Don’t restrict the company narrative to new hires

Posted on February 23, 2016 1:31 pm by | Internal

Telling the Company Story

Through a visit last week to an iconic Bay Area tech company and judging a batch of entries to communication competitions, I have seen some excellent new-hire orientation materials. One of the standout elements in each of these is an introduction to the company narrative: Who are we? Were did we come from? Where are we now? Where are we going? How will we get there? Who will guide us?

Building employee understanding of this narrative is vitally important for a number of reasons. It helps employees connect their own values to those of the organization and figure out where they fit in the narrative. Employees who grasp the company narrative are better equipped to align their work efforts to support it; they are also better able to innovate on behalf of the company’s goals. And exposure to the company narrative is one of the key drivers of engagement.

Why, then, is the information presented only to new hires?

Having seen scores of corporate intranets, I have found little content that tells the company story and even fewer that tell that story in an engaging way.

Back in 2006, when I was doing some consulting work with Key Bank in Cleveland, I saw some brilliant interactive graphics that did a great job of sharing the company story with anyone who wanted to know. The graphics—not sophisticated by today’s standards but clear and understandable—covered topics like “Who we are,” “Who serves who,” “What we’re up against,” “How Key makes money,” “How we measure up,” and “Where we’re going.”

What We're Up Against (from Key Bank, circa 2006)

Fast-forward a decade and employees have new and better channels through which to get this kind of content, especially channels that deliver it quickly and require only a few seconds of the employee’s attention to absorb it—and possibly share it with colleagues.

  • Infographics—The Key Bank images were early examples of infographics. Applying current standards to this kind of information allows companies not only to archive it for retrieval by interest employees, but to share them via email, messaging apps, and internal social networks.
  • Short videos—I’m talking about the easy-to-produce, under-a-minute, captioned videos that don’t require audio and can be streamed from both a computer and a mobile device.
  • Digital signage—A few months back, I spoke to an employee communications executive who was using digital signage to convey the company’s history and values. By applying compelling graphics and intriguing messages, the signage produced a measurable uptick in employee understanding of the company narrative.
  • Special intranet feature—When he was still working at American Electric Power, communicator William Amurgis starting sharing historical photos from the company archive. That’s genius, helping employees connect themselves to the company’s history. The feature was immensely popular with AEP employees.

Internal communications isn’t only about news stories and feature articles. Engaging employees is better accomplished by making work an experience, and feeling connected to the company story, feeling part of that story, can go a long way toward delivering on that recruitment-to-retirement (and beyond) experience.

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