By, Stuart R. Levine
Published in, The Credit Union Times
Numerous articles and research studies have shown effective communication to be an important driver of employee engagement, which leads to improved financial performance. Gallup reports that those organizations falling within the top 25% of employee engagement in their client database not only have significantly higher productivity, profitability and customer satisfaction, but also reduced turnover, lower absenteeism and fewer safety incidents than those clients falling in the bottom 25%. These numbers make a strong case for the value and importance of strategic communication.
Well-designed communication programs are essential for sharing a company’s strategic plan and providing other important organizational information that informs employees of the organization’s goals and objectives, business priorities, products and services.
Explaining the strategic focus of the business and how it creates value for the customer and stakeholders helps employees understand how their work links directly to the success of the organization. Strategic communication that ties the organization’s objectives to its core values and mission sustains momentum, increases personal drive and pride in the organization.
The basic elements of effective strategic communication messaging include:
In order for a strategic communications program to be effective, senior leaders must understand and embrace the communication strategy, rationale and core messages. Along with the CEO, senior leadership can be important storytellers for communicating the message with authenticity, purpose and consistency. Leaders must play close attention to each audience’s concerns, potential resistance, requirements and objectives.
Ultimately individual employees must understand what they need to do differently and why. Management must describe how a business change or a new policy will impact employees. Employees deserve consistent and regular information on changes that affect them. Remember that complex changing business environments require even more communication.
We recently helped to launch a very successful strategic communication program. Within three months of becoming a CEO, our client realized that top management was not leveraging all the creative, innovative ideas within the company. His team fielded an employee survey to find out how the employees thought the company could build greater momentum, improve costs and spur innovation. The responses – over 2,000 of them – were sorted, analyzed and the best ones were put into action. The results were then shared with the employees through succinct weekly email updates, many of which contained links to videos of employees whose suggestions had led to cost reductions, better customer service and improved benefits.
The rollout of an effective strategic communication program involves an education process with employees that is designed to build support, maintain organizational strength and shift attitudes in accordance with the established objectives. Appropriate communications channels must be efficiently used for the program’s dissemination. Messages are most effective when communicated through more than one medium, using multiple communications outlets such as print, the organization’s intranet, social media, town hall meetings and most importantly, face-to-face discussions. Lasting impact requires two-way communication, so management must actively seek feedback in order to understand what is working and not working, and make changes accordingly to reflect employee input.
In our clients’ case, their workforce spans a number of generations, geographies and functional areas. The communications team needed to work hard to create weekly updates that captured the attention of the “point and click” younger generation, while not alienating the more prose-oriented older employees. Creative communication included many difference vehicles — videos, contests, links to more detailed background information, input from various functions and locations and platforms like Yammer for immediate two-way communication. Judging by the response on Yammer, the company’s strategic communication has definitely increased employee engagement. The company’s results to date have outperformed expectations, and while the improved communications and resultant increase in employee engagement may not be the only reason for it, we believe that this played a large part in the company’s success.
In summary, well-designed communications provide employees with the tools for a stronger and more consistent expression of the organization’s brand. Through effective communication, leaders engage employees in a conversation that generates support for the organizational strategy, motivates useful behaviors and, through empowerment, allows the employee to participate in creating the desired change and thereby increasing organizational value. Effective employee communication brings the best thinking to the forefront, reduces uncertainty and engages employees. As The Gallup 2013 State of the American Workplace Report affirmed: “Engaged workers are the lifeblood of their organizations.” And effective strategic communication creates engagement, and increases the likelihood of financial success.