How To Reach Hard-to-Reach Employees

Dorian Cundick
Dorian Cundick

PR pros outgrew the innocence of our past when we thought it was a given that we would receive corporate messages with interest or even urgency, then care enough to take some sort of action. Even with all factors stacked in our favor, we have to work harder than ever to engage even those employees who would seem the most engage-able. No surprise, then, that it can be an epic struggle to connect effectively with our non-wired employees.

Your non-wired employees come in a number of different stripes. They may work at a factory where their only access to a computer is in the manager’s office. They may spend their days trucking across the country armed with a CB radio and a phone. They may be call center employees who have little time to use the Web.

Regardless of who they are, they probably feel fairly disconnected from the parent company, and don’t really care what corporate has to say unless it has immediate impact on their day-to-day operation.

So how can we engage with these crucial employees more effectively? Based on CEB research, here are three pieces of advice that can help tighten our connection to our non-wired people:

Embrace how they already communicate. We sometimes get caught up in trying to create channels for everything. If we have people working at a remote location, let’s install flat-screen monitors with corporate updates running 24/7.

Naturally, many of these ideas are effective, but many of them may simply be adding to the noise while packing a pretty price tag. An interesting thing about human beings is that we always figure out a way to communicate with each other. Your traveling employees already have their own ways of sharing ideas and information with their other traveling colleagues.

Your hourly workers have by now perfected the various mechanisms of their grapevine. A good first consideration, then, is whether there is a way to insert ourselves into their pre-existing network, using the channels and cadence that are already working for them.

If they rely mainly on texting and smart phones, that might be a great channel for quick corporate updates. Figure out how they already communicate, and try to capitalize on those channels.

Be extra-disciplined with your messaging. This is good practice for any message we create, and the bar is even higher for success with this population. Many of CEB’s members tell us that their non-wired employees complain that they feel disconnected from the company.

What we’ve found is that what those employees want is not more communication (which is often how Communications teams respond), but more relevant and helpful communication.

Consider the following questions:

• What is the business purpose of this communication?

• What do I want them to do differently as a result, and what are the barriers to that behavior change?

• Am I supplying them with the critical information they need to be more successful?

If we run through this checklist, we’re likely to find that a lot of our messages suddenly seem less urgent and perhaps we’ll decide not to send them at all.

The ones that we do put out there will have clear purpose and actionability as we target behavior change—with no distracting fluff to divert them from what we need them to hear.

Use those managers. Your most potent source of engagement with strategy is always going to be your managers—getting them to talk with their teams to personalize strategic objectives and generally create an environment where problem-solving, best practice sharing and innovation are more likely.

Our dependence on managers is even more pronounced for these non-wired workers. Take extra care with any cascades to this group and focus even more on dialogue and coaching. Get their input on how to communicate better with their people.

Given the networked communications environment overall, you’ll probably find that the innovations you’re required to come up with in working with these employees will serve you well even as you work with the most-wired among you.


Dorian Cundick is an executive advisor at CEB. Follow her on Twitter, @CEB_News.

This article originally appeared in the June 23, 2014 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.