Every business has at least three target audiences: customers, prospects and employees. Likely, there are multiple groups within those broad categories, and in some cases, additional audiences such as investors or shareholders. But everyone has those three.
When most people think of communicating with customers or prospects, they think of branding, advertising or marketing. This usually takes the form of thought-provoking or emotionally driven campaigns designed to create desire and move people to action. When most people think of communicating with employees, they think of memos or company newsletters telling people what is going on in the business.
HR professionals have been advocates for more thoughtful communications with employees for years. They know the value of going beyond the baseline of informing people of company news and engaging them with the brand and any associated partnerships. Some studies show that less than 30% of employees believe in the brand that employs them. So, at any given time, 70% or more of the people tasked with serving a customer base are at best indifferent and at worst dismissive of the brand.
I’m completely aligned with the HR professionals in stating that your employees are your most important audience. Internal communications deserve the same level of thought and creativity as external communications. This means that your most compelling brand messages should be aimed at engaging your employees. Your teams, including HR and marketing, should be aligned in developing the messaging. If you can’t or don’t convince your employees to love the brand, they will not be able to accurately or authentically deliver on your brand promise to customers or prospects. Further, you need to consistently reinforce the core values of the company and give employees reasons to care while moving them down the path of brand advocacy.
Finally, as part of your overall recognition program, you should recognize and reward behaviors reflecting brand advocacy or an embodiment of the core values of the company. For example, performance-related pay incentive programs increase job satisfaction and retention while creating an example for others to follow.
Essentially, you should start thinking of internal communications as a marketing or branding opportunity, and approach your internal marketing the same way as you would external marketing efforts.
The components of successful internal marketing communications are knowing your audience, tailoring your message, being consistent and recognizing and rewarding desired behaviors.
Know your audience.
Really knowing your audience means going beyond statistics and demographics. Many people already send out surveys on various subjects, which is fine, but it’s a good idea to dig deeper via either focus groups or one-on-one interviews with people representing a cross-section of your employee base.
You can use these interviews to dive deeper into subjects and better understand issues that are affecting them, their perceptions of the brand, the validity of incentive programs, etc. These interviews are a good source of information to aid in decision making or just shaping future surveys.
Tailor your message.
One size does not fit all. This applies regardless of the size of your organization but becomes more important — and more challenging — the larger the organization. Making sure that people get the information that is most important and relevant to them naturally increases the effectiveness of your communications.
This means you will need to create groups of like responsibilities and begin segmenting information by groups. There will be some information that applies to all, but try to resist the temptation to send everything to everybody. For example, when you are creating a newsletter that is distributed by email, you should have multiple versions of the newsletter with some companywide news and then balance with news specific to each group. Think of it like a city newspaper that has suburban sections with news related to each suburb.
This applies to both distribution and messaging. Whatever timing you decide is best for you and your organization, create a schedule, publish it and stick to it. For example, you might have a weekly “department at a glance,” a monthly newsletter(s) and quarterly board reports. Granted, easier said than done if you are just adding internal marketing to an existing role. But sporadic communications can do more harm than good because people do not know what to expect or when to expect it.
Communication can’t be consistent only during good times and about good news. Trust is built through open communications of all kinds, and trust is lost if employees think you are not being honest. Also, the tone and manner of the messaging should be “on brand” and continually ladder back to the brand pillars.
Recognize and reward.
The best way to reinforce what your brand stands for is to recognize and reward those who live it out every day. If you don’t already have a robust recognition program in place — whether it’s peer to peer or manager to employee — start one. And if you have recognition tools currently in place, do an audit to ensure what you are recognizing is in total alignment with your brand’s essence and values.
At our agency, we have an old gas lantern, or torch, that represents an opportunity to shine a light on someone for behavior aligned with our culture. This is given by the employee who received it last to another employee of their choosing each week at our staff meeting. They are required to give a short explanation of the behavior or deed they are choosing to recognize in their peer.
Even executing flawlessly against these four principles will not change the fact that your end-of-year survey will suggest employees want more and better communication. But it will change their level of satisfaction and engagement.