The difference between ‘employee communications’ and ‘Employee Communications’
— March 18th, 2021
ThoughtFarmer analyzed 40(!) definitions of employee communications and couldn’t find one they were happy with, so they created a 41st definition of their own.
They define employee comms as aligning employees to company strategy by systematically informing, influencing, motivating, and engaging people at all levels of the company through one-way and two-way channels—digital and physical—that are most relevant to each employee.
But…I think we need a different approach to defining employee communications.
I suggest there are two kinds (or definitions) of employee communications. The first is about lowercase employee communications. The second is about uppercase Employee Communications.
- employee communications is more literally identified than we thought: employees communicating with other employees.
- Employee Communications is a team that, in addition to lowercase employee communications, measures and analyzes communications in ways that support business goals.
Employee-centric communications: The key to workplace engagement
What if I told you that out of the box you could have a functioning, sustainable, employee communications program...and that the system is multidirectional, multichannel, feedback-generating, and highly personalized.
Good news! You’ve already got that magic system. It’s called your employees. (What the system lacks I’ll get to in a bit.)
Pay close attention to how employees communicate with each other and you’ll notice value-added patterns that organically emerge. Peers – that is, equals in the organization – don’t generally spam each other. They don’t drown each other in communications that don’t matter. If they did, they would be ostracized from the team or group; just as well employees would probably let them know they’re being annoying.
Employees share with their peers information, news, knowledge, and gossip that is almost always relevant to their work (chatrooms dedicated to pets and Black Mirror aside).
- This isn’t systematic. It’s not done with some strategic foresight or done by whether it helps the company’s bottom line.
- It’s organic. It may be continuous (e.g., throughout the day or in the month leading up to a project deadline), but it also may ebb and flow. (December is usually a time for ebbing; January for flowing.)
Moreover, employees communicate what matters, when it matters, and on their preferred channels.
Take the Widget sales team, for example. Two-hundred strong and spread across four offices on three continents, the team has organically worked out the best methods and means for communicating with each other.
Sharal, a team leader in the Widget sales group, sees a story in an industry journal about a competing product. She drops the link into the team’s Slack chatroom dedicated to market news – spirited conversation about the competition erupts. She also sends it to the team’s operations lead for inclusion in the monthly departmental newsletter.
At the next weekly All Sales team meeting, which is live-streamed globally, Sharal mentions the news as part of a roundup of industry news. Sharal also sends the link to her colleague, Kwan, in Engineering, so he is aware of the competition’s innovation (Kwan circulates the news within his department’s chatrooms, meetings, water cooler talks, etc.)
And since she knows her team is on the road meeting with clients and not logged into Slack all day, Sharal also emails the story to her team of 12 people to make sure they got the info.
One employee communicating content through multiple channels at different times for different audiences.
- Looks like employee communications to me.
The informal employee communications typified by Sharal’s example is the grease for the company’s gears. It should be monitored, very lightly managed, and measured. Most importantly: it should be left alone.
With the proliferation of chat systems like Yammer and Slack – to say nothing of social media – the hierarchical top-down comms pyramid has crumbled. Unlike ThoughtFarmer’s definition, employee communications happens across more than one- and two-way channels: it’s also multidirectional.
It just so happens that there is a team – be it the internal comms or employee comms or HR team – that communicates with other employees with more intention and forethought than others in the company.
Employee communications has and always will happen with or without a formal communications function. But what’s lacking from the organic multidirectional communications described above is why uppercase Employee Communications exists.
For one, it’s up to Employee Communications to share information across the organization. (For jargon speakers: Employee Comms breaks down silos.) And yes, EC helps with things like executive memos and crisis comms, but we all know that the CEO is perfectly capable of sending a blast email if she needs to.
Second, all the communication and information sharing across the company generates data that needs to be captured, measured, and analyzed. Even though employees are communicating with each other all day long in every which way, nobody’s paying attention to the quantitative (e.g., clicks) and qualitative (e.g., behavior changes) measures.
That’s why Employee Comms must adopt a tech platform that allows for monitoring, measuring, and analyzing, so they can design more thoughtful and strategic communications (e.g., intranet stories, change communications).
The why of internal comms always comes down to money.
To really effect organizational changes in mindset and behavior and, ultimately, to support revenue-generating business goals, Employee Comms must do what regular communicating employees don’t do: take a data and analytics-driven approach to personalize measurable employee communications.
So let’s stop sweating the definition of “employee communications.” If you understand that there are two versions of the chatter that happens within an organization – one organic, one determinant – then you can concentrate on what really matters.
To help boost the bottom line, uppercase Employee Communications must embrace and support lowercase employee communications.
The best way to evolve from employee comms to Employee Comms is to ensure you have the right technology and platform in place to capture what’s happening outside your realm and to do something strategic with that intel.