Survey: Internal Communications Need to be Honest, Consistent

November 5, 2004 ( - Employees responding to a new survey had one piece of advice for managers trying to find the best way to communicate with their workforce: Be honest.

The survey of 25,000 employees representing 17 US-based companies found that workers define effective communication as being an open and honest exchange of information containing both the good and the bad and materials that are clear and understandable.

Further, according to a news release, the workers said effective communications involved:

  • timely distribution
  • trusted sources
  • a two-way feedback systems
  • clear demonstrations of senior leadership’s interest in employees
  • continual improvements in communication
  • consistent messaging across sources.

If executives want to use their corporate communications program to drive internal opinion, the survey said it should include four key elements, in order of influence:

  • supervisory effectiveness in communication
  • use of basic communication tools
  • market understanding (competitors and customers)
  • business understanding (how the company succeeds)

“Frequency of an organization’s communication efforts – how often and from whom – can be another significant factor in determining their effectiveness. This needs to be carefully considered and developed if organizations want to achieve the communication results they are seeking,” said Katherine Woodall, principal and a senior communication consultant in Towers Perrin’s HR Services business, according to the news release.

Customer Information

Also critical to effective communication is the information provided about the external market including information on competitors and customers. While employees across all levels say they get enough information on company strategy and vision (70% and above) and performance (75% and above), they do not believe they get enough information on competitors.

Specifically, the study found that:

  • 65% feel they do not receive the appropriate quantity of information on competitors and 43% feel what they do get is ineffective
  • 48% feel they are not receiving the appropriate quantity of information about customers and only 38% feel this information is effective, while 27% say it is ineffective
  • Only 39% of employees are receiving information that differentiates their company’s products and services from the competition

Interestingly, for most respondents the issue is not so much credibility as it is openness and clarity. While overall efforts receive fairly strong ratings only half (51%) say their company is open and honest.

Further, less than half (45%) of their top managers both talk and listen. Similarly, less than half (49%) say there are procedures to raise questions and issues with senior leadership or inform employees on a timely basis about major decisions and developments.

Each company participating in the survey sent it to a sample of employees, resulting in a database of some 25,000 employee responses that enabled consortium members not only to view their own results but also to compare them to a benchmark average.