Astute communicators and marketing professionals are well versed in audience segmentation, customizing messages and methods to reach distinct subsets of consumers, voters, influencers and decision makers. Guided by leading-indicator research, communicators fine tune their approaches knowing that different messages will resonate with some audiences, yet not others.
So why do some corporations in America still take a one-size-fits-all approach in their employee communications?
Individuals today have more choices in communication than ever before. They are empowered to customize options for how they receive news, information and social interaction and in ways our grandparents, or even our parents, couldn’t fathom. And yet, some communicators push send on an internal email and hope for the best – thinking it will resonate with a 56-year-old woman with children in college as well as her 26-year-old male coworker who’s just getting started in his career.
This may be one reason corporate America continues to get low marks in employee engagement and communication. For example, only 13 percent of employees strongly believe their leadership communicates effectively. Only 15 percent strongly believe their leadership makes them enthusiastic about the future and only 22 strongly agree that their leadership has a clear direction for the organization, according to recent Gallup studies.
Our work with numerous organizations reveals a variety of reasons behind a lack of success in internal communication and employee engagement. Departmentalization often leads to fractured communications that, in employees’ minds, have all the continuity of a ransom note. A lack of a purposeful internal brand may mean communications is viewed only a functional necessity and therefore is not strategically building a culture of success. “Unfortunately, leaders often overlook their employer brand or devote few resources to developing or growing it,” Gallup researchers recently explained. “It helps to think of an employer brand as a customer-facing brand. When customers talk about the brands they love, they rarely talk about the features or benefits of a product or service – they talk about the way the brand makes them feel.”
The costs of high employee turnover, a demoralized workforce and gaffes in compliance, safety and performance are too great to ignore, and one-size-fits-all attempts at employee communication simply are too ineffective in addressing individuals’ unique needs.
Leverage Demographic Data to Create Communications That Resonate: One important factor often lacking with internal communications is demographic insight into employee populations, or not applying available demographics from HR departments. Individuals’ ages, tenures, genders and other factors are critical indicators about what is important to them, how they communicate, how they view superiors and subordinates and what life challenges and issues they are likely facing. Creating systems for simultaneous multi-generational communications – a key area of study over many years in the Workplace and Labor Communications Group at Burson-Marsteller – allows organizations to provide individuals the range of information they need in a way that is culturally consistent and builds brand. As with clothing, even small, medium and large choices are a marked improvement over one-size-fits-all offerings.
Keep a Pulse on the Culture(s) of Your Company: Many organizations wrongly assume they have a singular corporate culture, typically as viewed from headquarters. Yet research often reveals significant variations from one facility or business unit to another resulting in not one culture, but many. Companies, particularly those grown through merger and acquisition, typically are comprised of a loose patchwork of subcultures, some of which do not reflect any resemblance to each other or a unified corporate identity. Corporate communicators and leaders cannot begin to address these barriers if they don’t have the data and insight to see them.
Research and Test Your Messages: Organizations can also be hampered by a lack of leading-indicator research, exposing communications to misguided assumptions and trial-and-error mistakes. Most existing research we come across is the lagging-indicator style, showing what people reported at some time in the past. True leading-indicator research reveals how different demographics will respond to different messages in the future, showing which messages are most effective and which might prove disastrous. This research allows organizations to vet their existing array of messages and channels to see accurately what’s working, and what’s not. Such insight provides both leadership and communicators with the ability to communicate confidently and purposefully, assured that they’re creating the workplace they need for success.
It’s time to exchange the tired, one-size-fits-all approaches for modern multi-generational strategies that are informed by both demographic insights and leading-indicator research. Only strategies tailored to fit specific workforces will provide the necessary foundation for communications that build employee brand, reputation and loyalty for future success.
For more information, contact Wade Gates in Burson-Marsteller’s Workplace and Labor Communications Group. (214) 224-8408 or firstname.lastname@example.org