A New Model for Employee Communication, Part 18: Organizational Integrity

Posted on October 17, 2018 12:21 pm by | Internal | A Model for Employee Communication | Trust

Organizational Integrity

This is the latest installment in a series of posts exploring a new model of employee communication, designed to deliver measurable results that demonstrate the impact on the organization in ways that matter to leaders.

Revised Employee Communication Model

The series:
Part 1: Introduction Part 10: Values
Part 2: Overview Part 11: Practices
Part 3: Alignment Part 12: People
Part 4: Listening Part 13: People
Part 5: Consultation Part 14: Engagement
Part 6: Branding Part 15: The Strategic Narrative
Part 7: Channels Part 16: Engaging Managers
Part 8: Culture Part 17: Employee Voice
Part 9: Vision/Mission

The four overlapping circles at the center of the model represent the best opportunities for employee communication to affect an organization on a day-to-day basis. This post explores the third enabler of employee engagement, employee voice.

The Engagement Circle

What, then, is organizational integrity?

Before I share my answer, I’d like to share a story with you.

Several years ago, I was conducting employee research for a Silicon Valley company. In one focus group, I asked about the company’s values statement. One of the employees showed me the security card he (and every other employee) wore on a lanyard around his neck. “The values statements are on the back of this,” he said.

“And what about them?” I asked.

Several of the other employees in the room laughed derisively. “Words,” he said. “Nothing but words.”

I wanted to know more, so another employee explained that a week or two earlier, an employee in the firm had been promoted to an executive-level position, acquiring all the benefits that went with the title: salary, bonus, stock, company car, status. “He got the promotion because he blew away his numbers,” the employee said. “And he blew away his numbers by violating every single value printed on the backs of these cards.”

Another employee said, “So what should we do? Pay attention to the words on the back of these cards or pay attention to what actually gets you ahead around here?”

A wide say-do gap erodes trust


The company is one whose name you would recognize. It is a well-respected organization with a good reputation. Yet I would argue—at least at the time I conducted that focus group—it had little organizational integrity. The values printed on the security badges were not reflected in the day-to-day behaviors of the company. There was a considerable say-do gap.

Organizational integrity means there is no say-do gap.

Closing the say-do gap

As Engage for Success notes, “Trust is fundamental to high performance in a team, and high engagement in an organization. Organizational integrity builds trust.”

Consider one organization I worked for in the 1980s, when companies were adopting a number of flavors of quality improvement. My employer opted for the “Quality Improvement Process,” which was based on the idea of “Zero Defects” and “Conformance to Requirements.” A $10 watch could be a quality watch under this program’s definition, as long as it conformed to requirements. The company—not a watch company, by the way—spent millions of dollars on QIP. Every employee was trained. We formed Quality Improvement Teams and Steering Committees. Adherence to the program was baked into performance evaluations.

Then, one day, a defect was found in a new product ready to ship. Faced with the decision to either ship a product that did not conform to requirements—it had more than zero defects—leadership said, “Ship it.”

The Quality Improvement Process died that day. The teams and committees still met for a few months, but nobody believed that the discovery of a defect would lead to suspension of production until a root cause could be identified and the problem corrected. And nobody trusted any new initiative leadership introduced. “Remember QIP?” they would say.

As my friend Jim Shaffer says, the hard work begins after you have defined your purpose and your values. That’s when you have to operationalize those beliefs about who we are and what we believe. From senior leadership to the front line, everybody has to understand that, “When we say this, it means we do this.”

Trust builds when employees see the words reflected in action.

A side note: Decades ago, I read an article in IABC’s CW magazine by Ed Robertson, the late FedEx internal communication innovator whose work was so important to the company that he reported directly to CEO Fred Smith. I can’t remember the exact words, but the gist was, “If you have to give a program a name, call it Just The Way We Do Things Around Here.” It’s harder for employees to shrug off the program-of-the-month when it’s not a program. If it’s just how things are done, it becomes part of the culture much faster.

The Communicator’s Role

Organizational Integrity, more than any other enabler of employee engagement, is a top-down phenomenon. Internal communicators have two core roles to play:

  1. Advisory—In 2012, the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communications Management, met in Australia and issued The Melbourne Mandate, a call to action for communicators to adopt three new areas of value for the profession. One of these new areas addresses the character of the organization and its values. Specifically, the Mandate believes communicators should be accountable for keeping the company true to its DNA and values, how leadership conveys the company’s values in its words and actions, guiding a culture that reflects the values, and influencing the company’s reputation and brand. Serving in this advisory capacity can help leaders avoid taking actions that will erode trust and widen the say-do gap.
  2. Tactical—In addition to guiding executive decision-making, each small action leaders (and others) take to reinforce the purpose and values narrows the say-do gap. These tactics can be ones for which you are directly responsible as a communicator or they can be suggestions you offer to leaders, something as simple as having the vice president conducting a town hall meeting recognize a worker in the audience for doing something that reflects the purpose and values. (I have long believed that the primary goal of any recognition program is for employees who weren’t recognized to understand what kinds of behaviors get you recognized around here.)

    Following are some actions you can take to reinforce the organization’s integrity:

    Get leaders into the field—Leader pronouncements from 40,000 feet carry little weight with employees in the field. When leaders meet with small groups in the field, though, and answer their questions forthrightly, it goes a long way toward convincing these employees that the execs mean what they say. Any new companywide initiative rates and executive “road show.” Where I work, four long-term strategic initiatives are updated companywide and with a leadership road show every quarter.

    Solicit stories—If recognition drives behavior, you can recognize employees and teams regularly by showcasing their stories about how they have lived the purpose and values.

    Connect the dots—Too often, we communicate company news without tying each story to the purpose, the vision, the mission, or one of the values. If the company is making a change that relates to an initiative, connect those dots: “We said we were going to do X. This change supports that effort. Here’s how.” When announcing a community activity or investment, note that “Our support of this cause is consistent with Value X.” Don’t assume employees will get the connection on their own.

    Bring managers into the picture—Middle management is often where information goes to die; it’s why internal communications thought leader Roger D’Aprix dubbed it, “the frozen middle.” While I have issues with relying on people managers to communicate your message, ignoring them is not a solution. A good middle ground is to ensure they know the key concepts and can (a) reinforce them during daily huddles and other get-togethers and (b) connect the dots at the local level, explaining that the team will use new process (for example) because it addresses a goal leaders having been talking about (that is, when we say this, we take action to support it). Distributing FAQs and talking points to people managers is a good start.

    Measure, measure, measure—When a nonprofit says it wants to raise $1,000, you often see a thermometer in front of the building; the mercury rises corresponding to the funds raised. Employees want to know how the company is doing on the goals their leaders have set. After all, recognition and articles and other means of talking about the goals won’t mean much if employees can’t see that progress is being made. Simple visuals can go a long way toward raising employee confidence that the work around an initiative is paying off.

    Celebrate wins—When there’s a tangible payoff from the company’s purpose, values, or goals, celebrate it. Every company’s celebration culture is different; you know what works in your company.

    Address failures—It’s inevitable that someone will screw up and do or say something that may produce a financial return but contradicts the company’s values and purpose. If that’s not addressed, employees can see it as evidence that the company isn’t serious about what it says, widening that say-do gap. If it’s a minor transgression, you may not need to do much. Some companies just have the employee who violated the company’s principles let it be known he was wrong and won’t do it again. Major infractions, however, need a stronger response. If someone loses their job over the infringement, for example, you need to let people know that it was a consequence of not behaving consistently with what the company stands for.

    Leave a comment to share the steps you take as a communicator to keep the say-do gap narrow—or completely closed—in your organization.

    This post wraps up our dive into the role internal communications can play in supporting employee engagement. With the next post, we’ll start on our third overlapping circle, which focuses on the internal communications role in building the Customer Experience (CX).

    The graphics for this series were created by Brian O’Mara-Croft.

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