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Strategies for success: communication and engagement

“The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place” 

Whether it is a restructure, merger or acquisition, the adoption of new technologies, or the roll out of a new product or service, whatever the change, communication and engagement will be key to its successful implementation.

Good communications can build trust, they can inspire and draw people together around a common cause. In contrast, the current furore around the Princess of Wales shows that where there is no communication people will fill in the void with their own narratives.

In business, communication is only half of the story. To ensure your communications are more than mere propaganda or lip service, you need to engage.

Two sides of the same coin

Without engagement, communication can be like white noise. To be effective, it must be a two-way process. This means engaging.

If Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace 2023 Report is to be believed, it would appear most of us aren’t very good at it. It claims that only 10% of UK employees are engaged and thriving in the workplace. Whether it is leading change, improving productivity, or retaining talent, communication and engagement is a key to success.

Improving productivity

The correlation between employee engagement and performance is proven. In progressive organisations where it has become a business-critical priority performance, productivity and, therefore, turnover, increase (depending on the survey) by 20 – 30%, while absenteeism and staff churn are reduced by a similar percentage range.

Engaged people are passionate, motivated, committed, and loyal. They take personal responsibility for driving organisational success, because their role has been clearly communicated to them and they understand how it fits within the wider vision. As such, they feel there is value to their work because they have an important part to play. Bottom line is people go the extra mile when they feel valued and that their role is meaningful. And this is important, particularly for the attraction, motivation, and retention of talent in a competitive marketplace.

Engaged employees become advocates for their organisations, investing wholeheartedly for the long-term, and giving of their best. Engagement gets to the heart of how people really feel about their jobs and the organisations they work for. It is so much more than workspace gimmicks and perks. It is about creating a deep, emotional connection – hearts and minds committed to the same vision and purpose.

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It is not enough simply to communicate with and engage your people, however; people need to be empowered, too. This is about resourcing, removing obstacles and giving people the autonomy to get things done. It is about developing a progressive culture of collaboration, loyalty, and trust.

Driving change

The success of any change initiative will be inherently tied to how well it is communicated to and embraced by your people. According to Gartner, only 34% of change initiatives end in clear success, with 50% failing.1 Their global survey indicated three shifts that were significant for success:

  1. Leaders engaged the workforce to co-create strategic decisions
  2. Employees were responsible for planning how to implement the change
  3. Communication encouraged open conversation about the change

A lesson in a lack of engagement

I’m taken back to an exit interview with an Operations Manager whose resignation, after only three months, was a genuine surprise, perhaps even a shock, to the directors of a family-run manufacturing business in Shropshire. The exiting manager told me: “It’s just not what was sold to me in the interview.” And this was the crux; the vision held by the directors was not the reality. What they were communicating so passionately to candidates, they had failed to embed in their workforce.

The directors had a clear vision, it just needed communicating and embedding. As such, we worked with them to implement a series of communication interventions – including management briefings and involving them in board discussions, whole-company meetings, physical message boards, the creation of a company intranet, and regular departmental meetings with structured agendas and opportunities for employees to have a voice. As a measure of impact and engagement, the employee pulse and quarterly surveys proved crucial. The results were an indication of how well the messages were landing and that the team not only understood but embraced the changes being implemented.

Bringing staff on the journey

In 2020, Starbucks announced its intention to shift strategy. A significant departure from its successful core business, Starbucks Pickup meant significant change for its employees.

The business was clear on what it wanted to achieve, clearly communicating their goals to employees. The company invested heavily in staff training and ensured that employees understood their roles in the change process, providing guidance and direction throughout. They kept the team informed and engaged, involving them in the planning and implementation, and rewarding employees when they embraced the necessary change. Throughout the process, the company maintained flexibility and made adjustments, where needed, according to feedback from staff and customers.

By engaging their workforce in planning and encouraging open communication throughout, the business has benefited from increased profitability and share price, improvement in product quality, and an increase in customer satisfaction and loyalty. 2

A model for leadership

Servant Leadership: it’s not a new concept but it remains a difficult pill to swallow for many. However, even the cynics and control freaks must be able to consider the two case studies that we’ve outlined and be aware of how the concept can be applied to the understanding of success in both.

If you’re not familiar, Servant Leadership breaks away from traditional leadership theories with the premise that leaders should prioritise their teams and largely surrender authority, creating an environment in which the workforce can thrive and perform at their best. If we put that into the context of change management, leaders will allow staff to make decisions and plan for change, they will listen to feedback and act on it accordingly and will ensure that any change is best for the team.

You may not be ready to fully embrace it as your leadership style of choice, but if you’re convinced of the necessity of effective communication and staff engagement for organisational success, it can provide some interesting insights. How are your plans impacting your teams? Are your teams able to thrive? Are their needs being met? Good communication starts by understanding the audience.

What does effective communication and engagement look like?

Employees need to understand not just the 'what' but also the 'why'. This understanding breeds a sense of purpose and aligns everyone towards common goals. When leaders communicate openly and honestly about the reasons for change, potential challenges, and the envisioned future, it fosters trust among employees. Trust is crucial for building a positive and receptive atmosphere.

Change often brings uncertainty, and with uncertainty come concerns. Ensure that you provide a platform for addressing these concerns, allowing employees to voice their questions and fears without creating grapevines of misinformation. Addressing concerns head-on will demonstrate your commitment to transparency and employee well-being.

Misaligned expectations can derail change efforts. Through clear communication, you can manage the expectations of your teams by providing realistic timelines, outlining potential disruptions, and preparing employees for what lies ahead. Consulting with staff on your expectations as leaders and incorporating their feedback into plans helps prevent resistance and fosters a more cooperative atmosphere.

Engaged employees are more likely to take ownership of the change process. When employees feel valued and involved, they are more committed to the success of the initiative and engaged teams are more likely to contribute innovative ideas and solutions. In a culture of engagement, one that actively seeks employee feedback, staff feel empowered to voice their opinions, share insights, and actively participate in finding solutions to challenges that arise.

Change is not always smooth sailing. Engaged employees, however, exhibit higher levels of resilience. They are more likely to adapt to change, navigate obstacles, and persevere through challenges, ensuring that the change initiative stays on course. A focus on staff engagement during change management also contributes to employee well-being. Recognising and addressing the emotional aspects of change helps create a supportive environment, reducing stress and fostering a positive workplace culture.

In your change management planning, consider how you can establish regular communication channels such as town hall meetings, newsletters, and digital platforms to keep employees informed and engaged. Equip employees with the necessary skills and resources through training programmes, workshops, and support systems. Actively seek and listen to employee feedback through these channels and, very importantly, demonstrate that you have listened. Recognise and celebrate achievements and milestones during the change journey with the team to reinforce positive behaviour, boost morale, and sustain momentum.

 To learn more about successfully leading through transition:

Read the article

In brief

Effective communication and engagement are hallmarks of successful organisations. They are their heartbeats, indicating how healthy and sustainable they are. The leaders of such businesses prioritise transparent communication, shared responsibility, and engage staff in their plans. They foster an environment where individuals feel valued and encouraged to contribute, at all levels of the business and across everything they do.

Only when you know where you are can you map out a route to where you want to be. This means communicating and engaging.

 

1. Organizational Change Management | HR Insights | Gartner.com

2. Abbas, T. (2023). Starbucks Change Management Case Study. Available at: changemanagementinsight.com.

 

Victoria Beadle

Victoria Beadle

A director of our strategic HR consultancy, Vic is a CIPD qualified HR leader who is passionate about organisations creating cultures that empower people to be successful. She is an advocate for employee engagement that gives people a voice.

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