How to make the most of employee consultations

12 August 2015 -


The importance of making sure employees are kept in the loop when it comes to making changes in an organisation.

Ben Willis

‘Tell them what you are going to tell them. Tell them. Then tell them what you’ve told them.’ So runs the advice about presenting information to an audience. Clarity is key, whoever you are talking to.

But, in the often high-pressured business of looking outwards and making sure customers and external stakeholders are being given what they want, it’s easy for organisations to forget their own.

Employees are the lifeblood of any corporate entity, and keeping them connected with what’s going on in a business is a critical component in its success.

“Effective communication is a vital ingredient for employee engagement and to build trust between the organisation’s senior leaders and its people,” says one report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). “Communication is very much about developing the organisation’s culture. It is also central to developing more effective and agile organisations, through innovation and responding to operational issues.”

Jonny Gifford, research adviser to the CIPD, and author of a number of reports on the subject of employee communication, says internal contact particularly comes into its own during the times of upheaval that will almost inevitably strike an organisation.

“When you’re going through organisational change, it’s unsettling,” Gifford says. “People very easily feel insecure, enshrined in legislation. Gifford’s research suggests the legislation, which came out of a European directive and was passed into law in 2004, has not been particularly effective, because it requires substantial employee pressure or organisational dysfunction in particular about losing their jobs, but also about having to embrace new ways of working.

“One of the most difficult things is giving up the old ways of working you’re used to, because you’ve built your skills around those ways of working, you know how to do it well, hopefully, and having to shift to a new way of working, a new way of doing your job, you’re effectively going back to basics. That’s a key point to be careful with when it comes to communications.”

Sharing responsibility

The public relations agency Ainsworth Maguire PR lists the need to explain change among its top pointers for effective internal communications.

“Where significant changes are under consideration, take time to explain the background and why these changes are important to the business and to those affected,” the agency notes in guidelines found on its website. “The issues must be understood, and ownership and responsibility shared.”

As it happens, the obligation to keep employees informed of major change, whether around job losses, restructuring or other upheaval such as relocation, is to be invoked. But it exists – and perhaps the fact it hasn’t been widely used indicates that organisations are making good use of the increasingly varied channels open to them to get their message out to employees.

Indeed, the social media revolution has been greatly beneficial for the practice of internal communications, says Gifford. Many employers are now using ‘enterprise social networks’ – essentially in-house versions of Facebook – to engage staff. Sites such as Yammer offer capabilities that go way beyond a simple intranet by allowing staff to interact in an open forum with each other and with senior management, and debate any issues of concern.

One of the greatest advantages of such a system, says Gifford, is its ability to swiftly build a consensus for change, which may previously have taken weeks or months to develop.

“Think about a typical employee survey,” he says. “You give your written feedback and say, ‘this is what I’d like to see happen’, and it goes off up into the ether and you may not hear about it again.

“With social media, you have the opportunity for people to put an idea out there, communicating up to senior leaders at the same time as communicating it to colleagues.

“Colleagues can then jump on the back of that, say ‘that’s a great idea’. And you can build on and test ideas live rather than have to wait for them to be digested by senior management and then fed back out by the formal channels of communication. So you’ve got this very multi-directional form of communication.”

Get real

However, Gifford is quick to warn of the dangers of running “sham” consultations with employees. Any form of communication with employees must be genuine and be seen to be genuine, he advises.

“It’s probably better to do nothing at all than to make a sham of a consultation,” Gifford says.

“This is because if you ask employees for their feedback and for their views, you are telling them that you value their views. If they then can’t see anything tangible and timely coming off the back of that, it can be very damaging for trust in the organisation.”

Want to know more about managing change? Then come along to the CMI foundation level workshop on Change and Risk Management.

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