Best Places To Work – Internal Communication
Funny how people, Bigmouthmedia included, find it easier to talk with a mouthful of pizza.3. Communication
In this business of communication, how can you survive if you cannot communicate effectively with your own staff? With difficulty, it would seem. Our research has shown that communication between staff and management is not always as open and honest as it perhaps should be. But exactly how open and honest should communication between management and staff be? Is there a limit to how much a member of staff should know about the workings of the company?
Here’s what Scotland’s agency chiefs had to say:
Ken Cassidy, MD, Pointsize
“I have a huge amount of respect and regard for my staff. I hope that that is reciprocal. Designers, by their very nature, are inquisitive and it would be stupid to try and hide important and useful information from them. Communication is the business that we are in. If we cannot represent a client’s core values, then we will fail. Likewise, if we cannot communicate effectively internally, we will fail.
“To keep good staff you have to respect them, respect their ability and communicate effectively to them.”
Will Atkinson, MD, McCann-Erickson Scotland
“A lot of companies feel the need to create an air of mystique about what happens at their board meetings. Normally, it’s just trying to decide what colour toilet paper to choose. It would help if staff knew how much money they had helped to earn for the company. There are certain elements that need to be guarded slightly, but it helps to be open.
“Staff respond well to openness and honesty when things are going well. However, when things aren’t going so well, this openness helps you see how the staff respond; whose head goes down and those who just try even harder. Who would you want working for you in a crisis?”
Raymond MacHugh, MD, Keywest
“We hold production meetings every morning – that was the receptionist’s idea – to be more transparent. Before, people didn’t always know what was going on. Investors in People has changed that. Now we have involved all the people that matter – the staff. They have written this new business plan and they have to be able to share its goals.
“Obviously, it still needs the direction from the directors, but it means that we all have a shared goal to work towards. Transparency helps to break down any barriers that may have been built that have led to the thinking that upper management are bastards.
“The staff need to know everything. But there is a limit to the details that you need go into. For example, finances. You tell them honestly if things are looking good, or if they are a bit bleak, but you shouldn’t go into details. So many companies run close to the line; if their staff knew, they would constantly be worrying if their next pay cheque would ever arrive.”
Don Galloway, MD, Whitespace
“The Scottish design industry is very incestuous. Staff talk to other agency staff and it can be a worry that things will be misconstrued. Nothing is ever done maliciously, but people can get drunk and let things slip. It is all about trust, though.
“We don’t have a regular, formal appraisal system, but we are so open already it is not always necessary. But sometimes openness can cause problems. For example, if you interview someone, or you ask about a person, that is enough to get the rumour mill started and if the company that employs that person finds out, it can cause tensions.”
Steve Leach, MD, Bigmouthmedia
“In the interest of the employer, it is vital to have good relationships amongst all employees. It creates a better atmosphere, there is more pride, staff will go out on a limb for you if they know that you will do the same for them.
“Hopefully, that is the mentality that we have adopted. We like to have fun, it’s a young industry – we’re all under 35, so it’s important to have fun. Most of the staff have been here from the beginning. We don’t have a high turnover – I think that we’ve only lost one in the last six years. It is important to listen to everyone, regardless of their status – you would be amazed at the outcome and input when you create less of a ranked element. Sometimes in a large organisation people are appointed a rank and they are scared to step out of it.”
Phil Adams, MD, The Leith Agency
“Communication, informally, has almost an osmotic effect as part of the culture. Formally, we are as open with our staff as we can be. They know everything apart from the sensitive board level stuff. We hold monthly staff meetings where we explain our plans for the future. We will tell them of pitches and new business wins, which are often confidential. Our attitude is to trust people and, so far, the response to that has been very positive.
“A lack of communication between departments usually comes down to either the culture of the agency or the quality of its staff – usually the former. When I was in London, at a very creatively led agency, they encouraged a bit of friction between the departments. It worked OK, but I don’t encourage this at The Leith.”
David Southern, director, Atlantic PR
“Sometimes management don’t really know which direction the agency is heading and they lack a little clarity, and sometimes they are guarded about their figures and the direction they are taking. We’re not. Since the MBO we could not be clearer and we make no secret of it.
“We like all our staff to know exactly how the business is going, from turnover right through to the profit figures. There is a complete openness between the directors and the staff.”
David Reid, creative director, 1576
“I think that, in general, the suits versus creative divide does still exist. People do want to protect their own interests, but they also want to work for the better good of the organisation. We’ve been introducing a hot-desking environment, which certainly helps break down the barriers, so I don’t think, even although the creatives have recently moved upstairs, that there is any ‘them and us’ attitude here. We like to socialise together and on Fridays we run an all-staff bar, which is free for the first two hours.”
Alan Frame, MD, Frame Cunningham
“Our financial reporting is completely transparent and everyone attends the monthly staff meetings, where our collective stars are awarded and our warts exposed. We even go as far as to have a chart on the wall with turnover figures exposed for all to see and the staff get rewarded as it grows. But because I’m completely honest, everyone else is completely honest too. That can be a bit scary sometimes.”