HR and Marketing are often the departments under the most pressure from company boards. They have more in common than many think as they are both spending departments facing a constant need to explain expenditure, demonstrate ROI and generally justify their existence.
The evolution of the employee communication model is following a similar path to developments adopted in market and customer communications.
First we had mass marketing which was, in turn, replaced with segmentation and attempts to communicate to specific groups. As the ability to segment became more specific, due to the accessibility of intelligent profile data, the ‘holy- grail’ for marketers for many years became one-to-one marketing. But before many organisations had successfully implemented a one-to-one model, the speed of change and evolution was further unsettled by the introduction of social media and ‘pull’ marketing.
The buzz word of today in communications is relevance. People – whether customers, consumers or employees – demand the ability to be able to pull the information they believe is of interest and relevant to them, and to do so through a channel of their choice.
This is the communications challenge for organisations, particularly at a time when the need for employee motivation and engagement has never been greater, and the barriers in its way never stronger.
Many organisations still follow the mass marketing model when it comes to employee communications – at best occasionally adopting segmentation by departments or diversity groups. Outside of work, people are regularly consuming information and knowledge personalised though social media platforms, or online interaction, intelligently able to search for and pull content of interest and relevance to them. It is not surprising then to hear they will expect to be able to do the same when consuming information and knowledge while at work.
Organisations should therefore take some time to consider whether there are better ways they could make information available to their employees and enable them to consume in a format and time relevant to them.
In the world of external communications, many businesses are moving away from pushing lots of content and information to customers. Instead, time and effort is being deployed in building knowledge hubs and/or information websites, where the information is categorised and easily searched and pulled. Communications are then sent to inform customers of what is available – in many cases what they believe is new and relevant content to them after having profiled and tracked their interaction online, with quick and easy links to access the information.
Social media is transforming the speed at which information is both obtained and shared.
Organisations should think whether lessons could be applied here to the way they develop and manage their intranet sites; the ways they store information in shared access directories; or even the way they deploy information through offline channels.
When we consider and review employee communications we have to change the focus of the ways we review employee communications in board meetings or other management review processes. All too often, the question asked is, "Did we get the communication out to staff?", when really the questions should be:
- Did our employees consume and understand our communications?
- What feedback did we get from our employees?
- How did the interaction and feedback differ across our employee population?
- Which channels did different employees access the communication?
Employee communications is not solely the responsibility of HR teams who rarely have access to the tools to help deploy communications, nor the time or right skill set to do so effectively. Nor should it be just passed to a communications team, who at times can be guilty of prioritising the look, feel and adherence to brand guidelines, over thinking about the best route to delivering a relevant and accessible message.
It requires the skills and intelligence across teams – particularly HR and Marketing who must collaborate more effectively in the future to help the business engage employees. Engaged and satisfied employees, in many instances leads to engaged and satisfied customers further down the line – all the more reason for marketing and commercial teams to want to work more closely with HR in this arena.
We are ‘work heavy’ and ‘time poor’ in the current climate, but it would be a valuable exercise for all of us to find the time to stand back and review our employee communication model and processes. To spend some time to understand the perceptions and needs of our employees when it comes to communications; evaluate the differences that exist across the business; and identify how information could be presented or made available to deliver relevance to as many employees as possible.
We see these challenges in our own industry in the area of reward and benefits communications with businesses seeking to increase engagement with their benefits programmes. It is relevant across many areas in a business however.
The skills and know-how in most cases already exists in a business to get it right. Invariably these are across many teams though, so businesses need to find ways to bring the skills and know-how together.
Employee engagement is often characterised by two key words – ‘involvement’ and ‘trust’, with the two biggest drivers identified as ‘leadership / people’ and ‘communication’. Get the involvement and trust elements right and you will invariably (nine times out of ten) find yourself delivering relevant information to your employees and commercial benefits to the business. Afterall, it is a time of coalition.
Andy Philpott, marketing director at Edenred, formerly Accor Services.