Updated: Oct 13, 2018
With such negativity circulating in the mainstream media about our sector, it’s important to remember it creates a feeling of uncertainty about our sector that can and is being digested by the general public and, perhaps most worryingly, your own front-line team. It’s at times like this that communication is vital.
A well-known documentary producer and good friend of mine constantly reminds me of the importance of story as a medium. His theory is as humans we use story to make sense of the world. If we are not given a clear narrative and information, by nature we will continually construct a story from what we see around us to try to make sense of the world.
Speaking to industry colleagues earlier this week at Propel’s Multi Club Conference, it seems there are two lines of thought here. The first is perhaps an old school methodology of keeping information among a very tight circle of people in senior roles. One leader told me this method is still preferred by his board but in engaging with his front-line team what he finds is a constant upfront line of questioning about the business, its performance and where it’s going, heightened, he says, during uncertain times. His belief was this was the new generation, who were highly curious and perhaps much more direct in their approach. Given we know millennials want to make a difference in their lives and want meaning, understanding the broader business environment will be paramount to their motivation and engagement.
The approach that I think bears more fruit is to have an open dialogue of conversation with the team. Talk to them directly – don’t rely on cascading. That means investing in visiting sites and doing whole team meetings, but more importantly for more regular interaction, the obvious opportunity is to use technology. The options are endless, from tools such as Facebook for Business to your own company apps, which many of our training and back-of-house solution providers now offer. A more traditional method that many still use to great effect is the employee magazine, although this is potentially at a greater cost and has its challenges in terms of getting information over when time-sensitive.
The key factor at play with internal communication is engagement. That comes down to the effectiveness of your messaging and whether your team are actively consuming it.
The first and most fundamental factor to engagement is whether your message is actually reaching your team and whether they are consuming it. It’s a lot of work to produce the content and investment in distribution, whichever way that may be. While poor content will put your team off engaging for a second time, there is no guarantee good content will mean they will engage at all. Some brands I’ve seen gain traction here use elements of competition and giveaways to do this – as well as giving the team the opportunity to contribute directly. I’m currently finishing a project of this kind, where we have turned to gamification to drive engagement within the team app, which will in turn ensure log-ins and greatly increase the likely exposure of news on the same platform.
Now tackle your messaging. To me this comes down to much of the same sentiment I expressed in my article last month about thriving or surviving. It’s about building a strategy and vision that works for today’s challenging market. It needs to deliver a powerful positive narrative that inspires. Most commonly this will be done through interesting initiatives rather than through the excitement of new site growth, which may have been the case over the past few years. Be careful not to cut the elements of your business that make it fun and engaging for your team – it may be a short-term win for cash flow but it is very likely to be long-term failure for your employee engagement and, in turn, your service levels and productivity. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, in a tough market you will have to do more to take less.
Once you’ve devised a strategy that inspires, then its time to make sure you deliver team members content they want. When getting going this is easier to judge by seeing what content performs in terms of readership, likes and comments. To get started it’s worth sitting with the teams and asking them what they are interested in.
The last key question to ask yourself is who should be responsible for such messaging. I believe it’s important to get contributors and messages coming right from the top of your business. You may want to build in-site and area level content too. That said someone has to take care of the project day to day. Traditionally this has been shoehorned into an HR or people team. To me it makes most sense to use your social media team who are far more experienced in creating and sharing content that aims to build engagement, as well as interact at all times of day. In a way it is just another channel for them to manage, often with much the same messaging.
Originally published as a Propel Friday Opinion