Regardless of how much money you spend on external marketing and advertising, the simple fact is that nobody talks more about your company than the people who work there. What employees say about you matters. So why not shape the conversation with an effective employee communication strategy.
What is employee communication?
Employee communication is a relationship. To be healthy, it has to be mutual. Both parties need accessible channels for communication. Both parties need to feel safe to express themselves. Both parties need to listen. Both parties operate best through respect. When these elements are in place, communication grows more personal, relevant and meaningful over time. When they’re not, you’ll have high employee turnover and a hard time attracting talent. You’ll take hits to your productivity, innovation, and, yes, profitability.
The value of employee communication
In a recent Gallup meta-analysis using 263 research studies across 192 organizations in 49 industries and 34 countries, work units with high employee engagement outperformed units with low employee engagement by 10 percent on customer ratings, 22 percent in profitability, and 21 percent in productivity. When you consider communication as a main ingredient for employee engagement, it’s hard to deny the business value of having a successful employee communication strategy.
Four pillars for successful employee communication
Employee communication is a two-way street built on four fundamental components:
Channels: Do you have the appropriate channels in place?
If most of your employees work in an office with easy access to a computer, then email might be a relevant communication channel. But if enough of your people work in the field, you may need to consider in-person events, on-site posters, text messages, or mailing directly to homes. Reach people where they’re most likely to get the message.
Next, consider establishing primary, secondary and tertiary employee communication channels to play different roles in your internal communication strategy. Your primary channel might build awareness followed by details and links to action through a secondary channel. Your tertiary channel can confirm the right actions are done to completion and encourage next steps.
Whatever your channel plan, one employee communication will probably not get the job done. Remember it takes most of us at least three times to integrate new information into cognition. That’s why even big-name brands like Coke, Nike, and McDonald’s spend billions of dollars on advertising every year. Even they have to work to engage their target audience.
Content: Are you targeting the right content to the right people at the right time?
Imagine receiving a reminder to enroll for medical benefits after you’ve just enrolled. Or how about a message to invest in a 401(k) only to find out your employee group does not have access to the company’s retirement plan? Content cannot be personal, relevant and meaningful if it isn’t targeted. A good technology stack can segment employees into groups so you connect people with information they actually need. This protects the integrity of your voice, builds trust and employee engagement. Your people will feel seen and be receptive to what you have to say.
Consistency: Are you communicating at a pace you can keep?
Random, disorganized communication only creates chaos. Let’s say one year you send a postcard, several emails, and host in-person events for annual enrollment. The following year you only send a postcard. Some of your employees will have been counting on that reminder email to take action. Many will naturally assume this year’s enrollment is less important based simply on how it was communicated.
When planning the channels and content for internal communication, think about establishing a cadence you can maintain and build on over time. There’s a reason the local news lands on front porches, or in-boxes, around the same time every day. Or that the “Five O’clock News” is actually at five o’clock. Or that movie studies release heavy-hitting dramas in the Fall and action flicks in the Summer every year.
You want employees to be able to count on receiving internal communication about what’s important inside the company. Be consistent with how often you communicate.
Cardinal Rule: Always include a feedback loop.
This one cannot be overstated. It’s the secret sauce that makes your internal communication strategy sink or swim. Be as open to receiving as you are to giving employee communication. Always include a feedback loop in your channel plan for employee questions, comments, support, and fresh ideas. Then make sure you have the resources in place to respond to that feedback in a timely manner. You simply cannot expect to be heard if you can’t listen. In fact, you may want to consider beginning your next internal communication campaign with a listening tour to learn what is and is not working with your current employee communications.
Next steps for your employee communication strategy
A good internal communication consultant can help you build an engaging employee communication strategy with short and long-term goals. Your strategy should look different from other organizations because no two organizations are the same. And while the four fundamental elements will need to be there for you to be successful – the right channels, content, consistency, and the cardinal rule – ultimately the relationship you build with employees should enhance and propel the intangible spirit that makes your company special.