Next Trends in Employee Engagement: Great Content, Fewer Emails and Shorter Meetings

Internal communications and employee engagement become hot topics whenever communicators talk shop. Amy Kot thinks about these topics full time. The Edelman SVP has advised a global array of companies for nearly two decades about how best to speak to employees, improve retention and accelerate business performance. Ahead of an article to be published in this week’s Edelman Connections newsletter, Kot shared with us New Year’s resolutions and best-in-class approaches designed to make your internal communications resonate with your customers, aka your employees.

Overall, brands should emphasize employee-centric communications that inspire plenty of dialogue as opposed to one-way, top-down models. Engagement is particularly important today since “turnover is so expensive…and social media makes it easy for motivated, engaged employees to be tremendous brand ambassadors,” she says. The specifics:

1. Content Is Content Is Content: A great way to think about employee communications, Kot says, is to blur the line between external and internal. “The external is the internal,” she says. After all, the content you provide to employees must be similar in quality to anything you write for external use: “sharp, fresh and to the point…that will capture—and hold—employees’ increasingly limited attention.”

Briefly: In her article, she advocates “short, snackable, visual” content, including “short-form articles, videos, infographics, listicles and BuzzFeed -style quizzes.”

A tip designed to boost engagement is to include a call to action (heard that term before?). Ask employees to enter an online quiz or a photo contest and share the results via a social platform, like Yammer, Kot writes.

Homeland: Similar to external communications, it’s critical to reach employees where they are, she writes. “Today’s employees unlock their personal smartphones with a thumbprint and have 24/7 access to endless social and news feeds. Leading companies are capitalizing on this trend with internal news portals and apps that work on employees’ personal devices, with content curated newsfeed style so it’s easy to access, digest and share.”

I Did It My Way: Many leading brands have found nobody tells their story better than their customers. The FedEx Instagram account, for example, is entirely populated with consumer-generated content (PRN, 9/28/2015). Similarly, Kot writes that best-in-class brands delegate “the bulk of [employee communications] content” to employees, deputizing them as citizen journalists. “Have them interview leaders, blog, tweet, photograph and film their experience to bring it to life for their colleagues,” she writes.

2. E-maelstrom: “Employees are drowning in email,” Kot says. Her article notes a study finding that workers spend some 28% of their day interacting with email. That sounds conservative to us, we tell her. She agrees. What to do? Communicators must inventory what’s going out, she says. Usually “email overload is a symptom of too many one-off missives from disparate teams,” Kot writes. As a result, smart brands create “cross-functional internal communications advisory groups to align disconnected functions around consistent processes and core messaging.” Protocols are developed “to bundle similar messages from multiple senders and funnel them through a roster of fewer, more effective channels (e.g., all HR messages are included in a monthly e-newsletter).”

Put the Top Down: But to get an entire company to streamline its email flow, doesn’t everyone have to comply? “Yes. This must start at the top,” Kot says. In fact, a common problem for internal communicators, she writes, is that leaders of various business units “each have communication agendas and initiatives that compete for employee mindshare.” An editorial calendar can rein in email, she writes.

Check, Please: She advocates guidelines and checklists for content creators “before they hit send on one-off emails and [to] prioritize messages so employees understand at-a-glance” emails that require immediate attention. Set up a four-tier message prioritization system. Tier I includes top-priority corporate initiatives and CEO communications; Tier IV is routine communications (staffing announcements, IT updates, local site communications). Only Tier I messages warrant all-employee emails, she writes.

3. Meet Me Halfway: You thought email was the only overload? You’ve not attended enough meetings. In her article, Kot singles out all-hands meetings and suggests ways to energize them. First, instead of a top-down agenda, use a virtual voting tool to let staff choose topics. “Crowdsourcing the agenda enables leaders to focus on priority topics and engages employees from the start,” she writes. Limit meetings to fewer than two hours (bless you, Amy).

I Can’t Hear You: Employees, like customers, want to be heard, Kot says, so provide many ways for them to participate. “Beyond live Q&A, invite attendees to pose questions throughout the meeting via internal social channels, hashtags or a virtual real-time queue such as SocialQ&A. com, ” she writes. “Capturing questions can also serve as a metric for tracking engagement over time.”

And: Shift the spotlight off the CEO and onto division leaders; use the 70/30 rule, limit presentations to not more than 70% of the meeting, with 30% for dialogue; insert dialogue throughout, don’t leave it until the end; make sure all materials are available to employees after meetings with a recap of takeaways; “quick feedback surveys and/or mobile polls during or after a town hall provide insight for planning future meetings, as well as tracking engagement over time.

CONTACT: Amy.Kot@edelman.com

This article originally appeared in the January 11, 2016 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.