"There is a need to unlearn how communication was done earlier"

Listen, involve, engage: employees are your organisation's greatest communications tool

Communication Director spoke to Aniisu K Verghese, corporate communications and CSR lead at Tesco Bengaluru, about utilising employees to enhance the value of communications.

As an internal communicaitons expert, you've suggested that “every employee is responsible for communications”. Is there sufficient appreciation within most companies for this fact?

Research studies and academic literature points to a growing need to involve employees in decision making that impact their work and life. Very often, communicators feel they need to control and command communication in a way that it appears that employees are yet another audience to communicate with. Let me quote a study by Arthur W Page Society called Building Belief (2012): “Realize a company’s true character is expressed by its people. The strongest opinions – good or bad – about a company are shaped by the words and deeds of its employees. As a result, every employee – active or retired – is involved with public relations. It is the responsibility of corporate communications to support each employee’s capability and desire to be an honest, ambassador to customers, friends, shareowners and public officials”.

"There is a gradual realisation among companies that tapping their employees can reap dividends while engaging customers."

Organisations do make an effort to involve employees while promoting the brand, garnering new customers, engaging alumni among others. There is a gradual realisation among companies that tapping their employees can reap dividends while engaging customers. However, there is limited effort to involve employees and build pride from within. Interestingly, a study by Towers Watson into employee engagement shows even organisations with the best track record of communication aren’t fully involving employees – for example, in pretesting messages or measuring the impact of what is communicated.

Aniisu is part of the speaker line up at the 2016 Asia-Pacific Communication Summit, taking place on October 27 and 28 in Singapore. To hear more great insights from leading communicators, make sure to register.

How should the communications leader take the fact that communication can come from all employees?

Appreciating the evolving expectations of employees and the workplace is the first step towards applying this approach at the workplace. The communication leader needs to revisit his or her approach to engaging the workforce. There are challenges currently facing the workplace – trust among leaders is eroding, the new members of the workplace expect more from their employers and social media is changing the dynamics of communication with the boundaries between internal and external blurring rapidly. It is therefore important for the communicator to get familiar with these changes and provide suitable solutions that will work for the organisation. There is a need to unlearn how communication was done earlier and partner more effectively with employees, rather than - to them. The three approaches I recommend are:

Listen: Put employees at the heart of your communication. It means listening to their needs like never before.

Involve: Encourage your employees to speak up, contribute and be active advocates.

Engage: Build a rhythm and highlight your success stories. Crowdsource and co-create communication when possible.

What is the most important way communicators can help and support employees to become better communicators?

By helping them understand the brand and what it stands for. So that employees can communicate effectively and be consistent in their interactions with stakeholders. Communicators must also help employees be the best selves and allow them to build their personal brands in the bargain. That will be a win-win.

Be honest: is there anyone in the organisation who should never, ever be allowed anywhere near a communications platform?

Leaders, I would say! Accordingly the Edelman’s Trust Barometer study suggests trust among leaders is eroding while in-house technical experts and employees are the most credible sources of information. It doesn’t mean leaders must not communicate anymore – just that they need to establish their credibility a lot more before their messages are acceptable. Leaders can work through their trusted internal experts to get the messages registered and make progress.

There are some circumstances where encouraging employees to talk freely to the outside world about the company might not be the best option – a merger or acquisition, during a corporate crisis or in an industry where regulations dictate what can and can’t be said. What would your advice be to communication leaders in any of these sensitive situations?

In such circumstances you still need to accept that employees will continue having a voice. They may be speaking about other topics not related to your specific company agenda. Just that if you have spent time helping employees appreciate the context, connecting them to your purpose and how they can be a better brand ambassador the chances are that they will be mindful and support your effort. And right after your crisis or merger is completed they will appeal much strongly with their voices to help build your brand.

Image: Thinkstock

Aniisu K. Verghese

Aniisu K. Verghese leads corporate communications and corporate social responsibility for Tesco Bengaluru, the technology and operations center of Tesco. He is an internal communication leader and author with over 16 years’ experience in internal communications and social media with retail, IT, financial services and consulting organisations. Aniisu was recognised with the 2015 PR Hall of Fame honour  by the Public Relations Council of India.