Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Are You Getting the Most Out of Your Employees?

The top trend of 2012 is getting employees engaged with their company!

Companies are realizing how valuable their employees are. Employees who understand and emulate a company’s vision as well as engage with the brand create a loyal customer base by delivering a better customer experience. Studies show on average that companies with engaged employees are 20% more profitable. Engaged employees are more productive and act as brand ambassadors. Companies with effective employee communication have also reported a reduction in employee absenteeism and higher employee performance reviews.

However, employee engagement is easier said than done.  Internal communications has historically been viewed as a key challenge for companies.  It is time for companies to shift that view from challenge to opportunity.

I am studying the many aspects of internal communication and change management as it applies to corporate settings at Northwestern's Medill School of IMC.  One of the first realizations I had is that the corporate culture of the organization deeply affects how communications are both disseminated and received.   

To successfully leverage your employee base you need to communicate the value of the brand to them.  This needs to be done in a way that will reach them. Think about the culture of the organization, but also put yourself in your employees’ shoes.  Ask yourself how do they prefer to receive communications from the company?  What about the communication is relevant to them?  What as the business leader am I asking of them?

Communicating the value of the brand is the first step, but now you must reinforce brand behavior in the organization.  This starts with good leadership.  Managers must be trained to understand their job responsibility entails communications. This may seem obvious, but often it is found that day-to-day work functions take priority over communicating to staff.  Effective leadership supports a cascading effect of continuous communication to all employees.  This becomes very important in large organizations.  It is also important to celebrate small wins along the way so employees see the behavior rewarded.

Engaged employees are more knowledgeable and have positive sentiments about the brands they serve.  This will drive them to deliver a better customer experience, leading to loyal customers and increased profits.  These profits can be used towards benefits that further engage employees.  It’s a solid cyclical investment.

Your framework to follow is simple.

1.     Understand your corporate culture.  What is your history as a company? As a brand? What are the shared norms of behavior? What are the values?

2.     Now leverage this understanding to tailor communications to the different segments of employees in your organization.

3.     When tailoring your communications try to approach employees on both a rationale and emotional level. Find out what employees care about.  Surprisingly it is not just money that motivates employees.  Mostly employees’ want choice, they want autonomy.   They want the freedom to use their iPhone over the company issued blackberry or to work from home once a week.

4.     Open up channels that encourage two-way communication.  You can’t learn what they want if you aren’t listening.  And it is not just what employees want that employers can learn, front line employees have business and customer insights leadership will never have.

Jamie Kavanagh is a graduate student at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Integrated Marketing Communications. Prior to Northwestern Jamie spent eight years working with General Motors handing a variety of roles from purchasing to experiential marketing. Jamie is passionate about corporate communications, especially the importance of employee communication. Jamie will be graduating in December 2012.

Follow Jamie on Twitter @jamerslynn or LinkedIn

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