Cardboard customers

Having been immersed back into the mainstream of employee communications for the last six months or so, certain things have struck me. The thing that keeps niggling me is the crazy idea that employee comms people should refer to colleagues to whom they provide comms advice as customers. This is so wrong for so many reasons …

Angry customer

My main beef with the use of customer/supplier terminology in general terms inside an organisation is that it sets completely the wrong tone and context  for open collaboration. The next logical step from using this terminology is bits of an organisation marketing and selling to other bits of the same organisation – and we all know where that ends up!

I think this has been particularly damaging for employee comms. As communicators we are continually fighting to get higher up the value chain, closer to the decision-makers as early as possible and away from the perception that the only value we offer is in doing stuff after all the important decisions have been made elsewhere (i.e  we are just distributors of information after the event).

I believe calling ourselves suppliers has the complete opposite effect and is a barrier to involvement in projects from the beginning and sets us apart from being key members of teams right throughout a project lifecycle. It gives the impression that we can be picked up and dropped at whim when the grown-ups need something doing … that employee comms is some kind of add-on activity and not central to everything. That employee comms is a commodity.

Furthermore, one of the most difficult aspects of being in employee comms is when you have to advise someone, often senior, not to do something they are intent on doing, or to do something very different from what they have in mind. Calling ourselves suppliers simply opens us up to the following retort: ‘I’m the customer, you’re the supplier … just do it!’ And, frankly, who can blame them!

So let’s stop this silliness now. The use of customer/supplier terminolgy inside an organisation is so 1990s … let’s get one thing straight … a customer is someone who pays money for the goods and/or services of your organisation … PERIOD! These are the people we should all be working together to satisfy … not each other.

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3 comments

  1. I love the sort of comment “We need to involve everyone in this project. What? Why would we want to talk to employee comms?”

    I always use to talk to our employee comms people about what sort of message we had; who it was aimed at; any call to action, timescales etc. I then used to *ask* for advice as to how to do things.

    As ever, senior managers have their own lonely furrow to plough.

    I have sometimes felt like asking if they’d like to be the poor ox pulling the heavy plough, that’s so ineptly directed…

  2. “one of the most difficult aspects of being in employee comms is when you have to advise someone, often senior, not to do something they are intent on doing, or to do something very different from what they have in mind”

    This used to happen to me a lot. In my case, it was rarely the very senior guys, it tended to be mildly-deluded mid-ranking execs (who believed that thousands of employees cared about their every fart).

    While the term “trusted business advisor” is horribly misused, I think that it’s preferable to “supplier”. Just don’t go around calling yourself a “consultant”.

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