OP-ED: 'Engagement' wins employees over

A quiet revolution is underway in employee communications. Increasingly, the focus is shifting from "informing" employees to "engaging" them.

A quiet revolution is underway in employee communications. Increasingly, the focus is shifting from "informing" employees to "engaging" them.

This trend poses many interesting questions for communications pros, including how best to partner with their colleagues in HR. Since many HR functions are well-positioned to lead employee-engagement efforts, communicators must offer new ways to connect with employees if they are to play a leadership role in engagement strategies. The point of employee engagement is to improve staffers' willingness and ability to contribute to company success - to put substance behind the often-stated CEO message, "Employees are our most valuable asset." The trick is to influence the behaviors of employees, not just their attitudes. A large body of data demonstrates that employee engagement affects business results. A Towers Perrin study shows a clear link between engagement levels, turnover, and performance. Engaged employees are more than twice as likely to want to stay with the company and invest their discretionary effort. A recent Watson Wyatt study shows that companies with high employee trust levels outperform companies with low trust levels by 186% (based on three-year total shareholder return). Hay Group found that Fortune's "Most Admired Companies" increased stock appreciation 50% over their peers after instituting pro-employee measures. HR functions often lead engagement efforts because they typically own the "people" systems that drive behavior change, such as performance management, training, and rewards. HR also usually owns the tools to measure employee engagement levels (such as turnover data and employee opinion polls), and is best positioned to persuade management to invest in improving engagement levels. Too often, PR people emphasize internal media campaigns or events designed to inform and influence employee attitudes. However, successful companies recognize that engaging employees requires a comprehensive, collaborative, and ongoing effort between business leadership, HR, and communications. They identify touch points that most affect employee behavior, then develop an integrated approach to infuse the strategic priorities through all sources of information and motivation. A number of companies have taken an innovative approach to employee communications. GM ensures that leadership policies, systems, and internal communications are in sync and focused on business performance measures that link behavior to results. Leaders articulate the business performance necessary to succeed, HR designs systems reflecting the measures to motivate employees to do the right things, and communications supports all of it by reinforcing the right messages and behaviors. GM employs 90 site communicators to integrate local priorities into state-of-the-business sessions, department meetings, print and electronic communications, and diagonal-slice exchanges. Sears is focusing all employees, including 5,000 at corporate, on achieving retail goals. Working closely with business leaders and HR, the PR group organizes town-hall meetings led by senior management to unveil the retail strategy and what's expected of employees. Employees then participate in a series of smaller "ownership/change meetings" focused on specific actions they can take to support the retail strategy. Individual results are measured and reflected in the bonus program. Honeywell is driving an effort to motivate employees to become better healthcare consumers. With input from business partners, HR identified four task teams of 120 employees to provide input on the design of a healthcare learning curriculum and a decision-support service. By involving these employees early on, Honeywell is creating support for the change effort, as well as a program that will have passed tough employee scrutiny before the rollout in January. Clearly, internal communications professionals can add value to engagement activities, but need to redefine their roles and focus on nontraditional ways of connecting with employees. Determine how communications can make HR more relevant. For example, if a bonus program includes unattainable performance measures, work with HR to create "line of sight" and tactics that enable employees to contribute to results. Work with business leaders and HR to develop an engagement strategy focused on a "journey" aimed at achieving business results. Through senior leadership, outline the destination (business goals) and plan for getting there. Address roadblocks by providing information and/or education. Help employees understand the big picture and make decisions in their jobs, such as training and manager coaching, and honest, timely information about the business. Establish checkpoints by involving employees and seeking their views; act on their feedback. Use rewards and recognition based on what matters most to employees - cash is not always king. Communicators who break out of traditional approaches focused on informing employees - and build relationships with HR - will find themselves key drivers in the employee-engagement revolution.
  • Monica Oliver is principal of Monica Oliver Consulting, a firm focused on connecting employees to business results.

  • Have you registered with us yet?

    Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

    Already registered?
    Sign in