Schmooze better, less newsletter

Inspired by the previous debate from Hibbert, Pilkington & Ruck (a fantastic name for a law firm) I think this one is worthy of a separate post.
How much of the emerging role of IC should be about broadcast communications (newsletter)? and how much should be about engaging relationships (schmooze better)?
It is interesting that PR is synonymous with media management and IC is synonymous with channel management. I’ve seen far more sophisticated stakeholder engagement activities in both camps.
I wonder if the good old fashioned label of Industrial Relations offers a different perspective. As Ruck reminds us, a terminology that goes back to the 40’s.
I suggest that Industrial Relations (IR) and Public Relations (PR) have a lot in common. The word “relations” for a start, and it is clear that communications plays a BIG part in any relationship (which is probably why Hibbert likens IC to marriage guidance)
Maybe the terms “Industrial” and “Public” are more ambiguous and less authentic, but that doesn’t make them wrong or oudated. To me, “Public” suggests transparency (fundamental in the emerging world of stakeholder engagement) and “Industrial” suggests business performance (fundamental in the emerging world of employee engagement).
I’ve spent the last 4 months immersed in trade union negotiations, members ballots and changes to T&Cs to deliver on a new customer proposition for a major blue-chip. Effective communication played a significant part in the succesful outcome but it would have been a very different outcome if the same effort wasn’t invested in relations. The relationships fostered between management and union officals will outlive and outweigh the DVDs and newsletters. It will make the difference between a business in decline and a succesful business with sustainable growth. To Pilkington’s point “the stuff that really matters – job, income, self worth”
So, I now feel myself agreeing with Mike Klein when he argues for a new label for employee engagement. But maybe that label is not so new. Here’s to Industrial Relations.

7 Comments

  1. Sanjoy Mukherjee-Richardson says:

    You make a couple of interesting points. 1) you raise the question about engagement v communication. 2) you make the point that at the heart of both there is the concept of relationship. 3) you suggest the name industrial relationship.

    It’s worth considering the following

    1) while there is a shift towards engagement in the way that many of us in this area work, there is still a role for communication. It’s not one or the other in my opinion. There is still a role for broadcast communication (however, ideally with some way that employees can express their views and opinions). Some issues, such as company news, lend themselves to this. Others – such as change or strategy – lend themselves to engagement.

    In addition, not all companies, in all parts of the world are ready for engagement. This could a cultural thing. For example, in China, Japan or Vietnam an engagement approach – at this stage in their history at least – would not work as well as it would with a European/North American company (also possibly Spain too). Thus, communication in such countries still has a large role to play.

    It could also be where the company is at. If it’s HR philosophy isn’t that advanced, the idea of engagement might be too much of a leap forward. I face this problem in Israel, where some companies are still getting their heads around internal communicaiton, while others are steaming ahead on employee engagement.

    2) At the heart of both concepts is the relationship, but communication and engagement indicate the type of relationship that companies want to have with their employees. This relates to trust and empowerment as many have said.

    However, I’d also like to put it in the context of the two theories of management – from Douglas McGregor known as Theory X (where employees are basically seen as can’t be trusted, somewhat lazy and where money is the only real incentive) and Theory Y (where people can be trusted and want to be). Communication may belong to Theory X.

    3) You’re clearly out to provoke with the name “Industrial Relations”! If internal communication/employee engagement was to be called this, we would become a laughing stock within the management world. Industrial Relations died a deserving death in the 1970s. In the HR world it is seen as a defensive approach to managing people – one that is focused on legal compliance and fighting or negotiating with Trade Unions, or keeping them out where they didn’t exist.

    Also the term “industrial” is quite specific. Many of the best internal communication/employee engagement functions exist in non-industrial organisations – and also organisations without trade unions (which is perhaps why they’re good).

    Could I suggest “employee engagement and communication.” Yes, it has the initials EEC, but at least the European Community has a better reputation than industrial relations.

  2. Adam Hibbert says:

    I like Sanjoy’s attribution of comms to Theory X, and agree with him that X is by no means dead.

    For now, let me just throw one other consideration into the mix: Mintzberg’s HBR article on companies as communities:

    http://www.nyenrode.nl/facultyandresearch/PSI/Documents/Rebuilding%20Companies%20as%20Communities%2010%202009.pdf

  3. It’s true that in many organisations there is an over-reliance on broadcast communication through intranets, newsletters, cascade team briefings and other email briefings. It depends how this is all done, but even if the content is relevant, timely, pertinent and objective it can lead to cynicism. If not done well, it is tantamount to organisational propaganda. In their book, “PR – A Persuasive Industry”, Morris and Goldsworthy controversially suggest that internal communication is “the branch of the modern PR industry that best realises the propagandist’s dream”.

    Internal communication that incorporates dialogue and upward feedback that is taken seriously counter-balances the “broadcast” only approach. The combination of feeling well informed, having opportunities for upward feedback with support from committed line managers is what adds up to employee engagement.

    Heron was not far out in 1942 in saying that “Communication is a line function; it is a two-way sharing of information; it is not a persuasion or propaganda campaign; it requires the freedom and opportunity to ask questions, get answers and exchange ideas.” I wonder why this wisdom has escaped so many organisations for the last 70 years?

    Mintzberg (as ever) is so right; it is all about communityship. Identifying with the organisation as a social community has largely been ignored by academics and managers. The tragedy is that leaders don’t appreciate that it actually leads to better performance.

    • @ Kevin
      > Heron was not far out in 1942 in saying that “Communication is a line function; it is a two-way sharing of information; it is not a persuasion or propaganda campaign; it requires the freedom and opportunity to ask questions, get answers and exchange ideas.” I wonder why this wisdom has escaped so many organisations for the last 70 years?

  4. Kevin
    I think there are many leaders that not only appreciate the value of dialogue, they practice it. Many also understand how effective communication can create social glue in the communities that they lead.
    In fact ,most have studied Minzberg, Herzberg, MacGregor, McClelland, Maslow, Handy, Drucker et al during their MBAs and have been developed to death on numerous leadership courses covering derivative theories like NLP and Emotional Intelligence. And probably long before their IC pros left school.
    The future challenge for IC pros is to develop and DELIVER strategies that help organisations achieve their objectives. Sadly, many spend too long compiling, editing and waiting for sign-off on content for corporate channels that unsurprisingly is perceived as corporate propoganda and more commonly known as Corporate BS.
    I wonder what it will take to change this?

  5. New to the CIPR Inside blog, so apologies if I repeat things others have said before on here…

    IC actually faces bigger challenges than PR in “broadcast mode” because of the Pravda effect. PR can at least work messages into other people’s channels – but IC broadcast is “official” and that can (depending on the workplace) provoke cynicism all by itself. So I agree with Kevin, but not with Morris and Goldsworthy.

    I like the Industrial Relations angle, but the term is tainted and that won’t change any time soon.

    Overall, I am in the “schmooze” camp – relationships are key and conversations help make relationships. We get our context from those around us, it’s more efficient than keeping everything in our brains. I think one underrated element is working much harder to make various “broadcasts” truly useful for enabling conversations.

    • Welcome Indy, good to get some fresh input, and welcome to the schmooze camp.
      I agree that broadcast media can an effective enabler of conversations, more so in the external world and in the context of irrelevant topics (Royal Wedding, X-Factor Finalists, etc)
      I think this reinforces the fact that we are social animals and I find it interesting that socialising “formal” or “official” employee communications is such a challenge, especially when the informal and unofficial channels remain so effective.
      Incidently, we tend not to get hung up on what we call them (except those that cannot resist a label like “water cooler conversations”)
      Maybe we just work too hard to make internal broadcasts relevant and engaging for pre-defined audiences, when the majority create their own context and seldom want the facts to get in the way of a good story?

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