Like Aretha, we all want a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T. The most powerful message you can convey with internal communications is respect for employees. Showing respect for individual contributions is at the heart of aligning employees with the company vision. By recognizing that each employee plays a role in supporting that vision, you’re also showing that the company values their efforts.
At Tribe, we’ve worked with employee audiences ranging from GE Digital and Porsche to U.S. Steel and La-Z-Boy. Whether we’re leading focus groups with young computer programmers or soon-to-retire steelworkers, we often hear from employees who are disengaged or frustrated with management. Our perspective is that communicating respect for employees can go a long way in engaging employees and creating pride in both their work and their company.
Ideally, an underlying attitude of respect would run through all your internal communications, but here are some specific examples of how you might bring that to life:
1. Make heroes of the employees who do the real work of the company.
By real work, we mean the work that ultimately delivers on the brand promise. If you’re a cardboard box manufacturer, that’s the people on the manufacturing line making those boxes. If you’re a convenience store, it’s the people at the front counter ringing up purchases and creating that customer experience.
Instead of constantly shining the spotlight on leadership, flip it around to feature the employees more often. For a video about the company’s purpose and values, interview front-line employees on camera to have them express those concepts in their own words. In town halls, assign a speaking role to someone who’s interacting with customers every day.
Shoot photography of front-line employees in their work environment, and use that instead of stock photos in your internal communications — for the intranet, internal publications, even for benefits communications. Treat the front-line talent like celebrities, and communicate respect for what they do every day.
2. Loop them in on change management initiatives.
Change often makes people uncomfortable, but particularly when they feel like they’re in the dark about what’s happening and why. As much as you’re able, try to let employees in on the change as soon as possible — and loop in managers a little earlier so they can feel prepared to field employee questions.
Give employees the business reasons for the change, and the positive outcomes the change is expected to drive. And if the change means a negative impact for some employees, like a reorg with layoffs, don’t sugarcoat the bad news. When you respect someone, you give it to them straight.
It’s also helpful to ask employees for feedback about the change, or suggestions on how to make things go more smoothly. That lets employees know that their opinions are valued and their input respected, but it also can yield some smart ideas for avoiding issues or troubleshooting challenges that do arise. Corporate doesn’t have the same sightline that front-line employees do, so they know things the leadership team doesn’t.
3. Make sure you’re communicating with non-desk employees.
In Tribe’s research with non-desk employees of large employers, respondents said that when they don’t receive any communications directly from corporate, and specifically from the CEO, they interpret that as a lack of respect.
It’s more difficult to reach this audience because they’re not sitting at computers. Many companies leave it to managers to cascade information to their teams. Some managers may do a great job at this, but not all do, and there’s really no way for corporate to know whether the message has been shared and has been communicated consistently from one manager to the next.
These non-desk employees are generally the same ones who are delivering on that brand promise — either by making the products or delivering the services. They need to understand what the brand stands for, what role they play in the company’s vision for success and which values they should bring to bear on their day-to-day work decisions and actions.
They also need to see that people in positions like theirs are respected and valued in the company. So even though it’s more difficult to find channels that reach the people in your plants, distribution centers, stores or restaurants, it’s a worthy priority for your internal communications program.