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Accountancy balance sheets and annual reports might not be the most exciting items a company possesses, but they can tell you a lot about the importance of different departments. It can show what is seen as a cost, an asset or an investment. What is long-term and what is short-term. Which outputs sit with which departments and cost centres. Increasingly, one of the most interesting areas is the cost/investment in employee engagement.

Historically, employee communication was seen as a box to tick. A functional requirement to communicate basic information. Through a memo, then a poster, then an intranet and then a company email. And then for enlightened companies something changed. Employees started to be seen as something to invest in, as people that can grow the business and its positive perception, not just cogs in a delivery wheel. These companies started communicating to their employees in as creative, engaging and interesting a way as they do with their customers. But not every company is so enlightened, and they could be missing out on business growth as a result.

While UK data is patchy, The Bureau of National Affairs in the US estimates the cost of employee turnover at $11bn. That is just the cost of disengaged employees leaving a business, that doesn’t account for the lost productivity benefit of engaged employees. So, as there is a significant financial benefit to having an engaged employee team it’s worth looking at what companies that get it do well, and what those that don’t, don’t.

From experience, there are three clear areas that successful companies address to achieve engaged employee advocates; structure, approach and proof over promise:

Structure

It’s always significant to see where employee engagement sits within a business, who owns the budget, and how big the budget is. Ideally this is something that brings together the best of internal communications and marketing teams using a proportion of the marketing budget. Funding employee engagement from the marketing budget ensures it is measured effectively and, crucially, that the quality of comms are equivalent (or better than) consumer activity. Employee engagement should be seen as an additional audience segment for marketing activity. Board level buy-in is essential too. The best employee experiences we’ve created always have real interest and energy from the CEO.

Approach

It seems incredibly counter-intuitive to create amazing consumer experiences and then treat your own people to a grey meeting room, lectern, and curly sandwiches to announce “exciting” news. These are the people that can make or break your brand way quicker than customers can. But that is how the majority of companies operate. It’s a hangover from B2B activity where it seems the agreed strategy is to take ads and make them a bit duller. So, unveil your company strategy with theatre, announce new products with immersion, and create understanding of company values with excitement. We approach every employee engagement brief in the same way we would if it was for consumers.

Proof over promise

If there is one thing that matters more than anything else, it is this. The way a company behaves internally and the way its people behave externally is the brand, the proof, the external comms are the promise. If your proof doesn’t match your promise you will have stunted business growth. Compelling employee engagement will ensure proof and promise match up. Think of it as speech vs body language, you need to make sure the body language of your company matches up to what you’re saying.

Employee engagement isn’t frivolous, it’s not a box to tick, and it’s not an unnecessary cost. It is an essential marketing investment, both in terms of reducing cost and boosting growth. They both look good on a balance sheet.

Will Worsdell, co-founder and strategy director, The Park