“Survival” vs. “Strategic” Employee Communications

Do customers know more about your business than your employees? Do employees find out about executive changes or new products and services in a tweet or a post from friends? Are teams clueless about where the company is headed this year… or in the future?

2imagesWhen employees are in the dark about important company news, they go into survival mode; and, that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Too often, employees face an information void either because management has not made a strategic commitment to invest in communicating to its most valuable resource, its people, or because of inadequate internal communications systems and processes. Employees who feel disenfranchised are left to their own devices. “Survival communications” emerge that benefit their individual needs, not the needs of the organization.

A successful employee communications infrastructure is not complicated; it will mitigate, if not eliminate, the need for ad-hoc, often destructive, survival communications. Its three essential elements are: 1) commitment from the top; 2) role clarity; and, 3) customized delivery.

1. Commitment from the Top
A CEO’s main thrust must be chief communicator of the organization’s vision and strategy. Too often, CEOs of large and small businesses alike find it difficult to speak with their own people directly. This problem infects the entire organization. Division and business unit leaders become the lead communicator within their own spheres of influence, often without the right message. Hence, many leaders get caught up in a complex network of survival tactics instead of a healthy system of strategic communications.

low section view of three people walking --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

A newly minted CEO who rose through the ranks scarcely had a profile with employees. When it was suggested he “walk the halls,” his first reaction was reluctance. “What would I say?” he asked. “Ask people what they are working on,” he was told. We started with a small list of well-respected people  throughout the organization—at all levels. As expected news traveled quickly of these impromptu conversations, which gave him the perfect opportunity to reinforce the company’s mission. Of course MBWA (Management by Wandering Around) is not new, Abraham Lincoln used it before the term was coined, but it is often sorely overlooked.

2. Role Clarity
confused1Any successful internal communications plan must ensure that every employee, at every level, in every office understands his or her role in achieving the organization’s mission. It’s common sense. But this is made more difficult because it requires not only clear, consistent messages, it requires these messages to be tailored in such a way that they are internalized, and hence, acted upon, by employees.

If employees can’t answer the simple question, “who’s in charge,” turf wars, wheel-spinning and scapegoats abound. Nothing gets done. When this occurs at the highest level, the void is apparent with glaring clarity to most everyone. Without clarity, employees simply will carve a survival path of their own. Ultimately, they will leave.

3. Customized Delivery
Employees have different information needs. Tailor employee messages by segment—executives, top tier management, sales teams, support services—and across geographies. tumblr_inline_mm3bqpMsEV1qz4rgp-300x300In addition, just because something was communicated once (in a company meeting, or in a global message) doesn’t assure “message received.” It takes a few times for that to occur. Company news must be communicated frequently, in context and in ways compatible with the corporate culture and the way people use technology. It we are out of touch with the lifeblood of the organization, neither our people nor our communication will survive.

When Yammer and What’s App were all the rage, some mandated their use in internal communications. Yet, few used them, and fewer used them effectively. Understanding how mobile fits into an organization’s internal communications strategy is critical. What role does texting have? Does email still rule? Are intranets optimized for mobile? How is privacy and security baked into the communications strategy? These are just a few questions to consider.

Avoiding Survival Mode
Understanding the communications dynamic enables organizations to break the cycle of stagnating survival communications. Healthy organizational environments provide employees with the information needed to perform and understand their future roles. As a result, employees can feel confident that leadership is on the right path as the organization grows. This only happens when company news is timely, shared freely and communicated in ways that are easy for every employee to access and understand. And this starts at the top.

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