Wednesday, 11 September 2019

The draining effect of ‘empty engagement'

We all know authenticity matters. To us as individuals, to our teams, to our organisations. So why do some organisations persist in tinkering with efforts to engage employees rather than really committing to it?  

Study after study highlights the importance of doing what we say we will. Of demonstrating integrity in our work and behaviour. This rather basic concept was last expressed in an ornate way by this year’s Edelman Trust Barometer, which sign-posted the importance of authenticity in a society wracked by ‘fake news’.

But it is hardly rocket science, is it? The thought that we might actually connect with and have greater confidence in someone who is genuine, has nothing to hide and makes real attempts to connect and communicate with us as individuals. I hardly think we need a multi-page research report to articulate this human truth.

Yet I still hear stories of organisations who approach engagement as a concept they feel they should act upon, without understanding the culture required to sustain it. This means any attempts are undermined from the start and can only be cosmetic: ‘empty engagement’ (let’s call it that), rather than a way of working that benefits everyone.

I once sat on a panel discussing what makes an engaging workplace. One of my colleagues cut through all the noise on the topic with this simple statement:

“If you’re going to change, you’ve got mean it”.

That, I think, is the fundamental point. 


Monday, 5 August 2019

Changing times should mean a changing role

There continues to be plenty of discussion around the changing role of the internal communicator. A particular seam of debate is the impact of rising peer-to-peer collaboration, enabled by tools such as those found in Office365.

The debate centres on whether the rise of such tools, and the resultant increase in peer-to-peer communication, make internal communication - in its ‘traditional’ form - redundant. The implication being that, if employees can speak directly to each other, why would they need communication from the company?

Sweeping past the simplifications (and generalisations) involved in this line of argument, I’d take issue with anyone who feels that a company no longer needs to share information or build dialogue with its employees.  To align discussions with business goals, peer-to-peer interaction and collaboration needs context. Any company should be providing that context through proactive and regular engagement with employees around purpose, vision, strategy and values. it should also be sharing and inspiring discussion around points of progress, ideas, and things that have gone well – or not so well – to help its global team pursue shared goals.

As a grandee of the field once said to me, informed discussion is likely to provide far more beneficial: for both employer and employees.

That said, our role as internal communicators does need to change if we are to help our organisations harness the opportunities that more peer-to-peer communication can offer. As professionals, all of us have embraced roles with many elements for many years. We have to be adept at flitting between those different facets, from strategic advice to event organisation, writing to content curation.

We now need to add another element: sparking and sustaining interaction.

We can help our organisations understand how to nurture a culture of greater connectivity and collaboration, using relevant tools and platforms, within the context of company goals. We can place and prize peer-to-peer interaction at the heart of a broader strategy to embed ‘common purpose’.

In essence, rather than being replaced by this type of peer-to-per interaction, internal communication could have a chance to add even greater value.

This is a tremendous opportunity, if not an imperative, for every internal communicator. Our role has always evolved. This is the latest development. 

Friday, 12 July 2019

Commoditizing employee engagement


There was a time when putting “employee engagement” into your browser brought forth pages of information relating to employee surveys.

“Looking to increase engagement? You must have a survey”, t’internet suggested.

No doubt all those survey providers were investing in SEO to bring their particular platform or product to the fore.

Nowadays, we’re seeing more and more links to technology.

“Looking to increase engagement? You need our product or tool”, those clever SEO types are now suggesting.

Have we really reached that level? When the field of employee engagement, with its broad spectrum of factors and component elements, is being commoditized in this way? So that SEO leads the uninitiated to equate engagement with the latest online tool or platform?

Of course, enlightened organisations committed to engagement as a method of business improvement – what David MacLeod used to call “transformational engagement” – ignore all this and get on with what they know matters. But I do worry that those new to the field: it can be amorphous, given its broad expanse, and I would hate to think that anyone does see new technology as a shortcut to success and then become disillusioned when it inevitably fails to meet expectations.

We’ve probably all seen people dazzled by the latest technology – what I’ve previously described as “shiny new toy syndrome” – rather than analysing what they’re trying to achieve and why, before identifying the best method(s). There is a danger of that becoming more prevalent: a risk that the proliferation of new platforms somehow becomes the story of engagement, rather than a tool that aids success.

I urge anyone exploring employee engagement for the first time to be aware of – and guard against – that risk!

Monday, 10 June 2019

Tick, tock, tick, tock


If I see one more treatise on the importance of - or tips for - engaging millennials, I may well scream. Not just because of the sweeping generalisation it implies, but because this rush to embrace more youthful segments of our workforce seems to ignore the fact we have an ageing one.

This brings to mind a Unum infographic from several years ago, which collated statistics on this issue in the UK. I remember the key ones: by 2020, employees aged over 50 will make up 1/3 of the working population and at least 20% of employees are now not planning to retire until 70+.  

So why is there currently so much emphasis on millennials and scant discussion of strategies for engaging older workers?

The cynic in me suggests that much of the commentary generated around millennials centres on new tools or platforms for which the generalisation provides a convenient sales hook (I know, shame on me). And I do think we’re risking missing out.

We need to take a broader approach – and that doesn’t mean inventing a new label, whatever the equivalent of ‘silver surfer’ might be in a company context. It means building more in-depth understanding of what our employees need. Some of our older workers will shame the most whizzy of technical wizz kidz with their knowledge of tools and platforms, others will be the other end of the spectrum. Funnily enough, the same will apply to millennials. So let’s look deeper than those labels at the needs and issues for the employee groups in our particular audiences. Some sophisticated planning and discussion around how organisations can continue to engage all segments of the workforce.

But at least recognising that we have an issue at one end of the age range, equivalent to (and maybe even greater than) those at the other end of the spectrum, would be a good starting point. 

Monday, 29 April 2019

Time to re-energize your employer brand?

Too often, the focus is ‘employer brand as recruitment tool’ but it’s just as important when it comes to retention.

Put brand, people, advocacy and experience together and you have a powerful argument for devoting significant HR and communication resource to the employer brand and the associated employer value proposition (EVP).

The merits of building (and delivering) a compelling EVP are well documented:
·       Seamless alignment between what the brand promises (for customers, clients and employees) and what it delivers in practice
·       Greater quantity and improved quality of potential recruits
·       Higher levels of engagement
·       Reduced cost to hire
·       Greater retention/reduced attrition

And yet, despite all the evidence, companies often fail to recognise the importance of an EVP, implement it in an inconsistent way or focus on the ‘recruitment proposition’ to the detriment of other crucial component parts.

In particular, organisations frequently fail to answer an important question: why stay?

Employer branding is not just about recruiting new people to join, it is also about encouraging existing employees to stay. The importance of articulating ‘why stay’ is borne out by research from the Corporate Leadership Council (now part of Gartner) which shows that a well constructed and executed EVP will increase the likelihood of employees acting as advocates from an average of 24% to 47%.

So what practical action can be taken to build a successful EVP for your existing workforce?
Here’s my top five:

1.     Recognise the importance of your employer brand. It’s more important than ever. By all means use the ‘why join’ element of an EVP to kick-start greater attention and effort in this area, but don’t let it stop there;
2.     Be inclusive and collaborative. Ask your people to play a part in developing the employer brand and identifying the steps that will make it an operational reality – this should include emotional attributes that may impact on style and tone of internal communication or more functional issues such as managing performance;
3.     Use the employer brand to truly differentiate. Many EVP exercises fail simply because they include a series of fine words that no one is going to disagree with and which simply mirror what every other company is saying – ‘excellence’, ‘integrity’, innovation’ etc etc. Give your people the opportunity to be your harshest critic;
4.     Invest in research to monitor any mismatch between the promise and reality and ensure existing employees are well-represented in this work;

Accept that the brand may have negative connotations with customers and clients – so acknowledge and address as you communicate internally, while at the same time accentuating its positive attributes

Nick Wright 

Monday, 22 April 2019

People are people


I suspect few would have synth-pop legends Depeche Mode down as pioneers of employee engagement. But the more complex that participants in this field try to make it, the more their simple refrain ‘People are people’ appeals.

The articulation and application of labels to groups in the workforce has almost become an industry in its own right. To be fair, it’s not just this profession: many protagonists have helped to light the fire, but we avidly fan the flames. And I’m not sure it’s doing us or our organisations many favours.

Supporters argue that such segmentation helps us make sense of changing workforce needs. Detractors say that it introduces massive generalisations that don’t help anyone.

Cynics might argue that developing new labels provides an opportunity to sell something different.

There’s probably some truth in each case. But I feel that developing labels has become a distraction from our core challenge of understanding and responding to the needs of our particular organisations and their people.   

Let’s get back to some basics and the principles that those boys from Basildon espoused more than 30 years ago. Let’s understand our people as they are. Not through the lens of a label that is foisted upon them.

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Sweet Comms and Genus: finalists in major awards

We are delighted that Genus and Sweet Comms have been shortlisted for two major UK awards, in recognition of the work done on internal communication:
  • We are finalists in Communicate magazine’s Internal Communications and Engagement Awards, for 'Best Ongoing Commitment to Internal Communications'. #ICEAwards
  • We are also finalists in the UK Employee Experience Awards for 'Internal Communication Strategy' #UKEXAwards
This news is tremendous recognition of our client's continuing commitment to effective internal communication. We are privileged to have played our part in working with them over the last five years.