The simplicity of these conversations gives them their power and the potential to transform the quality of relationships.


Internal communications: Are your staff ready to listen to what you’re saying?

Clients often ask us for help with internal communications as part of their PR campaigns to connect and engage with the various management tiers, board of directors and personnel across the organisation.

One of the key reasons for clients to communicate with internal audiences is to boost employee engagement.  Unfortunately, however, there is often a first step that needs to be taken before a formal communications campaign begins – and that involves a much more personal level of communication.

In our digital era, email, social media and text messaging have made communication instant and easy with lots of people without us having to look up from our phones, tablets or PC screens.  How then can employee engagement be suffering when we have all this technology at our disposal?

The answer lies with the power of conversations.  The latest thinking points to managers within all types of organisations no longer instinctively knowing how to have face to face and telephone conversations with their staff – and this means any internal PR activities have to work much harder to have the desired impact. 

So before you embark on an internal comms programme, it’s worth taking steps to make sure the ears of your team are receptive!

Re-discovering the art of conversation
Employee engagement is better in some organisations than others.  But one thing that is universal is that there is always room for improvement.

That’s why a new programme developed by global training and consultancy provider – and now Partners client – The Oxford Group, offers a helping hand to just about any business.

Called 5 Conversations, the programme is designed to help managers learn how to have authentic two-way conversations with their staff and establish a positive mind-set for doing so – a skill no business school course or vocational management training is ever likely to cover to a meaningful level.

Programme leader Nick Cowley says: “Emerging evidence increasingly highlights severe limitations of email, mobile, social media and other e-communication – not least the scope for misinterpretation and lack of emotional cues. 

“In today’s work environment, amongst all the jargon, processes, performance management, KPIs, etc., we have forgotten a simple truth: the power of authentic, two-way, human conversations to build relationships, trust, engagement and performance at work.”

Now for the science bit…
The science that underpins the 5 Conversations programme explains its power. Neuroscience tells us that we are social animals and that the brain is the organ of relationship.  We make decisions based upon our emotions – and it’s other people that evoke our strongest emotions. 

Stress causes our brain to shut down and revert to primitive responses, and when there is trust in a relationship we are open to ideas, possibilities and collaboration.

…And the business rationale
The quality of the manager-employee relationship directly impacts on an employee’s level of engagement, which 2009’s government-commissioned report ‘Engaging for success: enhancing performance through employee engagement’ presented the unequivocal case for.

This was backed in 2012 with the Employee Engagement Task Force ‘Nailing the evidence’ workgroup report, which reported that employee engagement impacts positively on levels of absenteeism, retention, levels of innovation, customer service, ‘positive outcomes in public services’ and staff advocacy.  For example, 59% of more engaged employees say that work brings out their most creative ideas compared with 3% for the less engaged (Gallup 2007), and the CBI found that engaged employees take an average of 2.69 days sick per annum versus 6.19 days for the disengaged.

Why are five conversations needed?
It isn’t the frequency of talking that matters, says Nick, but that managers have forgotten how to have meaningful conversations and no longer instinctively know which conversations they really need to have.  Based on years of creating bespoke programmes for organisations around the globe, Nick and his team have been able to identify five powerful conversations to master.  He explains: “Conversation one is about establishing a trusting relationship - the cornerstone for all that follows as trust is both the fuel into the conversations and the output of them. It requires a positive intent and for the manager to ask with integrity something like “What would you like to know about me that would help us work better together?”

“Secondly, managers must have a conversation which agrees mutual expectations, based on mutual understanding and dependency.  It raises the conversation by focusing on mutual aspirations – “Tell me about what you are seeking to achieve and why, and what expectations you have of me in helping you to achieve it”.

“Third up is a conversation about showing genuine appreciation and using the art of appreciative inquiry in order to understand and build on strengths. This is an area we neglect and avoid at work with our relentless focus on deficiencies and yet boost awareness and confidence as well as nourishing the relationship.

“The fourth conversation is to do with challenging unhelpful behaviour. I find that ‘non-violent communication’ principles are helpful here in helping managers to take ownership for the feedback. Negative behaviour will always need to be addressed, and by articulating the effect that behaviour has on us and our request for a change, we can reduce the ‘threat’ felt by the other person and increase the likelihood of acceptance.

“Finally there is a conversation about building for the future.  Often head-hunters know more about employees than their managers.  So a conversation about “Where do you want to be 1-2 years from now?” is crucial in being able to identify how a manager can meet their needs while keeping valuable talent in the organisation.

The simplicity of these conversations gives them their power and the potential to transform the quality of relationships. Not reliant on skill, the essential components managers need to employ are a positive intent and mind-set and a willingness to be open and brave – with the real benefit being when they can become two-way conversations.

The Partners Group


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