The most common refrain among CEOs, CCOs, and CHROs today centers around the ability to clearly and consistently communicate and thus engage employees in the business. “If only we could get even a slight majority of our workforce to comprehend our direction and the competitive forces thrust upon us and alter their behavior daily we could gain enormous advantage in the marketplace,” noted one CCO recently.
“Quite frankly, our people don’t get it,” an exasperated CHRO offered when we asked why the company missed its last three revenue and profit projections.
But why exactly do intelligent, hard- and smart-working people not grasp an organization’s strategy and mission?
Here’s a very simple framework centering on the five basic human senses designed to improve clarity and engagement internally:
Employees are your smartest and most effective competitive advantage. They know and interpret more than leadership can ever imagine. Oftentimes, people see a distinct disconnect between actions and words and thus are reluctant to commit to a course of action knowing it probably won’t stick and their efforts will be for moot.
A global consumer products organization restructured its business around Innovation citing the need to catalyze its strong network and proud history of product development to regain category leadership. The strategy was aimed at select areas of the business thus limiting the ability of employees to engage in the process and gain the synergy necessary to rethink the entre business approach. The result was an uneven ideation effort which ultimately failed causing the CEO to lose is position.
In an attention deficient economy where there is more content than attention, people tend to turn the volume off when the rhetoric does not match the behaviors, policies, systems, and compensation patterns. It’s akin to what we witness in government and politics where officials say one thing but never follow through or worse, act in an entirely different manner.
A manufacturer in the midst of a cost-cutting effort where hundreds of jobs were lost and reductions in budget were taking place everywhere kept flying its executives daily via helicopter to meetings where employees “heard” the rotating blades believing the effort was neither uniform nor necessary.
In this instance, people can’t put their hands on anything concrete to legitimize the company’s strategy or direction. The effort boils down to a series of messages or worse an internal branding program with little substance.
A customer excellence initiative designed to up level a company’s customer service performance score to gain new customers and keep existing ones was introduced with a series of internal events, speeches, a branding platform, and numerous giveaways to employees. What it didn’t include was training, measurement and recognition. The program failed miserably with Client Satisfaction Scores plummeting 15% two months into the launch.
This is most intriguing from an employee engagement standpoint. It refers to the individual’s ability and commitment to becoming informed. It relies less on the company and more on the employee. Is she/he asking the right questions; participating in the right discussions; reading and seeking the right information; exploring the business and competitive situation; and assessing performance against goals?
In an Accountability based culture people leave nothing to chance. They initiate activity and seek information and discussion to further individual and collective goals. One such organization includes engagement measures to performance reviews based on an employee’s knowledge of the business and coherence around specific objectives within the functional area.
One of the most effective means of gaining employee trust and encouraging dialogue, discussion and debate among the workforce, is having the bond between manager/supervisor and employee strengthened. If a manager is a willing and able facilitator in moving employees along a continuum of learning and growth then people detect the essence of the organization’s strategy or goals.
An extremely successful international retailer promotes managers based on how direct reports rank their communication, engagement, and development skills. The approach builds organizational integrity at every level of the enterprise.
The bottom line is that organizational clarity doesn’t need to be a challenge today. Linking communications to engagement and performance against the five basic human senses allows organizations to better connect employees to the business while mitigating the myriad missteps that usually take place when communicating internally.