A New Model for Employee Communication, Part 3: Alignment

Posted on July 6, 2017 3:14 pm by | Internal | A Model for Employee Communication

A New Model for Employee Communication, Part 3: Alignment

This is the latest installment in a series of posts exploring a new model of employee communication, one designed to deliver measurable results that demonstrate the impact on the organization in ways that matter to leaders. In this post, we begin examining the outer ring of the model with a look at alignment

Revised Employee Communication Model


The series:
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Overview

The outer ring of the model represents the work that employee communicators engage in every day; they are infused in all communications. Alignment, the first of the outer ring segments, is one of those corporate buzzwords that means different things to different people. The truth is, all of them are correct.

  • Alignment of company business plan with employees’ goals
  • Alignment of the company’s big picture (main the vision and mission) with employees’ roles in that picture
  • Alignment of employees’ values with the company’s values

Alignment segment of the new model for employee communication's outer ringSupporting alignment is what makes the corporate journalism performed by employee communicators important. It is why companies can’t rely on employees reading external reports in the mainstream or trade press. It is why communicating company news and information cannot be left to PR, marketing, or other departments that are (and should be) preoccupied with achieving different objectives. Employee communicators must acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to for employees to understand what it means to them. The result (if I may beat a few overused metaphors to death) is employees who are on the same page as the company, rowing in the same direction.

Neither communication efforts nor the work of other departments, such as Human Resources, are experiencing much success in creating alignment. According to a report in the Harvard Business Review, only 29% of employees in high-performing companies, when presented with six different choices, could correctly identify their own company’s strategy.

(I like this approach far more than asking in a survey whether employees know the strategy. They may think they do and answer “yes,” leading the communicator to report high levels of comprehension that may not exist.)

That’s roughly the same number—17%—that agree that open communication exists in their organization, according to Gallup research.

Alignment outcomes

Alignment is one of the biggest challenges facing companies trying to execute a business strategy. Conversely, companies that achieve alignment perform significantly better than those that don’t. One report out of the Deloitte organization found that organizations that make it easy for employees to set clear goals are four times more likely to rank in the top 25% of business outcomes. Of course, it’s hard to imagine that kind of success if employees’ goals are out of whack with the company’s plans (or, to further torture the metaphor, if employees are rowing in a different direction). Another study, out of MIT, found that when business and individual goals are aligned, the company was 2.2 times more likely to be a top performer compared to the competition.

Alignment produces other proven outcomes (according to a report by Harvard Business Analytic Services), including…

  • The ability to move for speedily from strategic plan to execution
  • Employees who become highly motivated when they can see progress toward a meaningful goal (along with their and their team’s contribution to that progress)
  • Long-term employee satisfaction. Retention goes up. Absenteeism drops.

Relevance: The key to strategic alignment

A few years back, a colleague and I conducted an employee communication audit for a big, global media company. At the outset, leadership told us they believed employees didn’t care about the company’s strategy. “Our employee communications department does a great job spelling out our plans,” one senior executive told us, “but nobody comments. They comment on stories about parking and the cafeteria, but not about our big-picture plans.”

We asked about that during employee focus groups. One employee summed up the general response: “I’m an associate producer on a nightly show in the U.S.,” he said. “When I read about our expansion into another continent, I find it interesting, but it has nothing to do with me. What should I write as a comment? ‘Wow, that’s interesting?’”

It is precisely this kind of misalignment that employee communications can address by ensuring employees can figure out how news and other content is relevant to them. Achieving relevance takes more than simple messaging, especially in the one-size-fits-all mass media model (and it doesn’t matter when that model is realized with print, email, or an intranet).

Tactics

There are all kinds of ways communicators can ensure the relevance required to support alignment, including (but by no means limited to)...

  • Employee stories—Share stories of individual employees and teams whose work supports the bigger strategy, helping others connect the dots.
  • Subscription channels—Make sure content is properly tagged so employees subscribing to unique channels get information that is relevant to them. Employee communication software platforms like SocialChorus make it easy for channel managers to distribute relevant content to employees who don’t have to follow other irrelevant channels.
  • Manager resources—When communicating a big-picture message, provide managers and supervisors with resources that will help them interpret the message, explaining what it means to employees who report to them. these resources can include anything from an FAQ to presentation templates.
  • Solicit employee input—Get employees thinking about how the company strategy relates to them by asking for specific input. “How are you or your team contributing to this goal?” is a question that can give employees a voice, spark deeper thinking, and provide communicators with some fodder for follow-up communication.
  • Informal meetings with leadership—Activities like “Lunch with the CEO” puts a mix of employees in the same room as the big-picture guy where they can talk about activating the strategy at the ground level. Imagine if that associate producer at the media company had been able to meet with the CEO and ask how he could contribute to the non-U.S. expansion efforts.
  • Leader recognition—If the CEO at the next town hall meeting recognizes an employee or team for their ground-level work in support of a big-picture strategy, others will get the idea of what it takes to get recognized around here.

Values alignment

A company’s values increasingly are a source of, well, value. Employees, investors, customers, and other stakeholders want to do business with organizations whose values align with their own.

I will address values in more detail when we get to the Culture section of the model (culture includes vision, values, practices, people and place). At their essence, though, values are the company’s core set of beliefs about what’s right. A company’s values dictate the behaviors that drive actions.

If employees’ values are misaligned with the company’s, the resulting problems can be crippling.

Communicators can ensure that employees not only know what the values are but demonstrate that they are more than words framed and hung on conference room walls. In a Harvard Business Review piece, Patrick M. Lencioni wrote, “Empty values statements create cynical and dispirited employees, alienate customers, and undermine managerial credibility.” (I will address this specifically in the conversation about Engagement, an enabler of which is organizational integrity, the lack of a gap between the organization’s stated values and the behavior of its leaders.)

We can also report on employees and teams whose activation of a company value led to a business success and open communication channels for employees to point out misalignment of values in practice so action can be taken to correct the problem.

In fact, we need to ensure alignment on every dimension of the employee communication model, including alignment with customers. Alignment should be a communication goal not only in the communication products we distribute, but in the conversations, collaborations, and interactions that occur every day among employees across the enterprise.

If we’re not creating alignment—and establishing the foundation for the results alignment delivers to the bottom line—why would a company waste its money funding an employee communication department in the first place?

Next up…

The next post in this series will address listening, the second segment of the outer ring.

Until then, let’s talk. What is the state of alignment in your organization? How does communication support it? What are the obstacles to achieving it?

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

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