A doctor once explained to me the reason they call his work the “medical arts” and not “medical science.” He explained that while science plays a huge role in the diagnosis and treatment of patients, at the end of the day it was his call, or that of a medical team on what to do with all the information they receive. And that, he said is an art not a science.
That’s a pretty simple way to address something happening with growing frequency in the PR business. We have a growing number of people who want to advance the notion that we are scientists or technicians in communication as opposed to artisans.
They like to hinge our profession’s reputation on metrics, algorithms and quantitative measures that they argue demonstrates “engagement.” Quite often, I agree at the tactical level. But to blindly go down this path is to ignore the almost unavoidable in our business. The field of public relations is about relationships, and human relationships have a tendency to defy the scientific method. Inevitably, there is the exception, which quite often is the rule.
Personalizing Employee Communications Means Treating them as Investors
Case in point. Not long ago, I was working on a project that targeted investors. In the course of the planning process, we did what we almost always do at that stage. We identified “key stakeholders,” among them employees.
PR people love to create matrixes, tables and charts that illustrate our “targeted audiences” or “key stakeholders.” Sometimes we match them up with their most pressing concerns and key messages.
But here is where the silos can break down, turning our version of communications science into the art of communication.
All too often, we try to draw hard lines and make conclusions on the differences between investors and employees. But when you think about it, who are your most invested stakeholders? Employees would have to be at or near the top of the list.
To be sure, there is a difference between an employee as shareholder, and an employee as investor. The employee shareholder has a financial stake in addition to his or her career commitment to the company. But the employee as an investor, well, that’s just about every one of them.
Think about it. You have an employee who spends more time at your workplace than she does with her own family. She made a life-changing commitment when she chose to come work for you. And in many situations she has made a commitment of years of her life to help advance the interests of the company. If that’s not an investor then what is?
So that brings us back to the art of communication and how to deal with it. How do we communicate to shareholders on their terms, employees on their terms, and somehow find the middle ground between both as investors?
The answer may be in the language we use and the self-interests we identify. Both shareholders and employees have made some sort of sacrifice for the betterment of the organization. Both seek an eventual return on that investment.
Shareholders seek immediate and long-term financial return on investment (ROI) in the form of dividends, stock appreciation and monetary gains. The language we use to demonstrate corporate performance is delivered in these very specific terms.
Employees seek immediate and long-term financial rewards in the form of pay, bonuses, raises, benefits and promotions. But they want more. They want to know their investment is secure, that their jobs are safe, that their work environment is safe, that they will be treated with respect. They want to know that the organization to which they belong is doing things the right way, ethically, because they know that says something about them. In their minds, all of this is ROI.
So when you talk to employees, as important as it is to speak in sincere and genuine platitudes about respect, recognition and value of the person, remember that it’s equally important to quantify and substantiate your messaging. Don’t shy away from demonstrating to employees, in the same fashion to investors, just how strong your organization is, why its market share is important to them, and how customer trends and tastes can affect the future of the company. Be sure to explain what management is doing about it, how it is going about it, and the important role that each employee will play in carrying out this vision and mission.
Use data, but not just data. Put it in relatable terms. Bring it home to your employees. Use examples and stories. In short, involve your employees in the process to create and build value in the company. In the end, you want more than just employee engagement as measured quantitatively. You want your employees to have a sense of ownership and pride in the organization in which they’ve invested so much.