Getting Fearless in New York

Start spreading the news . . .

Sorry, I’m still in a New York state of mind. That’s because we recently held yet another fantastic ThinkTank Road Show event – this time in the heart of Manhattan. We brought together 25 communicators from leading organizations for a thought-provoking discussion about the challenges we all face in connecting with employees in a fast-changing workplace.

I was fortunate to be joined by Adam Schair, the Global Colleague Communications Leader at our customer Mercer, as we co-moderated an interactive conversation that delved into a wide range of topics. The theme for our ThinkTank series this year is “Fearless Communication with Modern Employees.” But while this group was indeed fearless, they also are wrestling with similar problems. For instance:

  • Too many (rogue or mismanaged) technology platforms
  • Overwhelmed and distracted employees (The people we REALLY want to help!)
  • Struggling to build trust with executives and employees
  • Uncovering and applying meaningful communication metrics

Here’s a brief recap with a focus on those topics.

Too many technology platforms

The communication team at one leading consumer technology company lamented how having too many platforms has resulted in employees not knowing where to find information or merely ignoring everything. They won’t engage. As heads nodded in the room, two members of a communication team from a top insurance firm added that their challenge is not adding new systems, but rather getting employees to use the tools they already provide.

That speaks to something that has been a common theme at our ThinkTanks: More is not necessarily better. More often can be overwhelming – or worse, confusing for employees. They don’t know where to turn. Communicators crave a more streamlined approach of reaching employees. Because the reality is that when it comes to how communication impacts work, it’s our job to ensure our employees are as informed as they are productive.

Speaking of which…

Overwhelmed and distracted employees

Communicators could have talked forever about this. The avalanche of systems now means that employees waste time searching for the information they need to do their jobs. And they’re consistently distracted by an onslaught of pings, chats, and notifications. Employees, they said, are complaining that communication platforms interfere with work getting accomplished.

One communicator called it the curse of “over-communication.” It has become a challenge to get employees to engage with any content.

That sentiment reflects what we found in our 2018 State of Employee Communication and Engagement report. The study of more than 1,000 U.S. workers discovered that half of American workers are completely stressed out by the explosion of communication systems they use on the job. Even worse, 33 percent are so frustrated that they have also considered quitting their jobs.

Struggling to build trust

It’s no secret that confidence in institutions and brands has been plunging. People don’t know what to believe anymore. Communicators at this ThinkTank talked about how they’re devoting more time to earning the trust of employees. And a huge part of that is creating alignment between internal and external communication teams. We can’t expect employees to trust us if they’re learning about important company news from Twitter before we deliver it to them ourselves.

It’s also making it more challenging to develop Employee Advocacy programs. While everyone wants active, passionate, and proud employee storytellers, there was widespread agreement in the room that you must first successfully build a foundation of transparent, authentic communication.

The one point that I stressed is that you can’t force employee advocacy. The worst thing you can do is make your employees an advertising channel. That will only make your employees resentful. Advocacy must happen as an outcome – because the employees want to be ambassadors.

My colleague Becky Graebe, added that this is why the tone of voice is so vital. Organizations can’t talk to people like robots. They have to personalize communication so that there is a real, one-to-one contact that helps build trust. (That whole “authenticity” thing isn’t going away!)

Meaningful communication metrics

A big takeaway for me is how communicators are struggling to identify the metrics that matter. We now have a greater ability to measure the impact of our communication efforts. That’s a solid start. But which metrics are important?

The room agreed that we’re witnessing a shift from measuring “output” to “outcomes.” One communicator said she finds that the most critical metric when evaluating a program is less about “do people like it” more about “do people understand it?” And a senior director of global communications at a major retail brand added that fewer metrics are better, but only if you track numbers that match business objectives.

“Determine what really matters,” she added.

There was so much more. The impact of video content. The growing use of podcasts. How communication fosters an inclusive, diverse work environment.

It was empowering being around communicators who are so, well, fearless.

We’ve got another stop ahead in our ThinkTank world tour. We would love to see you there. Or come to our first full conference, the Summit by Dynamic Signal., on Oct. 11 at The Pearl in San Francisco. It will be an excellent opportunity to surround yourself with peers who also are searching for innovative ways to connect with employees.

Post Author

G.I. Sanders

G.I. Sanders is Senior Director, Creative Services at Dynamic Signal. He specializes in entrepreneurship, digital and social media, design, and marketing. G.I. is based in Dallas, TX with his wife and two sons. Passions include technology, startups, music, fitness and sports.