Thursday, 28 January 2010

Holding the communications big stick over employees' heads

One of the challenges communications peeps have to face is engaging employees against a myriad of performance indicators - none of which include communicating. What I mean is, employees usually want information and in surveys they leave comments that while information from management is all well and good, they want to also hear from their peers - the average Jill and Joe in a cubicle, who they eat lunch with, who is not part of the hierarchy. And don't think we don't listen. We do hear. But then comes the issue of targets, performance, job description - all those yucky business terms that they bang into your brain while holding your bonus to ransom.

  • How does this fit in with productivity?
  • How does this help me achieve my KPIs?
  • Do they have time for this?
  • I don't want my staff on Twitter all day
  • I will get to it after I do this mountain load of work on my desk.
  • My boss does not think this is critical.

And the list goes on and on. Corporate social responsibility activties in many instances are part of the balanced scorecard/KPI type system. In a previous role, everyone had to get on board the CSR train, as it was ultimately tied to their performance and financial incentives. You would have persons at the end of the year scrambling to get on board the train when they realised that a couple thousand dollars would be left on the table if they did not. Is it the right way? Maybe not. I always believed that the company should work on building a more genuine culture of CSR but that's a moot point at this time.

Do we then incentivise communications - be it for internal or external purposes and practically force staff to get on board? That sure does not sound effective or fun.

The question recently arose of thought leadership and communications, and getting subject matter experts to weigh in on some of the issues which stakeholders are interested in learning more about. On paper it is easy to say that Paul or Bill or Brigitte will be roped in to lead social media discussions on what they know best. In reality, Paul, Bill and Brigitte barely have the time or the authority to make that commitment. It's usually always a "push back" when trying to get employees in the communications mix and to get them really talking.  And especially if management is not yet completely sold on the importance and value of it. "How will this affect Paul's work for me?" "Why can't you do it?"

I'm not sure where the whole idea that employees being part of the communications machine of an organisation is a time-intensive type activity that infringes on performance. Writing a blog post on a subject one is familiar with, with some coaching from the comms team, should not be a challenge of epic proportions. It should not feel like a chore either - one I have to do so you can release my salary increase from bondage. Managers recognise that employees should know what's happening, but not enough emphasis is placed on employees being part of what's happening. Managers also need to recognise that employees are the people who drive the mission and vision, and they do not stand apart from the rest of the organisational machine. So somehow we need to cross this barrier and it's up to us to work on building a stronger communications culture to get them all on board the comms train - and because they want to be, not because we push them on.


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