Giving employees their due

I’ve been at this business of communications longer than I sometime care to consider. Longer if you count the first mono-syllabic utterance that escaped from my infant lips that was in no way tied to the gaseous expulsion resulting from lactose intolerance. (That would come later in life, but I digress.)

It's not that much of a stretch to talk to your employees

Consequently, what has struck me the most often is the chasm that exists between external and internal communications or the utter lack of integration between what gets communicated externally with what gets communicated internally.  When it comes to big news and even bigger campaigns, employees are often “brought up to speed,” then forced to sit on the sidelines as they hear the news after the fact.

While the irony of missing the boat with the company’s “greatest asset” has often seemed evident, it often also didn’t seem to matter. That chasm between external and internal comms was too great and most likely would never be crossed without some incredible stretching super powers like those of Mr. Fantastic of the Fantastic Four…or real collaboration between the heads of employee communications and marketing.

The sad part is that the chasm appears to show no signs of closing except in the halls of the companies that sit somewhere in that nirvana of management otherwise known as enlightenment. The economy continues to give many organizations an excuse to do really stupid things.

What’s the problem here?  It’s not as if the situation has gone without a considerable amount of attention. Management gurus have been making hefty consulting fees trying to solve the problem for decades. MBA programs at prestigious universities have raised millions over the years to study it. And enough trees have been cut and ink run to publish a library of reading material large enough to fill the state of Delaware. The best that seems to have come out of this predicament is a somewhat heightened recognition that employees want to know what’s going on with their place of employment before their 14 year- old nephew sees it on YouTube and creates an anti-authoritarian themed mash-up.

Lest you think I jest, look at the intranet of any major company(although doing so would mean you’d have to either be an employee, a consultant or a university professor in a prestigious MBA program writing about it.) They’re often poorly organized, lacking in design and the search function was better on the internet in 1994! Yet that same company could very well have the latest in interactive gizmos and whatchacallits on its corporate internet site, along with Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, and yammer. And the search works!

Is most of corporate America clueless when it comes to the potential power of integrating an internal employee communication program with that of an external branding campaign? Is it too hard to consider that employees want to be an advocate and will be if you give them the tools and rewards for doing so? It shouldn’t be that difficult. Even airlines still treat their frequent fliers better!

While in an era of high unemployment and economic uncertainty, the easy route for the less enlightened might be to not give this a thought, a quick look back at history proves that nothing lasts forever. The economy will start to drift up again, more companies will start hiring, and employees who’ve not been engaged will more than likely pick up and leave. There goes the corporate gene pool.

You have to ask yourself…is it really worth it to risk keeping your employees on the sideline with a lack of information and inclination, or do you want them out there more informed than your best customer and more enthusiastic than your best salesman? Give them their due and they’ll more than likely give you their all.

I know there are examples out there of companies who “get it” – Nike and FedEx come to mind. But I could probably stop counting the number of big corporations that “get it” in full measure by the time I reach the middle finger of my second hand.  And that’s not the finger you want to see when your employees leave to work for a company that “gets” the idea of integration.

-Aaron Heinrich, Communications Consultant

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  1. #1 by Jose Mallabo on January 28, 2011 - 5:49 pm

    Aaron, Thanks for the guest blog, my friend. Good to add your voice and brains.

  2. #2 by Aaron Heinrich on February 1, 2011 - 2:03 pm

    Absolutely. Glad to do it. Look for a few more from me – maybe next one will address the other management irony – after decades of theory, practice and study, not much has changed with regard to how mid-level managers are viewed by their direct reports, how much responsibility they’re saddled with in terms of executing against company business objectives, yet how few tools they’re given to do that job well. Or there’s always motorcycles.

(will not be published)