that their job is a steady one of repeating the same thing hour after hour, day after day.  This has a big influence in the way they perceive change in any environment and communicating with them should be adapted accordingly.  The aforementioned examples covers three of the dimensions of behaviour namely dominance, compliance and steadiness.  The fourth dimension is that of influence and is displayed in employees with a tendency to be popular amongst their colleagues for a variety of reasons, however mostly because they bring life and joy into the work place.

Each business will have a mix of these dimensions in its staff compliment and therefore a uniform internal communication strategy across the business’ different divisions is likely to fail.  Let us pretend your business is going through a rebranding exercise and you need to communicate the results of hours of management brainstorming to them.  Your communication to the sales team should most likely be presented in a summary with bullet points that will enable them to quickly grasp the implications and get on with what they do best, generate sales results.  The same communication technique will literally fail when presented to your finance team as they need every single detail of what changes can be expected, how it will affect their policies and procedures and they will probably want to be informed of the step by step actions that they should be taking in implementing the new look and feel of the business.  For those employees displaying the behavioural dimension of steadiness, the big question is always: “How will it change things for me?”  These employees need to be reassured by means of effective communication tailor-made to their needs.  The influential individual will most likely not read any of the communication you distribute nor listen intently to any discussions that might take place during meetings but would probably also not even notice any change as long as they are allowed to continue sprinkling their ‘happy dust’ throughout the office.

Considering the different ways in which one could communicate with your employees, it should be clear that growing your staff to become ambassadors for your brand is not rocket science after all.  It simply takes a bit of tender loving care for that internal communication strategy that, just like the ugly duckling, will turn into a beautiful swan over time.

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