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When internal communicators need to say to no to leaders

Credit: Laura Leggetter, SEC Newgate

Since the onset of the pandemic, as internal communication professionals, we have experienced a significant rise in the prominence of our roles; dare I say, we are almost seen as part of the management function, too!

While there was a surge in communication efforts driven by organisations' desire to reassure employees, maintain engagement, and support productivity during an unprecedented global crisis, the link between leaders and engagement is still a work in progress.

As we transition into a post-pandemic era, the focus shifts from questioning the strategic value of internal communications to examining its role in influencing business decisions. Despite recognition of its importance, many internal communications professionals find themselves grappling with a dilemma: while they may have a seat at the table, their ability to shape organizational priorities and influence and challenge leaders remains limited.

Business leaders are the face of the company, but do they always know what's best for their employees?

As internal communicators, we are the linchpin between leadership and employees, ensuring that messages are conveyed and objectives are met, cascading information in a timely and appropriate manner. 

No longer is our role mere messengers; instead, we are exercising strategic advisory, aligning organisational goals and fostering genuine employee engagement. We also have a duty of care, and with this comes a need, from time to time, to say no to leaders – not from a place of stubborn defiance – but rather to foster integrity and transparency, which in turn allow organisational success.

Saying no at the appropriate time demonstrates an act of honesty and sends a loud signal to employees that their messages are not just top-down instructions but instead are scrutinised with authenticity paramount. By exercising discernment and courage in our decision-making, internal communicators assume the role of guardians of employee engagement whilst simultaneously supporting leaders in adjusting to evolving environments.

Moreover, the role of internal communicators extends beyond being mere messengers; instead, we are strategic partners, shaping organizational culture and fostering employee engagement. By saying "no" to leaders when communication strategies or messages are misguided or potentially harmful, we are upholding our responsibility to advocate for the best interests of both employees and the organization as a whole.

How can we do this?

Authenticity is paramount in effective communication. When leaders make requests that compromise the authenticity of messaging, we must be willing to push back. Authentic communication fosters credibility and fosters a culture of transparency within the organization. Saying "no" to inauthentic messaging reinforces the importance of honesty and integrity in communication practices

Having a clear and agreed ethical code allows us to uphold ethical standards within organizations, and by standing firm on ethical principles, we also safeguard our integrity and maintain trust with employees

When organizational values are at risk, If a leader's request contradicts the core values or principles of the organization, we must push back to maintain integrity and alignment with the organizational ethos

Protection of employee well-being: We are responsible for prioritizing the welfare of employees, from promoting policies and procedures that encourage work-life balance, mental health, and overall employee contentment to declining initiatives that could compromise employee well-being, such as unreasonable workload expectations or disregarding employee feedback, reflects a dedication to prioritizing people's needs.

This PRmoment Internal Comms Commentary is written by Laura Leggetter, co-head of communications at PR agency SEC Newgate.

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