Bea Aarnoutse16 februari 2023
If there is one thing that needs to be prioritised now, it’s employee alignment
Running the business in a time of constant change
Where do you start with employee alignment and employee engagement? Especially now, at a time when change is the only constant. It’s a question we get asked a lot at PROOF. Our answer? Don’t try to eat the elephant in one go – start with employee alignment instead.
Bea Aarnoutse, associated consultant & partner at PROOF
McKinsey published an interesting article about becoming what they called a ‘future-ready company’. In it, they pointed out how important it is not only to reflect on who you are as an organisation, but also to think about how you will operate in the future and how you will grow despite all the current and future challenges. As part of this, they advised defining what talent you will need to realise your ambitions given your strategy. They also recommended thinking about where you can find the right talent, what you can do to attract talent, how you can engage and retain employees, and how you can best facilitate employees to do the right things at the right time.
At PROOF, we have defined six steps (in Alignment 2.0) that will help you to build sustainable employee alignment. Although every organisation is different and has its own DNA, these steps provide a starting point for any organisation and will help communication and HR professionals to work on alignment.
1. Begin by getting insight
Organisations know everything about their customers – and CRM makes many things possible – yet we know very little about our own employees. This is a huge loss, because it means communication and HR professionals are missing out on some great opportunities. The first step, then, to begin working on creating an aligned workforce is to get insight. Talk to your employees and your target groups in the labour market. Research what is going on in the organisation, whether your organisational ambition is clear to everyone, how communication takes place, how your employees feel and what appeals to them. Map the internal population, look at your employees, at the figures in internal engagement surveys. In short, make sure you have the basics in order. From figures on inflow, advancement, outflow and satisfaction, to the quality of management skills. Talk to external groups as well about what attracts them to an employer and what leads them to choose to work at an organisation. Define which conditions must be met to achieve the organisation’s ambitions and bundle and share insights with top management as this helps to emphasise the importance of alignment. Facts and figures quickly make clear how important it is to have an aligned workforce.
2. Create a good and relevant story
Working on alignment requires you to have a clear, concrete and above all relevant story that outlines the why, what and how of the organisation, and where it is heading. Despite Simon Sinek having demonstrated the importance of explaining the ‘why, how and what’, there are few companies that can say they have a consistent, concrete story on paper. Yet that story is the foundation on which you build and which you elaborate on at each step in your employee journey.
Because each step has a different goal, the messages differ at each point in this journey. Ahead of hiring someone, you want to explain who you are and why you are an attractive employer. Once employed, you want to ensure that your external promise is being lived up to internally. And during someone’s employment, it is important that they continuously connect with and reaffirm the story, based on evidence. Offboarding is another a moment in the employee journey, because saying goodbye is as important at work as it is in the rest of life. If somebody leaves feeling respected and appreciated, they will be an ambassador for your company for a long time to come. And we all know what an ambassador is worth.
3. Develop an unambiguous, target-group-specific strategy for each phase in the employee journey
To reach existing and potential employees, you will need to take the following logical and strategic steps.
Phase your story
The phasing in which you tell your story should differ per internal and external target group. The following phases apply to a strategy for internal target groups:
Urgency – This phase explains why what is proposed needs to be done, and how urgent and important it is that managers and employees contribute. There are several ways to create urgency and the approach you choose should reflect the situation and organisation.
Involve – Having explained what is about to happen, the need now is to translate this to the employee context. What does the message mean to them? How do they feel about this? How can they contribute? Which tools are available to them to, in fact, contribute? Here too, the way in which people are involved differs per organisation. The manager does this in their team, or it happens centrally.
Activate – Once employees know what’s going to happen and what this means for their work, they are triggered to make their contribution. Effective activation is not something you order; it’s about allowing employees to come up with ideas, proposals and actions themselves. Activation really brings a strategy to life.
Evidence – Over time, people get used to the change and what they are being asked to contribute. The first results are in and the proof of the strategy is there. In this phase, the goal is mainly to encourage people to share their stories.
Map your target audiences
In creating an aligned workforce, it is important to map the different target groups and the insights (such as triggers and hurdles) that apply. The important stakeholders in the employee journey are very diverse. Within the internal target groups, these are the board and top management, managers, employees, new employees and exiting employees. Other internal target groups include the works council and young professionals group. As for external target groups, the important ones include potential and former employees, plus influencers such as parents, friends, ex-colleagues, the media, et cetera.
Set objectives and KPIs
Another key aspect is to determine what are the right objectives and KPIs for each target group.
What effect do we want to achieve with each target group and what do we want them to know – information, for example, a sense of urgency or awareness, or the goal action?
What are we asking specifically of employees, how can they contribute to the strategy and our customer promise, and what form does this contribution take?
What values do people live by inside and outside the organisation and do these support the direction the organisation needs to move in? Will the current culture and behaviour help the organisation to get where it wants to be?
What do managers need to be able to involve their employees in the organisational story?
How, as an employer, does the organisation want to be seen by its employees?
What makes people proud of their work and how can you stimulate that pride?
Which processes, systems and facilities are required to optimise internal communication?
When should the results of the change be visible? When will you be satisfied?
Determine your key messages
Once the objectives for each target group are clear, the next step is to determine the appropriate key messages. The key messages cover the why, how and what in a few sentences. The key messages should then be made as concrete as possible so that it is clear what the organisation’s ambition means for everyone’s daily work, how employees can contribution to this and what has to change starting now. Communication with the target group is based on these core messages, which are anchored in communication content formulas and in the content strategy.
4. A strong concept
Once the strategy is in place, you need a good creative team to develop an effective communication concept. A strong concept ensures your communication efforts will have more of an impact because they reinforce each other throughout the employee journey. A good communication concept gives direction, connects, creates cohesion and provides context.
5. The importance of good execution
Steve Jobs hit the nail on the head when he said, ‘To me, ideas are worth nothing unless executed. They’re just a multiplier. Execution is worth millions’. He was right, because execution is where you make the difference. So, once the concept has been approved, the next step is to develop it for implementation. Here we cover the introduction, the tools, the communication cycle and the underlying collaboration. We give shape to content formulas and the media strategy, and form and content come together. Finally, we produce and roll out our communications and tools. Unfortunately, in practice, not enough attention is paid to good execution. Often, the various waves of communication don’t build on each other to create something bigger, the organisation’s DNA goes missing and the implementation fails to meet the expectations of the target groups. Whether it’s answering an application letter or the behaviour of a manager, it’s a question of not enough attention and not enough love for the communication moment in question.
6. To measure is to know
The only way to know how you are doing is to measure the effect of your communication efforts. Have the goals been achieved? Where can you improve? Where should you adjust? Measuring frequently will help, but improvement only comes if something actually happens with the results. It is therefore essential to set up a user-friendly HR/Communication dashboard and reporting template, based on your objectives and KPIs.
And what about the future?
We can’t look into a crystal ball but one thing is clear: the customer can never be central if the employees providing a product or service are not central as well. After all, there’s a reason why employees are the foundation of a strong reputation.