Communication and Engagement – Not The Same Thing, Not Even Close

I consider myself a complete communicator (try and ignore the hubris) having worked, variously, in external communication, internal communication, public affairs, investor relations and reputation and issues management. I try to see the whole picture, from the ‘who, what, why, where, when, how’ communication point of view. (Not necessarily in that order, mind. Probably start with the ‘why’ and the ‘what’.)

This is an interesting piece (I digress, but it’s worth it) pondering why the various communication disciplines have to be separate. They’re not. There’s no strange voodoo in internal communication and you don’t need a doctorate in the dark arts to communicate externally. It’s about objective, target, message, medium and measurement, all as part of the over-arching business strategy.

One thing that I am certain isn’t included in the communicator’s remit, however, is ’employee engagement’.

I have said it before and I will say it again – good communication has its part to play in engaging employees, by making them aware of the company’s vision, mission, purpose and values, by delivering regular updates on the organisation’s progress and by humanising the leadership (amongst other things). But engagement is not communication and communication is not engagement.

Rather, an engaged workforce (read ‘loyal, committed, passionate, dynamic and happy’ and please note I do not include ‘agile’) is the result of getting a number of things right – management skills, equipment levels, working conditions, pay, benefits, work/life balance – all of which are HR functions.

The only possible scenario in which communication could lead engagement is one in which the communication of the results of an engagement survey (and the actual survey) is viewed as the engagement itself. But this, surely, would be to say ‘we expect employee levels of satisfaction with the status quo – let’s call it employee engagement – to increase year-on-year as our communication team tell them more about it’. Sometimes with the subtext ‘and God help you if they don’t’.

But that couldn’t happen, could it? It would imply that the organisation, and what does for its people, is perfect already – and that the failure to engage with it is down to the employee and their lack of understanding.

So why, therefore, am I seeing an increase in the number of communication jobs advertised with engagement in the title? Twice this week – a Head of Internal Communications (sic) and Engagement and a Director of Communications (sic) and Engagement.

Were I of a suspicious nature, I would be tempted to speculate that ‘engagement’, so recently the Next Big Thing, is on its way to becoming the Last Big Thing. ‘Engagement’ has become a box to tick, something to measure, and the things that actually drive employee motivation continue, as they always have done, sometimes well, sometimes badly, behind the scenes.

Of course, if you’ve been running an employee engagement survey for the last four years, then you can’t just ditch it overnight (you can, actually – but that’s another story) so you need to find a home for it – and where better than the communication department? They’ve got plenty of time on their hands and no-one really knows what they do anyway.

Some conclusions, therefore:

  • Let’s stop talking about employee engagement and talk about employee motivation, or satisfaction, instead. The change in language would a) distance us from the industry that has grown up around measuring and reporting ‘engagement’ and b) place the responsibility for staff satisfaction back where it belongs – with HR
  • Monitoring employee sentiment is an ongoing and regular thing, not a yearly survey. By all means do a yearly survey if you must – and if you can afford it – but it should be run out of HR. Alternatively, you could provide regular updates from your communication listening groups (you are running those, right?) to your leadership team – and encourage them to do something visible in response
  • Let’s keep focused on demonstrating – and finding new ways to demonstrate – the value of strategic communication, and what it entails, to the organisation’s leadership. Show a united front (all communication disciplines working together seamlessly), educate – and disabuse of the notion that the communication department has spare capacity for projects that are losing favour or have become inconvenient

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 )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ 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 )

w

Connecting to %s