LONDON — When it comes to successful internal communications, PR people need to consider whether their own efforts are hindering efforts to engage employees, heard delegates at today's IN2 Innovation Summit in London.

AstraZeneca head of global internal communications Alun Metford made the point during a session on employee engagement that also featured representatives from MSL, Imperial College London and Tata Consultancy Services (TCS).

"I'd argue that sometimes we're part of the problem as communicators," said Metford. "Sometimes we don't deliver authentic communications. We're guilty of creating emails with photos and mastheads, and glossy videos. We don't communicate in a tone of voice that resonates with people. Or we engage agencies that don't understand. Sometimes we write social media posts for our leaders. We need to reflect on our role."

Metford noted that "authenticity" has to be the fourth pillar in successful employee engagement, adding to the three proposed by MSL senior director Ben Jackson — listen, understand and trust. Those three factors may sound obvious, said Jackson, but companies regularly overlook them when it comes to internal communication.

"We've got to make employees the center of what we do," said Jackson. "The future belongs to employee-powered brands, because success is built from the inside out."

Jackson noted that poor employee engagement risks turning an organization's people against its leaders. It is critical, he said, to understand and listen and — indeed — to trust employees. "What does it say about your culture if you can't trust them?"

TCS chief marketing and communications officer Abhinav Kumar pointed out that "employees need to be our primary channel", but are still often "under-utilised" by companies.

"Irrespective of all the good things we do in the channels that we own and run, all of that becomes quickly irrelevant unless it is coherent with the millions of conversations our employees are having with customers every day," said Kumar. "Employees need to be our primary channel. Historically, companies have not been very good at empowering their employees to go out and bat for them."

And while technology can help, Kumar cautioned companies to ensure that such solutions are simple for staff to use. In particular, Kumar pointed to research that revealed top three reasons for employee disengagement — poor line manager comms, technology that is not fit for purpose, and information overload.

Meanwhile, for Imperial College London communications director Vickie Sheriff, who has been overseeing a transformation in internal comms during an industrial dispute, it remains just as important to ensure that senior leaders are comfortable with the imperative of communicating more often.

"Getting senior leaders out and visible is really important," said Sheriff. "We had workshops, we had roadshows. People like to communicate in very different ways. How can you offer opportunities to seniors where they feel comfortable."