Jenny Perkins, Head of Engagement at Cirrus, looks at new ways to engage employees.
Once upon a time, internal communication was all about broadcasting messages. In some organisations, it still is. But more and more, employees expect to be actively involved in dynamic, two-way interaction with leaders. In this age of social media and 24/7 digital availability, some internal communications channels are looking a bit creaky. And while many businesses now have multiple, sophisticated methods of communicating with customers, few offer the same range of options to employees.
There are of course some wonderful examples out there. The explosion in use of social media and online networking has certainly created opportunities. I’ve seen leaders use social media very effectively to make themselves accessible to employees – an iPad selfie is often better received for its authenticity than a glossy corporate video. Social media can enable employees to interact and provide up-to-the-minute feedback to employers, ensuring their voices are heard.
For employers, the ability to communicate with employees 24/7 in real time via mobile is very compelling, especially as more employees are now willing to receive work messages on their personal smartphone – although as I commented in The Times recently, it’s best to do this in a controlled environment such as an app. This helps to separate work life and personal life and makes it easier for the employee to switch off.
Where organisations use platforms effectively is when they recognise that the success of social media is based on the ability to interact, share and feedback. Used as a broadcast tool it is no more or less effective than any other kind of channel. However, the opportunity to create ongoing sharing and feedback is very powerful.
Social platforms can help build powerful connections across an organisation. They can connect leaders to all employees, or link peer groups, project teams and cross functional teams. When it comes to how successful these social platforms are, a lot comes down to the culture of your organisation and how committed your leaders are. If leaders are committed to transparency, openness and collaboration, the business can succeed in breaking down silo mentality and commence the journey towards becoming a truly connected organisation.
Senior leaders need to consistently role model the values and behaviours in an authentic way, creating effective stories which take people with them to deliver direction and purpose. Line managers need to be capable of having high impact conversations both collectively and with individual members of their team, ensuring they help employees make the connection between their role and the delivery of direction, purpose and brand promise. HR and Internal communications departments can guide and support leaders and managers but they cannot do it alone. Social platforms are simply tools, after all. It takes commitment to make them work.
Effective internal communications really do rely on leaders taking ownership and responsibility. So, build the capability of your leaders and managers to share stories effectively and to have courageous conversations. Combined with compelling multi-channel communications and effective social networking tools, this really can create genuine engagement.