Internal Comms: Tying Employee Motivation To Organizational Goals

Fortune's recently released "100 Best Companies To Work For" offers folkloric glimpses into the world of top-spot holder Google, whose executives offer some of the most compelling reasons to be a happy (and, subsequently, loyal) employee: the 11 free gourmet cafeterias, the motorized scooters available for traversing the vast Google campus, the free onsite haircuts. But for companies that don't hemorrhage money, how can executives keep employee moral high and turnover low? The answer, of course, lies in the communications department. Communications executives' integration (whether it's formal, informal or imaginary) into every organizational function gives them the ability to play an increasingly large role in all business activities: developing and promoting the most desirable brand and image to attract top candidates, hiring the best people in conjunction with human resources, managing top talent through leadership roles. However, it all starts -- and ends -- with an effective internal communications strategy, which will foster a sense of community and participation, and, in the end, drive positive organizational growth. (Case in point: a Watson Wyatt survey, which analyzed links between communications effectiveness and business performance, found that companies with the most effective employee communications experienced a far greater shareholder return than companies that communicated less effectively.) PR/communications executives can implement an effective internal communications strategy and, in turn, score the PR equivalent of a triple-double: increased employee morale, decreased turnover and better bottom-line business results. The Watson Wyatt research study had some tips on best practices to follow. 1. To build a foundation for strong communications, follow a formal process. The study reveals that the most effective companies have communications programs that are developed proactively; coordinate internal and external communications; have a documented communication strategy; follow a systematic orientation program for new hires; conduct opinion surveys that verify employees' understanding of key internal messages; and foster a culture that supports the sharing of knowledge across the organization. Given the findings, communications executives must: * Appeal to employees through internal branding efforts that echo external branding, as this aligns messaging, encourages employees to be evangelists of the brand and gives employees a personal stake in the company's public image. * Facilitate communication between all groups within the company through focus groups, small meetings, webinars, meet-and-greets, luncheons, happy hours, message boards, etc. * Emphasize to senior management the importance of appealing to each employee. Being "one of the little guys" or a new hire shouldn't be the same as feeling like your voice doesn't matter or can't be heard. These people are the most important ones for senior management to reach, as they can be the company's future leaders - or, they can leave as a result of discontent and cost the organization valuable resources (i.e., the time and money that goes into training). 2. Use employee feedback. Now that you've had meetings, conducted surveys and facilitated communication with senior management, put the information to good use. Note that, as the Watson Wyatt study suggests, all employee surveys should include "action planning and improvement programs" and feedback processes. Some potential employee-feedback vehicles? * A voicemail system where employees can call in and (anonymously, if they choose) respond to an announcement or initiative; * A message board on the company's Intranet * Roundtables where ideas and opinions can be exchanged Then, most important, make sure you incorporate employee feedback into future endeavors, and that all solicited feedback is relevant to key business objectives. If a concern is voiced that is valid but, at that time, unsolvable, have the appropriate senior executive issue a release or announcement acknowledging the concern and explain why it can't be changed now and/or what is being done about it. 3. Integrate total rewards. Money speaks volumes, both for the organization and for the individuals who work within it. Communications executives must use pay/compensation/bonuses as a means of developing a strong brand and improving business performance. Pay-for-performance models, such as the one observed by General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt, can't be implemented in every company, but small financial rewards can do wonders. The study also revealed that, at the most effective companies, employees understand the importance of participating in benefit programs and the value of their total compensation packages. This is where communications executives need to have a close working relationship with those in human resources. 4. Leverage technology. Technological advances have provided communications managers with limitless channels for facilitating internal communications and, in turn, encouraging collaboration and the sharing of resources. Blogs can promote casual dialogue; podcasts can give senior executives a means for speaking to employees; and intranets can serve as a resource for navigating a company's policies, initiatives, mission and goals. Technology also can be used to increase employee engagement and satisfaction in unexpected ways. For example, a May 2006 Wall Street Journal article highlighted how some companies handle the widespread feeling of being overworked. Among the examples: * IBM uses a Web-based tool for managers to survey employees and identify "low-value" work. The results lead to consolidations and, of course, save money. * Boston Consulting Group logs total hours in a weekly "Red Zone Report," which identifies the employees who are working "too much," and gives executives an opportunity to address it. 5. Create an employee "Line of Sight." The study defines this as communicating openly to employees about matters that affect them; sharing financial information with employees; sharing business plans and/or goals with employees; and having leaders who consistently communicate company information to employees. Communications executives' role in these efforts is clear: With the ear of the C-suite, communications executives can facilitate the flow of information among all parties in the organization. The study goes on to name more ways in which communications activities can motivate employees to achieve the goals of the organization, but they all boil down to one theme: Just as PR and communications executives once longed for a "seat at the table," now every employee wants (and feels entitled) to pull up a proverbial chair. The business environment necessitates it, as it is in every company's best interest to have their employees act as ambassadors for their brands. Study after study shows the strong impact of employee morale on performance, and employees are, after all, a key constituent. Still unsure? Just Google it.

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