Taking extraordinary measures can make all the difference


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measuring tape on white

Over the bank holiday weekend I settled down to catch up on some of the TV I have missed recently. One of the films was Extraordinary Measures with Harrison Ford and Brendan Fraser; based on a true story as a family try to find a cure for Pompe disease that infects two of their three children. It was a great film, and the part where they are trying to create the new drug struck a chord with me and no doubt fellow internal communicators. One of the biggest challenges to overcome was the internal structure of a large pharmaceutical company, they needed everyone to work together but they were structured as different divisions and therefore ‘in competition’. Sharing information across the divisions was unheard of and almost laughed out of the boardroom.

Whilst this was a film, it is something we struggle with everyday and in the company I work for there are six divisions, all in need of support from internal comms. Since I arrived here last year I have been talking about the fact that we are one business and we can draw on experience from different operations and different teams – something that has often been met with comments like ‘we are separate businesses and all operate in different ways’. So, anyone out there trying to get people to work together, and in the age of online communication here are my top tips to overcoming the barrier:

  1. Be respectful of the different businesses and understand them
    I took a year to get my head around the business before I even started looking at the tools to put in place. Whilst I was of the initial view that we are one company, after further investigation I understand where the differences lie and where there are similarities. It has meant that when looking at the tools to create the internal comms infrastructure I have been able to deliver something that helps the business move forward.
  2. Understand the structural differences
    The way people are structured might be different between each division – understanding the layers for cascade communication and the numbers can help work out your influencers and your decision makers.
  3. Learn the different management styles
    If there are different divisions there are likely to be different managers and therefore different management styles – spend time getting to know the people in charge, understand what drives them and what they are looking to achieve and use these to sell in your ideas.
  4. Spend time on the shop floor
    Whether you work in a pharmaceutical company, a bank or a restaurant business spending time in the different divisions will help understand the difference to the people on the ground, how they hear news and what they want from the business. Do they want to know what is happening in another division or are they already trying to network using other tools?
  5. Create one plan with six versions – or how ever many divisions you have!
    I am now looking at the internal communications plans for next year and to do this, I will use the overall messages from the business and then spend time tailoring them to each division. Whilst this takes more time, it will deliver more for the business and will show where to use the same messages, where to get everyone together and where to inject some fun and engagement along the way.

Working with lots of different leadership styles and lots of heritage can make it hard to create engaging and innovative internal communications plans. Watching that film highlighted this and whilst senior management are seen as the biggest stumbling block, infrastructure and heritage can play an even bigger part as the internal communicators role moves to encourage more dialogue and collaborative working.

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