A Few Truths About Internal Communication and Employee Engagement

As an old communicator, I’m certain that Engagement isn’t my bag. Employee engagement is not internal communication or, indeed, vice versa. The reason I take an interest (apart from the fact that internal communication helps pull the levers of employee engagement, or motivation, or belief or whatever you wish to call it) is because I once worked for a company where Engagement sat with Communication, as a part of Corporate Affairs.

Straight off, engagement is not the same as internal communication. Engagement is a by-product of the organisation’s culture and its approach to the ‘way we do things around here’. From that point of view, I think most would agree that HR is best-placed to own employee engagement.

Internal communication can – and should, of course – support the growth of, and strengthen, employee engagement by ensuring widespread understanding of the things that make a difference to the employee. These will include, but are not limited to, the organisation’s mission and vision, its purpose, its strategy and progress made against that strategy, its culture, its successes and its narrative.

What is it that makes someone proud to work where they do? An understanding of, and belief in, what the company is doing and how it is doing it, and a clear idea of what part they play in helping it achieve its goals. It’s that old (probably apocryphal) story about the NASA cleaning operative, pushing his mop. JFK, on a tour, stops him and says “What’s your job?’ And the janitor looks at him and says “I’m helping to put a man on the moon, sir.” The one thing that would make that story better is if JFK had recognised and rewarded the janitor’s efforts by making him US Secretary for Labor (sic).

But internal communication is not employee engagement because no matter how successful its activities, no matter how many channels and how much reach, no matter how much interaction, an employee’s ‘engagement’ (or motivation, or belief) can be blown away by perceived (or actual) negative behaviours by fellow workers and management. Which is why EE sits with HR or OD – basically, the people who are responsible for developing the people to ensure the right people have the right skills to manage the people. People people.

Employee engagement is a lot about people development (as well as reward and recognition, also HR functions). Move the engagement function away from HR and all that’s left to it is measurement (given that it’s internal communication which is spreading the good word and  advising on best communication practice).  Fairly soon – and I’ve worked in two companies where it has happened – the measurement of employee engagement becomes the thing itself.

This approach is, clearly, encouraged by those who make their livings measuring employee engagement. According to Gallup’s website ‘87% of employees worldwide are not engaged at work’, which is dreadful, because “companies with highly-engaged workforces outperform their peers by 147% in earnings per share”. (I’ll leave you to reflect on the robustness or otherwise of those claims.) They encourage it because, once it’s been delivered a couple of times, there’s simply no way to stop it – it’s a type of corporate substance abuse. I can stop measuring employee engagement anytime I want – just not this year.

To be clear – no matter which firm of measurement consultants is employed, the actual measurement is an employee survey, comprising the same old fifteen to twenty questions. There is nothing to stop this being done in-house, probably more efficiently and resulting in numbers that are comprehensible and – because it’s your system – of some value to your organisation.

Or – and here’s where Communications generally can have a massive impact on the chimaera that is employee engagement – you could simply convince the senior team to get out and about a bit more, find out what the problems are – if there are any – and see about fixing them. Arm them with a few stories – give them some coaching if they need it – let them lead by example. And if they won’t, or can’t, try the next level down.

It’s only a start – but showing and telling your people that you’re interested and involved has to beat faceless metrics tracking movement on an invisible and irrelevant scale.

2 thoughts on “A Few Truths About Internal Communication and Employee Engagement

  1. Loved this! You have, maybe for the first time, clearly drawn a line between EE and IC. This is fuel for me in debates between IC peers and PR practitioners who say that EE and IC are the same, OR that EE is an IC function. Thank you!

    • Thank you – glad you found it useful. There is another issue here, of course, which is that Employee Engagement is increasingly confused with its measurement, to the point where the rigmarole and process of measuring EE becomes the thing itself. No matter where EE sits – with HR, for my money – the whole thing needs to be stripped back to its basics and rebuilt. Much, as it turns out, like CSR.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s