According to an HBR study, the second biggest influence on a company’s success is effective employee communications. We can see this fact in action in mainstream media: Elon Musk’s tweet about taking Tesla private was followed by a leaked memo to staff that explained his statements and what they meant for the Tesla workforce. Earlier this year, Google employees protested the company’s decision to work with the Pentagon, a project that many felt had not been accurately communicated beforehand.
In my work with companies across industries, I’ve identified four landmark events in which strategic communication is especially crucial: a high-profile hire, a product launch, a merger or acquisition, and recovering from layoffs. When dealing with these situations, companies need to go beyond mass emails and trickle-down communications. Here’s how they can do just that:
1. A High-Profile Hire
After a client of mine has made an executive hire, they’ll often ask me something like this: “We just made an offer to a CMO candidate. Any tips on sending out that email once the ink is dry?”
My response: “Rethink that approach.”
Employees want to know more than what they could find out on their own with a brief glance at LinkedIn. A storytelling strategy can help a business bring its new executive to life, connecting employees to their new leader on a deeper level.
Some key questions to ask when creating a storytelling strategy for a high-profile hire include:
- What unique trait or experience caused us to hire this person?
- What do our employees value about our culture, and how will this person cultivate that aspect of the culture?
- What are the three things this person stands for and expects from others?
- Most importantly, what makes this person their most comfortable and authentic self when in the spotlight?
Consider using multimedia channels to tell a new executive’s story. A succinct, well-done video can make employees feel like they know their new leader before even meeting them. A live chat session on the company intranet demonstrates that this new executive is approachable. Partner with the PR team to create a buzz in the media and share the resulting articles with employees. A coordinated unveiling creates a human connection that breaks the ice before any big, down-to-business appearances.
2. A Product Launch
Employees are more likely to feel engaged at work if they understand and believe in the goals toward which they work. All too often, internal communication around a new product or service is handled as if it were outward-facing marketing or sales, which makes it easy for employees to tune it out.
To get an audience engaged, consider creative and interactive ways to put employees in the customers’ shoes and humanize the problem the company or product aims to solve.
For example, let’s say a biopharmaceutical company is launching a new medication. The company could hold an “exploratorium” where employees learn about the typical patient’s journey from diagnosis to treatment by traveling through a museum-like gallery.
The same tactics used for a live event can be replicated in a virtual environment through audio, video, and interactive activities. Start by creating a daily or weekly series to pulse out different parts of the story, ending with an interview with an actual patient that speaks to employees.
3. A Merger or Acquisition
Culture can eat a merger or acquisition for breakfast. When Daimler and Chrysler merged in the 1990s, a lack of cultural alignment around things like business formalities, pay, and goals caused employee satisfaction plummeted. Layoffs followed, and ultimately a sale was carried out — all within about 10 years.
When two companies merge, it’s an exercise in creating a new culture that amalgamates the “old” cultures of the two companies. When an acquisition happens, one company usually sets the tone for the other organization. Regardless of the scenario, the question becomes: How can internal communications help to unify the company and minimize disruption?
A communication plan for something as complex as a merger or acquisition should always starts with a unifying human element, like the company’s core values. A campaign on company values in action solidifies an important set of expectations around culture and behavior. Beyond traditional tools like handbooks, consider bringing those values to a series of podcasts or videos where employees talk about how they put values into practice.
Use internal social channels to empower employees to share their own thoughts and build on each other’s perspectives. We’ve seen great engagement when we implement campaigns that give employees a platform.
4. Recovering From Layoffs
Post layoff, companies are usually grappling with one of two issues:
- Company leaders are overcommunicating because they want to be transparent, which often leaves employees overwhelmed with information.
- Company leaders are undercommunicating because they are “sensitive” to the situation and don’t want to create more disruption, which leaves employees with unanswered questions.
Start from the employees’ point of view: What do they think leadership isn’t sharing? What do they think will happen next? When planning, always assess the current emotional intelligence of the business as a baseline. This is a basic concept, but more often than not, companies skip this important step during times of change.
Some companies try to find that balance between over- and undercommunicating. In either case, culture-driven messages and activities must remain part of the plan. For example, we worked with a company that wanted to keep its culture in balance while going through a transition. Based on the climate at the organization, a series of engagement activities were put into action across several weeks, including a manager’s “on-the-move” program for impromptu conversations with employees, fireside chats and reverse town halls, and even an outdoor celebration for National Hot Dog Day. These purposefully placed moments of engagement — some with key messaging, some just to listen, and some just to have fun — kept the culture in a positive space and ready for transition.
While strategic communication is important to employee engagement — and therefore to productivity, turnover, and the bottom line — in these four specific events, it is also critical to have a communications plan in place at all times. If you want to keep employees engaged on a daily basis, your internal communication needs just as much attention, planning, and execution as outward-facing forms of communication.
Chris Viscount is head of the internal communications department at BlueprintNYC.