Cat Graham saw a gap when she looked around the agency world. Plenty of agencies were doing regular communication consulting. However, none were focusing on the three areas that she believed were the most troubling for organizations.
- HR Advisory
- Employee Communications
“We think about those three challenges a little differently,” said Graham, who has more than two decades of experience across the communications, management consulting and software industries. “We create more dynamic content and dive into measurement more than other agencies. We amplify the resonance and engagement of internal comms throughout large organizations. We have a dedicated people-focused lens, and that makes us unique.”
We spoke recently with Graham about trends in HR communication, the impact of the #MeToo movement, and the serious challenge of attracting, retaining and motivating talent.
Why is employee communication difficult for many companies?
“They dive into employee communications without starting with the purpose statement. Each employee needs to connect with that purpose and align their role to meet it. That means the narrative you’re sending externally must also mirror what you’re sending internally. Many companies don’t value communication until there’s a crisis and the media have a story that you haven’t shared with your employees. That leads to the culture of whispers. That can be avoided when you put together a strategy where your employees hear news first and fast. You want to control the narrative yourself.”
What is the role of leadership in making that happen?
“We believe very strongly that leadership should have its voice heard on external and internal channels. When it’s on-message, that re-emphasizes the purpose. That’s why we help leaders develop their voice on social media, so it resonates. We emphasize authenticity. That drives employee engagement internally.”
Do you see the line between internal and external communication blurring now that social media is at the fingertips of every employee?
“Marketing, HR, comms, and internal comms should all be working hand-in-hand. We’ve seen companies like Salesforce and Zappos that have unified communications. They’re making sure employees are getting as much information as the media because they’re considered crucial stakeholders. When you unify your message, you can amplify your engagement and make people feel like they’re part of a connected culture.”
Shouldn’t it be common sense to talk to your people, make them feel part of the conversation, and show them they’re valued?
“That’s exactly how you build the trust factor internally. Many younger employees tend to be more easily distrustful today. But if you create a level of transparency, and allow them to have their voices heard, that will build trust.”
Do companies think hard enough about engaging those younger employees?
“Most of them are. What can be said is that Millennials don’t want to be managed. They’ve found their voice, and they’re using it. What they want is professional development, mentorship, sponsorship. How you communicate with them has to be on a level that is respectful. They are trying to decide what kind of life and experiences they want to have. You need to consider how they think as you communicate with them.”
Don’t Millennials expect the same type of communication tools on the job that they use in their personal lives?
“It can be a culture shock if Millennials find themselves in a really controlled environment for communication and maybe can’t even use their cellphones. Yes, they may have to learn how to use company authorized tools, but the challenge is to also engage them on those tools. Organizations also should be inviting them to show how things can be done better. This is an opportunity for Millennials to reverse mentor communication trends because they are much closer to the pulse of technology changes.”
Why is emphasizing diversity and inclusion more critical than ever?
“The #MeToo movement has shown that diversity and inclusion definitely have not been boardroom priorities. It was a nice to have. Now it’s a priority. We need to make sure that we’re treating people inclusively. We’ve seen in studies how increased diversity results in increased creativity, increased customer retention, increased employee retention and improved financial results. If you have the same people in the room all the time, you’re going to get the same results. When you expand the voices, it becomes a catalyst for change. That’s why you need a strategy for developing a culture of inclusion.”
There’s a phrase we hear a lot to describe the fierce struggle to recruit and retain employees – “war for talent.” How does employee engagement factor into that discussion?
“I’m not a super fan of that phrase. I don’t think it’s a war. In our view, it’s more of a strategic partnership. We work with a number of clients to better develop a clear, competitive employee value proposition because the employee experience is more important than ever to both attract and retain top talent. They are seeing the benefits of driving internal conversations as well furthering the peer experience and the employee experience.”
With the recent research indicating a record low in trust levels, is that now on the radar of most companies?
“Yes. There have been so many leadership shifts as a result of the #MeToo movement. It’s touched virtually every industry, and that impacts trust. If I can’t trust the leader of my company, how can I trust anyone else? That’s why authenticity and transparency must be amplified if leaders want to build personal levels of trust with employees.”
Any examples of how Cheer Partners helps clients accomplish that?
“We conduct pulse surveys or hold focus groups to assess the level of trust in leadership. We conduct social listening to try to pull out the pain points and the pride points. Then we coach on being as authentic, transparent, and visible as possible. The key is organizations need to make time to build trust. For instance, C-suite executives are traveling the world and not physically in company offices. They need to take the time to have lunch-and-learn sessions, virtual or live, to engage with all employees. That way, they all get to hear the executives’ vision first-hand, while furthering relatable connectivity with the C-Suite.”
What’s the benefit for clients when Cheer Partners works with Dynamic Signal?
“We put together smart content tactics, templates, and editorial calendars to help clients amplify communication. But it’s not going to engage the way you want without Dynamic Signal. Together, we can help the employees share the amazing news about their organization or curate the content you think is worthwhile about the industry. We allow employees to become the masters of your brand and true ambassadors. That’s why companies are benefitting from partnerships like the one Cheer Partners and Dynamic Signal have created.”