At a glance
At global employee experience platform Culture Amp, there is a Slack channel simply called “CEO”, where founder and CEO Didier Elzinga shares his insights and chats with staff – all 1100 of them.
Jessica Hudswell, Culture Amp’s head of internal communications, says Elzinga “posts in there every other day – his latest thoughts, somebody that he’s just met with, a story about a customer and thoughts on our results”.
“He’s very personally engaged in it, and the team responds really positively,” she adds.
This is a good example of Culture Amp’s employee communication philosophy at work, says Hudswell.
“We start with what people want and meet them where they’re at.”
What employees want, she says, is communication with the CEO that is direct, authentic and unscripted.
“Our team tells us regularly that they love hearing from Didier,” Hudswell says.
“If we understand who our employees are and we understand them really well, we know exactly how they want to be communicated to – in good times and tough times.”
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Communicate to engage
Employee communication is critical in times of change or crisis, says Hudswell.
“You can’t get through change without engaging people in a meaningful and consistent way.”
This point is echoed by psychologist Dr Amy Silver, whose book, The Loudest Guest, deals with managing fear.
“It is life and death for the company,” she says.
Employee communication underpins all facets of an organisation’s operations, culture and performance and is closely tied to employee engagement.
Leadership expert Mark LeBusque says effective employee communication results in high employee engagement by building trust.
When staff trust the people making decisions and communicating information, they tend to tap into their discretionary effort and do more.
However, when communication is mishandled – it is confusing or poorly timed – people go into “survival mode”.
“They’re not thinking about anything but themselves, and because of that, they become disengaged. It is then not about team members, my business, my customers – it is just about me surviving,” LeBusque explains.
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5 tips for effective employee communication
1. Make it timely, direct and clear
Communication delays can allow destabilising rumours to spread, so being prompt is best.
“I always say communicate early and in a very timely manner,” says LeBusque.
The vocabulary and phrasing should be clear. Using corporate jargon often obfuscates the message, LeBusque says adds. “Use language that your audience can understand.”
2. Be succinct, focused and relevant
Too often, a leader believes it is enough to relay a message just once to be heard, for example, in a one-off company-wide email.
To really hit its mark, a message needs to be repeated in a variety of contexts, says Silver.
It also must appeal to both “hearts and minds”, which means applying “an emotional lens” to messaging to inspire change.
For communication to be effective, “there needs to be a clarity of message, and it needs to be explained in story form”, Silver says.
A narrative format helps people understand how a decision or an announcement affects them directly. It also increases the likelihood of employee buy-in.
“As humans, we are programmed to only change our behaviour when it makes sense to us,” says Silver. “Good leaders and good organisations help people see how change benefits them.”
Change affects different people in different ways, adds LeBusque. “At times, you are going to need multiple messages for multiple audiences.”
Internal communications in uncertain times
3. Be honest
In times of crisis, organisations often seek to make bad news more palatable by sugar-coating the message with euphemistic language.
This is a mistake, says LeBusque. Using “weasel words like ‘right-sizing’ and ‘customer-centric change’” only serves to erode trust and feed anxiety – exactly what you don’t want in a crisis.
It is impossible to keep everyone happy, so don’t try, he says. Communicate the truth, no matter how bad it may be, and accept that there may be some discontent.
Empathy mapping can help organisations find the best way to deliver a difficult message.
Try to see the point of view of the people receiving the message. Leaders should question how they would react if they were on the receiving end of the same message, says LeBusque.
4. Treat it as a two-way dialogue
Too often, companies take a one‑sided approach to employee communication and tell or instruct rather than invite discussion. Good communication is “an opportunity to engage with each other”, Hudswell says.
Culture Amp encourages staff to ask bold questions of each other, in Zoom, Slack or in the comments of a document they are editing, says Hudswell.
“We encourage people to ask, ‘Why are we doing this?’ and ‘What does this mean?’.”
5. Make it measurable
Culture Amp measures employee communication using engagement surveys and other tools, says Hudswell. “We will often ask ‘Was the communication engaging?’, ‘Was it clear?’ and ‘Is it manageable and relevant to you?’.”
The survey responses regularly include feedback on the company’s efforts to communicate with employees, including suggestions for improvements.
Hudswell says, “These make us accountable for having ongoing consistent and genuine conversations, and making sure that we are listening as much as we are talking.”