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Companies Skip Social Media in Internal Communication

Hierarchical relationships and outdated methods of internal communication prevail in many Russian companies. Less common are participatory communication, collegiality, and a commitment to negotiation and conflict prevention, suggests the study 'Internal Communication and Internal Marketing as Tools for Advancing Corporate Mission and Strategy' conducted by the HSE’s Higher School of Marketing and Business Development

According to Irina Bazileva, head of the educational programme in Business Development offered by the HSE's Higher School of Marketing and Business Development, the study surveyed the directors of HR departments in more than fifty Russian companies. Most of the surveyed businesses were medium-sized and large: 32% employed between 250 and two thousand people, and 34% had more than two thousand employees.

Phantom Communication Makes Way for Real Communication

Companies' efforts to meet the needs of their external customers, i.e. the end recipients of their products and services, are supported by communication with ‘internal customers’, i.e. the company employees. The purpose of this 'internal marketing' is to keep the company employees motivated in attaining the corporate goals and advancing the company's business. Ultimately, whether the company's internal marketing is effective is measured by its business success.

Internal marketing largely uses the same tools as external marketing, but the study reveals that companies are not as good at updating their internal marketing methods.

Thus, some 80% of the companies surveyed still favour 'phantom' communications, such as top executives making speeches to employees. Such sessions, Bazileva argues, rarely generate genuine feedback, since many employees are hesitant to ask questions under these circumstances.

Nevertheless, archaic tools of communication are being gradually replaced by contemporary and flexible ones. According to Bazileva, more than 50% of Russian companies encourage questions and feedback from employees and 50%conduct stakeholder meetings.

Some 40% of companies use focus groups to support effective communication as part of their change management strategies, and Bazileva finds it to be a good sigh indicating that companies make an effort to identify different groups within their teams which contribute to creating value for customers in different ways. Most companies benefit from setting separate strategic goals for different parts of their teams.

A little more than 30% of companies have a system in place to accept, access, and implement ideas and proposals from their employees.

Companies Only Communicate Part of Their Strategy

Not all by far of all the important company information is communicated to employees. Thus, just 85% of the surveyed company executives say they inform employees about changes in top management, 80% communicate information about new employees, and only 60% communicate the company's mission and position.

Curiously, just half of the surveyed companies inform employees about the corporate strategy and financial performance; in reality, Bazileva believes this number to be even less, because a proportion of respondents admit only communicating this information to some employees, but not to others.

Bazileva finds it even more striking that only 40% of the companies inform employees about new customers and new projects.

No Clear Link Between Performance and Salary

Related both to the openness of communication and to staff motivation was the central question of the study – whether employees can see a link between their performance and their salary. Bazileva is concerned that only 27% of all employees surveyed answered positively, including just 50% of those included in the personnel reserve.

Companies Like Communicating in Memos

Companies tend to use outdated internal communication tools – 80% of respondents prefer mailings, even though flooding employees with corporate emails is not a good communication strategy, Bazileva comments.She also finds it strange that really convenient tools such as online forums and chat rooms are unpopular – less than 30% of respondents ever use them. Social media are not popular either.

Participatory Style: Not yet a Reality

When asked about their prevalent style of interaction, 22.9% of companies admit a hierarchical pattern based on subordination,while 37.1% report having an open-door policy ‐ which Bazileva finds encouraging,even though she believes it to be an overestimation. An open-door policy means that there is no hierarchy, all important issues are discussed, and there is a conflict-resolution system in place; in fact, the mere commitment to negotiation and collegiality can effectively prevent crisis and conflict.

Bazileva finds it curious that about 10% of the respondents said their companies practiced "vertical, horizontal, or cross-functional interaction at different levels," which she interprets as a form of hierarchy where managers network among themselves, but not with employees.

As to decision-making in the sphere of internal communications, only in 9% of cases are these decisions made by a collective body, such as a committee on corporate culture, capable of taking into account different stakeholder perspectives.

In more than 30% of companies, the HR Department decides what should be communicated internally, while in some 25% of companies – not limited to small firms – the company CEO is the only one who makes such decisions.


Author: Olga Sobolevskaya, February 10, 2014