This week, a friend told me that she first learnt about an important new leader joining her workplace from an external supplier.
Yes, the official good news message from the company had gone out to suppliers and partners well before anyone had bothered to share it with staff.
Unfortunately, this sort of thing is not unusual, even now in a time of increased business transparency.
Think of your own experience. Have you ever read news about your employer in the media? Only hearing the official internal announcement from your boss or internal newsletter days later?
But why does it matter?
Well, I believe nothing makes staff feel less engaged than feeling like they’re the last to know.
In the scramble to put customers front and centre, the employee is often shoved to the side. But the most successful organisations know it needs to be the other way around.
The customer will not love your organisation until the employees love it first.
When your brand as an employer is toxic
You could argue that the customers ultimately bring in the bacon. And in the social media age, a negative customer review or online rant can cost a business dearly.
Employees, on the other hand, are often a businesses largest expense. Nothing cuts costs quicker than cutting headcount.
But despite those facts, it’s still true that the customer experience is founded upon the employee experience.
Employees are the biggest asset and the ultimate brand ambassador. Or at least they should be. You can’t grow a successful, sustainable company off the back of disgruntled employees.
But do you think people feel valued when they’re the last to know? Nope. If people are kept in the dark, they feel less valued. They put less effort in, and they rant to their workmates. This is toxic.
And toxic energy spreads. If your brand as an employer becomes toxic, people talk about their experience. They don’t say nice things at the family barbie. They may be inclined to rant online or post a grumpy review on Glassdoor to deter future talent from coming your way. Some may even tip off a journalist about your crappy company culture, sharing internal documents or screenshots.
But when employees come first…
In workplaces with high employee engagement, people feel empowered and trusted.
They care about the business, and they want to stick around to drive sustainable success. This powers innovation, collaboration and outstanding customer experience.
In these workplaces, employees hear important company updates first, or at least simultaneously as external announcements. They get to experience new products first. Their feedback is sought out and listened to. They hear the latest company news from leaders, not from the media or the bloke at the pub. They know and trust their leaders, and they’re trusted in return.
Internal and external communications must work together
Now my friend who found out the significant company news from a supplier, do you think it’s fair to say the internal communications team dropped the ball? I don’t think so. It could be they had no idea that the news was being sent to suppliers.
Large corporates, in particular, can have many communications channels and countless middle-managers focused only on their own stakeholders.
Even a company full of well-intended people and fabulous communication teams can easily fall into a black hole of poor organisational communication through ineffective processes and a lack of leadership accountability.
Without leadership buy-in, you’re pissing in the wind
It’s all very well and good if the talented people within HR, employee experience and the communications teams are aware that employees come first and should be the first to know.
But if leaders are focused solely on the customer, then employee experience and culture don’t even get a seat at the table.
Yet, the irony is that leaders who don’t listen to employees soon fall out of touch with customers. After all, employees are closer to the customers, and they’re often the connection between the customers and the leadership team.
Yes, good communication is everyone’s responsibility. But it should be a mandatory leadership skill. Still, many leaders rise through the ranks based on their smarts without any training or support in developing their communication skills. And in fairness, the scale and KPIs of their roles can be on a level where they rarely come up for a lunch break, let alone have time to consider talking to their team.
But what if good employee communication and high team engagement did rank on the top of their key deliverables? What then? What if all corporate leaders were convinced that their product or service wouldn’t work if the customer experience was not outstanding? What if they then understood that the only way to achieve exceptional customer experience is to have happy, engaged employees?
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you know any companies that prioritise employee communication?