generic blindersIn the daily race to disseminate content, populating internal channels and sources with information meant to inform and motivate people to improve performance, communications professionals often fail to observe people’s behaviors. Yet it is precisely the details of how employees are acting that can lead to new found methods in leading, managing, and communicating resulting in stronger engagement.

Over the course of our work in organizational communications we are noticing four distinct patterns of employee behavior, which taken together reshape the role and efficacy of internal communications.

First, Projection – one of the easiest traps for communicators to fall into is to take employee sentiment at face value.

This is akin to chasing the symptom vs. addressing the cause. Often, people will say things like “I don’t understand our strategy?”
This causes internal communicators to ramp up the message machine pumping content that restates the business strategy – rhetoric on priorities, imperatives, financial targets, etc., often in high volume ways and with heavy creative assistance.

In truth, we have found employees tend to project their true intent via introducing another topic.

In this instance, what employees really mean is that the strategy does not reflect what they are either seeing or experiencing. Or worse, what they believe their performance is being based on. In one organization, a customer centric business strategy was never supported with new metrics, new tools, and compensation policies causing a major disconnect among the workforce.

The proper response from communications and management was to implement a new system including training throughout the enterprise and appropriate communications charting the progress the company was making toward a higher level of customer satisfaction.

The second behavior is what we’re calling, Local Loyalty.

One of the unintended consequences of technology is that companies have become more complex. As a result, people are migrating to the most local aspects of their work reality (read: manageable).

In so doing, their work lives are increasingly being viewed through a very myopic lens.

It is here where relevance and practicality come together.

In an analysis of content being consumed within one large, global organization, the most well-received information were neither the corporate news, business unit highlights, regional features but site and functional stories.

The response was the creation of “On-Demand” Communications.

This meant building an internal news hub within the larger enterprise portal featuring sections cultivated and curated at the site and functional level leaving to the individual to self-select content when needed and necessary. This forced communicators to embed content critical from a corporate level into those stories to ensure alignment.

The third behavior is, Blind Activity.

The speed, pace and continual shifting of business models and performance measures is causing people to search for purpose inside companies like never before. The competitive spirit once sought by leaders is now turning into a chaotic web of activity much of which is not tied to strategic intent or business success.

“We have well-intentioned people initiating all kinds of activity,” bemoaned the president of a consumer goods company. “Unfortunately, much of it is not aimed at our strategic goals. We seem to have more teams than teamwork. More data than insight. And more activity than result.”

The response was a series of “marketplace reality check” sessions at all levels of the business whereby managers and employees immersed in the current state of the industry reviewing competitive moves, customer trends, and business projections all in the interest of gaining a fundamental comprehension of the business.

This could be traced back to business unit, functional, and individual goals.

The results to date indicate higher scores in customer satisfaction, productivity, and retention.

The fourth behavior is, Billboard Assimilation.

Just as the name implies, employees are constantly distracted and often working with the volume off.

They drive by information much like a driver passing a billboard. They watch more than listen. It takes approximately 3 seconds to grab people’s attention.

No longer can internal communications be relegated to static content and images.

The response is Visualization. Visualizing complex subjects through videos, infographics, and other visual experiments piques employee’s curiosity simplifying complex topics and gaining much needed attention.

A financial services company employed custom icons in a series of graphic-laden stories representing different phases of an employee’s journey within the company emphasizing levels of learning, specific performance characteristics painting a picture for achievement.

Being Aware

The democratization of technology is reshaping the world we live in and nothing signifies this reality more than the workplace.

Everything from having information now find you vs. the other way around. To having the company at your fingertips so it can work for you vs. the other way around. To recognizing your workforce is not an audience but a series of activists viewing the world through their own prism and as such, cannot be communicated with in the same fashion.

For communications professionals, particularly those who specialize in organizational (internal) communications, recognizing how technology is empowering the individual to ideate, create, invent, and achieve is critical to attaining sustained success.

The four behaviors outlined here are just scratching the surface in terms of human dynamics.

The question remains: what are you observing in your organization?