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Take a Front Row Seat to the Dawning of a New World of Employee Communication

Posted on: September 6, 2021

Written by Mark Dollins and Jon Stemmle, authors of Engaging Employees through Strategic Communication , who discuss all things employee communication and the changes that have occurred due to the pandemic.

Sometimes, you just hit the timing right. When we pitched the idea of a book on employee communication and engagement in 2018, little did we know at the time that major changes in the fabric of society around the world would not only validate the idea, but put the topic on the priority list for about every organization globally.

Employee communication has always been a bit of a mystery for practitioners, and an almost invisible career path for students of communication and marketing.  While there have been many well-written stories about engaging internal stakeholders, most professional communicators have been learning on the job (often by trial and error), and applying some of what they know from the world of marketing and public relations to the discipline. Students tend to get a single chapter, or perhaps a case study about the topic, in a book or broader curriculum in a wider discipline.

Even before Covid or the rise of the social justice movements, we saw the need for a deeper, more comprehensive and integrated look not only at communicating with employees, but with engaging them strategically for the purpose of accelerating performance for the enterprises that employ them.

In the meantime, C-suite executives have been developing a functional understanding of the role and importance of internal communications for decades. As they’ve led their organizations through significant change agendas, begun digital transformations or initiated cultural change, they’ve come to realize the critical strategic importance of the discipline.

With growing numbers of employee communication jobs, a need for greater education and a growing awareness of how the discipline could enable performance, the stage was already set for something big. 

And the lightning rod turned out to be the events of 2020.

Remote work serves as a catalyst

2020 changed everything for employee communications. It put the importance of strategic employee communication at the top of the priority list: internal communication on steroids. As organizations sent employees home overnight as a measure of protection from the global pandemic, the issues of connectivity, engagement and culture became far greater business issues than simply deploying new technologies to help more remote workforces communicate, or broadcasting email messages to employees to tell them what the organization wanted them to know.

Employee communication moved squarely into the spotlight as a strategic tool that could enable enterprises to survive, or better yet, thrive in the most disruptive environment ever to hit a digital, global economy.

There could be no better time to take a step back, chronicle and methodically organize a text that could orient students and professionals alike to what the best of employee engagement looks like, strategically, through the eyes of the communicators who are among the best across the globe.

Fortune 100 & the Academy: A unique partnership to tell this story

To pull this new education tool together, we formed a partnership between a career corporate communicator who has focused on employee communication engagement for some of the world’s largest companies for 35 years, and a faculty departmental chair of Strategic Communication from one of the world’s top communication schools. That’s where Engaging Employees Through Strategic Communication was born.

We reached out to practitioners across the globe, and assembled award winning global and national case studies from countries around the world to illustrate how key strategies and tactics are put into practice—all in one book. They’ve spent decades transitioning their discipline from tactical and one-directional, to strategic, omni-directional and results driven.

Their stories are intertwined in the book with research-based theory and strategies, creative tactics and disciplined measurement practices. Chapters include topics that range from “What makes employee communication strategic?” to “Measurement,” “Internal segmentation” and “Current and Future Forces Shaping Employee Communications.”

Change management communication, specifically, is a particularly high-demand skill, and organizations are eager for a supply of communication professionals who understand what it is, and how communication can enable successful change and engagement.

Seeing values

Internal communication isn’t a new idea. This is a movement that began with the Industrial Revolution and has seen change and innovation through the subsequent two centuries. What we’ve learned is the core of the work—telling stories—hasn’t changed. What has is the way those stories are told and distributed. The rise of technologies from the internet and social media through AI and blockchain are changing the ways that we tell stories about companies and those that work for them.

Along with those advancements, in our conversations with global leaders in education and business, we also saw the rising voice of the employee as a critical force in this industry. Employee activism focused on generating social change both within and outside the corporate walls is a trend that will continue well into the next decade. Global consultancy firm Gartner predicted that by 2022, 1/3 of crisis communication budgets will be allocated to address the growing needs of organizations working with employee activists. As one of our spotlight leaders, AndThenComms president Sharon McIntosh, said the three V’s—visibility, value-based action and voice—are re-shaping the future of employee communication.

“In the past, when employees commented on company or social issues, they were more likely to do so anonymously. We’re seeing now that they’re more than willing to be identified, to talk with the media, and to be visible,” McIntosh said.  “Their passion for their values is empowering them to get involved with social and environmental issues. And they’ve learned that, collectively, they can be quite loud. Even small numbers of employee activists can be vocal and hard to ignore. They are willing, and know how, to get the attention.”

A “new normal” presents a world of strategic employee communication opportunity

As organizations work to find a “new normal” in a post-pandemic world, the challenges of engagement employees in any company’s desired, culture—and in its mission, vision and values—will be challenged in new ways as they navigate unending change. More remote workers, digital transformation and the rising influential voice of the employee as an activist (all topics covered in the book), put employee communicators right the in bullseye of talent needed not just to help, but to lead.

Our intent is to help practicing communications professionals, undergraduate and graduate communication and marketing students, gain a firm foundation about what modern-day employee communication strategists need to know to drive success career paths, and equip them with the skills to deliver success for their organizations. Whether that means for profit, not-for-profit on anywhere in between, we’ve got the landscape covered with theories and practices that cover the growing need