In a nutshell: In the age of tightening talent pools and growing expectations we can turn internal communications into an employee experience engine with persistent feedback loops and data-driven programs.
I’m a nerd for internal communications and intranets/the digital workplace. Not just for their own sake, but because I’m obsessed with employee experience and how to deliver meaningful experiences of work. We live at an exiting time when it’s easier than ever to take a deeply employee-focused approach to internal communications and transform it into a customer service that our people love and value.
Flip the traditional model upside down
Corporate internal communications developed as a one-way internal marketing function aimed at helping centralized executives and HR drive alignment and consistent behavior. These needs haven’t disappeared completely, but today’s pressures require a substantial shift in mindset.
What if we look at internal communications, intranets and the broader digital workplace, HR/talent, and other centralized support functions as employee experience services for our people and take a modern, user-centric approach to our work?
Start with the assertion that we hire smart, capable people who want to do a good job, learn, grow and deliver value. Assume we try to get the right people in the right roles based on their experience and skills. Based on this perspective the role of central support functions is not to control those people and push communications on them, but to understand their needs and empower them. We need to get our people the information, the tools and the connections they need to excel, and we need to constantly measure how well we’re doing that.
James Robertson recently wrote about bringing the growing focus on customer experience (CX) inside the firewall so that employee experience (EX) could drive digital workplace development. Forbes’ HR trends for 2017 focus on bringing the customer experience perspective to Human Resources. We can apply the same thinking to internal comms and all our centralized support functions.
Today’s mounting pressure to focus on employee experience
It’s almost too late to be just starting out on this road of focusing on employee experience. A conglomeration of factors are congealing to create a powerful imperative for companies to take employee experience seriously:
- Tightening talent pools: It seems harder to attract, grow and retain talent then ever before.
- Mining for meaning at work: Data shows millennials (and other workers) are stressed out and desperate to feel their work matters and to be respected.
- Crisis of employee engagement: Most people just aren’t that into their jobs and employers. But we know employee engagement matters.
- Striving for HR to level up its value: Companies often struggle to make HR a truly strategic business partner instead of just being a transactional compliance machine.
- Questioning the value of traditional IT: The cost-controlling, reactionary nature of traditional IT departments can result in tools with poor fit, usability and support.
Internal communications teams sit at the center of these pressures. We advise executives, guide central functions in rolling out new programs, manage digital platforms and actively engage with employees.
Today we need to become passionate advocates for employees and take the helm of shaping employee experience.
10 ways to put our people in the drivers seat using data & feedback
Turning the internal communications team into an employee experience engine requires a program mindset and a focus on collecting feedback and data.
These 10 specific tactics and practices can put our employees in the drivers’ seat and ensure their needs propel internal communications efforts forward:
- Employee user research projects: To kick off a major internal communications or digital workplace effort we need to understand our employees’ pains, needs and current usage. To get some baseline data we can conduct user interviews and focus groups; send surveys on pains and needs around news, information and tools; and conduct user testing and observational research.
- Engagement data: Annual or bi-ennial employee engagement surveys provide a helpful source of data on employee sentiment. Newer, more nimble employee engagement applications can deliver snapshots on an ongoing basis. This data can inform employee needs, though often requires further analysis to be actionable.
- Intranet usage data: For actively used intranets, data about top content and search terms tells us what our people rely on the most. We can use this data to make needed materials easier to access and use, and design communications to be more useful and engaging. Acting on intranet data can provide quick value to employees.
- Feedback on town halls and other communications moments: Gathering feedback on big communications events and campaigns provides snapshots of what matters to employees. You can find out what topics resonate and what types of presentations work well. Just make sure to include open-ended questions about what’s on people’s minds.
- Satisfaction ratings for tools & channels: Each of the tech tools and online channels employees use for communication, collaboration and community have clear goals. By measuring employee satisfaction around those goals and getting feedback we can collect extra data about employee needs and work on improving each tool/channel. It may be extra useful to focus on super users as key customers.
- Regular user testing: By employing ongoing user experience design (UX) techniques we can regularly find out what’s working well and what isn’t. We can test interfaces and content on the intranet and other tools, preferably in employees’ native environments, and use the data to make improvements that help our people daily.
- Ongoing sampling with polling, focus groups, randomized feedback surveys: Spot checking employee sentiment with feedback “pulses” can supplement (or replace) annual or quarterly surveys and provide ongoing metrics. Think about it: You wouldn’t measure customer satisfaction just once or twice a year.
- Capturing satisfaction at points of service: Internal comms teams and other support functions can capture feedback from “customers” who use their services. For example, if our team advises other teams on communications planning, we can provide short satisfaction surveys at the end of each engagement and use the results to improve our communications advising service.
- Employee-driven recognition: Most organizations know the importance of recognizing employees for their hard work and contributions. But a big risk is generating a feel of inauthentic marketing. We can put our people in the drivers’ seat by asking employees what they think matters most about working at the organization, what they’d like to see celebrated, and what good recognition would look like. And we can make it easy for employees to recognize each other!
- Employee-driven corporate philanthropy: Most companies do corporate philanthropy, but we can significantly level up engagement and value by asking employees to drive it. We can find out what philanthropic issues matter most to our people and find matching organizations to partner with.
Employee experience as a service to executives
If I put my executive hat on, I find myself asking “well, how can I drive my change and culture goals if employees are driving internal communications?”
Obviously that’s a critical question since executives hold so much responsibility for organizational outcomes. But all of the above activities are actually powerful drivers of change and developing a strong, positive culture. Gathering and making improvements based on feedback and data will increase trust and employee satisfaction. It will help executives communicate more effectively in the channels and modes that work best. It will help leaders understand their people and their various needs better.
Our people will tell us what they need
Even if we go to the extreme and never once ask the CEO what she wants to say to employees (which I do not recommend), our people will give us that info. People always find meaning in authentic updates and conversations with senior leaders. If we ask them what topics are top of mind and how they’d like to engage with executives, they’ll tell us.
The difference is that by asking employees what they need and how they need it, we become collaborators in internal communications.
Employee experience is important and internal communications teams are perfectly positioned to drive powerful change. The future that matters belongs to the organizations that trust and empower their people.