Employee Communication—An Action Plan for Success

Back when I ran an employee communication group at Verizon, little did I know the position was setting me up to one day run an agency of my own. My whole 20+ year career seemed to be focused on either marketing or employee communication. And more often than not, both. The two actually go hand in hand but, I dare say, employee communication is a tad bit harder. Why? Because you have to fight for every yard gained with little to no budget while, in contrast, marketing budgets are rich and assumed necessary to the success of the business. Let that sink in.

Employee communicators are usually a ragtag bunch, made up of professionals from customer service, operations, IT, HR and the like. With little to no budget you become a pseudo-expert at everything (Photoshop, Illustrator, video, audio—you name it). You take pride in some of the communications that go out and, due to the volume of incoming content, you admittedly tick the box on the others. That all changed for me with one visit to Southwest Airlines Headquarters at Love Field.

The Colossal Shift

What I thought I knew about employee communication changed in a single day while being guided around their facility. From the moment I walked into the SWA headquarters I noticed everything was branded appropriately. There were no one-off logos, there were no special projects with a separate theme, there were no off brand colors; it was as if the marketing team took over employee communication and blended it with the external brand …it all became seamlessly Southwest. The most astounding moment of the day was when the employee communication manager stopped a pilot at random in the hallway and asked him, “What are our three financial goals for this quarter and where are we at with each?” He gave us the complete answer without missing a beat then politely walked off. I was stunned.

Time to Take Action

The light bulb went off and I made this action plan right then and there:

  • Partner with Marketing to get source files of external ads from the agency. This simple act allowed me to create internal communications about the products/services with the same look and feel that our customers and employees were seeing externally.
  • Use freelancers to help create larger projects (i.e. sales incentives, CS initiatives, and overall employee campaigns). The projects MUST align with the brand.  Later, I replaced the individual freelancers with an agency once I was able to grow my budget.
  • Align Employee Communication with Sales. After all, what is the sole purpose of employee communication (or any department for that matter) if not to facilitate the success of Sales?
  • Ask for more money, and do not accept “No” for an answer. It’s a simple fact. In order to have influence in the corporate world, you need a budget. In order to build a budget, you must show a need for one. That’s where partnering with Sales comes in handy. You will need to invest the time and do the research to prove that if you communicate to Sales more effectively, Sales will achieve x lift and it will cost y dollars. Then you need to deliver. If you cannot provide a revenue lift number (i.e. sales generator) you are a cost center. We all know how cost centers are viewed.
  • Lastly, it’s all about the brand. The look and feel of the communications should be in alignment with the brand. No more department logos, no more special logos, no more sales meetings with whatever theme the production company thinks up. No more one-off projects. It all must not only be aligned with the brand, but also must provide value to the end user. There is a lot of useless content floating around corporate America, and without a plan to fully address the dissemination of content you will be forever spinning your wheels.

Brand Alignment

It’s really all about alignment but be prepared to work hard and face resistance along the way. However, the end result will be a more efficient, effective and streamlined way of communicating to all employees. The goal, as I see it, is to have every employee saying exactly the same thing when asked a question. I often think of that pilot’s answer; that is employee communications at its best.