Originally published in PRSA’s Strategies & Tactics on April 1, 2022.
By Leah Gladu
I recently had a conversation with a leader who shared that her goal is to “move the organization, not the needle.” I haven’t been able to stop thinking about that — what a profound sentiment (and a wise leader).
How many times have we become laser-focused on specific initiatives or individual pieces of the puzzle only to lose sight of the big picture? Especially as communicators, it’s easy to prioritize siloed projects and justify them with short-term results.
And to be fair, when time and resources are stretched thin, it’s tempting — sometimes even necessary — to prioritize whichever area feels most critical at the time. Trying to keep plates spinning across all the different areas that fall within a communicator’s purview can be overwhelming.
Individual communications plans can move the needle, but if you want to see big-picture impact, you must consider a more holistic, programmatic approach.
Understanding change communications and employee engagement
The implications of change for a large organization are significant. And yet far too many companies fall into the trap of acting first and communicating later.
Successful change requires:
- Considering each public
- Creating a strategy to build trust and drive adoption by bringing employees along
- Empowering employees as active participants, not just passive consumers of the information you share
- Instilling a sense of ownership to equip emerging leaders
I could walk through the academic, theoretical change management scenarios for you — there are plenty of consultants who are hired to do just that. However, what I find to be more valuable than esoteric theories and hypothetical strategies is what I’ve learned from the countless change plans I’ve worked through with clients:
- Employees are people. It sounds simple, but it’s all too easy to get caught up in what or how you’re communicating and forget who you’re communicating with.
- Communication is what makes change real for employees.
- You cannot navigate change in a vacuum.
Leveraging executive communications
At our company, we talk a lot about the impact of connection and community. From a communications perspective, effectively leveraging the voices of senior leadership plays a critical role. Don’t underestimate the power of opportunities for employees to interface and engage with leaders.
In the early weeks of COVID-19, leaders began to lead differently. No one had a corner office anymore, and everyone — regardless of level — was working from a kitchen table. Those moments where kids or pets wreaked havoc during an important meeting did not discriminate based on title.
Say what you will about remote work, but it eliminated (or at least lessened) the separation between our work selves and home selves. And by bringing those two personas together, teams and organizations began reflecting a deeper authenticity. When you put a face with an initiative or share how a leader’s story is driving their strategy, it can inspire a deeper connection to a shared purpose.
Implementing functional business updates
Functional business updates are necessary but don’t always spark excitement the way other communications might. However, without an informed workforce, your communications will only achieve so much. Your employees are your greatest ambassadors.
But if they don’t know what to share, then that benefit becomes a hindrance. Plus, when folks perceive they were an afterthought (and trust me, they’ll know), you lose the trust that’s critical for an invested team.
Here’s what communicators should keep in mind:
- Communicate proactively first and foremost — you want the updates to come from a leader or from the organization, not through the grapevine.
- Segment your messaging so that each communication can be framed from a “how does this affect me” perspective.
- Rather than approaching communication clinically, consider what might inspire employees to want to actively contribute. Remember you’re communicating with people, not a long distribution list of anonymous inboxes.
Moving an organization
As I often share with rising leaders, approaching communication from a big-picture perspective is critical for gaining influence. Employee communication programming isn’t any different and, when done well, it can drive real, tangible, business results.
I worked with a company that uncovered challenges in three major areas: communication, leadership support and change management. We had the baseline data to indicate the challenge, which we used to inform recommendations to facilitate improvement.
To address communication concerns, we provided guidance on inbox management, streamlined touchpoints and equipped leaders to make more effective use of meeting time. For change management, we formalized processes, established one source of truth for information and empowered a group of ambassadors to serve as our boots on the ground. To improve leadership support, we developed and launched a leadership training program and recommended ways to measure performance.
Were each of these good ideas on their own? Absolutely. However, the real magic of our work became apparent when all these individual focus areas came together into one people-focused program.
In the first year, we saw double-digit percentage increases in employees’ perception of trustworthiness and authenticity, communication and employee ownership and engagement. We could then tie those numbers to business growth, team productivity and overall culture.
Getting out of your lane
An integrated, programmatic approach is the best way to drive organizational success. But what if all the areas involved don’t fall under your purview?
Rather than settling for simply moving the needle in your specific department, I encourage leaders to figure out who does oversee the other areas and go talk to them. Taking the initiative to facilitate greater collaboration when the work isn’t squarely in your role can feel risky. But if you can co-create a program that makes all parties look successful, then it can open doors for everyone involved — not to mention drive greater success for the business.
These kinds of programs position the communications function of an organization as revenue generating, not just a cost center. Rather than looking to move the needle exclusively in one area, consider how each of those needles, when moving together, can weave together the strong and impressive fabric for an entire organization.
Read more from Leah in PRSA’s Strategies & Tactics or connect with her on LinkedIn to continue the conversation.