What's your Problem?

My company's communications policy is stifling...

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Q: I'm in conflict with our company's communications manager. I head a division in a large multinational and believe that the best way to manage my staff right now is to be as open and honest as possible. But our comms manager wants me to couch every internal communication in media speak and to keep the message positive. I've even been given a list of words to avoid using. I'm at loggerheads with her about this and have been told to follow the company line, but I really don't believe this is the best way to proceed. How can I resolve this?

A: You are the head of this division. You are paid to lead it and you'll be judged on your success or otherwise in doing so. People will follow leaders they trust - and they'll base their belief as to whether or not you're trustworthy on your actions and on your style of communication. If they sense that you're fobbing them off with half-truths, painting transparently rosy pictures and failing to take them into your confidence, you will lose their trust and they will fail to follow you - and you'll have failed in what you're paid to do.

This is no trivial matter, no cosmetic detail of presentation. Even if it leads to a bit of ill- feeling, you need to win this battle; you can't be held responsible unless you do. So you need to say to your communications manager that you recognise that she's acting under orders and only trying to do her job - but if that prevents you from doing yours, you simply can't accept it.

Then take the case to your CEO and make it plain that, unless you're free to use your own language to your own people, you can't be held to those challenging targets you agreed.

Put starkly and reasonably, it would take a very feeble CEO indeed not to release the communications manager from her earlier instructions. But your CEO will certainly be looking at your results with unusual attention.

- Jeremy Bullmore is a former creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London. His book Another Bad Day at the Office? is published by Penguin at £6.99. Address your problem to Jeremy Bullmore at: editorial@managementtoday.com. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.

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