Internal Communications can be a challenging as you try to ensure employees understand strategy, their role in your organization’s success, things to celebrate about the organization, etc. Reaching employees who don’t sit at a computer can be the biggest challenge of all. These would be employees in retail customer service, plant and manufacturing employees, trade service employees like mechanics, hair stylists and others.
I have been a part of many organizations where these off-site employees with no access to computers are completely forgotten or written off as not needing to know information. Yet it always amazes me when the organization is shocked to learn that these ignored employees are not happy. They don’t feel connected. They see their role as just a job and not a place where they can have a career.
Of course, many aspects influence their perspective, but here are some tips to improve the situation from a communications angle and even improve employee engagement for this population.
- Make employees ambassadors. Often times, you simply have to ask what it would take to make them ambassadors. Their answer is usually much less than what you are willing to give from a time and financial perspective. They could simply want more training, time to volunteer, or more positive information about the organization so that they can champion the organization to their friends and family.
- Encourage real three-way communication. Three-way communication means you give information and ask for opinions, they respond AND you follow up with how you are using the information they provided. When possible, employees should be given a chance to have input on certain changes (especially operational/process changes), provide ideas for process improvements, new products, etc., and give feedback on the current state of affairs.
- Let employees lead. When employees give you feedback about new processes or suggestions, ask if they want the opportunity to lead or take a key role in the project. It will help you find leadership skills where you are not currently looking. Communications plays a role in helping to set the parameters, working with leadership to establish a program, and communicating the guardrails to employees and their managers.
- Give them access to senior leadership. First understand that front-line employees most want to hear from their direct managers. That’s who they engage with regularly and feel they can trust. It takes time to understand/believe that senior leadership cares about them and their ideas. This trust can only be built over time with efforts from senior leaders (short videos that can be shown during staff meetings, short messages that can be read to employees, notes sent to their homes, etc.). Management by Walking Around (Tom Peters) is still the most effective way to build rapport with employees – and it is most definitely a Communications tactic. Ensuring senior leaders get around to front-line employees, ask questions, genuinely engage with employees, and have proper follow up is key.
- Celebrate front-line employees and their work. Often times, front-line employees control the quality of the organization’s products or serve as the face of the organization to the customer. So communicating to and about them will go far. Create a mechanism to get success stories from supervisors and managers, and use these stories to celebrate front-line employees and highlight their work in public settings and with other employees.
Communicating with front-line employees is not impossible, but it takes effort and a willingness to think outside the box. They can even help you define the box.