In a recent survey by KRC Research of over 500 employed Americans, 71% felt their company’s leadership should be communicating more about current economic problems, and 54% have not heard from company leaders at all about the impact of the current economic situation on their company.
In this scary economic time, employees are eager to hear from company leadership. How is our company being affected? If things keep getting worse, what will have to be done? Is my job secure? How much notice will I get if I’m laid off?
In this environment, we offer six best practices for world-class employee communications (EC) programs. They are straightforward, but not easy to implement.
1. Communicate with honesty AND reality AND inspiration
Communicating with honesty goes without saying. What’s tough, though, in uncertain times like those we’re in currently, is balancing the need to inform staff about the honest reality of your organization’s current situation, and the bad news of layoffs and pay cuts that must be shared, with hope and inspiration that motivates them to roll up their sleeves and band together even stronger for the great opportunity ahead.
People don’t want sugarcoating…they want the truth, but also they want to hear the plan for surviving and thriving so they can be hopeful and inspired. By clearly articulating the plan, including who is accountable for leading each part of the plan, how the plan will be measured, and what employees’ role is in helping the company achieve the goals of the plan, your chances of having loyal employees who are willing to do whatever it takes to help the company succeed are much greater.
2. Show you are listening – either way, they’re talking
We can all probably remember times when we, or our friends or family members, have complained about company leaders who “have no idea what’s going on” with rank and file employees or in the field with the customer. This is highly demotivating to employees, who feel disconnected from company leadership or the future vision.
For an EC program to truly be effective, it has to be two-way. There are many ways to do this, and it’s important to find the right set of listening mechanisms that fit with your company leadership and culture. You don’t have to have a corporate or C-level blog in order to listen. Find time for your leadership to simply engage in Q&A’s with employees, or schedule times for them to visit department staff meetings.
One sidenote on this point is that it is imperative that the leader(s) are trained and prepared to have these discussions. They will get tough questions – as they should. They need to be comfortable, and ready to answer the questions authentically, without giving a company line or evading the question. This not only can end up further degrading a culture of trust, but can severely impact the credibility of the leader among employees. On the other hand, an honest, direct conversation with a leader can have a huge positive impact on a group of employees that builds trust and loyalty for the future.
3. Leaders must believe and be believable
If leaders do not believe in the power and importance of consistent communication, then employees will quickly pick up on this and will not believe what the leader(s) has to say. The time will be wasted for everyone.
When leaders truly believe in the power of communication in motivating employees and ultimately driving the bottom-line, their passion and commitment can really be felt by employees. And in return for their investment of time and thoughtful dialog, they will have loyal, motivated employees who become a competitive advantage to the company in the marketplace.
4. Explain the what and the why
When I managed EC at National Instruments, I had the pleasure of working with a group of company leaders who were outstanding and committed communicators. One of them was the VP of HR, who would always say, “We need to give employees ‘the what and the why,” and he was absolutely right.
Employees don’t have to agree with all decisions company leaders make. But if they have the opportunity to hear what the decision is and why it’s being made, they are given the chance to hear the reasoning behind decisions. They may still disagree, but they will have the facts, which is much better than not informing them, and employees instead working off of rumor.
5. There’s no silver bullet – it just takes commitment
John Baldoni, author of Great Communications Secrets of Great Leaders, said in his book, “The reason people find communications so difficult is that it takes so much commitment…the reason so many leaders fail at communications…[is because it] requires discipline, thought, perseverance, and the willingness to do it again and again every day.”
If EC managers and company leaders think having a quarterly webcast or an intranet with regular news postings is sufficient to communicate with employees, they are sadly mistaken. Communication isn’t something you check a box on with a few programs.
With a successful EC program and team, you never ultimately check the box.You may have effectively communicated for that one day or to that one group. Tomorrow, you have to communicate again, and repeat what you said yesterday with new examples, and answer new questions. EC managers need to build a framework for varied communication through diverse channels, from 1 to 10’s to 1 to 100’s to 1 to 1,000’s, through in-person and on-line, and in native languages for employees globally.
6. The companies that do it right get results
When companies are truly committed to world-class EC, they see results. In a workshop we give at TREW Marketing, called People, Communication, and the Bottom-line, we share a few examples of companies who have world-class EC programs whose results far outpace their competitors.
For example, Fortune magazine publishes their 100 Best Places to Work list annually. In 2005, Fortune published a comparison of the stock prices of the more than 50 public companies on the list vs. the stock performance of the S&P 500 index. In all timeframes, from 1 year to 10, the Fortune 100 companies outperformed the index, providing a greater return to shareholders.
When company leaders integrate honest, timely, and inclusive communication into their everyday work, the results come for all stakeholders – to employees through satisfying careers, to shareholders through solid returns, and to customers through outstanding service or new products that make their job easier, better, or more productive.
Contact TREW Marketing to find out more about our EC services, which include:
1. Comprehensive EC program strategy development and implementation
2. Consulting on message development, program planning to balance frequency with personalization
3. Management on-camera communications training
4. Workshops – People, Leadership Communication, and the Bottom-line
5. Additional services – e-marketing and web development, relevant press strategy and outreach