engagement

Engage employees with better communication choice

Technology has changed the way we consume information outside organisations, and it is natural that we want the same choices within. Companies that incorporate channel choice in their communication mix will win the war for engagement.

Find out the seven ways you can improve the choices for employee communication channels in this presentation.

For more information, see the article Changing channels: why employees demand freedom of information choice on LinkedIn Pulse.

Three strategies for embedding CSR through better communication and design

A simpler CSR

A simpler CSR approach.

One of the greatest challenges for employee communication in any organisation is information overload. A consistent theme from communication research is that often in organisations there is too much of the wrong information.

Line managers and employees in many organisations struggle with complexity.

They have a single consistent, valid request

make it easier for me

What has led to this situation?

Change. Changes to processes, products and procedures. Changes to the markets that companies operate in. Changes to regulations. Customer expectations. Social and political change. Technology. Technology. Technology.

Against this background, asking employees to focus on ‘another thing’ can be a challenge.

In addition to the number one rule for employee communication* there are three things organisations can do to ensure the CSR&S initiatives achieve the outcomes they need to for the company and its stakeholders (including employees).

*The number one rule is ‘make it relevant, make it simple’.

1. Have a few clear strategic messages that are reinforced all the time

Provide the ‘why’ for your whole CSR program in a consistent way.

Many CSR&S strategies are comprehensive documents that run to many pages, are produced, launched and then fall stagnant until the next reporting period. For CSR&S to come to life, a clear narrative is required that is reinforced consistently through leadership communication, as well as in other channels.

If CSR&S is not a key strategic focus for a company, it is essential for leaders to find ways to incorporate it.

Example

A mid size professional services firm develop a comprehensive CSR three year plan. The strategy recommendations include:

  • policy changes for procurement
  • changes to energy supply for regional offices
  • a customer charter that addresses client groups with specific CSR challenges
  • a scorecard for governance
  • plans for corporate relocation to sustainable headquarters
  • new approaches to succession planning for the partner group and
  • support for leading practice labour and OHS programs.

Individually, not all employees will be impacted in the same way by these initiatives. Expecting the whole of firm to be across every aspect when it is not their core business has a potential to feed the information overload and reduce engagement.

However, the key message for the strategy and for all leaders to continue to reinforce is:

Our business strategy recognises the benefits of a comprehensive approach to CSR. The outcomes of this strategic approach will include financial benefits, reputational benefits with clients and opportunities for employee development.

Individual projects or changes can be communicated in the most effective way according to the type of change outcomes, the audiences, and the available channels.

These subsequent changes are then congruent with the message from the CEO through to every line manager that ‘We treat CSR as an important part of our business.’

2. Be clear about what ‘engagement’ with CSR programs looks like.

Define ‘what’ people need to do differently.

Traditionally, employee communication has focused on the hearts and minds of employees, getting people to ‘buy in’ to changes or initiatives. An increasing body of research shows that getting people to take an action is more powerful at shaping their perceptions. Instead of ‘think, feel, do’, it is more effective to get people to ‘do, feel, think’.

In order for employees to engage with CSR&S initiatives, it is essential to be clear about what that engagement looks like. What will people be doing? How is that different to today?

As a result of the program do you need employees to:

  • Start following a new process
  • Reduce waste through using workplace procurement and cleaning vendors
  • Stop acquiring clients from unsustainable industries
  • Share or record information for reporting

Many ‘communication problems’ are actually process issues. With smart process design, sometimes communication is barely necessary. Make it easier for employees to take the actions required.

3. Use good design to enable action

Make the ‘how’ intuitive and simple to do.

Well-designed processes, procedures, systems and tools reduce the volume of communication needed.

There is no training manual for how we use a social media tool such as Facebook, or our smart phones or the motor registry queue. In the best cases, taking the necessary action ‘just makes sense’.

Originally focused on online channels, increasingly, user experience (UX) or customer experience (CX) design methods are being used as part other kinds of change.

  • Instructions tend to be build into processes
  • The online component is seamless
  • Visual communication provides clear clues to action
  • Operational instructions are just in time, rather than relying on people knowing how to do something just in case.

Better communication comes with better strategy

Unless CSR is treated strategically, there is a risk that communication about initiatives, processes and programs will get lost in the competition for a share of employee attention.

Addressing some types of CSR&S efforts require organisations to rethink their operations at a broader scale.

  • Communication can go part of the way. Without visible, sleeves-rolled-up leadership, the best communication program cannot sustainably embed CSR into everyday activities.
  • Being clear about what people will do differently by adopting new CSR programs and processes helps communication be clear, targeted, and enable action.
  • Better process design will make it easier for employees to take action with CSR programs, allowing for a focus on the big picture messages about the benefits of better CSR.

 

Special: Why this budget is an employee engagement nightmare and how leaders can make it better

An open letter to leaders and communicators in the Australian Public Service and Government Agencies

It may seem frivolous to talk about employee engagement while a razor hangs over 16000 to 25000 people’s jobs*.

There are around a quarter of a million people within the public service going to work today wondering what their future will be following the first Federal Budget to be delivered under the new Government. They will be wondering whether they are part of the “pain with a purpose” that the Budget is set to administer. If not them, their colleagues. If not their colleagues, those in another agency to be merged, subsumed or integrated.

Poor communication during change has a substantial negative impact on employee engagement and consequently on productivity, performance and culture. Uncertainty is crippling.

Every time an employee hears something fundamental about their role from outside their organisation, trust is destroyed. For workers in the public service or other agencies, where the debate about jobs, roles and size is played out in public, this is a difficult time (It is also one that occurs to a greater or lesser extent each budget or electoral cycle.)

“Our fatigue is often caused not by work, but by worry, frustration and resentment.” – Dale Carnegie

Disruption disrupts

Major change – transformational change such as redefining the scope and remit of an agency, or bringing together separate departments – in the short term creates a range of predictable responses and an accompanying downturn in productivity.

Study after study** about the negative impacts demonstrate that a number of conditions are a guarantee of reduced trust and disengagement:

  • Creating a high level of ambiguity by referencing major change without specific details
  • Publishing information externally on change that impacts individuals publicly before communicating directly with them
  • Providing no opportunities for input to change or its implementation
  • Not gathering feedback
  • Gathering feedback or research and not acknowledging the findings (even if the findings cannot be acted on it is key to be transparent)
  • Making ‘big bang’ announcements that are not supported with ongoing change and communication initiatives.

The news isn’t all bad

Significant change is an opportunity to maintain and increase engagement. The approaches to implementing major changes – even where it requires cuts – can provide a catalyst for the kinds of leadership and communication that build trust and strengthen the capacity for change. Towers Watson have shown how organisations that get this right see benefits in productivity, trust and capability.

It is possible to communicate in a way that is humanistic and respects employees. A study by Hewitt of change and engagement during the GFC indicated that in those companies where managers were able to explain the context of the tough decisions, engagement was retained or even increased.

A leaner public service will require higher levels of engagement to deliver ‘more with less.’ Yet, unless these changes are led effectively with meaningful employee communication, the support of the employees required to do the work will be eroded at exactly the time they will be needed the most.

In the UK, the recession, and the bite on business and government triggered the Macleod Report, an investigation into the value of employee engagement in the workplace.  Subsequently this has become a major government initiative to foster higher levels of employee engagement as an economic driver.

“As our public services face the reality of an end to the years of rapid growth in investment, it is hard to see how the quality of service we all aspire to see – employees and citizens alike – can be achieved without putting the enthusiasm, commitment and knowledge of public service employees at the forefront of delivery strategies.” David Macleod & Nita Clark

Four things public sector leaders can do now to maintain engagement

1. Make real communication a priority now

All the Ministerial Releases that can be printed or posted on the intranets (plural) will not actually address the communication need at the heart of this challenge.

During uncertainty people need more real communication, and they need it from their managers and supervisors fast. The majority of trust and engagement is attributable to the actions of leaders and supervisors, not memos.

Real means two-way face-to-face communication. Dialogue, listening, and discussion are part of the sense-making process for major change.  This requires planning, commitment, time and skills – at a time when costs are being scrutinised. But the cost of not adopting real communication is another workplace-generation of low engagement and mistrust.

2. Listen

This is what it says on the tin. There are two levels of listening that are key. The first is as a leader, genuinely listen; take time to hear and acknowledge the experience of people facing change. The second is institutional listening; ensure that there are ways of capturing the attitudes, questions and concerns of employees. In environments where listening has not been high on the agenda this is a big – but symbolically priceless – change if it is done effectively. This doesn’t mean ‘just another survey’ or feedback box. It does mean engaging in dialogue about the reality of the changes.

3. Stop waiting to communicate until there is more information

There will always be an information gap. That doesn’t mean there should be a communication gap.  Realise that not communicating is not an option.  Talk about possible scenarios, and talk to facts. Talk about process in the absence of details of the change. When there is nothing to update, tell people there is nothing to update. Ask questions.  Or listen.

If employees are reading something outside the organisation – whether in the news or on twitter – be prepared for some form of communication inside.

Making an announcement then asking employees to ‘discuss this with their manager’ without equipping managers and supervisors to have next-level conversations about change sets them up to fail. Even in organisations with healthy levels of engagement, it is not uncommon for there to be a pain point at the mid-level manager. They are expected to be the local face of change, yet are also typically facing the impact of changes themselves.  If it’s important to increase the focus on communication during uncertainty for employees, it is twice as essential for managers.

4. Be real

Communication is never a substitute for strategy. If the strategy is going to be challenging, saying otherwise is not going to make it better. Although the public is accustomed to spin being part of the political discourse, spin has no place in employee communication.

Discuss what the future requires, what the current situation looks like, and what needs to happen to bridge that divide. For managers and supervisors, this means taking the time to be able to understand change and discuss it.

If you don’t know, say you don’t know. Establish links to the policy and strategic priorities you do have greater certainty about.

The seven things to do next

  1. Have a plan
  2. Understand the context
  3. Put it in real language
  4. Prioritise face to face and dialogue
  5. Listen
  6. Support managers in their role
  7. Communicate some more.

As change and uncertainty is a feature of every industry and sector and part of the landscape of business – the new normal – rather than accepting the negative consequences, leaders have the opportunity to face into the change and use the change as a catalyst for open, constructive communication.

 

*The Commission of Audit has up to 25000 jobs to be cut depending on the recommendations applied.

** including Towers Watson, TJ Larkin, Hewitt, Edelman Trust, Melcrum

Disclosure: I have provided advisory counsel, change and communication training to a number of Federal and State Government departments, agencies and directorates, both as Meaning Business and in my former role as Research & Content Director, Melcrum Asia Pacific.

Holiday Bonus, Introducing The Eleven Things

The Eleven ThingsSometimes a top ten is just not quite enough. In 2011, Meaning Business will be launching a new sister site, The Eleven Things.

The Eleven Things will publish collections of useful resources around the themes of communication, leadership, creativity, innovation, performance, culture, technology, story, mind, community and science.

As a preview, and following on from the last post about the ‘blue sky thinking’ that can happen on holiday, here is a preview.

The Eleven Things Holiday Edition

The Eleven Things Holiday Edition

The Eleven Things Holiday Edition (Low Res)

Meaning Business will be back in 2011.

Is instruction or direction better for engagement?

Do you return from holidays full of direction or full of instructions? One is better for engagement.

Direction or Instruction

Where are you going?

A leader I knew used the summer holiday as his ‘blue sky’ period. He would return from his trip refreshed and with a full to do list. His team had come to dread the return, as it frequently marked a change of strategy. In some cases this meant new efforts, change of direction, or even substantial reorganisation.

For his team, there was an important step missing. While he had given himself the time to think through his ideas, to internalise them and to create a to-do list at the end, his team would be frozen, waiting for the action plan. Four weeks of iterative thinking would be downloaded in an hour. In the months leading up to the break, they would shut down their thinking on new ideas or directions, knowing that there was little certainty of priorities on their return. And once the action plan was presented, there was a feeling that even if they agreed with the solution, they didn’t feel a sense of ownership as their input was missing from the actions now dictated.

The leader had come to believe that it was important that he take this time to make sure he provided clear instruction. But by doing all the thinking for them, he was missing an important opportunity to engage them in the problem and the solution. While there is great strength in aligning people behind a target, there is even greater motivation when people have context, information and an understanding of the problem or situation that they are seeking to solve.

What could he have done differently?

  • Balance destination, direction and detail. When it comes to implementation, people work with details. But before you get there, use the big picture to set the destination and establish direction. Your people might know a better route!
  • Provide clear context. Why is the number one thing, the number one thing?Customer, competitor, political, technological, social. What are the factors that informed your thinking?
  • Build the capability. Creating an environment that supports shared problem-solving, open communication, an outcome focus and clear decision-making takes time at first, but becomes a habit and can be done very effectively over time.

By giving up some control, and creating an environment with open communication, clear context, and strong sense of purpose, leaders can help their teams achieve results they may not have imagined on their own. There are times, such as during a crisis, when instruction will still be important. There is substantial evidence that during these times an engaged workforce goes beyond simply complying with instructions and commits to the outcomes.