What’s the best way for internal communicators to align employees with business goals and objectives?
First and foremost, forget about communications. OK, not entirely, but for best results, says Chris Anderson, principal at Strategy 2 Communications (S2C), alignment initiatives that result in bottom-line performance improvements must be backed—and spearheaded by—the business side.
It goes without saying that the ability to effectively translate business strategy to employees—and get them to buy into that strategy—is the holy grail for PR practitioners and executive leadership alike. Why is it so important? Because as the volume of information gets accelerated via technology, flowing downward within an organization, an understanding of strategy, at all levels, is crucial, says Anderson.
However, achieving employee understanding and buy-in of the strategy is fleeting, says Anderson, for three reasons:
• While the CEO and executive team spend a great deal of time on strategy with other top executives, that information often doesn’t filter down. Too many times, says Anderson, he’s heard from a CEO: “Those people don’t need to know anything about strategy—they just need to do their jobs.”
• Technology and access to information have created discerning—some would say skeptical—workers who demand honesty and a two-way dialogue, which often just isn’t present.
• Silos exist between business units (in larger organizations) that prevent strategy from spreading horizontally.
CLARITY OF VISION
So what is the first step toward this alignment? Think about your organization’s vision statement, says David Moorcroft, principal at S2C and former communications executive with Royal Bank of Canada. Does the statement describe your organization’s goals? Are you able to meet those goals? (See the sidebar for a “vision” exercise.) If either of those questions is negative, there will be no alignment, says Moorcroft.
SAY VERSUS DO
Studies over the years have shown that employee engagement increases when there is a clear line of sight between vision, strategy, performance objectives and personal contribution to the business cause. But this line of sight requires real alignment between formal communications, which Moorcroft calls the “say” and the organizational actions, or the “do.” “It’s moving from ‘say to do,’ which is the tough part,” says Moorcroft.
So how do you move from reciting the company vision and strategic priorities (say) to your workers down the chain to having them execute key initiatives and move the organizational needle by feeling like they are contributing personally toward the strategy (do)?
You have what Moorcroft terms “strategy dialogues,” meetings with employees that help them understand how their contributions align with their organization’s goals and, for larger businesses, how their contributions align with the goals of their specific unit (i.e. IT, marketing, operations, etc.).
There’s a strategy around the dialogues, adds Moorcroft. The employees’ managers should lead the sessions. Why? “Employees tend to trust their managers more than execs higher up,” says Anderson.
Communicators, says Moorcroft, should steer clear of the sessions, but there is plenty of work that PR should be doing around the dialogues:
• Explain the business strategy to managers with prep sessions and notes. Anderson says a side effect of this is that some managers may need a refresher course on the strategy themselves.
• Create templates for managers to reiterate unit initiatives and how they fit into the greater objectives.
• Provide managers with a script to help their employees determine how their own day-to-day efforts contribute to their unit initiatives and the overall strategy.
And just what should managers do to start dialogues with employees? They should do less talking, and instead ask questions, such as:
• How is this team contributing to the organization’s business statement?
• What are some examples of how this team has made a positive impact on that vision?
• What can we do more of to help spread the vision?
• What should we do less of?
• What barriers prevent us from focusing on the vision?
• What do I need from the organization to make the strongest individual contribution to the vision as possible?
One company, Direct Energy, a North American electricity and natural gas supplier, is in the process of starting such dialogues with many of its 6,000 employees. What prompted the company with $11 billion Canadian in revenue to rethink its employees’ alignment with business goals?
“We have set a very aggressive growth strategy—to double our profits,” says Hillary Marshall, VP of communications at Direct Energy. While the company has a clear process in setting the strategic agenda, Marshall calls that process “figurative.”
“The goal is to have our employees literally connect their individual actions to the high-level strategy,” says Marshall. The company is now working with S2C to break that say/do barrier. Marshall has used her staff as guinea pigs, holding a dialogue session with them to gauge how the conversations will go.
MEASURE EARLY & OFTEN
How can you prove that better employee alignment with business goals is worth the considerable time and resources? Of course, measurement is the key, says Moorcroft.
Before and after surveys of employees who have gone through the sessions—asking if they feel a better understanding of the business goals—is a must.
Measurement doesn’t end there. Anderson says it’s critical to link KPIs with the alignment effort—a big reason why the business side must drive the initiative and make it a mandatory part of the strategic plan. PRN
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