Monday, February 4, 2013

Employee Communications and Engagement

Posted by: Larry Orluskie, Feb. 4, 2013

When it comes to communications teams, the employee communications function is often at the low end of the totem pole. To work in employee communications is often to be in a junior role, away from the important stuff and disconnected from where the real action takes place.

More and more, employee communications and engagement is being recognized as a critical function. It is not only vital to any successful communications or marketing campaign; it is also fundamental to organizational performance. Some best practices for employee communications and engagement are:

1. Develop a strategy

Employee communications can’t be left to chance. It’s important to develop a strategy to focus internal communications activities by setting clear objectives that track to measurable, observable outcomes. When planning, consider how internal communication will integrate with external communications and branding.

2. Have leadership buy-in

Engagement at the top is essential. Ensure that the head of your organization is fully briefed on internal communications, has an opportunity to shape the strategy and is front and center in outreach activities. Leadership’s behavior will help set expectations for transparency and authenticity. Plan opportunities to demonstrate a real commitment to information sharing, in order to show that information hoarding is not acceptable within your organization’s performance or culture.

3. Have the resources

External communications often trumps internal communication when it comes to budgeting and staff resources. You must make a case to your leadership that there is a real cost to this pattern – it costs your organization every day in lost productivity that your team is not clear on its direction. The only way to excel at the employee communication function is to resource it appropriately.

4. Avoid the vacuum

Don’t be na├»ve and think that if you don’t communicate, nothing will be said. Quite the contrary – internal communication grows negative engagement in a vacuum. If there is change afoot or a challenge coming, the grapevine will be abuzz. The longer you leave the informal channels to be the only viable source of information, the harder it will be to establish relevance and trust.

5. Focus on face‐to‐face

In‐person exchanges are the most effective and trusted forms of internal communication. Design communication strategies and tactics around meaningful opportunities for face‐to‐face exchange. If distance is a challenge, explore the use of web conferences as a means of bridging that geographical gap rather than relying on the passive and cold medium of email.

6. Technology isn’t the only answer

There is a universal belief that the Intranet is a solution any internal communications problem. That is a false and a dangerous assumption – effective employee communication cannot be based on any single tactic. An Intranet can and should be a powerful tool in consolidating business resources and information; however, the Intranet must be integrated within a broader tactical mix, which includes channels such as face‐to-face opportunities, communication via managers as well as informal avenues for information and exchange.

7. Measure, learn, refine

Measurement is always important in strategic communications, but it may be especially relevant in the case of employee communication. Setting up clear indicators of performance will be vital in calibrating the strategy and tactics with appropriate precision. One of our best tools is the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.

Do you use other best practices? Tell us about them by leaving a comment, below.


  1. Larry, my favorite thing about this is your point that internal communications doesn't have to play second fiddle. Is there anything more important for change management? I sure don't think so. Good ideas get stuck without the internal communications required for their adoption.

  2. Late to the party here, but great stuff, Larry (and music to my internal comm. ears). When it comes big cultural change, I've observed that people need to see three things:
    1. a leader or leaders worth following
    2. the mission the change is serving
    3. where they fit in that mission

    You've expanded on those principles nicely.


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