Your Employees: Greatest Champions or Credible Cynics. Start Talking To Them.

by Jeri Cartwright and Lisa Davis
UtahPulse.com  11/05/2009

Your employees are talking about your company. They're posting messages online or blogging. They are discussing their coworkers and bosses with friends. They are chatting with strangers at the grocery store. As their employer, are you giving them what they need to be good ambassadors?

Most organizations don't question the importance of developing strategic communications plans for media, shareholders, customers, and other external audiences. But many forget about their first, and most important audience: employees.

In an article titled "The Neglected Strategic Element," Robert Bacal made this observation:

"Determining what should be communicated to staff, when it should be communicated, and how it should be communicated... [is usually] developed, reactively, when there is a crisis or major event that clearly requires addressing communication issues. Where communication is planned out, it is often around upheavals like major corporate or organization change, layoffs and downsizing, and technological change. However, once the initiating focus has been eliminated communication tends to go back to an unorganized incoherent process."

In other words, after the crisis has passed, companies stop talking to employees again, and that's a shame. In a world of instantaneous cell phone calls, texting, and social media postings, lax internal communications can quickly translate into negative, and very convincing PR, spreading like H1N1 across the ether.

There are all kinds of operational and cultural benefits that can be gained by communicating well with your internal folks. From a communications standpoint, however, there are two very obvious pluses. First, they are either your most influential spokespeople-or most convincing detractors. And second, an informed, cohesive internal audience can significantly increase your success with external audiences.

Although most internal communications strategies are developed "reactively," for some organizations, keeping employees well informed and connected to company goals is just the way they do business. Take Qqest Software Solutions.

While speaking with Qqest's President and CEO, Burke Plummer recently about why he thinks his company is doing so well, despite the economic downturn, he named a few of the typical reasons: a solid product, good employees, great customer service. That's to be expected. And then he launched into a veritable testimony on the importance of good internal communication. From getting, and actually utilizing employee input, to improving information flow between departments, and even letting employees know the whats and whys behind the company's business strategy.

"You know, it's my policy to be inclusive. I really value employee input, and I use it to take the business in new directions," said Plummer. "I want them to understand our company's strategic goals-why we are doing the things we do. I hope they know how much we value their involvement."

Two of Plummer's employees, Clint Huffman, professional services manager, and Guy Evans, director of customer service, gave us a chance to find out just how effective the company's internal communications policies really are.

"We have a great company culture of listening-to each other and to our customers," said Evans. "It starts with Burke, and goes all the way down the line."

Huffman spoke about how his team addresses challenges. "Everyone works well together because they know what they have to say is valued. We are always able to get the right people in the room working on a solution. They're happy to be there. We don't always agree on the outcome, but we're satisfied because we were part of the process."

Evans also noted Plummer's "open door" policy. "While it doesn't make sense to have my team knocking on Burke's door all the time with ideas, they do it when it makes sense. They know they can go directly to him and that he'll listen, and take their advice when it's what's best for the company."

Qqest's culture of open communication didn't happen by accident. The company internal communications tactics that include feedback processes, a robust intranet, employee training programs, and committees that are continually retooled to keep that internal information flow as healthy as possible.

When your employees are both well informed, and genuinely included in the company conversation, you gain an army of ambassadors who spread the good word to their friends (future employees), your customers, their neighbors (future customers), someone at a cocktail party (reporter), and so on. And with the continuing growth of new media, even a casual happy mention in a personal blog can find infinite life in the e-sphere.

Just like in a family, we often forget to talk to, and take care of those closest to us. However, a genuine investment in our employees can go a long way toward achieving organizational objectives like growth and profitability. It can increase your chance of positive media coverage and marketing successes-and it can help make your company a great place to work.


Article originally appeared at UtahPulse.com.

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