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.

Friday, 22 February 2019

Employee engagement: “a tool for control, not emancipation”?

One of the things that really attracted me to employee engagement, many years ago, was the prospect of challenging traditional, ‘command and control’ models with a more collective, mutually beneficial approach. But has the field failed to deliver on this promise?

I ask the question following a panel discussion at the launch of The Oxford Handbook of Meaningful Work earlier this week. One of the issues discussed was the role of employee engagement, with one panellist calling it “a tool for control rather than emancipation”.

Is that really what it has become?

I have to say I don’t believe this is anywhere near universally true: I have been privileged enough to see, work with and work for a number of organisations that have recognised the strength of plurality and shaped working practices around it.  

I see the benefits of that collective approach in companies of all types and sizes. It aids the organisation and it aids individuals.

However, based on this week’s discussion, there are clearly organisations in which employee engagement has been adopted – maybe subverted – to reinforce rather than redefine ‘command and control’. Giving it another name, if you will, rather than exploring new ways of working.

Over the years, I’ve heard various reservations leading to reticence on employee engagement. They have included venturing into the unknown, being concerned about ambiguity and/or a fear of “letting go”.

I’ve also talked to leaders and managers who have worked through such concerns with their people and come out the other side, with stronger organisations as a result.

I hope those who are not yet on board with this approach come to understand its benefits and work with their people to grasp them. Employee engagement, in its true sense, opens up many opportunities.

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

What's new about trust?

The latest Edelman Trust Barometer provides the usual mix of insights and commentary on public trust. The headline to me was that the relationship people have with their employer is now the one they value most. In the words of Richard Edelman in Davos, “the employer is the most trusted institution in the world.”

This is interesting. At this point in history, we feel our employers are the institutions closest to us. We place our trust in them and expect them to honour that trust, now more than ever. As Richard Edelman expounds, we believe we can influence our employer (he cites the Google walk-out in November last year as an example), we want our employer to play an active role in the local community and we expect our CEO to be a shining light, taking action on social issues without waiting for government.

The crystallisation of the CEO’s role as an ‘activist’, for want of a better term, is an interesting insight that I’m sure will command more exploration and analysis. However, I was disappointed in some of the other conclusions drawn from the research. In particular, the four-part model developed to sum up steps to success: “the new employer-employee contract”, as Edelman have termed it.

The first part talks about the importance of purpose, “a big idea” as Richard Edelman termed it at Davos. In other words, employees believe an organisation should do more than seek profit. That’s hardly news, is it?

Similarly, the second element of the model focuses on ‘Empowering Employees’: this has been central to the concept of employee engagement, and at the heart of high-engagement cultures, for many years. Surely the idea that employees need to be informed and should be your “first order of business” is simply common sense.

The third element suggests employers must ‘Start locally’ by contributing the communities in which they are based. The words may be different, the concept is not new.

Finally, the model’s requirement for ‘CEO Leadership’ breaks little new ground, emphasising as it does that CEOs must be exemplars of an organisation’s values and engage directly with people, on a personal level, both within and beyond the organisation. There is some new context associated with this, given the point around activism and social focus outlined above, but the basic guidance is not a revelation.  

Overall, then, I couldn’t help feeling a tad underwhelmed, as I often am with new models. On this occasion, too, I am reminded of previous (and rather ephemeral) attempts to establish an intangible ‘contract’ between employers and their people.

The research crystallises the context in which organisations are now operating and reinforces the responsibility that employers have. However, many of the solutions proposed, in my view, re-tread familiar ground. Much of the advice already exists in different forms and enlightened employers are already working with it.

I don’t think we need another re-framing of good practice: we need to get on and deliver it. 

Monday, 21 January 2019

What is your ideal day?

Given that a new year often prompts people to think about a new role or next steps, I thought I would dust off this post from a couple of years ago. Hope it is of help to someone. 

A few years ago, when I was weighing up the next step in my career, I was asked a question that really helped me crystallise things. I thought I would share it in case it also helps you.

I was canvassing a range of contacts, clients and former colleagues about what my next move should be. One of them asked me this: “What is your ideal working day?”. 

The question was simple, yet deceptively powerful. It encouraged me to strip away all the different factors and considerations that might otherwise have clouded my thinking. It made me focus on exactly what it is that inspires, excites and motivates me every day and enables me to do my best for the people I work with and for.

It helped me crystallise what I wanted to be doing on the road ahead and led me to set up the communication consultancy I have been running ever since. Without considering that question, and working out how I could bring my ideal day to life, I might not have done things the way I have, or maybe enjoyed it as much as I have.

Everyone’s ‘ideal working day’ is different, and the answer will change over time. I had different views 20 years ago, when I first entered this industry. My aims and priorities will no doubt evolve further in the years ahead. But asking myself the same question every now and then will help me assess this and make sure I’m still doing what I truly want to.

If you’re in a similar position now, or considering your future career path, I’d encourage you to consider that same question. It might give you the clarity or focus you need.

I found my ideal day. I hope you find yours.

Thursday, 17 January 2019

A 'detox' plan for internal communication

It must be January: lots of people I know have suddenly discovered a deep-rooted desire to cleanse  themselves and their lifestyles from every perceived impurity. They’re marching under the banner of ‘wellbeing’ towards the promised land of energy, vitality and self-contentment.

Despite this slight, and rather hypocritical, cynicism - I’ve often considered something similar, but never quite closed the ‘intention-action’ gap - there is a laudable aim here. The idea that we should take a step back and examine how we can look after ourselves a bit better. Shouldn’t we be doing the same as organisations?

We’re all so busy, all the time, that it’s difficult to pause and take a fresh look at how we might improve the effectiveness (and/or efficiency) of internal communication practices. Yet checking the alignment of plans, narrative/messaging, and tools/channel sets with business needs can pay great dividends for the rest of the year. So before 2019 really takes off – and in the manner of all good detox programmes - here is my six-step plan for success:

  • Explore the environment – you’ll probably have plenty of sources of information on strengths, weaknesses and opportunities that you haven’t had the chance to review and interpret. Now is the time to collate such data and derive insights that will help you enhance effectiveness during the year (as well as identifying any gaps in knowledge that you need to fill)
  • Involve stakeholders – you’ll know whose input you require (some will be leaders, others won’t). Approach and gain their views on current effectiveness and future goals for internal communication. If you’ve got time and scope, seek to involve employees more widely (although sometimes maligned, focus groups can be highly productive if you can gain the cross-section of people you need)
  • Articulate objectives – being clear on what you want to achieve, and with whom, is not as easy as it sounds. But drawing on the research and analysis above, it’s a valuable exercise to articulate your overall aims and ‘desired response’ from different employee segments. A simple summary can become a practical reference tool during the year to ensure the messages, activities and tools you employ always align with what you want to achieve
  • Remain focused – it’s easy to be attracted by what’s possible, but is it desirable given your objectives? I’m sure we’ve all seen people fall victim to ‘shiny new toy syndrome’, in which they appear dazzled by the potential of new technology, but introducing such tools isn’t always the answer. Reviewing and refreshing current channels could be a more effective and efficient way of achieving your goals
  • Prioritise activities – don’t try to boil the ocean. As the old adage goes, it’s better to do a few things well rather than spread yourself too thinly. Concentrate on the core programme of activities required to achieve your objectives and augment these when feasible, given budgets and resources
  • Change where needed – last but not least, if you’re picking up signals that things need to change, respond to them. If you set the ball rolling on any exercise like this, you need to heed the findings, or the opportunity for improvement will just wither on the vine.
I’m sure there are many other steps and opportunities, but these are six simple steps that could help you ‘detox’ internal communication and aid alignment with business needs for the year. Even small changes could have a significant impact…