Employee Engagement – Talking The Talk

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Communicating with a changing workforce

There is ample research to show that well-managed employee communication improves employee engagement and consequently, business performance. But employee communications doesn’t work 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.

That being said, each one has a distinct role to play. HR’s primary responsibility is to design systems and processes to derive an organisation’s people agenda from the overall business strategy. However, HR also needs to facilitate “conversations” between the organization and its people, and amongst employees themselves.

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Communicating with a changing workforce

There is ample research to show that well-managed employee communication improves employee engagement and consequently, business performance. But employee communications doesn’t work 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.

That being said, each one has a distinct role to play. HR’s primary responsibility is to design systems and processes to derive an organisation’s people agenda from the overall business strategy. However, HR also needs to facilitate “conversations” between the organization and its people, and amongst employees themselves.

When the organization takes all these messages onward, it must take cognizance of the fact that employees are motivated by different things. Some go by the organisation’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.

Given its role as advisor, and by virtue of its closeness to the entire C-suite, it is corporate communications’ responsibility to tell the organization’s story holistically. It needs to take relevant messages to the world, to achieve the desired positioning for the organization – visionary leader, consistent performer, great employer and so on.

Meanwhile, enterprises continue to change rapidly, not least because they are becoming more diverse, not just by gender, culture and ethnicity, but also in the way their employees think, communicate or believe. Communications teams will need to understand and articulate the likes, interests, passions, preferences and motivators of a workforce that is today constituted of people with very diverse demographic and psychographic profiles.

Clearly, enterprises need to adapt their communications and engagement strategies to suit the requirements of the new workforce. They need to rethink their past approach to communications to sync with next-generation expectations.

The need for change in communications strategy

Organizations are complex animals, and no two are the same. So it follows that every organisation needs to chart out its own strategy for communicating with its employees. The goal of The PRactice is to help organizations articulate and formulate their unique strategies and put them to work.

While we steer clear of a cookie-cutter approach, we do believe that employee communications strategy must change conceptually to succeed with today’s diverse, multigenerational workforce. Specifically, it must: Shift from a scattered approach to an immersive strategy that involves the organisation

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. Organisations must blend traditional and new-age channels in the right proportion, and in the right context, to succeed at communication. One of our clients, an IT major, employed town halls, internal radio and brown bag lunches with the CEO with great success. Another client, 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 everyday.

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 organisational 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 organisation 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 corporate communications and human resources 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. Our experience says that 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 organisation to evolve as a great workplace – basically, find that sweet spot where organisational, team and individual objectives, which often collide, actually coexist in harmony. Next, it must see how effectively the listening-responding mechanism is functioning within the organisation. 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, human resources and corporate communications must work in tandem; human resources 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.

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.

A systemic approach for success – 5-step Employee Communications approach from The PRactice

At The PRactice,  our employee communications model is about bringing organisations and their people on the same side, working towards complementary objectives, through the medium of storytelling. To help organizations implement this, we recommend a 5-step Employee Communications approach, as follows:


Organisation Understanding:

Before getting into formal employee communications, it is necessary to understand the organisation 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 the organisation has full knowledge about its employees. 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 organisation 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:

The organisation must track the effectiveness of employee communications 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.

Organisations could implement the Employee Communications approach by themselves, or seek the services of an external advisor to help drive the process. An experienced consultant or communications firm can provide an invaluable outsider perspective along with the skills and tools needed to facilitate many aspects of employee communications. This could range from strategic activities such as research and planning to more practical support in the form of digital platforms, newsletters or other forms of communication media.

A number of organizations have sought out The PRactice to help them through their communications journey. We are proud that we have not only partnered them in implementing various initiatives but also added tangible value at every step. Some of that experience is briefly described below.

A leading Indian technology company with a global presence was undergoing total rebranding, right from a restatement of vision to a change in company name, logo and positioning. We came in at the organisation appreciation stage to help the company articulate their employee promise. We continued to work closely with the leadership team on communications strategy and design, to ensure that the company transitioned smoothly through a period of disruptive change.

In the case of the American software and technology firm mentioned earlier, the challenge was entirely different. The company, which already enjoyed a sound reputation as a great place to work, was looking to reinforce that image in the outside world. We worked with the communications and HR teams to create a plan that would raise the company’s profile. It was decided that The PRactice would help the client participate in various “best places to work” award contests by preparing their nominations, and separately, would position the India CEO as an employee champion in media. We also aligned their various collaterals with the desired messaging. All these initiatives strengthened the brand’s image among the public.

For a large business house based in India, the challenge was clearly one of improving communication efficiency. A lot was happening at different offices around the world that was not being communicated across the organization, mainly because there wasn’t a central hub to consolidate and disseminate internal news. This vacuum also meant that leadership vision wasn’t percolating down to rank and file. When they approached The PRactice for help, we suggested an employee appreciation exercise to understand the existing level of information awareness and engagement among staff. This led us to understand the gaps in information sharing. We then worked with the client to identify information nodes and employee champions across their locations and businesses. We created an information flow and governance structure and trained the employee champions to leverage it. Periodic audits were put in place for the central team to track progress and undertake course corrections.

Reaping the rewards – How organisations can benefit

The link between employee communications and business performance is well documented. We believe companies can reap several benefits by taking a holistic, systemic approach to employee communications. These include, but are not limited to, improvement in employee engagement, productivity and corporate recognition. But these are merely outer manifestations of a deep-rooted cultural change that can elevate communication into collaboration and transform passive employees into dedicated brand ambassadors. Organisations that do this successfully can gain greater insights into talent management, reduce attrition, improve candidate joining rates and build functional knowledge among employees, all of which would eventually flow back into the bottom-line.

The  PRactice value  proposition – integrative, insightful, impactful communications

The PRactice is an integrative communications consulting firm. While we possess a wide range of capabilities, we always approach communications from the perspective of clients’ business needs. When a client’s situation requires expertise from other streams
– HR, content creation, graphic design, linkages to other functions of the organization etc.
– We bring those capabilities to the table by partnering with other firms and curate the whole process; this means we are finally accountable to the client for both, the integrative communications strategy as well as its implementation.

The PRactice suite of employee communications services includes the following:

Employee Interfaces

From devising new approaches to town halls to creating engaging brochures and infographics, we rethink the traditional tools of internal communications by setting up multi-channel communication and interfaces with which employees can identify. We also create inclusive programs for blue-collar workers to align them more closely to the management vision.

Creating Ambassadors

From defining the employee promise to designing programs for sensitization to reinforcing the same, we facilitate the entire agenda of identifying and preparing ambassadors who resonate with our message the most, and instill employee pride in the workplace.

Collaboration Campaigns

There is no debating the fact that the more we collaborate, the more we innovate. We create platforms for people to exchange ideas and collaborate within teams, and complement the same with the right campaigns to encourage creativity and innovation.

Thought Leadership

Identifying effective story pegs that are topical, creating related content, and obtaining the desired coverage in media publications is our forte. Our team of digital advisors can support in creating the right social media engagements with the desired audience to position the organisation as a leader in its space. We also ensure that the language of communication used by the organisation and its employees internally and externally is appropriate, and upholds the public image and dignity of the brand. This is especially important given the phenomenal rise of informal channels.

Third Party Endorsements

We support the development of the right kind of collateral (including video and animation) and applications for industry awards – Great Places To Work, Best Employers, etc. – that recognize outstanding talent practices.

Employees are the essence of employee communications

Employees have always played a vital part in an organisation’s internal communications, 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 organisation 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 organisation among its people and give them a sense of how they can collaborate to realize both personal aspirations and business goals.

The effectiveness of employee communications hinges on the provision of adequate and timely information, but it also calls for clarity on the organisation’s culture and purpose. It is imperative to create a two-way dialog where the organisation and its employees can speak and listen to each other. Finally, success is measured by how strongly the organisation believes that its people are integral to its DNA and trusts them to serve as its brand ambassadors.

An Indian conglomerate clearly realised this. It approached The PRactice for help with developing employees into internal champions and ambassadors. We worked closely with the company to identify opportunity areas, design employee collaboration platforms to support creativity and innovation, and identify advocates and ambassadors. Next we created impactful stories about these internal ambassadors, and also articulated and built the
capabilities needed to develop employee champions.

The PRactice Viewpoint

The workforce is changing dramatically and rapidly – it is becoming more diverse, geographically distributed, and increasingly influenced by the millennial employee. At
the same time, social media and other next-generation technologies have democratized communication, giving voice and the power of content creation to the individual employee. Organisations are fast ceding rights over messaging and brand image to their employees and the general public. While they can do little to control this trend, they can anticipate and manage its consequences better by employing a proactive, effective strategy to all communications, including that directed at employees. That strategy must support the organisation’s business objectives, facilitate internal collaboration and provide multiple
engagement platforms for delivering the right messages at the right time. But over and above this, it must enable the organisation to slip into its new role of curator of all the content that its people are generating.

Having crafted the right strategy, the organisation should put it into practice with a systemic, holistic approach to planning and implementation. This is where The PRactice can make a significant contribution through its proven Employee Communications approach.