What’s the future of internal communications?

Post by Blaire Rowland

Monday 17 September 2018

Stephen Jolly at IC Space Live

Stephen Jolly is Managing Director of M&C Saatchi Transform, M&C Saatchi’s organisational behaviours business. The UK’s former Director of Defence Communications at MOD (2013-15), Stephen has worked across both the public and private sectors and spoke at IC Space Live, the biggest government internal communications event of the year.

Stephen believes the future of internal communications (IC) lies in the ability and willingness of practitioners to utilise insights from behavioural science and exploit these to drive employee engagement.

What do you think are the key trends emerging for IC?

The critical question is: how can internal communications practitioners really get under the skin of target audiences, their needs and behaviours?

Just look at challenges facing organisations today: artificial intelligence, economic and political disruption, and demographic shifts are all changing expectations and attitudes around key issues such as organisational purpose, equality, inclusion and fairness.

Leaders need to have a deep understanding of those they employ and how they can best be prepared and equipped to face these challenges. Behavioural science is replacing the traditional stakeholder management model.

How can internal communicators understand their audiences better?

Internal communicators need an understanding of the behaviours, needs and motivations of employees.

Let me give you a social impact example: UNICEF was concerned that 65% of children in South Sudan are not registered at birth in a new country that is suffering civil war, famine, tribal strife and endemically low levels of literacy. A high number of unregistered births means that you can’t get aid to the people who most arguably need it. Technically speaking, these people simply don’t exist.

If M&C Saatchi were to support UNICEF in raising birth registration rates, we needed a thorough grasp of the cultures, social and cultural norms, linguistics, economic and political contexts at a granular level across South Sudanese society in double quick time. Only then, would we be able to target young mothers and change their behaviours in often remote localities.

In circumstances such as these, we rely on sophisticated research techniques, including ethnography, sociometrics, narratology and sociolinguistics to deliver the most powerful insights and lay the groundwork for the most impactful changes.

We believe that in the future all organisations will demand a similar level of rigour for their internal communications.

Have you applied this behavioural approach to an IC change challenge?

Yes, we worked with German conglomerate Siemens. The parent company had acquired a Danish wind power company. Shortly after the acquisition, health and safety records in the new subsidiary dipped.

Existing data showed that employees were fully aware of the health and safety regulations. So, M&C Saatchi conducted deep behavioural analysis in both the parent and subsidiary companies.

Behavioural insight identified that the parent and its subsidiary had different cultural perceptions of what constituted a deadline and that employees reacted in different ways to the pressure of deadlines.

Based on our insights, we launched a creative campaign redefining what deadlines are and involving employees in the creation of a new common, consensual model. The campaign encouraged transparency across the organisation and opened up new avenues of engagement for managers to speak about what they were doing – without fear of reprisal.

Not only did health and safety records improve but our deep behavioural change campaign helped unlock positive thinking amongst colleagues across the whole Siemens Group around questions of transparency, openness and honesty.

How do IC challenges differ between the public and private sectors?

Like the private sector, the public sector tends to be far too top-down in its messaging. The startling statistic is that 81% of all organisational change programmes fail – largely because of resistance from employees.

Civil servants are typically in service for a longer time than private sector workers and will likely have faced more change programmes. This can make it tougher to effect change, which makes the job of IC a hundred times harder.

Do you think the private sector could learn from the public sector?

I believe that the formation of the Government Communications Service (GCS) has provided a model of collaboration that is the envy of the private sector. I was the programme assurance director on the GCS and supported the goal of bringing best practice to all corners of the civil service.

The commitment the UK Government and civil service have shown to professional development and instilling a culture of excellence is really invaluable.

As a senior leader yourself, what do you see as the benefits of IC?

Effective internal communication is the gateway to everything: internal audiences who feel recognised and understood are happier, more productive and resilient when challenges arise. Given the accelerating change facing us all, ambitious leaders will want to ensure employees are able to tackle these challenges.

The clock is ticking on the traditional top-down approach. We need to think anew about employees and how their behaviours, individually and collectively, influence the performance of their organisations.

Contact Stephen Jolly, Managing Director, M&C Saatchi Transform: stephen.jolly@mcsaatchi.com
07920 868612

About the author:
Blaire Rowland is an internal communications executive at the Department for Work and
Pensions and is also a volunteer working on IC Space Live.