When we think of employee communication most organizations focus on information tools. These include intranet sites, staff magazines, CEO blog, Town Hall meetings and so on. Whilst all these employee communication methods are to be applauded, they inform employees about what is going on. To truly engage employees in the process of change, for instance, a merger or acquisition, a re-organization, financial results or corporate social responsibility, employee communication methods need to be designed to actively engage employees.
Employee engagement should always result in some positive change of behaviour which will then lead to the achievement of organizational goals. Just distributing information by any of the above methods will not achieve the change in employee behaviour and organizational outcomes you are looking for.
Here are 5 tips that will ensure that your employee communication methods do achieve those outcomes.
1. The first tip is to establish whether the tools and methods you are currently using to communicate with employees are engagement strategies or information tools. So gather all the tools used and identify all the methods used, their frequency, intended audience, whether they are one way or two way communication vehicles and review the key messages.
2. The second tip is important because your ultimate aim in employee communication has to be to create the "Aha Moment". The "Aha Moment" is based on information that challenges the employee's belief about an aspect of the business. The information that suddenly helps employees say, "Now it makes sense", "Now I understand", "Now I can do something about it". Once you know what the "Aha Moment" is this will form your key message and the basis of your design of your employee communication strategy.
3. This third tip explains the best type of research to find out what the "Aha Moment" is, and the best type for this purpose is focus group research. Focus group research allows you to ask employees about your business and their thoughts on competitors, to identify the largest gap between what customers think and what staff think customers think, and to identify what would create a paradigm shift in employee's thinking. It also helps you identify how you will measure the impact of the change in employees thinking and to determine how significant it is to achieving the business objectives.
Focus groups are a good format as they allow you to explore issues further and sometimes you will discover issues or ideas you hadn't considered prior to the session. Focus groups generally are held for one and a half hours duration and in groups of 8 – 10 participants. As the facilitator, your role is to lead the discussion but leave the actual dialogue to the participants, bringing them back to the main issue if they have gone off on a tangent or to ensure that all the topics that you wanted to cover within the allocated timeframe are covered. A well facilitated focus group will identify the key messages for your employee communication strategies as they relate to a particular business issue.
4. The fourth tip is that once you have your focus group outcomes, you can then begin designing employee communication strategies that engage employees. You should have a clear understanding about what employees know and what the facts are, and the gap between the business facts and staff perceptions. This forms your key message to create the "Aha Moment".
5. The fifth tip is that you take the key information from the focus groups, identify a business issue that you feel sure your employee communication strategies can impact on. By using that information and work together with that area of the business you then implement an employee communication strategy that can be measured by business outcomes.
Once you have gathered all this information you then need to design employee communication strategies that engage employees around the one central message. Many of these employee communication strategies will actively involve employees in some aspect of change by designing communication methods that will require employees to participate. These engagement strategies are then supplemented by employee communication information tools.
Marcia Xenitelis is a recognized authority on the subject of change communication and helping organizations get traction with strategy. She has consulted widely to business, spoken at conferences around the world and has developed products focused on change management.
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