Employees now demand a deeper relationship with the companies they work for. For the Internal Communications function, the CEO address or monthly newsletter will no longer do, and technology has given them the means to communicate in rich and meaningful ways with employees at every level
Internal Communications (IC) is more than a ‘nice to have’ for a larger business. Rachel Miller’s work history includes Visa, Novartis, BSkyB and GlaxoSmithKline, and she blogs on IC issues at All things IC. She defines engagement as “creating the conditions in which employees offer more of their capability and potential”. By creating an engaged workforce, a business will unlock the full potential of its most powerful – and most expensive – resource: its people. IC isn’t cuddly: it’s crucial.
Miller points to four sources of effective engagement. The first is a strong strategic narrative about the organisation; a visible leadership defining a clear direction for all. That’s often satisfied by the top-down propagation of the traditional newsletter. The other three, however, demand a deeper conversation to take place.
Line managers must have the freedom and tools to give their teams focus, direction, some challenge and personal development. Matt O’Neill of communications agency Modcomms Ltd, and runs the London Communicators and Engagement Group. He says “All good IC people can do engagement at a macro level. But if it’s done properly, engagement happens at the micro level; between line managers and staff. Each employee should feel like they are valued and heard.”
...Which brings us to Miller’s third point: employees must have a voice for reinforcing and challenging views, both across functions and externally.
Finally, there must be organisational integrity – the values espoused by the company must be reflected in day to day behaviours.
Making it happen
Achieving this degree of buy-in requires commitment from IC professionals. The first port of call is connectedness. Plenty of IC professionals fall into the common trap of remaining isolated in their departments. Miller says, “IC pros must be strong partners to all parts of the business; working with everybody for everybody. You should know everyone right down to the cleaners.”
O’Neill adds that effecting change will also require influence at the top level.”You may have to rock the boat. If you’re just going to exercise point-solutions like the newsletter and the intranet, your ideals won’t truly propagate down.”
Finally, management must listen, and be seen to have listened. Miller says, “Real leaders are visible to their organisations; they genuinely visit the factory floor.” And that alone won’t suffice. Says O’Neill, “If you don’t act on what you learn, the whole effort becomes nothing more than a tickbox exercise. The engagement survey or CEO roadshow are pointless unless feedback is acknowledged, acted upon, and seen to have been acted upon.”
Technology is coming: from the outside in
O’Neill says that organisations ignore the role of technology at their peril. “Social networks like Twitter are no longer geeky – everyone’s got them”, he says. “If you’re not using them, you can bet that your customers are.” Those customers are the arbiters of your corporate reputation. Thanks to instant customer feedback, you can’t tell fibs. Either your culture is embedded like the proverbial stick of rock, or you will be found out.
Of course, the same technologies – social networks, emails, intranets etc. – are in the IC professional’s armoury, too. The danger, however, is to use technologies as point solutions, losing sight of the strategic objectives. “You need a plan”, says Miller. “Scattergun investment in every possible channel just means employees don’t know where to look. Don’t be blinded by functions: decide what you want to achieve, and make it measurable, so you can prove that it’s working.”
Finally, those technologies must meet the needs of your team. Miller again: “Know how your team prefer to communicate, and then tailor the approach accordingly. Make participation a natural part of their work style. The best way to do that is to make employees part of the decision-making process; with systems ‘designed with you’ rather than ‘designed for you’.”
Says O’Neill: “There is always an opportunity for a measurable outcome. Good engagement aligns people with a culture and with outcomes. There’s a big difference between ‘being busy’ and ‘being productive’; and if everyone is on board, they can be truly productive for the business.”