Employees Talking Allowed

Men standing in line

One page, about 500 words was all the prospective client allowed me.  I was asked to describe, based on my experience and watchfulness, the components of effective communication with employees.

Applause for setting a limit.  Why dribble needlessly when the response is simple: employee communication is about just talking.


Here is what I wrote.

Companies known for communicative cultures that fuel profits essentially replicate outside life, where conversations prevail, where people listen as much as tell, use understandable terms, talk in chunks not lectures, learn from each other, build trust, collaborate on home and community projects, praise each other, tell stories, capture and share experiences visually (photos. videos), and socialize comfortably with widespread friends and acquaintances through cellphones, texting, Facebook, Facetime, and Pinterest.

In short, employee communication at successful companies is simply conversation, sometimes organized but mostly just encouraged, sometimes purposeful but not always .  Leaders in such companies know that conversing leads to collaborating, and collaborating to aligning.

Conversing …

noTalking1Effective employee communication eschew tell-and-sell motivational campaigns in favor of ongoing talk and listening

  • internal communication professionals become more conversation-generators, channel-builders, and collaborators than content-controllers and distributors of top-down messages.
  • Blogs, intranets, and sit-downs are the primary channels for conversations.
  • Content is timely and credible, the style authentic, the tone conversational, and the information applicable.

Blogs are no longer just for executives, nor just opinion pieces, and not one-way.  They now include news, business updates, employee recognition, infographics, and videos – sometime unscripted — and, most important, give a wide berth for feedback. Sit-downs are no longer executive talks but range from CEO-manager confabs to open-questions Town Halls that are technically seamless, use engaging visuals, feature the right speakers with time limits, and focus on presentations that are paced, simple, substantive, inspiring, and encourage honest, sometimes tough questions from the audience.

Collaborating …

noTalking2Social technologies are driving collaboration.   The smartphones, tablets, and social media used by employees, including executives and managers, outside of the workplace are becoming tools and practices inside companies. Already embedded social software such as SharePoint and in-house social media smake leadership more amenable to introduce social media in the workplace.

Aligning …

noTalking4Successful employee communication strategies are using clever techniques to align employees with strategic and annual business plans, such as:

  • parsing these complex documents into digestible pieces and communicating them visually
  • personalizing them through stories
  • creating related contests and fun quizzes
  • using social tools such as smartphones to carry the messages
  • hosting give-and-take forums to translate the plans into actions.

The Do-Rights

It’s true that Forbes’ list of “Best Companies to Work For” is overloaded with rules-free, maverick companies that attract employees who thrive on social networking.  Yet then there are age-old retailer Sears and data-storage giant EMC.  Sears reportedly builds its communication around relationships that link satisfied employees with satisfied customers and satisfied shareholders. EMC management seems to have carried the concept of conversation-collaboration-alignment so far that a group of employees produced a book called The Working Mother Experience, which tells stories and offers advice.

A Final Piece of Advice

Lots of bright consultants have lots of bright ideas about building or rebuilding employee communication programs.  You need one of them, maybe two, on retainer to keep a check on honesty.  But do that only after you – that is, all you employees, including executives, supervisors, and producers — talk out what you need among yourselves.  And be sure the consultant you bring on strikes you as someone who looks like she has been working for your company for years.

Then start talking.  It’s easy.


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