This article was written by Gary Cattermole, co-founder and director of The Survey Initiative, a leading staff survey provider specialising in employee engagement and internal communications.
It is a privilege when we are asked to come into an organisation to help deliver change or get employees engaged with a company’s set of messages. As survey providers we don’t implement change, instead we act as ‘investigators’, carefully unearthing the main drivers to get staff on-board and understanding the hurdles companies face to deliver change.
So, in our industry it often seems the million-dollar question is: “What is the secret to getting staff on-board?” If you’re looking for a simple answer I would say trust, respect and openness. But what does that really mean to practical working lives?
First of all let’s look at the art of communication. Many organisations rely on staff newsletters, perhaps an intranet, and feel that they’ve got internal communications sorted. But as ever when you employ different people to do different roles it’s not as simple as that, especially if they’re working in different offices or countries (with differing cultures) and undertaking different functions.
One of our clients recently invited us to survey 11,000 employees across the Pan-Pacific - to review their current methods of internal communications before they went ahead with new strategic messaging. It soon became clear that some members of staff wanted to know everything and others simply weren’t bothered. However, it highlighted that the internal comms team needed to ensure all staff had access to the information they wanted, and in a way they wanted to consume it. This vital feedback has led the internal comms team to develop their communications offering to create more online news feeds, stories with human content, group meetings and an open door policy to senior managers. It’s still early days for our client but we’ll be supporting their actions with pulse surveys and annual feedback surveys to ensure their communications are meeting their staff’s needs.
It’s also essential that businesses understand what communication methods work for them. Much has been made of the use of social media in driving engagement within an organisation, with internal social networking software such as Yammer being rolled out within companies, but organisations need to define what suits them and what tools to use for different situations. For example: newsletter for launch of a charity appeal, team meeting for insight into new organisational structure. It is also key that the internal comms team have a coherent strategy to pull together their messages and that the different channels are working together and not against each other in the dissemination of critical business information.
A barrier to getting staff on board can be as simple as not talking or more importantly not listening! It’s a common problem in a lot of organisations and becomes a huge issue if companies are going through a period of change. Talking ‘with’ (not at) your staff and listening to them is paramount to a successful comms strategy. In most cases the majority of staff aren’t going out of their way to be awkward, they simply don’t understand the ramifications of their actions on someone else’s work. An ideal solution is to run feedback workshops. Here individuals from a number of departments get together and perform a group of tasks, which provide an insight into how their actions affect others. Employees go away with an un-blinkered approach to their work and a richness of understanding of how their team can work better with others. For example: a sales team within a hotel may not understand the effects on other departments of running a new sales campaign.
Of course another key element for driving change and keeping staff on-side is leadership. It doesn’t matter what your staff newsletter or intranet says, unless your top management are behind the change or new messaging, and behave positively about the development, it is unlikely to have the effect you are looking for. Often the management board need to be seen to be more approachable, supportive, understanding to the rest of the workforce, and it can be vital to undertake group activity with these key players to ensure they understand how their actions can affect the morale and enthusiasm of others.
Staff need to be led by example but messages can also be spread from key personnel at all levels within the business. By creating ‘communication champions’ you’ll be able to disseminate key strategic messages throughout the organisation from the bottom up and the top down. These staff members can also be instrumental in delivering change and driving forward new ways of working by acting as ambassadors for the launch of new schemes or actions. To drive response rates up in our employee surveys we often recruit volunteer staff members to spread the word about our surveys and act as champions to promote the feedback process. We also involve these champions in feeding back survey reports to the rest of the team, and very importantly, thank them for their crucial role in driving the project forward.
There are many practical measures a business can put in place to engage employees with new corporate plans, but at the end of the day it comes down to an organisation taking the lead and creating joined-up thinking between all departments. It’s no use the HR team devising cultural change plans if they don’t involve the internal comms department at the outset. The same as there’s no use the HR team claiming ownership of employee engagement; the key to getting engaged employees is a cross-functional management role, where everyone believes in its power and the wellbeing of their employees.