When organizations lack good methods of communicating their employee engagement efforts, those efforts will not do them any good.
HR Daily Advisor: Are employee engagement initiatives developed at headquarters resonating with the people in the field and across work functions?
Ekhtiar: Yes and no. If you’re lucky and you have a small enough organization or if you’re close enough to the front lines, you have an advantage. But even small businesses with about 100 people may have a hard time recognizing all of the challenges employees face and anticipating what will or will not resonate. The key is to treat employees like you do your customers—listen carefully, be responsive, and authentically engage them.
HR Daily Advisor: How do companies make employees a part of the process?
Ekhtiar: It’s actually easier than you think and is also an effective engagement tool in and of itself. I recommend creating ambassador or champion programs wherein folks who are passionate about their organization are able to be part of a committee that helps inform programs and serves as a sounding board for developing initiatives.
I took this approach for the Citi 200th Anniversary campaign, tapping internal influencers across teams, levels, and geographies to engage their colleagues in activities like photo sharing and musical events.
During campaign rollouts, employee participants are the cheerleaders who get folks excited and encourage even broader participation. For Citi’s initial photo challenge campaign, this resulted in thousands of photo submissions and votes and nearly 40% of employees with intranet access participating in the voting process.
HR Daily Advisor: How effective can transmitting employee engagement initiatives over traditional communication methods be?
Ekhtiar: It’s all about your pitch. Think about the promotional e-mails you actually open in your Gmail or the billboard or subway ads that catch your eye. The same principles that got you to open that e-mail or really look at that billboard apply here. Concise yet slightly provocative or humorous headlines, a good image, and a consistent message delivered in multiple formats are the holy grail.
HR Daily Advisor: How can organizations develop the right cadence and personalized experience for a more effective method of communicating employee engagement initiatives?
Ekhtiar: It’s a balancing act on a number of fronts. Pragmatically, how much content can your team generate based on your resources? What other messages and initiatives are also targeting your teams?
When working with NovoNordisk to roll out a new approach to talent development, I was careful to create a holistic HR communications editorial calendar to ensure that our campaign was not competing with other corporate announcements. In addition, it’s a matter of curating content versus content overload.
Once again, think about the posts you pay attention to in your Instagram and Facebook feeds versus the ones you just scroll past. The same principles of treating your employees as consumers apply.
HR Daily Advisor: When organizations turn to one-off memos, random lunchroom posters, and other “tactical” methods, what are they missing?
Ekhtiar: If it’s the right communications vehicle to reach your team, then by all means, use it. However, in my experience, one-offs don’t generate engagement, interaction, or behavioral change. In fact, they usually trigger eye rolls and cynicism. You need to communicate a consistent message, delivered in a medium that your employees engage with, on a regular basis.
If it’s a lunchroom poster, just make sure that it’s got a great headline, a message, and an image. And don’t let it sit around too long. Mix it up with another version so people stop and take notice.
HR Daily Advisor: How can employers identify their employer brand and use that to build an effective strategy?
Ekhtiar: In my experience, building an employer brand can be an existential process, but the exercise is very important. It’s about really understanding why you’re in business, defining an aspirational mission, and articulating a purpose that matters—then weaving these pieces into the company’s narrative, messages, and values and highlighting behaviors and actions that represent that raison d’etre.
HR Daily Advisor: What happens when organizations put their initiatives through the wrong channels?
Ekhtiar: Just like we do IRL—in real life—employees tune out, swipe left, and change the channel. I worked with a global pharmaceutical company that was frustrated that its sales team didn’t use the company’s intranet and therefore was out of the loop regarding company news and initiatives.
The technology required reps to log in on their laptops, which sat in their desk drawer and were rarely used. The typical work life of a pharma field force sales team requires exclusive use of iPads® to engage with doctors. So we recommended building an app that pulled through content from the intranet and made it available on their tablets.
HR Daily Advisor: What are channels that are much more likely to be seen by employees?
Ekhtiar: Not to beat a dead horse, but it’s the same ones that you use in your everyday life. It’s not so much the channel as it is the content and the delivery of that content. Therefore, it’s all about photos and videos—most of which will likely be consumed on the company’s intranet on employees’ smartphones. For both Citi and MetLife, I helped them rebuild their global intranet systems to accommodate this kind of content and to enable sharing, liking, and social-like engagements to mirror the platforms employees are using daily.