April 30, 2013
At the heart of a successful organization is a well-thought-out, measurable organizational strategy.
However, without a supporting internal communications plan, organizational strategy has the potential of being meaningless corporate jargon. Building a strong foundation through employee understanding and engagement is fundamental to successful implementation.
Employees who understand how their work impacts the overall success of an organization are more likely to take actions that align with the organizational goals and will ultimately help move forward. Here are several key tactics to help build a connection with employees:
While employees generally desire to hear job-specific tactical information from their immediate supervisor, they expect to hear organizational strategy from the CEO. Not only are the senior leaders in an organization developing the strategy, they must be communicating the goals, listening and responding to feedback, setting the tone and energizing people behind common goals.
Additionally, it’s important for leaders to communicate on a regular basis to maintain top-of-mind awareness of the strategy among employees and share measurable results so that employees understand progress toward the organizational goals.
For example, Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly records a weekly Monday morning audio message that is available to employees via a toll-free number and as a podcast on the employee blog.
“We are very fortunate to have a CEO who intuitively knows the importance of communication and dedicates a significant amount of time to ensuring that our employees are aware of and onboard with the company’s plan,” according to Todd Painter, Southwest Airlines communications team member. “Just as important, if not more important, to Gary is that he pats our employees on the back regularly — attributing much of our success to the people of Southwest Airlines.”
Employees desire to understand not only their direct impact on organizational strategy but also how the organization is progressing toward its goals. Employees feel energized by success, and when progress is stalled, an engaged workforce that understands the strategic plan and their connection to the plan will pull together to advance toward common goals.
It is important for progress-related communications to come from both leadership and direct managers, understanding that the message delivered from each level will differ in content. Leadership can help employees understand overall organizational health and direct managers can help employees understand how their work contributes toward goals.
MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas has more than 8,500 employees and, for this organization, superior customer service is a top priority. The company communicates customer service scores to the employees, by department, on a regular basis.
MGM will soon begin communicating organizational scores via a digital display with video in the employee common areas. To reinforce the message, the company provides daily communications and training on customer services. These tactics help employees feel connected to the overall goal and help them recognize the progress they are making.
From day one, employees need to understand the organizational strategy — including mission, vision and values. There isn’t a reason to hire an employee if they are not aligned with the fundamental guiding principles. Many organizations develop microsites, pre-employment seminars and brochures to share this information.
Zappos, a $1 billion online retailer, takes this tactic seriously. Zappos offers to pay new employees a $2,000 bonus plus time worked to leave the organization after completing orientation if they are not fully on board with the company values and strategic direction. By using the recruiting and onboarding process, organizations can ensure that employees are aligned with the culture and employees can proceed with knowledge of how their work contributes to the overall success.
It is critical for employees to understand how they relate to organizational goals. For line-employees, this connection may not be easily identifiable. Employers should document what the strategy means for each function.
In addition to incorporating this into job descriptions, you can accomplish this by employee videos and testimonials. By demonstrating how current employees understand and exemplify the strategy, a clear connection is created and employees can quickly understand what the strategy means to their job function.
“Getting employees to see where their individual efforts fit within the bigger picture is a challenge,” said Painter. “At Southwest Airlines, we’ve seen success with storytelling — which helps employees understand how they can make a difference and contribute to the company’s success (or failure). Identifying employees (change agents) who have embraced change and new initiatives, and asking them to share their stories with their peers (through blogs and in person), helps employees figure out how they too can help.”
Employees desire to be recognized for their contributions to organizational success. Recognition can take shape in many formats from a simple spotlight on the intranet to a special rewards program with prizes. The most important aspects of this tactic are to acknowledge employee contributions, create an opportunity for recognition among peers and share examples of success as inspiration to other employees.
“At MGM Grand, we have several employee recognition programs that help make customer service a top-of-mind daily goal for all employees,” said Jenny Titus, director of employee programs and communications at MGM Grand Hotel and Casino. “From a simple peer-to-peer recognition program to an annual formal awards gala, we believe that recognition keeps employees motivated toward common goals and enables star employees to serve as role models to others.”
Alice Grey Harrison, APR, leads internal communications for Dixon Hughes Goodman LLP, a U.S. top-15 accounting firm with more than 1,700 employees. Twitter: @alicegrey.
Email: alicegrey.harrison at dhgllp.com