Creating and maintaining genuine engagement with staff in organisations going through large and continuous change is difficult. This new posts highlights the fundamentals needed for good engagement and examples of where it’s worked well.
by Caroline Roodhouse
Here’s something we can all agree on.
In comms, change is nonstop.
Which wouldn’t be a bad thing if those changes involved bigger budgets, more resources and free cake on a Friday.
Sadly, most of those changes involve varying degrees of budget cuts and restructures resulting in all kinds of uncertainty and justified skepticism from employees.
With such responses routinely spreading through our organisations, how do we maintain genuine staff engagement and achieve effective internal communication?
When faced with such a monumental challenge, it’s sensible to simplify and seek tried and tested answers, rather than reinventing the wheel. And there’s no better place to look for an expert understanding of employee engagement than the Engaging for Success report from David MacLeod and Nita Clarke.
Identified in 2009, The four enablers of engagement, based on extensive research, have stood the test of time. They’re as relevant today as they were nine years ago.
So, what are the four enablers and what can we learn from them about keeping people informed and engaged through constant change?
…means visible, empowering leadership providing a strong corporate narrative about the organisation, where it’s come from and where it’s going.
‘When developing a corporate narrative it’s important to involve your own staff…’ writes David Holdstock in his article on telling your story. ‘Creating it doesn’t need to be a complicated task. A series of short focus groups can provide you with everything you need – and the things you don’t. These will give you a fantastic insight into what is in people’s minds already and what needs to be different.’
3 things comms can do:
- Local site visits to discuss organisational objectives, and change, and to find out about front-line issues
- A weekly brief/ team conversation to share key organisational messages
- ‘5 minutes with…’ some key questions answered by a leader about who they are and what they do, posted on the intranet with a photo.
Karl Connor, Senior Internal Communications Manager at Sellafield Ltd was tasked with connecting employees with their new corporate strategy after experiencing ten years of transformation involving changes of ownership, and switching from the public to the private sector (and back) – and there were more challenging changes to come. The team tackled the challenge by building on the pride that existed and connecting the dots between the past and the future. They created a ‘striking and easy to digest’ narrative through key themes and shared them via weekly bulletins, videos, executive blogs and other channels. The campaign generated positive contributions and enhanced engagement significantly, measured through qualitative and quantitative research. We can learn a great deal from their experience.
By celebrating past successes, providing clear information and sharing a well-defined direction, it’s possible to articulate a story that results in meaning and belonging.
…for reinforcing and challenging views between functions and externally. Seeing employees not as the problem, but as central to the solution, to be involved, listened to, and invited to contribute their experience, expertise and ideas.
Internal communication, as we know, is a two-way street and not a process designed to broadcast information. Particularly during times of change, it’s vital that employees are given the opportunity to have their say and contribute towards productive, meaningful conversations.
3 things comms can do:
- Arrange regular face-to-face meetings, where senior leaders invite staff to ask questions, express concerns and share their ideas
- Create ‘graffiti walls’, opened for a period, again inviting views and comments on a particular theme
- Set up ‘champion networks’ where keen employees gather and feed back views relating to specific topics on behalf of their colleagues.
These videos created by Christchurch and East Dorset Councils have helped to boost staff morale and give them a say directly with the Chief Exec, through their Carpool Chattyaoke campaign. Very creative inspiration!
…who focus their people and give them scope, treat them as individuals and coach and stretch them.
According to Liam Fitz and Klavs Valskov in Internal Communications, A Manual for Practitioners, ‘Line Managers can be one of the most powerful channels of communication in your organisation because people like to hear from and discuss issues with someone they know and, crucially, who knows them.’
Appreciating the potential that managers can bring is just the start of the story though. It’s our job as comms pros to make sure they’re equipped to carry out such responsibilities. They may not always have the necessary skills, knowledge and confidence and they’re likely to need a helping hand. This article suggests some of the things we can do to support them, and here are a few more:
3 things comms can do:
- Make sure they know what’s expected of them from a comms perspective
- Provide them with tools and materials that they actually want to use
- Coach them on the art of listening.
Sam Holdsworth, Internal Communications Specialist at Midland Heart ran a hugely successful campaign with zero budget promoting their Aspiring Managers programme to frontline staff. By sharing positive stories from existing engaged managers, in less than two weeks, the number of places on the programme had to be doubled, driving engagement across the organisation.
There’s an evident desire out there for people to inspire and motivate others – tap into it in your own organisations.
…the values on the wall are reflected in day to day behaviours. There is no ‘say –do’ gap. Promises made are promises kept, or an explanation given as to why not.
Leaders who are honest and who display strong moral principles are vital in an environment of change and uncertainty. People need to know they’re being told the truth, however hard it may be to accept. Comms pros can help by encouraging managers and senior leaders to role model certain behaviours – being open-minded, sharing credit with those who deserve it and helping to ensure that the organisation’s values aren’t just ‘words on a wall’.
3 things comms can do:
- Arrange ‘Back to the floor’ sessions, where senior leaders spend time with operational staff carrying out everyday duties
- Publicly feed back on views, ideas and suggestions submitted by employees
- Share results of employee surveys, reviews and focus groups in a timely honest and transparent way.
Employee engagement can be improved by providing clear direction, through honest and motivational leaders and managers that are willing to hear the views of others and actively listen to the wisdom of their people.
As busy comms pros, there are limits to what we can achieve but we have the skills and abilities to start making a difference. With never ending uncertainty, we need to find new ways to keep our people connected, motivated and engaged.
image by Tullio Saba