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Transforming the Workforce: FedEx, Gagen MacDonald Leaders Talk Employee Communications

By Helen Ostrowski, APR.


July 1, 2011

As part of its Business Case for Public Relations advocacy campaign, PRSA launched an exclusive video interview series on employee engagement hosted by former Porter Novelli CEO Helen Ostrowski, APR.

The videos, which you can watch at  http://www.prsa.org//Intelligence/BusinessCase/CaseStudies/EmployeeCommunications/, feature executive-level PR professionals discussing the business value of public relations. Here are two edited excerpts from the first videos in the series.


Bill Margaritis

Margaritis, corporate vice president of worldwide communications and investor relations at FedEx, and chairman of the Arthur Page Society, describes the interconnectedness of corporate culture and employee engagement.

Bill Margaritis on Corporate Culture

On the relationship among brand culture and reputation:
Brand is the promise that we make to the marketplace and to the customers we serve — fast, reliable service, for example. Culture, on the other hand, is the set of actions, through our employees and the company, that bring that brand to life. It speaks to the character of the organization, the value system, who we are as corporate citizens and how we treat our people. We view brand and reputation as complementary. Consumers are looking for more than just a brand. They want a relationship with your company. They want to know who you are, what you’re about and how you’re involved in communities. So culture is the connective tissue to reputation. And a strong culture is one that has a strong set of beliefs, values and behaviors around something important.

On employees contributing to the company culture:
In our case, being in a service industry, great customer service has to be ingrained in all of our front-line people. Every one of their actions every day can either help or hurt that reputation.

One of the most powerful things you can build in a culture is discretionary effort. People love to be part of an organization that goes above and beyond, because they’re winners. It’s not something you can legislate in a manual or in a training class, because it speaks to the heart.

There’s an emotional spirit that comes through when someone goes the extra mile to do the right thing. That’s what we strive for through all of our programming. A lot of it is storytelling. It’s capturing real people in real places and having them tell their stories.

On measuring the value of employee communication campaigns:
We have a robust research instrument in play right now to try to understand loyalty, pride, engagement and how employees view our reputation. A proud employee is going to be a loyal employee who will go above and beyond.

We also try to connect this research to our external reputational research. We want to see if there’s any correlation between how our employees feel about these issues versus external stakeholders. So our research is actionable, and it’s outcome-based. We want our folks to be ambassadors of the brand. The more informed they are, the more motivated they are, the more connected they are and the more likely they are to be ambassadors.

On the evolving role of corporate communications:
We’re finding that a communications professional inside a company needs to be a counselor, a strategist, a partner and a problem solver to the internal clients — much more than someone who just writes good copy, gets an email out or runs a good meeting. Our clients are now in a much more complex environment. They need to have a partner who can help them think through all these issues and get outcome-based results.

The new communications professional has to have a much broader set of skills. They need to be strategists. They need to be well versed in research and applying that research. They need to be able to negotiate and be persuasive. They need to have strong business acumen, know how to run a project, know how to build coalitions and know how to work horizontally — not just vertically.


Maril MacDonald

MacDonald, founder of the strategy execution and employee engagement firm Gagen MacDonald, discusses the transformation of employee communications professionals.

Maril MacDonald on Employee Engagement Programs

On the differences between employee engagement and employee communication:
For a long time, people thought of employee communication as a one-way process. It was an area where we communicated from one to many, disseminating information. The shift to employee engagement then began to connote a two-way or multidimensional dialogue. Employee engagement is about connecting people emotionally to the work that they’re doing every day, which is different from, “How do we share information with them?” As people are becoming more aligned with the concept of engagement, the term “employee communication” has shifted as well and is often looked at as more of a two-way process.

On successful employee engagement programs:
The companies that understand employee engagement have a couple of things in common. One is that they start with listening and want to understand what our employee population is all about. What are the issues, what do the people who are closest to the work [think] we need to do — the people who are closest to the customer? This is different from the old model of somebody with a big title telling everybody else what to do. There’s a lot of co-creation instead of management telling or selling people. The other thing we’re seeing now is more use of social media as a channel for that dialogue and co-creation. Companies are becoming more aware of the need to connect at an emotional level to their brand, their vision, their values — and to get to the core of, “Who are we really, and how do we connect our employees to that?”

On the business case for employee engagement programs:
The first thing I’d say to leadership is, “Show me leadership without communication.” Maybe they weren’t actually talking; maybe it was through their actions or behaviors. But you can’t have leadership without communication. Companies are realizing that their reputation is driven by their behavior, and it’s about having a good story, well told — not just telling a good story. So having employees engaged and representing the company at every point of contact is absolutely critical to success.

On the measurement of employee engagement programs:
It’s a myth that you can’t measure employee engagement programs, or that they’re difficult to measure. People try to connect and measure employee engagement by certain satisfaction levels or happy “whistle while you work” types of things. But we can go further than that. In fact, there is some amazing work being done where you can see causal relationships between certain engagement behaviors and actual business outcomes. And I mean serious outcomes: reducing absenteeism, increasing productivity and improving the financial performance of the organization. You can prove that with certain behaviors; you can actually create the performance of the organization.

On the future of public relations as a management function:
This is a fabulous time to be in public relations. Management in every company I’m talking to has come to recognize that, short of the CEO, it’s the PR people who are knitting together all the issues and opportunities. For years, we’ve heard people talk about being at the table. Well, we are at the table.



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