Internal Communications – More Questions Than You Answered

True story, and probably all too commonplace in the current economic climate. Take one large company, still having it large – probably less large than it was having it over the last five years or so – but an absolute leader in its field. People really, really want to work for this company, in fact there have been cases of candidates resorting to expressions of physical violence amongst themselves in the car park post-interview. (OK, I made that last bit up, but you get the picture.)

Anyway, and I do go on, don’t I, said company – like so many at the moment, is imposing a pay freeze. Before you get all uppity, this is a good thing. In imposing a pay freeze, jobs will be saved, redundancies avoided and the company keeps a talented workforce, which it has spent so much time recruiting, in anticipation of the good times rolling again. And for this company, they will. However, and this should be borne in mind (or rather, without giving too much of my story away) should have been borne in mind, the people who work for this company are used to big rewards – for which they work, some might say, stupidly hard.

So, a pay freeze. The first inkling that all was not right was when senior management, used to getting spreadsheets showing the amount that they had available to divvy up between their teams, realised that those spreadsheets were not forthcoming. The delay become rather less of a delay and rather more of a talking point. Two weeks later, they got the email.

I’ve been privileged to see the email. I consider myself to be quite good with words and to be able to see through the jargon and grasp the message pretty quickly. Not in this case. Oh no. It took three reads before the upbeat and obfuscatory language gave way to the underlying blunt truth – there would be no salary increase this year. A turd wrapped in candy-floss.

Sadly, I can only imagine the joy of the internal comms people at the reasonably remote corporate HQ – “Yaaay – we’ve done it! We’ve made this unpleasant and unheard of (in the history of this company anyway) news seem palatable! We’ve dressed it up and covered it in make-up and no-one will be the wiser!”

Oh dear. Because it was so ‘clever’, no-one immediately understood what it meant – and these are busy people, with better things to do than to examine emails from every angle in order to try and glean meaning. No, these are the sort of people who call a turkey a turkey and, if they suspect it’s a turkey, are unafraid of asking questions.

Which they did, and the lovingly-crafted edifice that had been built around the unpalatable truth came tumbling down. These people, used to big rewards for their big workloads, understandably felt ill-served – not necessarily by the fact there’s a pay freeze, but by the way that they were (or more accurately, weren’t) told.

It’s by no means a long-term disaster, mind, the company will survive and their employees will get over it – although their trust and faith may be dented which will have undoubted, if invisible, effect on the company’s ability to recruit the best of the best in the future – but there are a couple of immediate lessons to be learned.

If the news is bad, don’t try and wrap it in tinsel. Don’t treat intelligent people as if they were stupid. Tell it how it is and they’ll respect you more.

And don’t let the big boys get away with it. If you’re running internal comms then you have a duty to advise at the highest level and ensure that it’s done properly. Sometimes that means putting yourself in the line of fire for the greater good. And if you can’t see that, or aren’t prepared to do it, then give the job to someone who can and is.

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