Sometimes you don't know what you've got till it's gone - to echo a line from a favourite old song. And it is a line that also echoes the current predicament facing thousands of employers as they attempt to manage 'The Great Resignation'. Personally, I think it is more of a great escape as individuals take a long look at their career path, or a close look at the job they've somehow wound up doing and realise life's too short to be stuck with an employer who has no regard for them.
We've long known that internal communication, employee experience and simple decency on the part of the employer are essential if an organisation is going to achieve its goals, yet for many organisations such notions have been simmering dangerously on the back burner while they preoccupy themselves with shareholder interests, profits or politics.
Research from Edelman highlights that employees have overtaken shareholders as the most important stakeholders for an organisation - something we've known all along albeit something employers themselves have been slow to understand or have deliberately ignored.
This week I'm working with internal communicators on the shape of things to come as we navigate the ongoing COVID challenges. At the start of the pandemic, I counselled organisations that they should quickly turn themselves 'inside out' and take time to focus on employee relationships and what it meant to be part of their team. We've since survived the seismic shifts in the workplace - it really has been a case of 'the workplace is dead, long live the workplace'. Suddenly employers have realised just how important their workers are. Well, some have - others have turned a very dark corner, switching on surveillance software to monitor staff in their homes or sacked people en mass via text or social media.
With a multitude of research reports now in, we have new data to share with our leadership teams. Data that will help them understand that the employee experience is critical, that they have a duty of care to understand the external pressures their staff face, that they cannot remove themselves from the business of communication and, if they are going to use technology to 'keep in touch' then budgets must be found to equip staff with the devices and technology they need.
Employee wellbeing is central to the employee experience - financial, physical and emotional - and these are not areas that have been overly explored in the past. Banging out a newsletter and hoping for some good open rates won't work in today's world (it didn't before but that's a discussion for another day).
If employers stop, listen and truly understand the value of their people and do something to make their employees' experience a good one, they'll discover it is possible to dodge the great escape and keep hold of those who get the job done.
There’s a lot of talk about storytelling, behaviour change, social purpose and what organisations are doing to connect with their ‘target audiences’. Some of the solutions are quite grand, some extraordinarily expensive and some seemingly simple - but none of them are really solutions as they forget to address the most important aspect of any activity - who is it for and why?
Often the activities in questions are actually undertaken for the organisation itself so it can tick the box that says ‘we communicated’ but just sending stuff out doesn’t mean communication has taken place - it means you have sent stuff out.
Before you pick up a pen, start a plan, devise a strategy you have to know the who and why of what you are doing. There is no such thing as ‘the public’ and personally, I believe the description of people as ‘target audiences’ is something that should be consigned to mid-20th century history as a relic from the advertising industry. If you doubt the assertion that 'the public' doesn't exist, take a moment and consider how many different groups of people your organisation interacts with on a daily basis. Are they all the same? No. Do they all hold the same beliefs and interests? No. Do they all interact with you for the same reasons? No. So why would you expect the same story, told in the same way in the one place to engage with them all? You have to break it down and really understand the people who hold your organisation's licence to operate then you can start to plan, share stories, develop connections because there will be real people involved - not just organisational assumption and bias.
We tell stories for people, not at them and there’s a significant difference between ‘communicating to’ and ‘speaking with’ - one approach imposes information on a group while the other seeks to engage.
My mid-winter tip is to warm up your understanding of the people your organisation serves. Undertake regular community audits, build personas, ask for their views. There are many tools out there that make this critically important process much easier than it used to be so explore and play - it will be time very well spent.
Last outing for a while occurred in Auckland on Tuesday, presenting communications help and guidance as part of a panel for The Alternative Board. The event was designed to help small to medium sized businesses work out how they are going to stay viable and get through the current COVID-19 pandemic.
I was speaking about communication - the need to plan, plan again, act, rethink and then plan again for what will be a very different normal if, as businesses and organisations, we manage to get through to the other side.
Health professionals the world over are working tirelessly to help the sick, develop a vaccine, manage the pandemic and more besides. Our challenge is to sustain our economic activities - working within official advice, instruction and guidance - so that people have jobs, demand is stimulated when shutdowns and capacity reductions have ceased. The big job as the after-effects move into 2021 will be to rebuild trust - smoothing the confidence curve pictured below - so people are willing to 'begin again', physically and mentally. It will be a different world and will need human creativity, collaboration and compassion to rebuild.
Video extract above for your information - if you need help, contact me and we can work out a remote consultation or training session - whatever would help you most. And remember - whenever possible, separate the facts from the fear.
Wherever you are in the world, stay safe, stay informed and stay kind.
About Think Forward
Think Forward is written by Catherine Arrow. It answers PR questions, highlights practice trends - good and bad - and suggests ways forward for professional public relations and communication practitioners.