Predictions for staff communications in 2016 – what they mean for your business

The social media feeds at the turn of the year brought some great predictions about communications with staff. I’m going to explore four that stood out for me – two in this post and two in the next – and what they might mean for your business or organisation.

Internal communications predictions 2016 - Jaki Bell Eden Lighthouse Internal CommunicationsCEO who?

Nearly a quarter of UK employees don’t know who their CEO is. It’s a statistic that Scott McKenzie from Lansons explored in the e-book Where’s Internal Communication Headed?, released last month by the Institute of Internal Communication (IoIC).

I agree with Scott that it’s a staggering figure. A leader’s main job is to create an environment where employees can work to their full potential, where they know what the organisation’s trying to achieve and understand their role in it. How can the CEO be so completely invisible and absent from the working lives of such a large chunk of the workforce? If they’re not out leading their people, what are they doing?

It’s probably also a sad indication that many employees take little interest in their organisation, not taking the trouble to find out who their ultimate boss is, let alone learn about the bigger picture in their company. In my view, employees have a responsibility to pay attention to important communications from their leadership, and the organisation has a responsibility to provide that information and engagement opportunities.

If I were to ask a random selection of your staff who your chief officer is, could they tell me? Does your organisation have a plan for how your CEO will engage with staff this year? Whether you have one member of staff or 10,000, they need opportunities to hear from the people at the top of the organisation and have their voices heard. Watch out for a blog post coming up soon that will help you with this, but for now here are a few things your CEO should be talking to staff about:

  • What the organisation’s trying to achieve
  • How it’s doing and what it needs to do better
  • The challenges the organisation is facing
  • How staff can contribute to overcoming those challenges

Go horizontal

Communication with staff has traditionally been top down, driven by messages from the senior team. But there’s a new trend towards the horizontal, says internal comms practitioner Rachel Miller, from All Things IC.

Rachel, also writing in the IoIC’s new year e-book, notes that staff want to talk directly to and hear from their peers, as well as their leaders. The challenge for organisations is how to allow those sideways conversations to happen.

I saw this in action at Christmas during a chat with a friend who’s a front-line manager in a café that’s part of a major retail chain. She pulled out her phone and opened up the Yammer app, which her company uses to connect employees with each other. She has joined various groups on Yammer: one keeps her up to date with company news, one for her region where staff talk about issues affecting them locally, and a group for café employees to share knowledge across the UK.

She gave me an example of using Yammer to troubleshoot a problem with the coding on a new product introduced into the cafes, which wouldn’t ring up on their electronic tills. A colleague posted about it on Yammer and someone who’d figured it out posted the answer for everyone to use.

When you begin to establish horizontal communication like internal social media rather than just top-down communication, it doesn’t mean that ‘the top’ is no longer part of the conversation. Quite the opposite. In my friend’s case, ‘the top’ were actively taking part in the discussions, essentially providing customer service for staff. Central teams monitor the various feeds and post answers to operational queries raised by staff – if staff haven’t figured out the answer among themselves first.

The productivity gains are obvious. Instead of the old way of having to ring round in the case of the till code question, the answer was there in minutes, saving staff lots of time and frustration. Meanwhile, ‘the top’ have a clear picture of what’s taxing their employees, can support them quickly, and spend less of their time finding out all the answers as staff can help each other.

How about trialling a system like Yammer in your organisation? Owned by Microsoft, it’s free for the basic version. You can access it via your web browser or via a mobile app and there’s also Yammer Notifier for your desktop. Don’t forget to set a policy for how it’ll be used before you get started.

Setting up an internal social media system is only half the battle, though. Showing staff how to use it well and convincing them of how powerful it can be is the biggest challenge. I’d previously seen Yammer ignored by front-line staff in another huge organisation, dismissing it as: “just used by a bunch of central specialists to talk to each other”. Ironically, these front-line staff really needed a way to support each other, frustrated and beaten down by a raft of new HR and IT systems brought in (not terribly well) over the past few years.

If you’re not quite ready for Yammer, you could consider other ways to help staff share knowledge using the channels you already have – from forums on your intranet, face-to-face networks for staff doing similar roles or a new column in your staff newsletter for your staff’s top tips and questions.

Conclusion

So, there are a few suggestions for things your organisation could focus on in 2016 to improve communications with and among employees. The next post coming along shortly looks at two other big topics in the world of staff communications: bringing in changes and the use of video for internal communications.