Your Team—Are They Your Top Priority? They Better Be.

By: Lauren Reed

When we think about key stakeholders, groups like investors, consumers, board members, public officials and more may come to mind. One group often overlooked, however, are the employees just down the hall. This powerful group has the potential to either enhance or undermine your business.

By definition, public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics. Key publics can mean many things, including your customers, media, board, vendors, donors, etc. – basically anyone who has potential to impact your brand.  And while most organizations diligently manage communications with external audiences, it is common to overlook one very critical group – employees!

This is the time of year where we encourage all of our clients to thoughtfully review their stakeholders and honestly assess their communications efforts, with a special emphasis on this key group that has the most control over the future of your organization.

As a business owner, every day I have a choice about who I send into the market to interact with our clients. Do I want this to be an engaged, informed, brand ambassador who is living our core values? Or would I prefer to send a discontented employee who is lacking the necessary information to represent our brand?

This is a choice that ultimately impacts the bottom line but is one that most leaders are unaware they are making each and every day. This can be combated by integrating an employee relations strategy into your overall communications plan.

Providing an excellent workplace and culture is key, but the work doesn’t stop there. Company leaders need to communicate to their workforce openly and frequently. This step is often skipped as decision-makers either assume everyone thinks the same way as they do or they are moving too quickly to slow down and share the details of a new service offering or change in company policy.

For me, the litmus test for success has always been, “am I running a company I would encourage my children to work for?”  While I keep this top of mind with nearly every company decision, the best of intentions simply will not create the desired impact if they are not being communicated effectively.

As you develop your employee relations strategy for 2020, I urge you to keep the following five items in mind:

  1. Keep core values front and center. Your core values serve as a mutual commitment by every member of the organization to act in a way that is consistent with your mission. As such, they should be woven throughout the fabric of any communications strategy. Perhaps you could regularly recognize team members who best exemplify your values, subsequently using this honor for shareable newsletter or social media content.
  1. Monitor internal sentiments. Many of our clients have intranets, online groups or private social media channels that are designated only for employees. These internal communications tools should be monitored regularly. Dialogue found on employee advocacy platforms can be a strong indicator of how employees are speaking about and representing the brand externally. Careful review of these sites can often reveal cracks in the foundation that can be addressed through your employee communication strategy. 
  1. Create a shared sense of purpose. Your product or service offering might not be the sexiest or most exciting to everyone, but there must be a common thread within your company that your workforce can get behind. For REED, that is our Be The Good program, which uses a portion of revenue each year to send individuals on mission/volunteer trips to help those in need around the U.S. and abroad. This was created to live our core value of Give Back, while providing both additional growth opportunities and a deeper meaning to our work for employees. Of course, a program such as this only works when employees are actively involved. This means they help select grant recipients, follow experiences, and even create their own Be The Good trips once eligible, which gives them firsthand, authentic experience to share with our external stakeholders.
  1. Show gratitude! We’ve all seen the research on how a daily gratitude practice can exponentially improve well-being in your personal lives. The workplace is no different. In this study from Harvard University and Wharton, receiving a “thank you” from a company boosted productivity by more than 50 percent. Consider ways you can implement this into your communications plan, such as sharing appreciation and big wins every week at an all-team meeting or in your internal email newsletter. This is also an ideal time to reinforce your company mission and expectations by tying your gratitude back to a core value. Another way to show your gratitude is by planning a fun activity for your team. Recently, our account team played The Escape Game’s virtual team building activities at the end of a work day, and for an hour they were able to focus on nothing but “escaping” in time. Planned activities can offer a much-needed mental break and show your team that you truly appreciate their hard work.
  1. Don’t forget to measure. Measurement is a critical part of any strategy and should not be glossed over just because this is an internal campaign. Surveys are a good way to get a baseline level of employee knowledge and measure sentiment at the inception of a campaign, allowing you to measure progress and make necessary adjustments along the way.

Jorge Paulo Lemann, co-founder of Banco Garantia says, “The greatest asset of a company is its people,” and this could not be a truer statement for public relations. As you plan for the year ahead how will you show gratitude, create a sense of purpose and honor your core values? I recommend beginning and ending that plan with your people in mind.