A New Model for Employee Communication, Part 5: Consultation

Posted on July 19, 2017 10:08 pm by | Internal | A Model for Employee Communication

A New Model for Employee Communication, Part 5: Consultation

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 continue examining the outer ring of the model with a look at consultation.

Revised Employee Communication Model

The series:
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Overview
Part 3: Alignment
Part 4: Listening

The outer ring of the model represents the work that employee communicators engage in every day; they are infused in all communications. Consultation is the third outer ring segment. Most employee communication departments engage in some consultation. Few carry it beyond the basics of advising leadership how to communicate under various circumstances.

The Employee Communicator's Consultation RoleEven that entry-level form of consultation requires a high degree of credibility and trust from leaders. It requires a seat at the table (a phrase I am thoroughly sick of, but hey, it is what it is). Communication counsel can prevent leaders from employing a cringe-inducing euphemism. (I saw a video the other day of a jargon critic who shamed HSBC for announcing “the bank will be demising the role of 942 relationship managers.”)

I had just begun a new job as manager of employee communication for a Fortune 400 pharma, the leadership of which had already made a momentous decision: The company was adopting a shareholder value enhancement philosophy. SVE was the philosophy that sunk Enron and WorldCom, among others. At its core, SVE requires everyone to make all decisions based on whether they will lead to greater shareholder value.

“Work with the training department and communicate this to employees,” I was told. I tried to argue that there was no good way to make shareholders the overarching criterion for every decision. There is no way to get employees excited to get out of bed every morning and fight rush-hour traffic so they could enhance shareholder value. But the decision had been made. Working with the training department, we did our best to tell this story and bring employees along. You can imagine the result.

One wonderful story did come out of SVE at this company, though. The president’s office overlooked an acre or two of park-like landscaping on the campus. One day, a bird flew into the window and cracked it. The president called Bob from the facilities department, the only employee who wore a tie and a toolbelt. Bob saw the crack, nodded, and said he’d be right back. Fifteen minutes later, he returned with a can of caulk and a rag. He filled in the crack with caulk, then rubbed it smooth with the rag. Befuddled, the president said, “I can still see the crack. I want a new window.” Looking genuinely confused, Bob said, “How does a new window enhance shareholder value?” Employees may not have liked the message, but Bob demonstrated that at least they understood it.

Related: Employee vs. Internal Communication: Why I’m Bucking the Trend

A communicator with a seat at the table can make a case against decisions that simply cannot be communicated (or prepare leaders for the fact that they’ll just have to live with a bad reaction).

You probably don’t need a brochure

Counseling leaders on the many facets of communication is just one form of consultation, though. Any business unit leader team leader should be able to call on us for any kind of communication help. The days should be long gone when we get calls that insist, “I need a brochure,” which used to be a routine request. We should be able to ask, “What are you trying to achieve?” and recommend the best approach to achieving it.

A well-equipped communication team understands more about communication than just messaging and corporate journalism. We understand models of communication; the flow of information through an organization’s formal and informal channels (including internal influencers and the grapevine); we know the effect on employees of a frustrating encounter with a representative of a department like HR, IT, or Accounts Payable; we get the problems one department may have communicating with another.

A colleague once told me about a client where there was no love lost between the engineering and customer service departments. My friend spent time with both departments. It turned out the engineers resented being told by customer service what was wrong with the product they had designed, leaving customer service to feel the engineers weren’t taking the volume of calls they were coping with seriously. His solution? He sent customer service home for a day and had engineers take over. After one day of hearing complaint after complaint about the same design issues, the engineers got it. That was good counsel.

Message Mission Control

Employee communication also should serve as the company’s messaging center of excellence (or, as Pitney Bowes called it, “Message Mission Control”). Take the rollout of new messaging technology, for instance. Most companies employ the Godspeed method of introducing a new tool. “Here you go everybody: Yammer. Godspeed.” Employees are left to explore the tool and figure out for themselves how and why to use it. (In the case of something like Yammer, employees log in, look around, don’t see much that’s relevant to them, log off, and never return.)

As the experts on messaging, we should make the case that using the new tool will improve individual’s efficiency, reduce hassle, and boost their odds of success. We should let them know what it should and shouldn’t be used for, explain the rules of the road, and spotlight employees and teams using it well. (What we should never do is leave it to IT to handle the communication. That’s like letting the printer dictate the contents of a publication. It’s just not their job.)

The same “message mission control” concept applies to all dimensions of how employees engage with one another most effectively and efficiently, face-to-face, digitally, or in print.

When everyone inside an organization is communicating well, the organization runs better. If haven’t already, you should expand your definition of communication to encompass the word’s full meaning, so that everyone can convey concepts that evoke understanding and exchange information, news, and ideas.

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

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