If the economy continues to grow, even at a slower pace, employers will need employee buy-in and support to achieve everything from digital transformation to creating agile, innovative workplaces. The strategies for employee engagement and connection are every bit as significant as the ones we create for new products or market development – and can be just as challenging to carry out. This requires not only doing more through existing approaches but actually conceiving new ones. Here are some of the emerging human sentiments that companies must address if they are to really revolutionize their businesses.
- Stand Smart: It’s no longer okay to remain neutral on the issues of the day. Employees expect their leaders to show they are concerned about issues such as #MeToo, immigration, inequality and environmental impact. From Nike taking a stand on social justice in the NFL national anthem controversy to Ford highlighting how tariffs affect their operations, organizations are increasingly taking a stand on societal crises affecting their brands. We aren’t suggesting companies blithely and vocally criticize policies or actions they disagree with and praise those they agree with; as we are seeing with our clients, this requires a rigorous, thoughtful process. But continuing to simply observe and remain impartial now risks your credibility and stature with current and prospective employees.
- Structured dialogue trumps structured comms channels. Formal communication channels – town halls, Slack, Yammer, intranets – are fundamental to conveying and sharing information, but they’re not enough for today’s employee. Companies must create room and methods for ongoing, structured dialogue if they are to solve thorny problems and unlock growth potential. “From an HR perspective, over and over and over in our organization we emphasize the importance of the conversation – for each one of us to gain clarity about where our organization is headed and the role that each of us plays,” says Anne Cleary, vice president of Human Resources for Wilbur-Ellis, a marketer and distributor of agricultural products, animal nutrition and specialty chemicals and ingredients. “By formally asking diverse groups of people as they gather for meetings, and as we carve out special feedback focus groups, without management or HR, we have an opportunity to engage in two-way dialogue that will be visible to all.”
- Employee advocacy programs on the rise. Research suggests that brand messages travel five times more when shared by employees versus official communication channels. Companies and their communication leaders must create ways for employees to have more ownership of the formal internal channels and be allowed to mix company and personal content. Dell, for example, encourages its employees to post 80% about topics that are informative or personally interesting to them; only 20% of the content they share should actually be about Dell. While personal relevance is key, companies also need to make it easy for employees to share content. This can be achieved by conducting ongoing training, developing and modeling best practices and using an employee advocacy platform.
- Employees want to interact with their leaders and participate, “side by side,” in meaningful exchanges. This means going beyond the occasional site visit for leaders toward a willingness to roll up sleeves and work through important initiatives together. “As companies continue to grow and scale, leaders need to go the extra mile to foster meaningful connection and have their team members feel like their voice is heard,” says Divya Ghatak, chief people officer at Nevro, a global medical tech company. “For example, leaders need to carve out more time every week to sit with employees and talk through business challenges. That’s where real breakthroughs happen.”
- Employees continue to want to work for companies with a clearly defined purpose. According to a recent Deloitte survey, companies and senior management teams that are most aligned with millennials in terms of purpose, culture, and professional development are likely to attract and retain the best young talent. Now more than ever, employees will engage with companies that make them feel they are contributing to something meaningful. “Across virtually every industry sector, we’re seeing a workforce that favors companies who share their commitment to making a positive impact on the world,” says Steve Goodwin, principal of BrandFoundations, a brand and culture consultancy. “Organizations that can point to a ‘north star’ or greater purpose will have an easier time attracting talented employees, more and more of whom want to come to work for more than just a paycheck.”
Bottom line for 2019: Employees can help you thrive, creating new business opportunities and breaking through major barriers, if you are willing to take some risks. Can you create new ways for employees to regularly have input on the business and connect with one another – even if the connection isn’t always about the business? Are you willing to step off the sidelines and take a stand on a societal issue that matters to employees? And can you identify why your company does what it does, the difference it makes in the world, and how employees contribute? As we said at the outset, these are complex endeavors that require a different way of thinking from what you may have had up to now. But as other companies will attest to, the payoff is to your business and the bottom line is real.
This article is co-written by Ann Barlow and Courtney Ellul of Peppercomm
Ann Barlow (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a partner and president of Peppercomm’s West Coast. Courtney Ellul (email@example.com) is a SVP at the firm and divides her time between New York and London. Ann and Courtney are passionate about internal communications and helping clients to be the voices of employees and facilitators for engagement – and lasting, positive change.