Fast Forward: Why Your 2016 Internal Communications Efforts Fell Short... And the Critical Questions
Recently, after being briefed on the company’s internal communications strategy and plan for the year – the CEO of a global organization posed a compelling question: “Fast forward to December, tell me why all of this didn’t work.”
As we enter a new year, it’s always a positive and somewhat idealistic time. Strategies and plans come together with their requisite measures and synchronized business goals. For communications professionals, specifically those involved with organizational effectiveness, the challenge remains – how can we improve employee engagement.
Former General Electric CEO and leadership guru, Jack Welch, often describes employee engagement as the most important measurement for a CEO. “There are measurements you need to understand at a business to know if you’re on the right track, Welch once told a major business journal. First and foremost, is employee engagement.”
As you begin the year, ask yourself the following questions as a means to test your internal communications programming to ensure the results are met and possibly, exceeded.
What are you Solving for?
The most important question to answer is whether internal communications is directed at improving employee engagement. This can be done based on specific business goals – providing line of sight between people’s jobs and customer needs, marketplace expectations. Engagement includes but is not limited to leader rhetoric and commitment; manager involvement; feedback and discussion; and recognition.
Is it a Conversation-based model?
How are you planning to catalyze dialogue internally? Without dialogue, discussion, and debate, internal communications is nothing more than a cadence of information with no real intent or meaning. A key measure of this approach is to constantly discern what people are talking about inside, which leads to the next point.
In order to ignite discussion, are you provocative?
How is Data informing decisions?
Where do employees go to get specific information inside the company? Do they prefer video? Are they active on social channels? What is the volume and the key themes from feedback?
All of this is now available through technology and must be incorporated into your planning and decision-making. Data and insight provide precision allowing for course corrections during the year.
Is your plan Activity-based or Solution-based?
Step back and objectively size up your plan. Is it designed to solve the key objectives of the business. Or is it a series of activities? Do the elements connect and work together to create a better destination? Often this simple exercise is an eye-opener leading to a more strategic realignment.
Is the CEO involved ?
The most critical determinant in engagement, as Welch stated, is the CEO’s commitment. Engagement and effective communication starts at the top and is based on leadership’s view of the business, its prospects, challenges, opportunities, and competitive reality. Internal communications professionals must have access and influence in the C-Suite helping to direct the organization’s narrative and counsel the appropriate actions that link strategy to execution. When this takes place, companies achieve coherence and most importantly, clarity.
Are you Mobile?
With organizations increasingly featuring employees outside of their own offices and placed across the globe working across time zones, while more office stable or manufacturing oriented employees operate across boundaries, companies are building their IT systems including communications platform outside their walls. Mobile applications allowing everything from benefits updates, to stock price alerts, to CEO briefings, and up-to-date competitive news, are becoming more visible.
Delving into these questions at this point to avoid end of year mea culpas can prove to be a wise investment of time and talent.
Is the Organization Getting Smarter?
Ultimately, employee engagement and organizational intelligence are inextricably linked. At the heart of engagement lies information (content). Is it contextual? Is it relevant? Does it challenge assumptions? Does it encourage experimentation that leads to innovation? Does it help people to make the argument themselves?
One notable organization, upon naming a new CEO, went from focusing on what they knew to what they didn’t. Translation: Internal communications became more provocative and meaningful touching on competitive moves and products, societal shifts, internal issues such as quality and productivity, etc. It’s focus is on expanding people’s knowledge and building confidence in the future. Results thus far indicate a more robust interest in important company initiatives and a more active discourse among employees on topics that just a few months ago were never broached. A recent CEO blog to employees reflects this new found approach. In it the CEO asked a very profound question – “Who is our most dangerous competitor?” He explained that competition today comes in all shapes and sizes and is no longer confined to a company’s competitive set. After an incredible amount of employee posts, most offering key competitors as the answer, the CEO stated that Amazon was the most dangerous competitor because it keeps “changing the level of customer expectations.” Amazon, which is not in this company’s competitive set provides a different way to think about the business and is a proxy for a new business strategy about to be introduced.
This is particularly important to capture employee attention with so many distractions. It is also crucial for long-term business success especially as companies continually redesign business models in a social and digital context to be more fluid, agile, and omni-channel.
As business becomes more seamless and friction free the very nature of the workforce will be revolutionized. Analytics will provide more specific information on employee engagement making it easier to discern performance and thus merit compensation. This type of transparency will result in higher levels of organizational acuity that couple with new technology will force a more sophisticated approach to internal communications.
Now Ask Yourself …
The role of internal communications as we’ve reiterated is to improve engagement. To do that, it needs to move the workforce to become future smart or capable of recognizing and navigating the myriad changes taking place around them. It’s about balancing the marketplace with the organization and the individual. And then balancing the individual with improving the lives of others as well be it colleagues, customers, communities, etc.
Given all of that, how will your own performance be evaluated at the end of the year?
It’s December 2016…
Spending time now to address the inherent discrepancies or gaps in your internal communications strategy and plan will go a long way to ensuring you get the results you seek and the company demands.
It really comes down to seeing ahead … just as this CEO did!