Employee Engagement: Tools, Strategies, and Predictions
Part 2 of a Q&A with Annabel Kerr, Director, UK, and Melissa Proctor, account director
In the second part of our conversation with Melissa Proctor, account director, and Annabel Kerr, director, UK, we dig into the challenges of engaging employees at large companies, where communications need to be tailored to very specific audience needs and behaviors. If you missed part one, catch up on it here.
Segmenting audiences and using multiple channels
How are you thinking about engaging different employee audiences that might have very different types of jobs and life experiences?
Melissa: In a space as big as the U.S., where even regionally things are so completely different, it can be a challenge. That’s when you want to lean back on the culture of the company—that’s the one uniting force. Culture drives everything.
Back to your point about different types of content: company culture factors into that, too. One of the companies that we support, for example, communicates through email. Videos don’t work well for them—people just won’t watch. Whereas, when I worked in-house at another company, email wasn’t their main communication vehicle, but if you posted a video, everybody would watch it.
So you have to look at each culture separately, and then drill down into specific audiences. For instance, if you have frontline employees and corporate employees, what you say to each group and how you reach them is going to be entirely different because of their different job functions, different realities, different problems they’re trying to solve. Frontline workers aren’t sitting in front of their computers all day, so maybe you want to use managers to disseminate messages rather than email. This is why understanding the cultures that make up your company is so important.
Annabel: Yeah, a lot of my clients have audience-mapping exercises running right now to help them figure out how to reach different slices of their employees.
And what you said about using different channels is so important. You can get really granular even with something like a newsletter. Say you notice that APAC employees tend to click through to certain kinds of content while employees in the Americans don’t. So you segment the global newsletter, then you drill down and segment further—because the New York office needs different content to the Great Falls office. It suddenly starts to require a lot of coordination at the top to make sure all of that information is reaching the relevant employees on whichever channels they prefer. It’s hard, but necessary, and we’re seeing it more and more with the big companies we support.
Melissa: When I worked in-house, we did a lot of segmentation. Our big employee buckets were corporate and frontline, but within frontline, you had all these different audiences: people in a call center, people working in retail, etc. We also had dealer communications—those people weren’t employees, but they work in the stores, so what kind of information do they need? It becomes very layered very quickly. That’s one reason why employee listening is so important: just figuring out how employees like to be communicated to and what messages they’re interested in.
Annabel: And even really big, well-equipped companies still mess it up. But if employees can see that you’re trying, that buys a lot of goodwill. You’re not going to get it perfect straight away, but if there’s progress, they should be willing to go with you.
How has the thinking around employee listening changed since the start of the pandemic?
Melissa: It’s interesting, we’re getting more requests for engagement surveys. We’ve done focus groups in the past, but that’s a little harder to do in a virtual environment.
Other than that, clients are using really any kind of two-way communication they can. If there’s an all-hands, make sure there’s a Q&A portion. If there’s a way you can poll people through your chat function or your intranet, do it.
Annabel: Something I’ve been thinking about is how HR is grappling with a lot of the same stuff—employee listening, keeping up morale—and how they might feed into employee engagement and internal communications.
Melissa: One of my clients has started what they call a culture ambassador group—a group of people that come together every few weeks, give feedback and share things they’ve heard from their teams and colleagues they’re close to. You’re seeing the same thing with DEI—people pulling together advisory groups very quickly.
The future of employee engagement
Where do you think employee communications could be going in the next year? Which of the changes we’ve seen during the pandemic are likely to stick?
Annabel: Those words we’ve been saying over and over: It will be more strategic and more deliberate. I don’t think all the problems will be solved, but I think people will be putting a lot more thought into the back-end processes to set up good engagement.
Melissa: COVID-19 and the need for racial equity are driving home the need for empathy, and now that’s something that employees will expect. A more open, honest, thoughtful relationship between employee and employer is going to be the new comfort zone. And that’s a very good thing.