There is ample research to show that well-managed employee communication improves employee engagement and consequently, business performance. The employee communications function can go a long way in creating greater employee affinity for the organization, create mutual trust, and catalyse the workforce towards greater productivity. Employee communications need to have a strategic direction so that it can bring in the desired business impact.
Today’s workplace is a complex web of several interconnected forces brought about by the current social, political and economic realities. Young people are exposed to one another like never before, with the worldwide web lending them great proximity, transparency, knowledge and power. Today’s organizations are an amalgamation of people from different generations, backgrounds, belief systems and ideologies, and what they expect from the organization is also varied. A huge focus on start-ups, innovation and entrepreneurship by the Government has resulted in greater risk appetite and expectations from the world for our young people.
When the organization takes its message onward, it must take cognizance of the fact that employees are motivated by different things. Some go by the organization’s “heart”, namely its philanthropic and community activities; others by its “mind”, its technology or domain expertise; some employees care only about the company’s financial performance and their own career prospects, whereas others seek an environment that nurtures talent.
The employee communications function cannot exist in isolation; it succeeds only when it is aligned to an organization’s business and values, and is driven in synergy between human resources (HR) and corporate communications functions to enable conversations that are healthy and engaging.
Employee communications strategy must be customized conceptually for specific organizations and situations to succeed with today’s diverse and multigenerational workforce. Specifically, it must:
- Shift from a scattered approach to an immersive strategy that involves the organization as a whole, as well as its many teams. This means that communications strategy must necessarily support business objectives by following an increasingly integrated approach that not only harmonizes communication within the organizational system, but also aligns it to the firm’s strategic vision.
Very importantly, the strategy must build a two-way stream of listening and responding between the organization and its employees. This is key because at times there can be a gap between the goals of the organization and its people; companies usually look mid to long term, whereas employees are more focused on immediate, personal goals. In order to avoid conflict, it is crucial to find a middle ground acceptable to both parties. That middle ground can only be arrived at when both sides sincerely listen and respond to each other.
A well-known American software and technology firm shows how to do this. They have their own facilities to create and broadcast videos, a TV channel that spreads internal messages to their people while also enabling them to post videos and interact in other ways. By allowing the videos to be embedded in any web page within the company’s intranet, and constantly evolving their presence in their employee Facebook page, the company keeps the conversation going.
- Facilitate collaboration between HR and corporate communications teams to drive employee communications in an integrated manner. While this seems obvious, the truth is that these teams often have different mandates, or at the very least, mandates that aren’t aligned.
The corporate communications function is mostly engaged in executing tactics to implement strategies devised by other teams, without itself having a stake in those strategies. HR, on the other hand, has to balance several objectives. First, it has to establish processes that enable the organization to evolve as a great workplace. Next, it must see how effectively the listening-responding mechanism is functioning within the organization. Then, it must also assess how its messages – both in terms of content and tone – are received by the organization. Finally, it needs to project relevant messages to the outside world through the corporate communications vehicle.
Clearly, for employee communications to work, HR and corporate communications must work in tandem;
HR must look at addressing the expectations of people both within and outside the company and corporate communications must be involved early in this process to facilitate the same as enabling agents. This is even more crucial today when the lines between communication within and outside an organization are blurring owing to new technologies and more open conversations.
- Design multiple engagement platforms to provide the right content at the right time to various employees. While a number of convenient online and mobile channels are available to enterprises today, they must not neglect face-to-face communication. Organizations must blend traditional and new-age channels in the right proportion, and in the right context, to succeed at communication. One IT major, employed town halls, internal radio and brown bag lunches with the CEO with great success. Another organization, a leading global luxury hospitality chain, communicated their “cultural DNA” across the organisation by inviting employees to tell their stories of how they live out those “DNA values” in the things they do every day.
- Move from pushing information to sharing knowledge; from regulating content to curating it. This is the biggest difference between employee communications of the past and the future. Internet and communications technologies and social media provided a platform for users to generate and publish their own content, stripping organisations of their sole prerogative over content creation and dissemination. Today, employees are creating an incredible amount of content on blogs, social media platforms such as LinkedIn, and employment experience sharing portals like Glassdoor and Jobeehive. This is engendering a change in the role of communications professionals, who are authoring less content than before but are expected to facilitate the creation and proliferation of content by employees. While curating the company’s information, the communications team must also reflect on its impact on organizational character.
Employee communications professionals, who are exploring bringing about change in their organizations may want to look at a 5-step approach for sustained business aligned results. This is as follows:
- Organization Understanding: Before getting into formal employee communications, it is necessary to understand the organization in depth, starting with its mission and values and the strategies that will take it there. It is important to get the leadership’s perspective on the biggest priorities and areas of opportunity.
- Employee Appreciation: Employee communications cannot work unless full knowledge about employees is gathered. It needs to map employees by looking beyond demographics at in-depth psychographic information. Such analysis will reveal the likely candidates who may be recruited and trained as employee ambassadors and champions.
- Channel Evaluation: Next, all available channels of communication must be evaluated objectively to understand which need to be improved, and which others should be added. The organization must also identify the right channel for each type of communication, based on who is communicating to whom, and what is being said.
- Communication Alignment: It is very important to identify the right channel and medium of communication for each message. Establishing the right tone and level of formality is key. This step will ensure clear, relevant messages are sent out at the appropriate levels at all times.
- Impact Evaluation: Effectiveness of employee communications must be tracked based on appropriate, clearly laid down parameters. In this age of open communication, there is every need to track external channels, especially social media. There also needs to be a mechanism to take feedback and deploy it back to correct course.
Employees have always played a vital part in an organization’s communications agenda, but social media has given them new potency by allowing them to reach their views to a worldwide audience. With the decentralization of organizational communication, the employee is today a company’s biggest brand ambassador, its truest champion, and sometimes its greatest nemesis. This employee is also quite fickle, moving jobs every few years. Hence the need for managing interaction with this critical stakeholder cannot be overstated.
A good employee communications strategy seeks to improve the way an organization interfaces with not just current employees but also its prospects and alumni. Accordingly, the strategy must take cognizance of the organization’s hierarchies and sensitivities to modify its approach and support systems for different levels – board, senior and middle management, and junior executive.
At the core of employee communications is the need to create excitement about the organization among its people and give them a sense of how they can collaborate to realize both personal aspirations and business goals. This is what drives employee engagement at its core.