Like it or not, your employees are already communicating on behalf of your organization and they are responsible for communication in some form or the other. However, most employees don’t believe they have a voice or have enough confidence in their organizations to do the right thing. Nor do corporate and internal communicators know how to manage in this new world order. Is it time for communicators to accept, recognize, embrace and act on these trends?
- 33% of employees post comments, photos and videos about their employer on social media often or time to time without any encouragement from the employer. 39% do without any training. (Weber Shandwick & KRC Research, 2014)
- Companies with an average of 9.3 engaged employees for every actively disengaged employee experienced 147% higher EPS compared with their competition (Gallup, 2012)
- Even while trust declined for businesses, NGOs and media, in-house technical experts and employees were the most credible sources within an organization (Edelman’s Trust Barometer, 2015
- 4 out of 10 employees in the UK still do not feel that it is safe to speak up. (Towers Watson, 2012)
- Only 9% of practitioners reported spending more than 25% of time on employee research/feedback. (Ruck and Trainor, 2011)
Employees aren’t just another audience; they are central to your organization’s success. They seek a ‘human’ experience at the workplace and that includes being respected, feeling appreciated, having leaders behave with integrity and receiving open communication. Getting employees’ attention, doing more with less, dwindling trust and low engagement levels are a few of the many challenges internal communicators grapple with today.
These challenges are often due to an inability to understand the pulse of employees, realize the evolving needs at the workplace and skills that corporate communicators must learn to be successful.
However, there is limited evidence to show that organizations and communicators are tapping their employees while creating and delivering effective communication. While a handful of organizations have involved employees to project the brand, increase community outreach, promote the product, recruit new hires and engage customers there is more to be done to realize the collective potential of the workforce. For example, even among the most effective organizations only about 50% have a way to pretest employee communication through advisory groups in-house and 43% benchmark against the best.
Trends also indicate that twice as many employees are now driven by work passion and less with career progression giving impetus for building an inclusive, supportive, compelling and innovative environment. Deloitte’s study – Global Human Capital Trends 2015 point to culture and engagement as the most important issues companies face around the world with 87% of organizations cite these as one of their top challenges. Employees also expect communication to be authentic, relevant, engaging, high touch and respectful. The role of work in their lives is mostly about getting the skills to be relevant, be their best and known as an expert and contribute to society overall.
While there are active advocates among your employees who aren’t tapped enough, organizations also need to grapple with a growing set of detractors who can disrupt the best intentions leaders have in mind. In a study by Bain and Forrester only 34% in North America and 19% in Europe rated the Net Promoter Score question 9 or 10 – ‘on a scale from 0 to 10, would you recommend your company as a place to work to a friend or colleague?”.
Therefore, how can corporate communicators operate differently? What skills do they need to succeed?
To begin, communicators must revisit their role and relevance within organizations. It isn’t any more about controlling information flow and managing channels. It is time to let go of control, invite employees to participate and manage the message effectively. Letting go of control is as much about accepting that every employee is a good communicator already and that we need to recognize each individual’s talent and skills to build the brand from within. It is the ability to collaborate, transcend operational and functional boundaries, listen intently to employees, involve and deliver solutions that delivers business value. The communicator needs to understand organizational dynamics, know how to shape corporate character and be seen as one among the audiences – living the values and instilling pride. This also expects the communicator to have a grasp of insights and have a laser sharp focus on employees.
What strategies will work in this new world order?
It is proven that employees are engaged not just when organizations communicate consistently and regularly but also when involved and their ideas sought to shape their own lives at the workplace. Furthermore, even if their ideas aren’t accepted they expect to be informed as to why their views which were sought didn’t get to see the light of day.
When organizations involve and empower employees in large and everyday decisions there is a sense of shared ownership that appeals and furthers belongingness. Power sharing among employees also leads to more balanced decision making – as organizations progress from keeping decisions under wraps to inclusion to co-creating; employees are more engaged. Likewise, they expect autonomy and meaning to their work and giving them opportunities to discover and learn each day improves their connection with the organization. The role of leaders is crucial – employees – employees who view leadership as open and honest are nearly five times more engaged than those who don’t.
Communicators can adopt the following three pronged approach to gain from these opportunities.
Listen: Putting employees at the heart of your communication means to listen to their needs like never before. Take feedback, pre-test your communication, tap their enthusiasm and leverage advocates who can pitch the brand. Know where your employees are on social media and leverage their network.
Involve: Encourage your employees to speak up, contribute and be active advocates. Invest in training and upskilling them especially on the brand and social media. Employees with boundary spanning roles can play a crucial part in communicating your narrative.
Engage: Build a rhythm and highlight your success stories. Crowdsource and co-create communication when possible. Demonstrate how employees are truly adding value to your brand in more ways than one. Recognize their contribution and make time to acknowledge their effort.
To summarize, as communicators we need to accept and align with the changes shaping the workplace. It will mean letting go of control in terms of ‘who’ and ‘what’ communication can be done while retaining influence over the ‘why’ and ‘when’ while partnering with employees who essentially are effective ambassadors of the brand. Understand that every employee is a good communicator. Our role is to enable employees to be their best selves.
The focus must be to manage the narrative and view your employees through a different lens. Listen, involve and engage them for success. Lastly, introspect and be open to unlearning and experimenting. Recognize your best advocates by giving them due respect and support.
Note: I had the opportunity to speak at the 2015 Asia-Pacific Communications Summit in Hong Kong on Nov 19. This article is a summary of my presentation.