Effective Employee Communications - Thrive during an economic downturn!

Nov 17 08:16 2008 Sarah Perry Print This Article

In an increasingly competitive marketplace, effective employee communications plays a critical role.

No news is definitely not good news from an employee communications perspective.

October 2008 Research from Weber Shandwick showed that 71% of people felt that their company should be communicating more about current economic problems. Unfortunately,Guest Posting the uncertainty caused by lack of internal communications can cause staff to be less productive. In fact, Workforce Week reported in October 08 that 48 percent of staff said that the economic uncertainty has caused them to be less productive at work. 

Uncertainty due to a lack of effective internal communication can cause high performing employees to jump ship. Low morale within remaining staff can impact customer interactions and damage brand identity.

In a competitive marketplace, organizations need to be agile, to reduce process inefficiencies and to increase effectiveness across the business. Effective employee communications plays a critical role in achieving these goals with an investment that’s small compared to value gained.

Employee communication tips during an economic downturn:

Don’t cut employee communications

When budgets are tight and the future looks uncertain a knee-jerk reaction can be to pull back to the bare essentials and not try anything new. Organizations may be tempted to cut costs in areas such as Internal Communications at a time when effective employee communications are even more essential.

The Return On Investment (ROI) of effective employee communications can be huge. Watson Wyatt’s 2007/2008 Communication ROI Study showed that:

“Effective employee communication is a leading indicator of financial performance…a significant improvement in communication effectiveness is associated with a 15.7 percent increase in market value”.

Firms that communicate effectively are also four times as likely to report high levels of employee engagement as firms that communicate less effectively. Good employee communications can also help create an advantage that competitors aren’t likely to have.

Internal Communications Channels - Tips:

Engaging. Use engaging employee communications channels. Overt tools such as Desktop Alerts can be used to achieve maximum cut through for important and/or urgent messages and updates. Digital Signage on screensavers provides a more passive and visual way to raise awareness of key themes. Web 2.0 channels allow you to quickly and easily set up secure online blogs, discussion forums and interactive helpdesks with little budget or IT resource.

Measurable. Ensure the channels you use provide full reporting on message cut-though and readership. This can be particularly important for HR communications during uncertain times.

Track performance. Use staff surveys and polls as a way to assess what’s working, measure attitudes and levels of understanding as well as tracking trends. 

Targeted.  Use channels that allows messages to be customized and targeted to specific staff groups.

Repetition. Use a range of different ways to communicate and repeat key themes so that messages do not become ‘wall paper’.

Reduce information overload. Use a staff Emag to aggregate ‘news and admin’ updates in order to  reduce email overload and the impact it has on productivity.

Drive performance. Use staff quizzes to gather cost savings or efficiency initiatives, reinforce messages and new behaviors.

Build community.  Use staff electronic magazines to allow staff to tell their own stories in their own words. Social media channels should be authenticated to employees computers to allow staff to securely participate in online discussion forums and blogs.

Be visible, honest and open

  Be willing to communicate before you have all the answers. Employees need communication ‘right now’ to remove uncertainty that may be hindering their productivity. Not communicating with employees does not mean that they are not communicating. It means that you have lost control over any positive messaging and the chances are excellent that your employees are painting a far worse picture than is actually occurring.

Tell employees what you know, what you don’t know, and when you will provide further information. Explain the steps the organization is taking to identify issues and resolve problems. Don’t make promises you may not be able to keep.

Be open and transparent with performance data. Candor helps gain public support for necessary actions that may follow. Employees rarely feel worse after having positive contact with a genuine, candid leader.

A CEO / senior managers blog can act as an ongoing ‘town hall meeting’ that makes senior managers more accessible to staff.  Staff can ask questions and seek clarification in a format that is similar to open dialogue.

  

Be timely

Coordinate your internal and external messages and be timely. Employees should hear company news from the company first. Nothing is worse to an employee’s moral than hearing about changes to their organization from media sources or family and friends before they have been informed by their employer.

Keep track of when employees last heard from you and schedule when you’ll send updates, regardless of developments.

Manage Rumors

Manage rumors. Get information out early and explain that you will provide regular updates, rather than letting rumors proliferate whilst you wait. In the absence of alternative information, staff may accept available rumors as “the truth” (if the rumors weren’t true they would have said so) causing you to lose your best people first.

Some organizations set up an online discussion forum specifically as a ‘rumor mill’ where staff can anonymously post anything they have heard. Executives may not want to sanction a rumor mill. However, rumors exist regardless of the channel and a discussion forum provides an opportunity to correct them quickly. 

Limit potential damage from managers’ informal conversations that are overheard and serve only to undermine other communications efforts or create rumors. Use secure channels for electronic ‘manager only’ communications. 

Involve managers in delivering messages

Employees prefer communicating with their immediate manager than with any other level of management. This is especially relevant during times of uncertainty. So use your team. Make sure they know how and what to communicate, and that no one is a bystander.

It is also helpful to get a wider communications support team in place - not just the core communications or management team, but a wider network of champions, supporters and coordinators.

What will the company look like if it’s successful? This vision needs to be expressed at a high level and then translated down to individual departments and staff in terms of what it means to them. Line managers and supervisors are a great resource for providing this context.

Measure and manage the effectiveness of line manager communication with employees. What gets measured gets done.

Provide 2 way communications channels

Provide opportunities for two-way communication. Invite employees’ questions, concerns and suggestions. Welcome all kinds of feedback including negative comments…sometimes people simply need a place to vent frustrations before they emotionally move on. Acknowledge emotions and probe deeper to understand the real issues.

Use face to face meetings for sensitive issues and allow plenty of time to hear responses and answer questions. Staff may think of additional questions later on, therefore channels should be in place to address these subsequent questions. Web 2.0 tools can provide an opportunity for a genuine conversation as an alternative to ongoing face to face meetings. Other alternatives such as opinion polls and suggestion boxes can also be put in place.

Focus on outcomes and drive performance

Don’t overly focus on cost cutting and productivity messages. These messages are clearly important but it is also necessary to help staff stay positive by inspiring them, highlighting genuine good news stories and keeping focus on future opportunities rather than just the current pain.

Show your strengths. Reinforce the core competencies and values that make your organization successful. Talk about how they will help the organization thrive in the future.

Maintain a positive focus on achieving performance targets. Don’t let negative views of the economy be an excuse for failure to meet targets.

Engage Staff in reducing inefficiencies

Involve staff and solicit their ideas for cost reduction and efficiency campaigns. Enlisting the help of employees to cut costs lets them know that ‘we are all in this together’.

Once a few success stories are found, highlight them in staff communications channels (printed magazines, newsletters, E-Mags, etc). Tell stories about what departments or individuals are doing to reduce cost or increase efficiencies. Offer rewards or a personal thank you for good ideas and initiatives. 

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About Article Author

Sarah Perry
Sarah Perry

Sarah is a Director of Snap Comms, a company which provides specialist Internal Communications Channels. http://www.snapcomms.com/

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