Employee Communications: Internal Branding = External Success

It’s a simple equation. Internal Branding = External Success.  Employee communications programs should embody the brand and foster a culture of communication that rallies employees around the mission and business goals of the company.  Yet many organizations neglect internal communication.  With an economy in the tank, some companies feel that employees should be happy to have a job.  But when things are bad, employees need to be hearing frequently about the true state of the company, what management is doing about it, what it means for the individual employee.

Even in bad times, smart companies are able to mobilize their employees to support the company and its brand by being twice as productive as before and in their communication with customers.   Employees want their company to succeed, so why not give them an opportunity to be part of the solution?  It works in a company that has nurtured a culture of communication that it can rely on to see it through both the good and bad times.

In communication with employees —

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Trust is the core component – all communications must be reliable, truthful and contain the full story. At the heart of trust is:
Openness – there must be an unwavering commitment to and support of a healthy two-way communications environment.
Simplicity – communications must be clear, meaningful and accessible.
Consistency – messages must be strategic and integrated.
Caring – there must be concern for the individual.

The most important element in communicating with employees is speed. They need to hear news from the company — both good and bad — before they read it in online forums and news programs.

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  1. My experience says big companies do not adhere to these altruistic goals. And in this economy I cannot even say the same for smaller companies.

    I heard a horror story from a close relative. She was laid off with five hours notice, no severance and no accrued vacation pay. This after 15+ years on a job, more than satisfactory reviews and being the lowest paid worker in her department. I guess politics abounds throughout!

  2. Jeannette, I could not agree with you more. But unfortunately, those facets are a fantasy, at least in my experience. I’ve worked in companies both big and small that don’t convey the whole story, disrespect employees, spin worse than politicians, believe and perpetuate their own hype, are out of touch with reality, and even don’t understand the industry they are operating in and their place in it. Management is on a power trip, and constantly seeking to protect their turf and reputation at no cost. Backbiting abounds. Companies are prone to hire mediocre, cheaply-had, easily herded and intimidated sheep rather than the outliers that can truly drive revenue and make a difference. Companies are ageist, sexist, discriminatory…unwilling to pay an employee fairly based on what they have contributed to the bottom line. Companies are lax to make radical decisions for the best of the company and often do not have any concern for their employees – for example, offering substandard medical plans, poor training, few incentives to excel, arbitrary political rules and regulations, unrealistic expectations. They are full of meetings just to have meetings, value those that swallow whole the company line and detest any coherent, rational disagreements from underlings. Management avoids conflict to the point of disabling progress. Maybe I have just been unlucky, but I think it is more the norm than the exception – and I speak from the perspective of my industry (online advertising). I’ve tried to stay positive and learn from my experiences with various organizations, and that learning has helped me to recognize bureaucratic tendencies and out of touch strategy before I sign on the bottom line. I’ve learned that an interview is as much a sale of the company to the candidate as the sale of the candidate to the company. If I could give any job applicant advice in choosing their next position, it would be: talk to as many people who work there and have worked there as possible. Do your homework on the company’s reputation, track record, viability, potential. Ask the hard questions. Present yourself honestly. Get everything in writing. And don’t ever settle. Recognize when it’s time to leave and do so with integrity – don’t burn any bridges. Know that you have something to contribute that may not be palatable to management but don’t mute yourself for fear of being dismissed or punished. And most of all, join an organization you can truly get behind and believe in. It’s tough out there, but it is possible to find a good fit. You just have to kiss a lot of frogs before finding your prince. I personally have found some former and present colleagues that I can trust, and recognized my fit in this industry and what I can honesty contribute. And I openly admit that I am still learning.

  3. The trick is not to copy. As an entrepreneur in Spain I find my style and I have to accept that not everyone fit into the company culture. Its not a winning formula in internal managment. The proof is stability and a proof that employees stay and the company makes good money in long term. I agree with Emily. Lets not be hipocrates. The company owners have a different drive than the employees, but without the combination of the both actors the company simple does not run. Lets just accept this fact.

  4. Dear Jeannette, I think you make an excellent point and I would second it. Based on a lot of experience in this arena, my own personal observations are that the leadership of the company need to believe in this notion and whomever is running the communications ought to be experienced and tough enough to create an appropriately balanced internal and external communications program with the confidence and blessing of the leaders.

    To Emily’s point, dysfunction is rife in many companies and how they approach any communications, let alone things that need to be shared or sourced with employees. Your thesis, that internal communications relates to external success, is quite true. But what many companies don’t understand is that employees are external audiences. They read newspapers, blog, talk to friends, watch TV, buy magazines. As a matter of fact, I once tested a theory that employees were more influenced by external advertising and promotion than by anything showing up inside the company. Carefully measured by employee surveys tracked over months during and after launching and sustaining advertising campaigns in local markets, employee satisfaction shot up in those markets where we ran the advertising, and stayed steadily low in control markets where we did no external advertising and issued the usual internal announcements across the company.

    This is not a prescription, but an observation. The commonly held belief is that employees are ambassadors of the company image, and I think that is true. As communicators we have to be creative and sturdy in our conviction about what is right and wrong.

    Since the “Internet Bubble” of 2000 that Alan Greenspan called a period of “Irrational Exuberance”, where throwing money at everything without a plan was the norm, business has lurched into the territories of corruption, fraud, fakery and outright strategic failure. Add to that the thousands of mergers and acquisitions which were intended to prop up revenue and growth, and looked good on paper, but caused nothing but chaos within these companies. In most of these cases, internal communications was set aside. Pink slips showed up before the internal announcements.

    As an aside, the biggest headaches I had during those years were from the chat boards on Yahoo Finance and others. All the employees were tuning into them and there were a bunch of wacko day traders, some of them employees of course, yakking about the company and spilling some rather inside information. That’ll be 3 Tylenol, please.

    Now that we’re in the great recession, it is no surprise that internal communications gets the short end of the stick. But that doesn’t mean we’re not right when we say that it’s not a bad idea to rally the troops around a brand, a strategy, a new product or even a crisis.

    Michael