As a business or leader, you know you have achieved effective employee engagement when the connection that people feel towards the organisation leads to a willingness in them to go the extra mile – in other words the communication has an effect on the employee.
Another 2015 survey revealed that a lack of internal communication was the number one reason for people leaving their job.
’62 percent of responses — were communication related. The biggest issue, a lack of direction from management, was followed by poor communication overall, and constant change that is not well communicated.’
Three reasons why employee engagement fails
The business case for regular communication and effective employee engagement is overwhelming. However, in my experience there are usually three barriers that are common to many organisations:
- Businesses don’t train people to be good communicators who actively set out to engage an audience (and that is not the same as presentation skills)
- Communication is often driven by the need to deliver information, not for the purposes of engaging people, therefore there are no clear effective employee engagement strategies
- Communication, whilst costing $7.8 trillion in lost productivity if not done correctly, is rarely given the budgets/investment it requires
What do I mean by effective communication? To be effective you must first have a way of measuring the effectiveness, which means having an objective.
- If the objective is to change behaviour or mindset, you must explain why people need to change and what’s in it for them
- If the objective is to motivate, you must make people care
- If the objective is to inform, you must make people care
- If the objective is to inspire, you must present a vision that they can buy-in to
To effectively do any of the above you have to engage people. When you engage them they feel connected and the more you engage, the more connected they become. As the connection strengthens so does their emotional commitment and willingness to contribute.
We love to hear and read stories. We empathise and associate with characters, we recognise tension and we appreciate good narrative. So, why is it that when the need for effective employee engagement is clear that organisations choose to not to tell stories when they communicate?
A few weeks ago someone forwarded me a piece of internal communication. It was from a senior manager and sent by email about a business that claims to be customer-centric. It was seven paragraphs and four of those were full of figures, percentages and targets. The customer was mentioned once, employees not at all.
This was seven paragraphs of cold facts, no emotion at all. This was a written communication but it could so easily have been more visual and presented as a story of business performance.
Stories, according to Prof. Paul Zak, release oxytocin from the brain and ‘motivate people to engage in cooperative behaviours’. This explains the link between effective communication with objectives, employee engagement and productivity.
The power of storytelling is clear, it has been around for thousands of years, and yet in business we default to slides with unreadable text and charts that mean nothing to the person looking at them from 15 ft away. When was the last time your slides had images of your customers? Your employees? Your suppliers? These photo-stories from the World Health Organisation do.
When did you last tell a story about the impact your business has on your customers? When was the last time you celebrated an employee with a story of their achievements?
Every business, no matter what sector, helps customers, otherwise they wouldn’t be in business. They make lives easier, more efficient, safer, healthier, give people confidence, every business should have a positive impact and it’s up to the communicators in those businesses to tell the stories that engage and build connections.
Storytelling that engages:
- Have clear objectives
- Make it about people and the benefits of your work
- Use short statements with maximum impact
- Use images – build your own image library
- Give equal balance to facts and emotion
- Don’t make it any longer than is necessary
- Know exactly how you want to start and end
All great stories describe a sequence of events and each event builds on the one before or creates tension. Think about something you might want to share with your employees about the need for change…
- We operate in a market that sells widgets
- People love our widgets because…
- However, there is another business selling similar widgets
- That means we need to…
All of this can be conveyed using images. In fact, using images is likely to make the story easier to engage with and therefore longer lasting in the memory of the audience. Images also mean the text can be simple and to the point – the right image will do all the hard work for you.
Photography is one of the most powerful ways to consistently deliver effective employee engagement.