Attention Leaders: We Need to talk by Frank Sonnenberg

To succeed in today’s competitive marketplace, organizations must give internal communication the priority that it deserves. They must view it as an avenue to release the creative genius of an organization, not as a bothersome chore. After all, communication acts as a powerful agent of change, a source of continuous improvement, and a catalyst for moving the organization forward.

According to 2010 Towers Watson Communication ROI Study Report, “Companies with highly effective communication had 47 percent higher total returns to shareholders over the five-year period (mid-2004 to mid-2009) compared with companies with less effective communication practices.”

Employees are saying they need information today because it’s obsolete tomorrow; they are saying it must be relevant, customized to meet their specific needs, or they’re just not interested. What brought about this fierce desire to know more and know it now? It’s driven by the belief that in an age of abundant information and rapid change, you can’t be productive by waiting until the end of the month to receive a generically written, watered-down newsletter that doesn’t provide relevant information. While that may have been satisfactory yesterday, in today’s fierce global economy, it isn’t enough.

Management should embrace new technologies and support the various forms of communication that are available. It must view information as a competitive weapon, not as a threat; it must support knowledge and learning at every level. First-line managers must keep in mind that effective internal communication must be:

Multidirectional––upward, downward, lateral, diagonal
Objective––expressing all sides of an issue
Comprehensive––both in breadth of subject and depth of content
Relevant––expressing issues that are meaningful; for example, providing the rationale behind policies
Credible––expressed by those in the know
Inviting––cutting through the information clutter
Honest––truthful, factual, and error free
Open––a fair and open exchange of ideas; bad as well as good news
Thorough––containing more rather than less information
Prioritized––filtered by importance so people aren’t victims of information overload
Timely––the most up-to-date information possible so that people don’t have to go to other sources to get the information
Consistent––actions consistent with words
Appealing––easy to scan and understand
Frequent––disseminated at regular intervals
Reinforced––disseminated through multiple media
Coordinated––in line with other communication elements
Participatory––involving and relevant to the audience
Measurable––evaluated regularly to determine effectiveness on the target audience

Today and in the years to come, organizations will have to focus on winning employees back; building trust, respect, and teamwork between people; being receptive to and then acting on the best ideas; and once again instilling employees with pride in and commitment to the organization.
Internal communication will be a major force in achieving those ends.


This article was adapted from Frank Sonnenberg’s new book, Managing with a Conscience: How to Improve Performance Through Integrity, Trust, and Commitment (2nd edition). Frank Sonnenberg, a marketing strategist, has written four books and published over 300 articles. • IndustryWeek named the first edition of Managing with a Conscience one of the Top Ten Business Books of the Year • Trust Across America named Sonnenberg one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders of 2011 and 2012 • In 2011, Social Media Marketing Magazine (SMM) selected Sonnenberg as one of the top marketing authors in the world on Twitter. © 2012 Frank Sonnenberg. All rights reserved.


Frank is an award-winning author. He has written five books and over 300 articles. Frank was recently named one of “America's Top 100 Thought Leaders” and nominated as one of “America’s Most Influential Small Business Experts.” Frank has served on several boards and has consulted to some of the largest and most respected companies in the world. Additionally, FrankSonnenbergOnline was named among the “Best 21st Century Leadership Blogs.” Frank’s new book, Follow Your Conscience, was released November 2014. © 2014 Frank Sonnenberg. All rights reserved.

  • Peterborner


    I am currently reading Frank’s ( @franksonnenberg ) excellent book and recommend it to every leader or aspiring leader out there. I think we all struggle with Internal communications because often we don’t want to deliver bad news. Sometimes it can feel like we are exposing potentially confidential or, maybe, damaging information. It is always a tough call. However, in my experience, the more you share, the more open you are and the more trusting you can be, the better the response. I have experimented with sharing information with a caveat saying “this is confidential but I am sharing it with you because I feel you need to know. Please understand that I am trusting you not to disseminate it further.” I have never found that trust to be breached and I have seen a significant up-scaling of trust coming back to me.

    The advice and opinion in Frank’s book is underlined with a great deal of wisdom.

    Thanks for the post.


  • alankay1

    Totally agree. Transparency of intentions through conscious communication greatly reduces the misinterpretation and misalignment. It’s a productivity tool that has ROI.

  • Ted Coine

    Frank, this post is spot-on. If nature abhors a vacuum, human nature is no exception. In the absence of solid information from our leaders, we will invent it – and this rumor mill can be a mill stone around the neck of our company’s morale.

    Want to end rumors? Share information quickly, honestly, and thoroughly. As Peter suggests in his comments, your people will return your trust by trusting you.

    Leaders: no one wants to be on the outside looking in. Share it all, and make every employee feel like they’re part of the in-group. But be warned: you may not be ready for the leap in productivity this boost in morale will bring you!

  • Frank Sonnenberg

    Ted, your points are right on the mark. “In the absence of solid information from our leaders, we will invent it.”

    In the past, leaders controlled the information employees needed to make day-to-day decisions. Leaders who continue along that path will become frustrated as they lose the confidence of employees whose desire for timely, customized, and truthful information is not satisfied. This all comes down to one word. Trust :-)

    Have a wonderful day!

    Best, Frank

  • There’s a more human way to do business.

    In the Social Age, it’s how we engage with customers, collaborators and strategic partners that matters; it’s how we create workplace optimism that sets us apart; it’s how we recruit, retain (and repel) employees that becomes our differentiator. This isn’t a “people first, profits second” movement, but a “profits as a direct result of putting people first” movement.

  • Connect

    Newsletter Subscription

    Do you like our posts? If so, you’ll love our frequent newsletter! Sign up HERE and receiveThe ExchangeGain Change Playbook, by Shawn Murphy, as our thanks to you!
  • Contact Us