As long ago as 1657 the French philosopher Blaise Pascal gave us the famous quote: ‘If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.’
And his words came easily to mind recently, when an intern at a Swedish client asked me to share five steps she needed to keep in mind whilst helping to shape an employee engagement strategy and plan.
Of course, my experience doesn’t go back as far as the 17th Century. But I have worked in the fields associated with employee engagement for over 32 years now – and can point to many things that you need to get right.
Five key steps to success
Here are the five steps I shared with the intern – though in truth, two days after she posed the question – and now share with you.
Step 1. Understand your audience’s needs
If you don’t invest time to research your audience’s needs, you might just as well start every communication with the words ‘to whom it may concern.’ In fact, you’d do well to find out what their concerns are. What are the hot topics of conversation in the workplace? These things are rarely the same as are on the management agenda. Find out what they know now, what they need to know and how they like to get their information. Of course, you may have a number of audiences with distinct and differing needs, in which case you should segment them in order to meet their bespoke requirements.
Step 2. Be super clear about what you need to communicate
Before you even think of communicating anything with the workforce, you’d better get your story straight. What are the three to five overarching messages you want your colleagues to understand and act upon? And what detail will they need under each of those key messages? Of course, the work you’ve done at step one, will help you meet the bespoke needs of your different audiences. I advocate you create a short written ‘message manifesto’ and get it signed off. This helps align everything you, or anyone else, communicates. This is especially important in today’s fast moving digitally enabled communications landscape, as leaders can easily fire off messages on internal social channels via their mobile devices.
Step 3. Create a plan based on outcomes
All too often I’ve seen well-intentioned communications calendars, stuffed full of channels, masquerading as a strategy. Whilst I totally get the importance of the calendar, I think there is often a step missing. I recommend you think through what you want each of your differing audiences to actually be doing in the context of your key messages – and by when. In other words, focus on the outcomes. Having done this, you are better placed to then create the communications calendar, including the audience-specific channels, and when they are to be deployed – to achieve your desired outcomes. In an ideal world, your calendar should also take account of other messaging – to avoid clashes.
Step 4. Adopt the right style and tone
You’ve thought through what your varying audiences’ needs are. You’ve worked out what you need to say to them. And you’ve worked through the outcomes you’re looking to deliver and the comms plan that will make all this happen. Now it is time to ensure you adopt the right style and tone for each channel you intend to deploy. A one size fits all approach rarely works, so echo how your audience likes to receive their information. Do they read a ‘red top’ tabloid newspaper? If they do, writing in the style of the Wall Street Journal won’t connect with them! Remember it is your audiences’ needs we are trying to meet, not those of your senior leaders.
Step 5. Measure what is working – and what isn’t
Effective communication must be two-way – more dialogue than diatribe. The most effective way to find out if a colleague understands your messages is… to ask them! It doesn’t have to be a full-on employee opinion survey, a small ‘Sounding Board’ might suffice, or use a digital tool such as Engage. Whatever you do, do it regularly and check for understanding, not just whether someone actually received your communication. And check the extent to which the outcomes you identified in step three are being achieved. If they are… great, tell your bosses! If they aren’t, then you can take appropriate corrective action, immediately.
Of course, there are so many interdependent things that need to be got right to create world-class levels of employee engagement. The five steps I’ve singled out here, have, in my experience, often been overlooked – but where they have been put in place, they really do make a difference.