Turning Employees into Real Insiders

Many organizations fail to leverage their employees as a key market by communicating with them badly.One of the biggest, most unexploited markets are the employees who work for organizations that communicate badly with them.

Poor communications can contribute to low morale, role confusion and disregard for management goals. Worse, poor communications can negate a company's home field advantage. The people with as much to gain as brand zealots are left applauding with one hand.

Communicating with employees through third-party sources, intentionally or unintentionally, is the worst no-no. If employees read about news that affects them directly in the newspaper or on a blog, they understandably will be upset and wonder, "Why didn't my management think it was important to tell me first?" It's a great question.

Confusing or contradictory messages also peeve employees. If management assures workers their jobs are secure, then tells market analysts or business partners that jobs will be cut, employees will come to doubt what they are told — and not just about job security.

In most cases, employees want to feel like insiders, to be in the know, to be advocates. Internal communications play a huge role in treating employees as partners in the enterprise.

For larger companies or ones with multiple lines of business and locations, a well-packaged, informative intranet makes sense. The intranet site can unify the organization by showing how all the parts fit together. The site can be a repository for company materials, such as logos and templates for proposals. Frequently asked questions can be answered, management goals explained and outstanding employee achievements celebrated.

As with any website, a company intranet needs to provide reasons for employees to return. One strategy is to have the intranet as the landing page for a company-owned computer or tablet, but that doesn't guarantee anyone will read what's on the intranet. That requires a steady diet of useful, timely and smartly written content.

Adding one or more interactive features through the intranet is another way to attract repeat clicks. Companies conduct flash surveys, ask for employee ideas or run contests to generate employee interest on an intranet. 

Enterprise Communications
Smart companies recognize in today's environment information is power. They turn to enterprise communication tools such as Yammer to provide a real-time capability to share information across the expanse of a company, within groups or with specific individuals.

Employees can let coworkers know about significant sales pitches, new customer targets and useful tips. Yammer and other similar tools provide an opportunity for immediate or timely responses that can add context, offer insight and identify a key resource. This tool also enables employees to share relevant news, significant articles and valuable links.

An enterprise communications system makes it possible — even appealing — to ask questions of specific people and get a direct answer that is shared more widely. A question better answered privately can be handled with a phone or email.

Fears that such systems will become company chat rooms are overblown, especially if clear guidelines are enunciated up front. However, management will suffocate robust conversations if it seeks to stifle exchanges that push the edges. As long as they are relevant and respectful, comments should be welcome and not censored.

Direct to the Top
Ideally, the organization's top dog will engage in proactive outreach to employees, through a regular column or videoconference. Being accessible to employee questions, suggestions and criticism speaks volumes.

Some CEOs are uncomfortable "out front" in communications. For them, a less direct communications channel may be the ticket. One good tool is a weekly column devoted to answering one or more employee questions, including tough ones. A lively exchange gives the sense that management isn't hiding anything and values engagement with employees.

The time has come and gone for stale employee communications such as house-organ newsletters stocked with canned stories and management platitudes. In truth, few people may have read them in the past. Nowadays employees may totally ignore them.

The key to successful employee communications is to center them on what employees want to know, not on what management wants to tell them. This doesn't prevent company storytelling; it actually increases the chance that employees will spread that story.