Have you ever considered that employee word-of-mouth can make or break the reputation of a company? What was the impact on Goldman Sachs’ reputation when the Executive Director quit over what he called the firm’s ‘toxic’ culture?
Employee word-of-mouth, especially from a tenured employee or an established leader, has a significant impact on a company’s reputation and performance. As an immediate direct result, Firstpost.com reported that Goldman Sachs shares dropped by 3.4% resulting in a loss of $2.2 billion for the company. Long term impact is yet to unfold.
While employees have always been an acknowledged – though somewhat overlooked – audience for businesses; the explosion of social media has thrown the ball completely out of the park. Where public is just a click or a swipe away from hundreds of reviews about an organisation and its business practices, employees have become an organisation’s chief stakeholders, as they offer an internal perspective that is considered to be more credible than what the PR machinery puts out.
This may bring to fore the question – what is it that businesses can do to engage employees in a way that encourages loyalty and engagement; and ultimately drives the company’s reputation and performance?
The way to bring this about is to involve employees in the business so that they identify with the company’s vision, mission, and values. In my opinion, there are three reputation drivers that can be used to develop a targeted internal communication strategy. These are: business performance, belief in leadership, and social accountability. Themes such as immediate and long-term strategy, innovation, change management, talent and ethical business practices can help create a strong communication program for a favorable internal reputation.
While is essential for a business to forge a strong connect with employees, it is also imperative to keep in mind that today organisations may be managing as many as five different generations as a part of the workforce. What does this mean in terms of employee engagement?
Imagine an 18-year old intern working with a 55-year old on innovation and change management. Chances are that the youth would take an independent, Google-first approach to research, ideation and learning while the tenured senior may seek a face-to-face or pen- and paper-based approach. Thus, the organisations need to be ready with more than one way to bell the cat. The good news is, in the broader sense, every employee, no matter what the generation, wants the same thing… to feel that he is making a relevant contribution to the overall achievement of business goals and that his efforts are being recognised and appreciated. The internal communication strategy needs to acknowledge and address that.
It is true that the pace and trend of corporate communications are set by the leadership. They need to live the values, to embody the culture and walk the talk. It is an accepted fact that employees perform better when they are managed by leaders who are transparent, ethical, fair, and consistent. In such a scenario, it is easier to create an internal communication system that is timely, accurate and, most importantly, transparent.
While the leadership can certainly set the tone and precedent, the definitive corporate reputation, in the long run, is built on employees who drive the business and its operations. After all, reputation is built one interaction at a time—and every employee is the face of the company. However, company reputation can never be a one-man show, as every employee and every executive must get in on the play and work as a team.
To conclude, while internal communication is a very important segment of corporate communication, the overall corporate reputation/brand strategy needs to look at things holistically; with public relations, legal, marketing, human resources, finance, management, and even operations pitching in to create an overarching communication agenda that is rolled out across functions, hierarchies and business lines.