Two-way symmetrical employee communication: tangible outcomes

A mistake that public relations professionals and/or organisations (and PR researchers/academics?) make too often is ignoring employees when it comes to the application of two-way symmetrical communication. Manifestations of practical outcomes where public relations should be achieving outcomes for employees include them having more control over their work activity, varying tasks, their work being respected and work expectations being clear.

PR helps employees and society get happy

Some of the most important reasons why PR/organisations should place a premium on employee communication include:

  1. Employees have the potential to be an organisation’s/product’s/service’s/brand’s greatest advocate (i.e. salesperson). (In a sense, employees are actually 3rd party advocates for the organisation, as most of them are not in management positions and not, therefore, inherently expected to ‘toe the corporate line’.) One outcome of this is increased sales
  2. Interpersonal communication is the most influential of all communication modes on other individuals, underlining the importance of point one
  3. Happy employees who trust their employers are more productive, thus helping an organisation achieve its business objectives.

Ideally, employees should be placed at the top of the tree in regard to organisational stakeholders, yet whilst the talk is talked often enough in this regard, I think we’d all agree it doesn’t translate into the walk as often as it should.

Happier employees work better

I was prompted down this line of thinking by a typically astute and interesting article by economics journalist Ross Gittins, who has a strong social seam running through his conscience and attitude to finance.

His article makes a number of points which I echo above, whilst he also points out research undertaken by two Canadian economists that shows, “life satisfaction – happiness – is significantly higher among workers who work where they rank management trustworthiness highly.”

This finding underlines what a serious responsibility all organisations have to the social fabric. Like it or not, organisations where people work impact on the holistic life of individuals and, by extension, those who they interact with and/or influence – i.e. society.

Organisations cannot rely on government regulation alone to guide them in the way they operate. Nor can they pretend they exist in a vacuum where their objectives and values operate in a ‘special’ sort of isolation from society.

Managers who are able to generate trust from their reports are more likely to be acting as a leader, rather than being a more process-defined ‘manager’. Perhaps a larger selling point is that improved trust in management, basically, ends up, having a greater impact on employees’ life satisfaction than an increase in income.

Public relations’ critical importance to employees and change management

Public relations has a profoundly important role to play in organisations behaving appropriately in regard to their employees.

The reason why advocating for employees is a fundamental part of public relations is that our role includes:

  • making organisational decision makers aware of its stakeholders’ perspectives
  • providing advice to organisations to help them evolve – both in the sense of what its objectives are and how to achieve them
  • communicating strategically on behalf of an organisation so that its operations and positions are understood, empathised with and, hopefully, subscribed to by stakeholders.

Underpinning this, of course, is the reality that communication is inherently two-way. Taking the perspective that communication is all broadcast/one-way is a dinosaur attitude. In our complex, hyper-connected stakeholder world an organisation cannot take a high and mighty-disconnected position. This is pure hubris and, in western democratic civilisations at least, a certain road to ruin.

We can’t rely on the process-driven human resources departments to instigate or cultivate changes within organisations that lead to the best possible culture. It’s actually within public relations remit so we need to fulfil our potential and run with it:

  1. Find where relevant research exists, like that referred to in this post, that informs, influences and shapes cultural change processes
  2. Undertake internal market research; identify issues, blockers and where opportunity lies
  3. Present the information in business-relevant terms and shake that tree until impact occurs – use our PR/advocacy skills!
  4. Instigate change management processes, which need organisational leadership buy-in.

Don’t die wondering!

Does it take effort, time and money to bother listening (i.e. short-term pain)?

Sure.

Will it lead to a greater degree of engagement and advocacy from employees; to a better return on organisational investment; to a healthier society with happier people (i.e. long-term gain?).

You can bet on it.

Have you been involved in employee communication where you have applied two-way symmetrical communication? How have you advocated the position of employees? Can you tell us about your work in this area or where you think the approach espoused above should have taken place?

PR-driven thought leadership turbocharges employer branding

Employer branding is something of a chic sub-section of contemporary branding, yet marketing has yet to get its head around how to leverage PR to achieve a best-possible outcome. Actually, marketing has yet to figure out how to leverage marketing to best effect! But it’s an exciting and incredibly worthwhile dimension of business communication and one where dialogue/conversation/change based on feedback really does have an opportunity to occur.

PR thought leadership for employer brandingIn my previous post on employer branding I talked mainly at a more strategic level and talked extensively about thought leadership. And this is all lovely, isn’t it, but let us not, dear congregation in the Church of PR, dwell on the theory, let us deliver results and make clients and bosses happy!

So let’s get pragmatic, practical and, ultimately, potent.

Rolling out PR thought leadership to ramp up employer branding

A plan needs to be designed for the rolling out thought leadership content that has been created to enhance employer brand equity. There are three basic options that should always be considered for external communication:

  • Media placement
  • Placement on non-organisational social media platforms
  • Placement on organisational social media platforms, with a blog probably being best practice dependant on the organisation and its situation. But this is not no-argument position (other options include using it on a traditional corporate website or Facebook, for example).

Of course, the best approach will probably be a blend of these options.

Methods of placing/distributing the content include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Generation and placement of by-lined op-eds in media
  • Issues-based PR media campaigns that seek multiple media placements
  • Guest posts on relevant blogs
  • The offering of interviews with organisational leaders to relevant bloggers.

A further option for leveraging this content is through speaking engagements. The primary target audience for all this communication is potential employees. This means industry conferences and/or industry association professional education programs relevant to vocations the organisation wants to recruit (e.g. IT, finance etc) will be the first port of call when looking for platforms through which to convey the thought leadership content.

Thought leadership for employee engagement

Even when using social media as a platform on which to roll out thought leadership, there is a strong whiff of ‘broadcast’ (i.e. one-way communication) inherent within it. The real opportunity for two-way communication and a deep level of engagement comes with internal communication – internal employer branding, if you like.

Public relations platforms for internal communication include:

  • Newsletter
  • Special thought leadership-customised bulletins – digital or hard copy
  • Presentations by relevant thought leaders
  • Intranet
  • Putting it on the agenda for every small-group team meeting.

A further option are broadcast emails pointing to where external media (or social media) coverage has occurred that either overtly or subtly helps employer brand positioning. This does great things for employee ownership of the brand.

But you really need to point out where the organisation has taken a bollocking if doing this, as you can’t have it both ways. Rationalise the bollocking, by all means, but don’t try to ignore it. Do so, and employer brand equity does a nosedive.

A mix of platforms will no doubt be most effective at achieving a higher degree of engagement, but I particularly like the option of team leaders (teams being, say, a maximum of about 20) extolling the need of every team member to read the thought leadership content, then leading a discussion about its ramifications.

This is a great way to:

  • enhance the value of, and insights provided by, the thought leadership content
  • make it relevant to and resonant for each individual
  • ramp up the levels of empathy and understanding between team members (hello – productivity come on down!)
  • build business-relevant dialogue – any team leader worth a pinch of salt will feed information of utility up through the hierarchy so that it can help the organisation evolve and fulfil its mission statement.

‘External’ social media tactics for internal audiences

Don’t think that social media hosted external to the organisation cannot help with internal engagement. Why not promote organisational presence on social media and encourage employees to engage with it?

What better way to exhibit to potential employees what a switched on workforce that you have? Of course, some organisations may feel they are giving the keys of the asylum to the lunatics, loosening brand control strictures. But baby, this is so old school, so redundant and so not facing the reality that brand is a shared construct, not a command and control one.

Somewhat ironically, employees in this context are actually a 3rd party, providing 3rd party credibility endorsement of a brand they actually work for. It’s an interesting strategic approach, a cute switch, and one with potentially huge value. If your employees are not your greatest brand advocates, then I’d suggest you ditch the employer branding program – I’d get to work on a cultural change program!!!

Have you experienced social media being utilised for effective internal communication/employee engagement? How can external communication outcomes be leveraged internally – can you share any thoughts or experiences? What have you learnt from putting thought leadership into practice? And how have you actually added intellectual or strategic value to the process and content?

PS: I’d welcome you joining my 1,400-strong LinkedIn network (send me an invite!) or interacting with me through Twitter.

Inspiring events: marketing’s killer app

This is a guest post by Toni Brasch (below right)* – an experienced event management professional – of cicreate.

Having worked in the events industry for over 15 years, I have continually witnessed deep levels of engagement by audiences in events that companies run. I see this form of communication being a vital part of marketing, public relations, employee engagement and reward & recognition communication strategies.

Toni BraschWhen a major corporation was forced to cancel its internal reward and recognition event earlier this year due to bad press (they asked that in the middle of the GFC, how could such money be “wasted”), nothing was mentioned by the press about:

a)      the importance of recognising and rewarding employees, highlighting outstanding efforts and hence increasing morale, motivation and productivity

b)      the amount of money this pumps back into the events industry, helping small businesses to survive.

Employee engagement

With a captive audience, live events can communicate effectively, appealing on an emotional level like no other means. Most effective is integrating a pre and post-communication campaign into the event.

Pre-communication can be used to excite, update and educate. Post communication is used to reinforce the key messages and as a reminder of the impact at the event, whether it be through graphic (photos and video) or written means.

A live event is like going to the theatre – except we only get one chance to get it right – there’s no time for an ‘off’ night.

Communicating messages

There are various ways to communicate a message in events. A person who has an experience to share, who can take a company’s key messages or theme and integrate these into their own experience is, in fact, storytelling. Not in a fictional sense, but instead is bringing to life their experience and using an analogy to make the communication more tangible.

For example, keynote speakers, such as Glenn and Heather Singleman –the extraordinary couple who use their base jumping and climbing experiences to address such topics as fear, risk, challenge, planning and preparation – integrate video, graphics and verbal communication to make an impact like few can on their audience.

The audience, almost unknowingly, is processing the key messages by allowing the visual comparisons to do the work for them – next time they are faced with any of their own challenges they can remember the tools that these people use and apply them to their own situation.

Being in a live environment where there are people to share and discuss, have questions answered in open forums and workshops to consolidate ideas, allows for immediate feedback and the ability to put into place action plans for ‘real life’, back-at-the-office work.  

Team building

Team building is another effective way of communicating messages and improving on weak areas within a business. How many employees only know the people within a five metre radius of their work area? How many times do they go into the shared kitchen and find themselves making coffee with a ‘colleague’ they know nothing about?

The days of the social club are ever-decreasing, with family commitments and personal priorities minimising the interest. Therefore, it has become more reliant on the employer to create the feeling of ‘teaming’.

The ‘90s were full of climbing ropes, balancing on tight ropes, untangling people from others and trivia games. The new century brought with it Cooking Schools, Treasure Hunts, Murder Mysteries and technologically driven Mountain Climbs. These experiential team building programs can now play an important part in building an internal event strategy, ensuring the person in the kitchen next time has a new connection with his/her colleague and encouraging them to engage in conversation – business or personal.

So back to the ‘waste of money’! If a company stops communicating in a live environment, stops rewarding and recognising employees in front of their peers, relying on emails and newsletters to distribute key messages, then how do we inspire, excite and motivate our people – the key component of any business?

What is your experience of events that have been run to engage and motivate employees? How did they impact on your relationship with the organisation and/or your commitment to your work? What about your colleagues? How did they react? Did you undertake any formal market research to calibrate the impact of the event(s)? What place do events have in employee and external public relations and marketing strategies?

[*After beginning her working life in the theatre as an actor and stage manager, Toni completed a Diploma in Theatre at Sydney’s renowned Ensemble Theatre. Discovering that there was a need to put food on her plate, she swapped acting for a diverse career in hospitality, including management of restaurants in London and Sydney as well as marketing and function co-ordination.

Discovering her passion for event production and learning everything she could by working within the industry for six years, Toni established Toni Brasch Event Management (TBEM) in 1998, leading a team of dedicated and creative people to produce successful events for an array of corporate clients in finance, telecoms, FMCG and travel. TBEM was acquired in 2007 by cievents, the event’s division of Flight Centre Limited, where she continues her role as an Executive Producer in their production division – cicreate. Toni can be contacted at toni.brasch@cicreate1.com]