Over the past number of years, I’ve flip-flopped on my job title. Do I work in internal communications or in employee engagement? Most of the time, my answer has simply been “yes.”
The reason: in that time period, the governing body for employee engagement has decidedly shifted away from the communications world and closer to the human resources world (where it rightfully belongs). However, that move brings with it several sticking points, which we haven’t quite worked out. And, as such, employee engagement in the U.S. has hovered around the mid-30 percent range for 25+ years.
Fostering an Authentic Culture
One major sticking point has been the lack of an agreed upon definition of employee engagement. Due to the startup culture, many companies now believe effective employee engagement means lavish parties, happy hours, free food and at least one ping pong table. It really isn’t that.
At its core, effective employee engagement is about an authentic culture, defined by transparency. It’s the space where what employees and employers want meets. And it has everything to do with communications. Frankly speaking, you cannot have robust employee engagement programs without compelling internal communications. Similarly, if you’re writing internal communications without concern for employee engagement, then you’re doing it wrong.
An Emphasis on Communications
Internal communications isn’t internal public relations (much as some companies might wish it were). In fact, the internal communications team is far closer to ombudsmen than anything else. They need to be able to move from C-suite to front-line, trusted and respected by all, always keeping the company’s best interests in mind.
Interestingly, while – no doubt – some human resources professionals are capable of that work, there is shockingly little employee engagement/communications material in HR certification. So, even as the move to the HR arena is happening, the current group of professionals isn’t necessarily equipped to take on that work.
On the other hand, communications professionals (marketers, etc.) are not attuned to the needs of the human resources world. Employees aren’t market share; they don’t need to be pitched. In fact, most employees will reject that approach completely. Viewing internal communications as marketing completely misses the mark.
And there is the part that makes this so difficult: The need is for gifted writers/strategists who seek to improve organizational effectiveness more than driving sales, while understanding human behavior. To date, no one role has done those things. No one position has these varied skills.
Who is Responsible?
So, who should govern the world of internal communications and employee engagement? In truth, it’s largely irrelevant. I’ve often said this person/team needs to report to everyone in the organization – to be a trusted hub, with dotted line connections to every other employee, regardless of title or position. If he or she betrays the trust of anyone – they can no longer do their job effectively.
Sadly, most of this falls on deaf ears. Way too often I hear “We’re not big enough” (yes, you are); or “We’re going through a lot of changes right now, it’s not the right time” (actually, it’s *exactly* the right time, in that case). Ultimately, they see the role as one to “fix” problems, as compared to helping navigate a difficult path and avoid problems.
A Role of Its Own
More than two years ago, Forbes magazine recommended HR teams have a dedicated “manager of employee engagement.” The responsibilities of the role and skill set required (including familiarity with technology) crossed over multiple departments.
And yet, many companies don’t understand the need for internal communications and employee engagement – irrespective of what it’s called or where it reports! They fail to realize the bottom line impact of these programs (reduced turnover/increased retention; greater productivity; greater profitability).
So, first, we need to get companies to realize the importance of employee engagement/internal communications, before we worry about where it should report and what we should call it.
It’s powerful to know what your employees think! You can identify problems like poor supervision, communication breakdown, and mounting plans to leave your company before expensive turnover affects your business.
When you’re ready to learn more about employee survey timelines, process and pricing, schedule a time to meet with one of our employer coaches. We’ll get all your questions answered.