What’s the big idea?

17.11.2017

What’s the big idea?

by Steve Braham

In today’s brand-savvy world people demand to know what your brand stands for, how it conducts its business and why it’s worth their attention. We operate in a reputation economy and the currency, trust, is hard-earned and easily squandered.

To earn that trust, every brand has a range of constituencies that it has to connect with: their customers, prospective customers, media, opinion-formers, shareholders… but by far the most important constituency is the workforce. They’re the lifeblood of the organisation, and they can give it a competitive advantage by the way they reflect it to its customers, suppliers and colleagues. Or they can destroy it from within!

Employee engagement is the key to a happy, motivated and successful workplace. It can turn every one of your colleagues into your brand’s best advocate. But how do you make sure they’re engaged and alongside you on your journey?

The leadership often has a different perception of engagement than the average front-line colleague. They're fully engaged so they have difficulty in understanding that their colleagues choose how much of themselves they’re prepared to give. But everyone knows that the more engaged they are, the more they'll give.

Here’s where it gets difficult. Colleague engagement is not about working your way through a comms checklist and bombarding them with newsletters, Intranet articles, e-shots and colleague-of-the-month awards. In fact, there’s a danger that these tactics could accelerate discontent if they’re not done right. The key to successful engagement is in having a corporate culture in which everyone in the organisation believes it’s a purposeful, friendly and transparent community of people. Internal Communications has the daunting challenge of embedding that culture, but it’s worth the effort because when it's working well on the inside, the outside world will quickly perceive exactly what the brand – and therefore the organisation – is all about.

In this context, ‘purposeful’ means everyone knows that what they’re doing has meaning and is making a worthwhile difference to the world outside the organisation. Most front-line staff are not interested in increasing shareholder dividends, but would be keen to be involved in a big idea. There’s an old story that encapsulates this perfectly – apologies if you already know it: in the early sixties, the President was visiting NASA to see for himself how the space race was shaping up. On the tour of the facility he came across the janitor and asked him what he did there. He replied “I’m helping to put a man on the moon”.

‘Friendly’ is another potent word. It means that colleagues are safe in their environment and they feel accepted, valued and respected. It’s a small step from there to having a lively, convivial and social atmosphere which colleagues enjoy and actually look forward to.

‘Transparency’ can be difficult – just how much should you disclose? Everyone accepts that you need to protect commercially sensitive stuff but no one wants to work in a them-and-us situation. Your colleagues want to feel that they’re part of one big team so the more they know about objectives, strategy, tactics, targets and performance, the more engaged and motivated they’ll be.

The days of a brand being defined by its mission and vision statements are over,  now, every serious brand should have purpose and values at its heart and everything they do should align with those principles – and the Internal Communications team has the challenge of making sure every colleague knows it and lives by it.

As such, Internal Communications holds the key to the health of your brand. A motivated and inspired workforce will deliver great results, whereas a disengaged group can poison the well and spread their discontent throughout the whole organisation. You can’t afford to let that happen. The organisation needs to support and invest in the Internal Comms function – whether it’s part of HR, Marketing or a dedicated team – to make sure it has the resources to meet its huge responsibility.

For over a decade Elevator has been working with some major organisations to create communications that excite, inspire and educate, and I’d like to share with you all those years of on-the-job experience distilled down to a simple seven-point plan for creating great internal comms:

1  Make it simple but meaningful.

Everyone knows what they do and how they do it, but not always why – make sure they understand the higher purpose. As we said before, purpose influences strategy, decision-making and behaviour, but often it isn’t well articulated to the workforce. When your team understands the higher purpose they’ll care more about the company and about the job they do. Purpose should be at the core of all of your communications. It should be a simple and inspiring statement that’s easy to relate to and understand.

2  Tell real stories

Build internal campaigns based on market and customer insights and real-life case studies from the point-of-view of colleagues. Package content so that it can be shared with all departments and give line managers the tools they need to cascade messages, and to communicate their department’s experience. Gather stories from your line managers to circulate throughout your organisation.

3  Know what you want to achieve

Inspire: Demonstrate progress against goals and celebrate the benefits you bring to customers. Present your messages in a way that reflects their importance and stirs the emotions to create a lasting memory.

Educate: Inform and explain the what, how and why.

Reinforce: Repeat key messages across a variety of channels so that colleagues are immersed in important content and have the knowledge to feel fully engaged with the company. Integrate key messages into induction, training and HR initiatives and embed purpose and values from day one.

4  Start a conversation

Corporate communications often have a top-down approach but there’s a danger that that can come across as propaganda glossing over the reality. Dialogue on the shop floor is just as important. Colleagues are more likely to believe what they hear from their peers. Conversations can be more persuasive than one-way presentations so keep line managers well briefed at all times. When the message has to come from leadership, make sure it’s from your most visible and well-regarded leaders, and provide a feedback mechanism.

5  Don’t disappear

Beware of the “big launch event and disappear” syndrome. Integrate regular communications into everyone’s daily routines and keep the conversations going through a mix of messages and channels. Develop a comms schedule and stick to it!

6  Keep it real

“Corporate speak” is hollow and lacks real meaning. Authentic messages in everyday language will resonate with colleagues and help them to understand their challenges and opportunities, and to care about the company. Stories and conversations reinforce the organisation’s culture and shows its human face. Ask colleagues to share their experiences – that’ll lead to a better understanding of the performance levels and behaviours that you want to encourage versus those that could pose a risk.

7  Be surprising

The way people communicate has changed completely in recent years: social media, networking, blogs, text messaging etc. are part of everyday life, so the delivery mechanism can make as much of a statement as the content itself. Aim to connect with people where they least expect it, such as the restroom, the stairwell, on their mobile phones – and use the power of design to make it stand out and be memorable. Be inventive, people love surprises!

Over the years Elevator have become specialists in colleague engagement, so whether you’re articulating your higher purpose, implementing a change programme or communicating a new set of values, an HR initiative or an above-the-line promotion, we can help you create, design and deliver meaningful messages that resonate with your colleagues.

We’re easy to work with. We’re creative and meticulous, but we’re also down-to-earth and pragmatic. That’s how we can click with the people we work with day to day – we speak their language and we understand their roles, their pressures and their responsibilities. They think of us as an extension of their team and we make their job easier. They tell us that doing business with Elevator is a straight-forward, rewarding and enjoyable experience. I hope you’ll agree!

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