It’s 9am on Monday morning. The telephone is ringing.
Ring ring. Ring ring. Ring ring.
“Hi Jon, its James. Have you got a minute?”
“Sure – what’s up?”
“I see there is a link to the Guardian piece on the intranet this morning. Do you really think we should be encouraging staff to read stuff like that? They’ve clearly got it in for us.”
“I agree it’s not the most flattering of pieces. But is in the Guardian. I don’t think we should ignore it just because it doesn’t share our own view of the industry.”
“I’m not saying we ignore it, I just don’t think we should be encouraging staff to read it.”
“Actually it popped up on Google alerts last night. Lots of staff use Google alerts. I guess a fair few also read the Guardian. One thing is for sure, lots of our customers will be reading this today – on and offline. Surely if our customers are reading it, then our staff should at least be aware of it?”
“Yes but it’s full of factual errors and some outrageously biased opinion.”
“Staff aren’t stupid. Just because they read something in the press doesn’t mean they believe it. One thing is for sure though, if we deliberately filter out the bad news and only provide links to the good news, they will quickly realise that the intranet cannot be trusted as a source of news about the company. That discredits the comms team as well as the exec.”
“Well if staff believe half of what the Guardian wrote today that would definitely discredit us.”
“That’s precisely my point. They are more likely to believe it if they don’t trust our internal communications. They will be very unforgiving if they feel they are being deliberately kept in the dark. We should actually look upon a story like this as an opportunity to create discussion internally and help staff understand what the Guardian journo clearly doesn’t”.
“Actually, that’s not a bad idea. Maybe I should write something in the comment section outlining why I believe the newspaper has got it so wrong.”
“That’s a great idea. Maybe you could get Bob to write a few words from the Legal team’s perspective as well…”
“Steady, let’s not get too carried away. I’ll have a word with him and see what he says.”
“I think that would really be appreciated by staff. Can I take it that you are happy for the Guardian piece to remain on the Intranet then”.
“Um. Yes, I guess so.”
So this is not an actual transcript of a recent conversation I hasten to add!
I merely use this technique to illustrate an issue that I have encountered several times over the years – an issue which I suspect internal comms people and intranet managers everywhere have experienced at least once in every company they have ever worked for. That is, a perception among one or more senior executives that internal communications is just about pushing good news around the company.
Of course we should celebrate success at every opportunity. But we should be big enough and brave enough to acknowledge criticism and even failure.
Because for any internal communication to have value, it must first of all be honest.