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The importance of communicating internal knowledge

By Fran Brosan, Chairman

We had a stimulating couple of days at the Melcrum Summit and SCM Awards last week; a gathering of internal communications people including RBS, Syngenta, Shell, GE and M&S.

Two of the Summit themes became apparent as the speakers shared their experiences.

First the importance (or sheer necessity) of knowledge sharing within an organisation.

RBS’s Marketing & Communications Academy was a good example (we’re working on something similar for one of our multinational clients). The sharing of information allows people of course to build their professional skills, but also interestingly allows people to admit what they didn’t know. And if you can’t admit it you can’t learn after all.

Jorg Dirbach of Swiss company Zuhlke (oh how shamed we Brits are by someone else’s ability to talk so fluently in another language) talked about the difference between formal and informal learning. The latter, tacit learning, being much harder to pass on. It’s a battle most companies face – whether small or large, so it was interesting to hear how they were tackling it.

Lack of sharing often means that trust and transparency become issues for large organisation. As ever Social Media is crucial to tackling these issues and according to summit research 82% of employees surveyed trusted their CEO and leadership team more when they communicate via Social Media. Shell had even developed a formula for measuring Social Media effectiveness. With over 117k of webpages, 44,000 wiki pages and 1,372 articles posted in June alone we could understand why measurement was so important for Shell and one of the tasks they are now faced with is to ‘de-clutter’ their comms space so that all communications are effective.

The second theme that became apparent was that for companies to succeed communications and business strategy have to work hand in hand.

Sounds obvious, but there are plenty of times in which communications is the only thing supporting corporate change, as the organisation itself can’t or won’t restructure to create the formal structures needed to support it. Or the opposite happens; the organisation makes sweeping structural changes and forgets that it needs to bring its people with it. Applause to Susan Kelly from Syngenta for saying that you should spend as long putting the culture strategy together as you do the business strategy.

Benedikt Benenati from Kingfisher seemed happy to put in the leg work and had a slightly more unusual approach to driving cultural change. He was given the task to disrupt the way the leadership team at Kingfisher connected with each other and communicated business strategy to the workforce. In order to initiate a ripple of change across his organisation Benedikt held a series of unconventional events with the aim of demonstrating a more human way to talk about strategy.

One of the events mentioned involved putting the leadership team in a nightclub style setting with low lights and music to disrupt their usual communication habits.

The Melcrum SCM Awards continued this theme. The event was ‘hijacked’ by a gun-toting gang and the ‘situation’ was only resolved when a hand to hand fight between an Amazonian lady and a typical baddie was ended by the arrival of James Bond who shot everyone. Hugh Dennis, of Outnumbered fame, provided the excellent entertainment. Turns out he was a Brand Manager at Unilever before becoming a comedian. Maybe Benedikt at Kingfisher is right – a bit of humour can go a long way in internal comms.

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