Theory is a not a dirty word

About the author

Kevin is a co-founder of PR Academy and is the author of Exploring Internal Communication published by Routledge. Kevin leads the CIPR Internal Communication Diploma course. PhD, MBA, BA Hons, PGCE, FCIPR, CMgr, MCMI.

We talk a lot about theory on the Internal Communication Diploma. It’s what students want and more importantly, understanding theory makes us better managers.

Theory should, of course, be balanced with experience and the more experience you have the more you know what usually works. That’s what makes teaching students who are experienced practitioners so rewarding. They challenge theory because they always, rightly, want to know how to apply it.

However, we shouldn’t always just rely on experience. That’s why theory is important. It is based on research, not just what one person thinks.

In my current academic research I’m investigating hypotheses that challenge conventional wisdom. For example, it is almost folklore in some circles that line managers are the most important people who communicate with employees. My hypothesis is that employees expect line managers to discuss more local team and work related topics with them and they expect senior managers to discuss broader, organisational aims, plans and progress with them. This seems quite obvious and many organisations do run town halls where senior managers explain the organisational strategy, plans and progress. However, many organisations still also rely heavily on cascade team briefings where line managers are expected to discuss broader aims and plans without the requisite, detailed, knowledge to do this with any conviction.

The senior manager connection in internal communication turns out to be as important, if not more important, than line manager communication in some circumstances. This really matters when it comes to associations with organisational engagement.

As Henry Ford is alleged to have said, ‘if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got’. At the moment, in the UK, what we have got is low employee engagement. The key point is not to do cascade team briefings because you’ve always done them, unless you have really robust evidence that they are valued, effective and engaging.