Personnel Assets

Everyone has heard stories of people fleeing nightmare working environments. But the cost of replacing and retraining a new employee is estimated to be seven times higher than keeping an existing employee motivated. It is hardly surprising that businesses are becoming more aware of the need to maintain harmony at work.

Internal communications are increasing in importance, and employers are going out of their way to maximise staff productivity.

“Each employee is a walking ambassador,” explains Verve Design communications director Julia James. “Human assets are now valued as highly as financial capital,” adds Verve managing director Lea Banwell. The group has found a niche in this field: staff recognition schemes.

Internal communications now comes under a range of guises. Where there used to be just monthly newsletters there is now e-mail, staff recognition and benefit schemes, and the new kids on the office block – Intranet sites.

Design consultancies either specialise in internal communications or present it as part of a brand communication package.

Redhouse Lane specialises in staff publications. Managing director Jeremy Redhouse says this area is a “critical discipline” for companies today. “If an organisation communicates effectively and uses communication skills to make its staff more knowledgeable, it will succeed.”

But some groups still have a lot to learn. “Designers still think that what is good for external communications is also good for internal communications,” he says. “[However], to reach staff your methods need to be subtle and highly sophisticated, to combat staff cynicism. Good design focuses on things which interest staff and explains things in a clear way.”

Luxon Carrà managing director David Rowson backs this up. “The challenge is to ensure that the message, tone and manner [of the internal message] is correct. If you can do that, it’s a major achievement. But…it’s as tricky as getting the external message right,” he says.

The consultancy has developed a range of internal communications material for clients including Intel, Apple, Andersen Consulting, Aer Lingus and Britannia Airways.

Internal communications can really come into their own when a company needs to give staff bad news – redundancies, office relocation, declining performance. “Organisations need to invest time and money to create credible and honest internal communications, to counter staff dissatisfaction,” says Redhouse.

The Ministry of Defence wanted to relocate thousands of staff and bring about corporate change over a six-year period, starting in 1990. Redhouse Lane was briefed to redesign and modernise the ministry’s bimonthly internal publication, called Preview.

“We slowly introduced subtle design changes to the magazine,” says Redhouse. “It worked because people moved [office] and did not leave. It exemplifies how design can change people’s attitudes by embracing brand values.” According to the MoD, 3000 staff were relocated, but fewer than ten staff resigned.

Rowson at Luxon Carrà believes that keeping people informed during bad times is one of the most vital aspects of internal communications. “When there are redundancies made in a group, a publication won’t make the news nice, but maybe more acceptable. The basic principle is that everybody needs to be spoken to,” he says.

Redhouse Lane was commissioned to redesign the Post Office’s 1996-97 results, during a period when there was, according to Redhouse, a “degree of industrial unrest”. It was therefore critical to create something which would ease management/employee relations.

“We aimed to break the mould of previous reports,” he says. “We imagined a postman going through the annual report with a red pen marking PR-puff and accountancy-speak and asking embarrassing questions like, ‘If we make all this profit, how come none of it has turned up in my pay packet?'”

The document won the 1998 British Association of Communicators in Business award for best internal report.

Internal communications are also a useful tool in helping to push through a corporate identity change programme. Unless staff are on board, a new positioning, however brilliant, may not be successful. Enterprise IG experienced this last year, when its new fox identity for publishing and events group Miller Freeman was so lambasted by staff that it was ditched before the external launch.

At the more stable end of the spectrum, internal communications are an opportunity to sell to a target audience. Last month Bang Creative produced a 30-page merchandise catalogue for all Royal Mail staff. It featured 120 branded products such as picture frames, watches, mugs and cuddly toys.

The catalogue, named When You Need to Remember, reinforces the brand and is intended to give a positive impression of the organisation.

“It’s to encourage internal Royal Mail employees to buy branded products, and offers value for money. The items can also be used for incentives and reward initiatives,” says Bang design manager David Clarke.

The consultancy has also created an information tool aimed at British Aerospace staff who undertake corporate entertaining. The internal Filofax is “for staff to take clients out to corporate functions and it acts as a quick reference guide to what events are happening and who to contact”, explains Bang creative director James Goodwyn.

Since the start of last month, the Filofax has also been available on British Aerospace’s Intranet site, which is accessible to those with sufficient security clearance and knowledge of the access code.

Different forms of communication are pitched at different groups of employees. Consultancies must avoid the trap of designing something so beautifully that a company is appearing to waste money on flashy internal communications. “You have to pander to expectations so staff don’t get pissed off,” says Redhouse. “This means not spending money on producing a glossy brochure. It costs the same, but creates different perceptions.”

Another valuable, but under-exploited area of internal communications is staff recognition schemes. To avoid the expense of training new employees organisations are implementing programmes to hold on to existing staff.

Verve has carved a niche for itself in this sector, producing schemes for British Airways, Thomas Cook and Imperial Cancer Research.

The consultancy has created four different schemes, which can be adapted according to the specific target company. Banwell says she treats each scheme like a new product.

“They are used to motivate staff and dispel elitism, as everyone is open for recognition. We launch schemes as we would a product and carry out analytical research on rewards that staff would like.

“These schemes measure attitude and behaviour, as well as bring out the best in staff. It increases team spirit, reassures employees and improves the bottom line,” she says.

Banwell highlights the importance of creating ownership of the scheme by staff. “They are like customers. We tell them why they should buy into the scheme before we customise the product for them. The schemes must also be very sexy and appealing.”

Monitoring ventures once they are implemented is equally important, she maintains. “We recommend a three-month pilot scheme and then ask for feedback from the staff. We then continue to keep an eye on it, making recommendations about injecting new life into the scheme. A quarterly system creates continuous motivation as people want public recognition.”

The Intranet is the latest internal communications medium to be explored by Rowson’s clients. “Most of them are pretty good at keeping their ear to the ground and evolving things. There has been a shift from the old school of company newsletters to formalised communications, providing information, job help and inspiration,” he says.

Rowson sites Andersen Consulting and international telecommunications business Sonera as two such organisations. “Andersen Consulting uses a lot of Intranet-based internal communication in terms of posting notice boards and an ideas exchange, while Sonera, formerly Telecom Finland, has done all its internal communications electronically over the past 12 months as part of its rebranding project.”

Redhouse recognises the value of Intranet sites, but believes they are not replacing internal publications, as people originally expected. “Many organisations today are developing Intranet capabilities. But it depends on how in tune the company is with cross-communications. E-mail encourages people to be more relaxed and less formal, though print still has a degree of substance about it,” Redhouse says.

“We create master templates, then let companies themselves make up the rest.” he adds.

Rowson thinks the next “major development” in internal communications will be the “virtual training room, including Intranet and live and recorded information. It’s one step on from video conferencing. People in offices in London, Paris and New York can cross communicate.”

Rowson at Luxon Carrà is optimistic about the future of internal communications: “I see it growing, and harnessing and developing it will create more opportunities.”

But would companies continue to spend money on schemes in an economic downturn? Redhouse is cynical about the future of internal communications in general. “People spend time on internal communications when thing are good, but ignore them when things are bad.”

“In two years’ time, during the next recession, we will see whether internal communications has paid off for companies,” he adds.

Arram Berlyn Gardner

West End accountancy practice Arram Berlyn Gardner uses a number of internal communication mechanisms to encourage sound office management and good relations in the office.

The firm has used internal e-mail among its 70 staff for the past five years. Managing partner Gary Jackson says it has been ‘very useful’, though he admits problems sometimes occur.

‘It took a while for people to realise that although they had sent an internal e-mail, someone may not have read it. As a result, staff based outside the office for several months may not have got messages,’ explains Jackson.

‘All non-office-based staff will eventually get laptop computers. It is part of an annual replacement programme which will eventually see laptops replacing desktop computers.’

Last Christmas ABG introduced its first staff recognition scheme. Senior management presented a cash prize and cup to someone. ‘We had an employee of the year award for the first time. Someone had done a great job and we wanted to recognise them,’ explains Jackson.

‘It was awarded to someone in a management position, but there’s no rigid criteria…if a person deserves recognition we will reward them. Though it was selected by senior management last time, we are likely to canvas the views of everyone next time.’

The accountancy practice looked into a performance-related pay scheme, but opted against it after finding that the schemes tended to benefit employers rather than employees. But Jackson says: ‘I would always consider more rigid staff recognition schemes in the future.’

ABG also organises company outings two or three times a year like horse racing, greyhound racing and bowling. ‘I hope it enables people to meet on an informal basis. It is part and parcel of developing relationships,’ adds Jackson.

John Lewis Partnership

The John Lewis Partnership is based on a unique concept. It is co-owned by its 39 000 staff, from the chairman to shop assistants, who are all known as ‘partners’.

The company’s 13-article constitution includes the ultimate aim of securing the happiness ‘in every way’ of all its partners. In essence, each partner gets a share of the company profits. This means a 19 per cent bonus last March for all 39 000 staff. ‘I’ve seen stickers on light switches saying “turn this light off ã you’re burning my bonus”,’ says a John Lewis spokesman.

As well as staff discounts of 25 per cent on everything except electrical goods, partners can also claim 50 per cent subsidies on theatre tickets for pantomimes, West End shows, opera, music and dance. Up to 12 claims can be made annually, with a maximum value of £120 a year.

The partnership’s holiday centre scheme also entitles staff and their families to massive reductions on holidays around the UK. Destinations include Brownsea Castle on Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour. Caravans and yachts can also be hired at low cost.

John Lewis publications include a weekly colour magazine called The Gazette, which can be bought by staff for 2p or by external organisations such as the Treasury for £1. It is designed and produced by an in-house team of seven.

It contains all the weekly news, sales data and features. ‘There are anonymous letters from staff which can be used as a way of letting off steam and indicating to management things that people want addressed,’ says the spokesman.

Each store also produces a weekly black and white magazine called The Chronicle.

British Airways

British Airways Pride of Membership awards were launched last September, for the company’s UK and Ireland sales department. The award scheme was developed by Verve Design managing director Lea Banwell.

The creative concept for them was ‘ordinary people doing extraordinary things’ with examples being taken from both the UK and selected world markets.

The aim of it is to ‘primarily improve behaviour and attitude and secondarily performance’. The flexibility of the scheme appeals to a wide ranging age group with a broad mix of aspirations, aged between18 and 55-years-old.

The quarterly awards allow nominations to be made by all members of the company: colleagues, peers, immediate management and senior level management. Verve Design is keen to promote this egalitarian aspect in all its projects. ‘Our schemes dispel elitism as everyone is open for recognition,’ explains Banwell.

The immediate task of the consultancy was to ‘complement British Airways’ “world visions” as expressed by the new corporate identity and philosophy, through qualities such as honesty, openness, determination and recognition’.

The second task was to ‘illustrate the qualities [of the company and its employees] and draw analogies with everyday business life’.

These objectives were achieved through the use of four creative mediums – a slide presentation, a brochure, nomination forms and framed prints.

Pride of Membership communications manager Clare Finan says the scheme was ‘welcomed by everyone’ when it was introduced, though it is now undergoing some changes.

‘It’s not that it didn’t work, but things can’t stand still and remain the same. We are reviewing it at the momentä to make it more streamlined,’ says Finan.

‘It’s all about continuous improvement. We moved it from a slightly complicated programme to something more simple,’ she adds.

Aer Lingus

Irish airline Aer Lingus launched its first 14-page staff guide last year. The magazine is full colour and gives staff an insight into the brand. It was designed by Luxon Carrà.

Called Beyond Face Value, the brochure focuses not only on the airline’s employees but also its customers.

‘For service organisations, featuring people in their [corporate] material is very important, and the values and personality of the organisation are constant features,’ explains Luxon Carrà managing director David Rowson.

The publication addresses Aer Lingus’ reputation for excellence in relating to customers, emphasising its character as a ‘friendly, warm and welcoming’ organisation.

Special attention is paid to Aer Lingus’ three core values of professionalism, intuition and intimacy, giving employees guidelines on ensuring these aspects are maintained.

The customer relationship is also focused on in the brochure explaining the wishes of the modern traveller to be ‘treated as an equal, respected as an individual and valued as a customer’. Another ‘important aspect’ stressed in the brochure is the need for a relationship that is: ‘stress free, with customers feeling at ease to such an extent that they almost feel at home’.

Aer Lingus sales and marketing director David Bunworth says the magazine has ‘merged all the brand values. It has been given to 6500 staff and was instrumental in making people aware of how and why we’re doing things.’

Bunworth adds that the publication has been ‘taken on extremely well’ over the past months. ‘It is now part of our training manual and each new member of staff gets a copy.’

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