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Employee Engagement Internal Communication

I was recently involved in a tendering process which was hard to respond to, because the need wasn’t clear.

They were looking for support with employee engagement, but from the documentation it was impossible to read exactly what they meant by that.

Were they looking for someone to help them engage better with their people?

Or were they looking for someone to help them measure their people’s engagement? (Presumably, with the objective of then improving it)

In other words, was this more about internal communication, or employee engagement?

It took a supplier’s meeting and a second draft of the RFP to sort it out.

(I don’t want to leave you on tenterhooks. It was more about purely measuring employee engagement, and had they had a rather fixed idea of how to proceed with that. I ducked out.)


So why is there an opportunity for confusion?

Because all is communication.

Let’s stick with an engagement survey as an example. You might have questions that explore purpose, safety, wellbeing, change.

Communication is an absolutely central component of each of them:

·         You can’t be excited and motivated by the organisational purpose, if no one has told you about it, if you’ve not had a chance to explore it, and see how it affects what you do and how you do it

·         You can’t be safe if you don’t know the procedures, if you don’t get to ask questions about it, if you don’t know how to raise concerns

·         You can’t know that your organisation cares about your wellbeing if they haven’t had the opportunity to show that they do. And that has to start by explaining their attitude

·         You can’t see the benefits of change if no one has outlined the reasons for that change, or helped you see the effects as they start to come through.

In short, internal communication underpins absolutely every possible aspect of engagement, because it performs that enabling function.


You’re saying internal communication only enables employee engagement?

Not quite, so let me walk you through how I see them both.

One cannot exist without the other, and there must be a close inter-relationship. But what do really mean by each term?


Starting with a definition of employee engagement, I usually find Engage for Success is a decent place to start. They describe it as: “the right conditions for all members of an organisation to give of their best each day, committed to their organisation’s goals and values, motivated to contribute to organisational success, with an enhanced sense of their own well-being”

I think that good internal communication is therefore one of those conditions. And probably the primary condition, it has to be there to enable and activate any other conditions.


Now let’s think about what we really mean by Internal Communication, and Rachel Miller at AllThingsIC has a nice way of describing it: “The way a company interacts with its people and they interact with it.”

I think that’s absolutely correct … but I also think it’s that’s where the blurring (and at times the misunderstanding) has the opportunity to creep in.

We need to think about what is an interaction – and where does it start and end?

Undoubtedly, it’s the classic top-down and mass broadcast communication. The traditional cascade that still happens, but is far from the only game in town these days.

It’s also in two way or more personalised communication where there is more of an opportunity for dialogue.

And then there is the type of communication where the intention is much less to tell, and much more to ask. To elicit a greater voice for employees. Where issues and suggestions are raised, and then shared more than previously, and problems are addressed collaboratively.

Increasingly, there is more and more employee voice coming into areas like purpose, values, your organisation’s place in society.

And that is an interesting area to explore, where do interactions start to become something bigger?


What do you mean by bigger than an interaction?

Let’s think about what we used to call CSR, but now seems to be much more ESG. Whatever*.

Personally, I still prefer the idea of corporate citizenships. Or, in much cruder terms, not being a corporate d!ck.

We agree, I’m sure, that the organisational priorities here shouldn’t be set behind a boardroom door. And, equally, that they shouldn’t be set just to be the minimum required by legislation, shareholders or some kind of accreditation.

If these priorities are going to mean something, if you’re going to be a truly good citizen, rather than just a conforming one, they have to go further.

And if you’re going to ask people to go further, then it has to mean something to them as well.

So, now internal communication - and the interactions it is fostering - is performing a dual role.

It’s not just telling people what’s going on, how to get involved, where to sign up, what kind of impact this is going to have. It’s now a part of the process of deciding what the priorities are.

Internal communication becomes not just part of the process of conveying the decisions to the masses, it enables those decisions to be made in a more inclusive and democratic way.

But it’s still an enabler of engagement, not a deliverer?

I think this is where it gets interesting. It could be one, or the other, or both.

For topics like reward, safety, new process, internal communication is most often still that enabler. It enables people to understand, and therefore people can engage with those topics.

For other topics, where there is more of a need for employee voice, then there is that dual role.

·         Sometimes internal comms is enabling people to access the topic – and therefore allowing them to be more engaged

·         Sometimes internal communications is delivering that engagement much more directly. By providing that employee voice, a factor that affects engagement, AND by allowing people to help move the organisation to reflect their own motivations.

And once there is employee voice, then there is greater empowerment. And there is more opportunity to take on challenge, or to show expertise. Again, factors that affect engagement.

Now, internal communications don’t make employee voice happen by themselves. It needs the drive and endorsement of leadership; managers play a crucial role in modeling and encouraging.

But where there is a culture of employees having a voice, then this is where we start to move away from individual interactions, into more of a conversation. It’s starting to become more of a relationship between employer and employee.

So, is that relationship the same thing as employee engagement?

It’s certainly very close.

I think the ultimate objective of employee engagement is to be in a place where the priorities of the employee match those of the employer.

That isn’t about blind obedience to the employer. That’s something different, and almost certainly unhealthy.

It’s not about the sometimes-performative staying till midnight to get the job done, bagging yourself another employee of the month award.

It’s much more about a two way-street.

One where employees instinctively know what decisions to make. And that’s because they have a natural understanding of what’s good for the organisation. And they understand what they’ll get access to in return, when they do the right thing, the right way. (And possibly with a little bit more of that, no-one is stopping until midnight…)

That instinct can only come from really good, two-way conversations, and that’s where internal communication needs to aim for.

And that’s when the terms employee engagement and internal communication should – quite correctly be - blurred.

Where’s it not clear where the line is between:

·         the topic ( the action, or process, or policy,etc), and

·         the conversation about the topic (the priorities, or access, or improvements etc)

That’s the point at which internal communication is an inherent part of making life at work better, every day.


* I am aware of the irony of being casual about definitions in a blog that is about pinning down definitions

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