What if you sat down to watch the BBC News at Ten, eager to catch up on world events after a busy day in the office, and it wasn’t ready?
Instead of the lilting Welsh tones of Huw Edwards telling us which of our childhood heroes was now helping Inspector Yewtree, there was a message to say that the news wasn’t quite finished as some important stories were awaiting sign-off from the boss.
Or, worse still, no message at all. And an assumption that we would all click the remote and get on with something else without giving it a second thought.
The news is, of course, delayed sometimes.
But this is out of the ordinary; exceptional. And there is always a valid and well-documented explanation.
Because if there wasn’t and it occurred often, two things would happen.
First, people who care about the news would get fed up with the BBC as a whole, and start to raise questions about its integrity and reliability as a public service broadcaster.
And second, people would stop trusting the News at Ten as a source of information – and invest their loyalty in ITV or Sky instead.
The reputation and credibility of the whole BBC would start to crumble. An organisation that is happy for its stakeholders to see that it can’t do basic stuff on schedule is hardly gifted with a recipe for world domination.
It is the same with any service.
So what is it about internal comms that makes people think it is ok to tell their customers: “Whenever…”?
If there was a bible for IC – and I am thinking of writing one – it would contain certain key words such as “consistent”, “regular” and “reliable”. Yet my experience is that it is often anything but.
What really puzzles me, from a board perspective, is this conundrum:
We see so much value in this channel that we are prepared to invest six figures and significant resources in it, and make it a core feature of our business strategy.
But then we don’t really mind if it turns up late or doesn’t appear at all.
In a commercial world, how can this be?
My view, and as head of an IC media agency I do have a vested interest here, is that beyond anything else the role of an internal communicator is to make sure their IC lives up to these criteria.
Otherwise all the stuff about values, integrity and transparency is reduced to sanctimonious irrelevance.
It is about walking the talk.
The editor of BBC News at Ten knows that it simply isn’t acceptable to postpone the show because the news isn’t ready.
So when it comes to internal communication, why is there an unwritten but overused rule that it is ok – even inevitable – to be completely and utterly unreliable?
Where there is a problem, there is always a perfectly reasonable excuse.
Office politics? Senior management buy-in? Failure to delegate and empower decision-making? Shifting agenda? Poor project management?
They are all valid challenges. But there is no escaping one fact: The most successful companies are also the most reliable when it comes to communicating with their people.
In a winning organisation, IC works with the precision of a Formula 1 pit stop.
This is because the people that count believe it matters and create a culture, underpinned by structure and process, that enables things to consistently happen to the right standard and on time.
And, like the speed and efficiency of the pitstop, the reliability of internal communication says very much more about the culture and capability of the wider team – it is a litmus test for the competitive health of the entire business.