Research reveals conflicting priorities for communicators and CEOs

Interesting report from Melcrum on CEO’s internal communications needs. Must ask about how this changes with public quoted companies:

CEOs view good internal communication as fundamental to the success of the
business, but their priorities when communicating to employees may be very
different to those of their communication professionals (PDF).

This is one of the key findings in a new report, 21st Century Leadership
Communication, produced by Melcrum and The Company Agency. In frank
interviews with 18 CEOs and senior business leaders from a broad spectrum of
organizations, CEOs stressed the central role of good internal communication
to good business performance, but warned that internal communicators may be
focusing on the wrong areas and activities.

The CEOs interviewed suggested that the most important role of internal
communication is to make sure everyone working in the company understands
the business strategy and knows what they need to do personally to deliver
it. For these CEOs, any other tasks that internal communication
professionals perform are secondary.

“Internal communication is the only way of ensuring that people right the
way through the organization understand what our business objectives are and
what’s going on at a particular time,” says Paul Walker, Chief Executive of
The Sage Group.

Skewed objectives

The report proposes that the internal communication industry’s objectives
may have become skewed in the last decade. Once viewed as a secondary
business function that distributes information in a production-line manner,
internal communication has worked hard to widen the scope of its role to
take on more “strategic” activities, planning and managing complex
communication programs.

But, the report suggests, in doing this, internal communicators may have
abandoned the discipline of “drafting and crafting”, an activity that the
CEO regards as truly strategic and really wants assistance with when it
comes to constructing the core business messages.

“It’s content more than the vehicle,” says Hugh Harvey, Managing Director of
Comet. “There’s no point having fantastic vehicles for communication and
then sending out the same drivel.”

Authentic communication

Another strong theme to emerge from the research was the desire for more
authentic communication from those at the top. “Internal communication,”
says Rona Fairhead, CEO of The Financial Times Group, “is about making
people feel part of an organization – rather than cogs inside a big machine
who don’t really know what they’re moving towards.”

The report suggests that in the past, internal communicators have focused on
“openness and honesty”, while the CEOs interviewed say that communications
now need to go a step further. Not only do they need to be truthful, they
need to be authentic – genuine, sincere and, as Michael Critelli, Executive
Chairman of Pitney Bowes puts it, “more revealing of how senior management

The CEOs suggest that one of the key routes to authenticity is “keeping it
personal” – particularly now that employees have increased access to
information and communicators need to break through the “noise” to connect
with and engage them. “I think a lot of us are coming down to a
sleeves-rolled-up, sit-on-the-corner-of-the-desk approach, with 20 or 30
people at a time,” says Keith Butler-Wheelhouse, CEO of Smiths Group. In
addition, “even if you’re talking to lots of people,” advises Paolo
Cavalieri, CEO of Hollard Insurance Group, “you want them to feel as though
you’re talking directly to them individually.”

Other aspects of the relationship between CEOs and internal communication
explored in the research include the level of influence of internal
communicators, the impact of social media, and the need for other ranks of
leadership to step up and “carry the communication can” more. The report
also includes a list of recommendations for internal communicators to help
create consistency between their goals and vision for communication, and the