Is employee engagement a useful goal for internal comms? The answer appears to be no.
This is according to attendees of Cohn & Wolfe's November “Dinner & Dialogue” reception at the W Union Square, where nearly 20 senior communicators from large corporations gathered to discuss engaging employees throughout periods of change. All of the guests were responsible for some form of internal communications, and all agreed that the metrics that gauge the function's effectiveness, where they even exist, are entirely inconsistent. Employee engagement, while a convenient, all-encompassing buzzword, is based on so many factors – from leadership to compensation to personal career goals – that it's rendered almost meaningless as a metric.
So maybe it's time to retire employee engagement entirely and link internal communications to specific constructive behaviors rather than vague feelings of engagement. Let's put in place mechanisms for measuring and quantifying the specific actions that result, in part, from effective employee communications.
According to my guests, internal communications has a tangible impact on two overall organizational goals: alignment and loyalty. And both of these goals can be measured by collective behaviors.
For example, communicators help management align staff around common goals and strategic priorities by sharing information about the company's vision and strategy, financial performance, and the market's expectations. We want to help inspire employees to contribute everything they can – both individually and collectively – toward achieving our specific business goals, whether gaining market share over the next two years or reducing costs in the current quarter.
So how can we tell if these communications have had an impact on aligning staff around these goals? Start by measuring the degree of collaboration across teams and departments, participation levels in company-wide strategic initiatives or committees, and attendance at company-wide trainings - don't underestimate this last one. Establish a formal feedback mechanism for every job candidate to inform human resources about the levels of vision, passion, and consistency they heard from those who interviewed them.
Communicators also have a hand in improving employee loyalty. Retention is the most obvious measurement, as loyal employees tend to stick around. However, loyal employees also feel good about giving more to the company. They recruit other talent into the fold and serve as vocal believers in the brand and vision. So measure the percentage of job candidates that are referred by employees, or take a look at the number of employees who actively promote the company in their online social circles. Create peer-nominated award programs and watch if participation trends upward or downward. These are the kinds of measurable behaviors that provide solid evidence of the impact of communications.
It's much easier – and more effective – to measure behaviors than feelings. So, while some employees may be more engaged than others, the real test may not be what they say, but what they do.