Carol Grant On communications

Published: 04/03/2004, Volume II4, No. 5895 Page 31

A joint Mori/Audit Commission survey last year on the nature of trust in public institutions found that one of its biggest drivers in the NHS was family and friends saying positive things about the service.

The role of NHS staff as advocates in their local community cannot be overstated. An active internal communications campaign should mean that every member of staff leaves work feeling like an ambassador for the organisation. But left to chance, or done badly, poor internal communication can mean that there is an army of reputation 'assassins' out there.

A recent survey in the local government sector among councils evaluated under the comprehensive performance-assessment framework (the equivalent of the NHS star-ratings) found that in authorities rated 'poor', just over half of all managers and nonmanagers felt that they were well-informed about decisions taken by top management. In 'excellent' authorities, over 90 per cent of managers and nearly two-thirds of non-managers felt they were kept in the information loop.

The survey also found similar trends in levels of staff satisfaction and, crucially, the proportion of those willing to act as advocates. In excellent authorities, two-thirds were prepared to speak positively about the organisation to those outside it, as opposed to only a quarter in 'poor' authorities.

So what are the hallmarks of good internal communications?

A seamless link between human resources and public relations Internal communication is about more than spin on one side and dull information on pay and rations on the other. It needs to be linked to core business objectives and benchmarked regularly in staff surveys.

Honesty and transparency

Simply cascading the management line down from on high rarely works. The best internal communications work on the basis of 'positive realism', explaining the situation in an upbeat but honest way.

Not everything is a priority

It is vital to filter messages so that the key points get through, and then reinforce them again and again.

Two way communication

Unless you can demonstrate the feedback loop in action, internal communications will never develop from building awareness to encouraging true advocacy.

Production standards

The staff newsletter that looks like a school magazine sends out a message about how staff are valued.Use electronic communication wisely.

Intranets are important but are not the panacea for a communication gap.A badly structured intranet is the equivalent of pushing someone into a library and hoping they might stumble upon the answer to a question. Some of the most influential staff in your organisation will not have access to a PC, so e-mail should be used sparingly.

Use different channels

A good internal communications strategy will use a multitude of channels depending on the message and the audience. In a world of junk mail and information overload, face-to-face contact is consistently rated the most valuable form of internal communication.

Carol Grant is a partner at Grant Riches Communication Consultants