It's been a long-standing challenge to reach and meaningfully engage with each of your employees - be they in the office, driving a bus, providing nursing care, on the checkout till, at a sales counter, in the warehouse or on the factory floor. And while many of your workforce may currently be working at home, many more who are working on site still won't often pass by a company computer.
Companies have always had a corporate communications team, but they tend to focus on the big messages - announcements of new acquisitions, promotions to functional leadership teams, monthly trading updates as well as external brand and PR updates. The challenge is that communication is just that - its communication, not engagement. To the majority of the workforce, there may be a passing interest in this information, but it's often not particularly relevant to them and can be ignored. We believe that up to two-thirds of all email internal communications are essentially ignored by staff.
Existing internal communication models are not enough to maintain employee engagement or direct behavioural change. With teams working remotely, it is particularly difficult t0 know if people have understood the message or taken the desired action.
The workforce has shifted into the digital age and organisations need to embrace and take advantage of the fact that 50% of workers in 2020 are millennials who were born digital, and, if needed, can reverse mentor those who weren't.
When companies use new methods to engage with their teams it creates transparency and trust. It creates opportunities for people to feedback, discuss and debate; to feel connected, to feel as though they are the organisation, not just part of it. It's becoming more apparent that everyone in your company should be communicating with each other, sharing ideas, feeding back along the internal value chain, knowing that they are contributing to the success of the company.
But you still need to give structure to this interaction free-for-all, there is still a need for message interventions and there is still very much a place for your Comms and Engagement Team.
Let's think though some Use Cases:
- Leadership Comms – the best communications from leaders inspire, motivate, and explain the organisation's Why. Then there are the necessary corporate announcements and operational matters which need sharing. But it's easy for these messages to seem inauthentic, and employees easily become disengaged.
- Change Management - most people fear the unknown, and for many workers it causes apprehension, irritation or disinterest, so we need to make the transition to the new state as painless as possible. The challenge is for steady, transparent guidance to help navigate change.
- Technology Adoption - signposting new capability and then counting down to its implementation is a key engagement process. Technology is often what makes or breaks employees' ability to do the job, so the challenge is making them very aware that it's on its way and what the new tooling means to their daily routine, and then listening to their responses.
- HR interaction - regular contact with employees is an ongoing need for the People Team, whether that's payroll adjustment cut-off, annual appraisal returns, compulsory online training, comp and benefits or the myriad of other matters that need attention. Comms needs to inspire employees to act, and message fatigue can easily drop responding to a request for information down a personal to-do list. The challenge is getting the really important messages through.
- Compliance - it's a thankless job for the Compliance Team to ensure that company policy and regulatory requirements are read, understood, and applied. Staff need to be reminded about cyber security best practices. The challenge is knowing that your legal or contractual obligations to train and implement have been met.
- Improving Customer Focus - in a customer-centric organisation everything is about the customer. The challenge is to give staff the behavioural prompts to be self-directing, to remind staff that they are empowered to serve the customer, and to use new information about customer behaviours and preferences to make changes to add value.
- Sales Enablement - field-based sales teams need fast, regular updates from their sales managers to stay ahead of the competition. The challenge is giving them relevant, approved, sales enablement materials pertinent to their prospects, and then being able to link their use to sales success.
- Merging or acquiring businesses - it's unsettling for many when organisations alter their structure or add in new products or functions. The engagement challenge is in restating values and capabilities as well as expected behaviours.
- Crisis Communication - your company must be a source of truth that workers can rely on to keep them safe and productive during any challenging time, and when major events threaten lives or business revenue. The challenge is giving the right information, at the right time to the right people - and doing it at speed.
- Event Communication - time spent with your employees is time that they will appreciate and remember. The challenge is making sure that the logistics of the event are communicated to those attending, and that they are clear on any preparation to be done in advance or on the follow-up activities that add value.
- Brand Advocacy - Quite rightly, an increasing number of organisations use social media to promote their brand and engage with external customers, and many request that their employees participate. The challenge is that a ctrl+v of a corporate message wastes everyone's time. It's likely that at least half of your staff are already communicating on social channels, so providing them with relevant and accurate base material together with guidance and encouragement on how to adapt it will provide the authenticity needed, and allow new stars to rise.
For all Use Cases you will want to be able to speak to every employee, passing on accurate information and insight in a consistent, timely and reliable manner, using the channels that they naturally interact with.
You will want to give specific messages to a specific part of your business, or perhaps those whom your sentiment analysis indicates are disengaged. You'll want to segment and reach those who you need to.
With broadcast messages it's important to know that the target audience has been reached, that they have actually received the content, and it's good to know how they have responded to it.
So... how do we achieve this nirvana? There is an emerging class of digital tools which centralise and orchestrate your engagement with staff.
It all starts with a digital platform, which your Comms and Engagement Team populate with approved communications content. They create guidelines for conversations on key messages and their content is available for a specific purpose and an audience segment, such as described in the Use Cases we discussed earlier.
Those messages then get sent to their intended audience who receive well-crafted messages, to which they - hopefully - respond as intended.
But wait... it’s a fascinating juxtaposition that, in an increasingly digital world, we're seeing tremendous engagement when corporate messages are delivered in person, rather than via email or by posting on the corporate intranet. People don't ignore people.
That's interesting, but people-based comms doesn't scale does it? And what about consistency of message? And the tone of its delivery?
Well, the Comms & Engagement Team still designs the messaging interventions and flow.
Key to engagement is to have Champions as conversation starters, who are socially connected within the organisation, and keen to help. Depending on the organisation, Champions can be volunteers from the workforce who see this responsibility as a stretch target, or in larger firms they can be seconded into a 6-month full-time tenure.
Whatever route to their appointment, they can be taught effective engagement practices up front and then tutored on the context and ideal outcome of the messaging interventions. Their multiplier impact is greater than is achieved by broadcast methods. It’s quite a career boost to be chosen to be a Champion. They learn new skills, get noticed, and have the kudos of being the corporate mouthpiece.
When there is a new item of engagement to be shared, the Champions get a notification on their mobile phone and then access the message intent and talking points. They gather around the group that they hold the brief to engage with, and they then deliver the message in their own words, but based on the script and tone asked for.
Subject to the interpretation of the deliverer (the Champion), the message is passed on consistently, in full, and using the same tone across the organisation. It is a guided conversation and allows messages to be landed quickly. They answer questions as best they can, but then encourage their group to respond via the engagement app on their own phones, sharing sentiment.
This method of cascade is ideal in a retail store, a transport business or a manufacturing plant when staff typically don’t spend much time, if any, by a company computer. It also works perfectly in larger service organisations when champions can gather people together informally to pass on the message, reinforcing what they may have seen or read elsewhere.
This works because conversations happen in the most natural of circumstances. Train drivers gather informally for a coffee in the terminal at one end of a line. Nurses get back to their ward station after the consultants have done their rounds. Miners wait for the lift down together. Prison Warders need to be walking the corridors at all times, in twos. Shelf stackers in a Supermarket pause together just before they push the trolley of new items out into the aisles. In each scenario, and hundreds of others, there is an easy opportunity for the Champion to start - and finish - a conversation.
Your people on the ground get the messages that matter, in a manner that is entirely relevant to them.
The Comms & Engagement Team see the reach, response and sentiment data flowing back into reports in their central platform, allowing them to adjust the messaging as necessary and to confirm that engagement targets have been met.
Part of the digital transformation of the organisation is the digitalisation of procedures and roles. With new, digital tools that appeal to millennials, and which are the expectation of many, we can have direct, consistent communication with the right employees at the right time.
We need to keep the conversations going, and reach staff engagement nirvana.