The relentless rise of foie gras internal communication

Never in everyday pursuit of corporate endeavour have so many been force-fed by so few.

The rise of social and technological media and the proliferation of communication channels means your average employee could be nearing communication saturation point.

But are they?

I would suggest the appetite for effective communication has never been more keen, yet effective communication is still in very short supply.

Lest we forget, communication is essentially an outcome,not an input. At recent team briefing workshops, I had to make a point of reminding a group of senior civil servants that
“success isn’t measured by volume, pace or quantity. Good communication is a product of whether the message has been received, understood and resulted in the necessary action”.
For a number of years now, when I’ve conducted communication audits for clients, employees across sectors have complained about being bombarded. Despite the rather
trendy discussions about the difference between internal communication and employee engagement, message management and push communication appears to be
increasing.The biggest culprit is the dreaded email.
Having just carried out an audit of internal communication channels for another public sector client currently undergoing major change, I’ve been struck, by a bizarre, and frequently seen contradiction. In answer to the question “How would you prefer to be informed of changes?”, a whopping 76 per cent of respondents voted for face-to-face communication. Of those 76 per cent, some 68 per cent wanted that communication to come from their immediate line manager/s. The second preference was for some form of internal social media allowing them to provide feedback and debate in an interactive, real-time environment.

But when we looked into the communication department’s communication methods of choice, they prioritised: lunch meetings with the CEO and senior team; email bulletins; voicemail; and publications.

As the change programme gathered pace and brought with it ‘right sizing’ and major structure changes, the top two methods fast became the only ‘official’ channels. Sadly, team briefings led by line managers had faded to sporadic bursts.

It’s perhaps understandable that a number of line managers and supervisors had taken a backward step when faced with extremely difficult message management. It happens. But in this case, it was soon very clear that abdication on this scale reflected deep-seated leadership issues. Their CEO, in Hero Leader guise, although well intended, was clearly undermining his leaders. They had also lost faith in their communication function which was simply stepping aside by pressing the forward and ‘cc’ buttons.

The simple fact is that top down, cascade bombardments, particularly by email, are synonymous with lecturing. They allow the originator to tick a box but are largely
ineffective and simply reinforce one-way messaging. Cascading swarms of messages in the interest of employee engagement means the organisation promises one thing yet delivers another. It’s disingenuous and creates deep seated resentment.

Most of us learn much more effectively in interpersonal environments, when we’re involved and can interact with others. This is one of the reasons why line managers and immediate supervisors are increasingly important communicators. When they have the opportunity
and take the time to commit to Facetime rather than Facebook, employees are enlightened and reassured by the example being set as well as the opportunity for face-to-face discussion, debate and reflection.

Nearly everyone now appreciates the merits of electronic communication. But despite the simple temptation of “compose, click and send” and the sophisticated charms of new-wave social media tools there really is no replacement for good, old-fashioned, face to face, eyeball-to-eyeball communication. This is especially true during testing times when people lose what appetite they may have had for Foie Gras and deeply resent the fact that there’s no comfort food on the menu.

*first published as The Last Word in Employee Engagement Today.

You can download it as a pdf by clicking here: Buckingham_last word


8 thoughts on “The relentless rise of foie gras internal communication

  1. What many leaders have failed to grasp is how quickly their audiences’ needs and expectations have changed.
    You Tube, Facebook and Twitter have socialised and democratised expectations in just a few short years. Not every leader recognises this, let alone harnesses it to their – or their orgs’ – benefit.
    So this is a nicely articulated argument. It’s just a shame communicators still need to be making it in 2012.

  2. The human element is essential. However ‘technical’ managers – promoted on the basis of their skills in their field (rather than in management) can struggle with how best to deal with the people side of the job. Building their confidence in their role and in communicating with their staff can help.

  3. These finding certainly corroborate with my internal comma audit at a large public sector org. Staff willl often complain at the ‘lack of comms’ but what this actually means is a lack
    of communications in a medium of their choice. And in my experience, face to face is always the preferred medium. Comms people should never feel under pressure to throw more technology, more comms, more frequently without first asking their audience first. Practice and strategy based on evidence is a must to a successful Comms function.

  4. Thanks for your valuable and informed comments folks.
    Yes, it is a shame that we still need to bang this particular drum, but there’s a strong argument to suggest that people need reminders like this more than ever given the economic backdrop, proliferation of less than good news and the temptation to treat electronic communication channels as “silver bullet” solutions, when they are simply enriching the all-important mix.
    As someone who straddles the comms and HR worlds (and yes, it’s often as painful as it sounds), I’m all too aware that we need less surveys describing and defining the problems and all the support for integration we can get….

  5. Right again Ian – the vital role of the line manager in employee engagement cannot be overstated, but as Joyce rightly points out they may often lack the softer, people skills necessary to communicate with their teams effectively – especially when it’s tricky content

  6. Then surely it’s much better to do a little of something nurturing and developmental than to throw more content at people. It’s a no brainer to me and w don’t need so-called taskforces to show the way but linking mgt pay and cmpetencies like comms in PM systems……

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