Over the past twenty years everything that companies have deemed ‘the norm’ for workforce behaviour and expectations has changed. Employees no longer sign up for a lifelong career, the leadership term for the average CEO is five years or less and competitive advantage is driven by continuous innovation and not market dominance. So, if the natural state of business is in continuous flux, how can companies rely on their employees to drive their vision - if employees themselves see their positions as temporary?
The fact of the matter is that while, in 2012, it is no longer possible (or for that matter desirable) to create ‘jobbers-for-life;’ this has meant the evolution of new tools for leadership in its struggle to find ways to engage and utilise the resources that employees offer. This has included the evolution of internal marketing. The discipline is no longer a blunt retention tool. Rather it is a precision sabre that should be focused on escalating employee engagement quickly and creatively, in order to maximise productivity and innovation in relatively short time spans.
So, what does the average employee in 2012 expect as a basic pre-requisite from any interaction with the company?
Firstly, communication is not an end in itself – it must be effective communication. In an instant, interactive and visual age where everyone has a cell phone and is on some sort of social network – the medium of communication has become critical to cutting through the clutter and reaching employees effectively.
Also importantly, the regularity and nature of communication emanating from leadership is essential. The biggest reason for the changes in hierarchy is that everyone - and not just the CEO ¬- has access to information. This means that the authority of the executive team must derive from different sources beside access to information. Among these are authenticity, honesty, insight and timeliness – as they are unique qualities that leadership can bring to communication with employees.
The counter situation is also true. Organisations that are not democratic about their information will lose the loyalty and pride of employees because information will soon be leaked to other sources – usually via the Net. Keeping information to themselves leads organisations to their own demise, forcing employees to trust external sources.
Thirdly, employees want companies that are engaged not only with them but also with the society in which they live. According to tomorrowtoday.uk.com, 83% of 20-somethings and young employees will trust a company more if it is socially and environmentally responsible. 79% want to work for a company that cares about how it impacts and contributes to society. These are the employees that are driven by an information-rich environment. Internal marketing that supports the employees own view of the world, their value systems and that understands the contribution they would like to make to society: are far more likely to create lasting, productive relationships with employees. So, it’s no longer about the company’s message filtering down but about responsive action to the employee voice – whether that means creating CSI programmes that integrate employees, operations and marketing or creating tech-savvy, information-sharing capabilities that signal democratic leadership.
So, internal marketing is no longer optional. In a world of product parity and high people mobility – a sound internal marketing strategy can manifest competitive advantage where none exists. But to make your employees a differentiator – as so many billboards profess their employees to be – requires that: a sound strategy is in place; the company stipulates a financial commitment to engaging employees as a cost-of-doing business and not simply as a PR exercise; that employees are engaged on a continuous basis and not only at crunch time, and importantly, that different platforms and mediums are used not simply to communicate but to connect with employees in new and creative ways.
So, let’s check. When last have you or your workforce felt intrigued by a development at work? When last have they been so inspired as to tweet about it without prompting? When last have you seen mobile communication, flash animation, e-cards, webcams, videos and portals integrated into an internal marketing programme – something that you and your employees experience elsewhere on a daily basis via YouTube, FaceBook, etc?
Using every platform possible and engaging with employees builds excitement – it not only motivates, but also gets the employee to really sell the company. Think about it. If security of tenure and a pension fund is no longer what people are working for – then let’s find new ways to reward them. And one of the simplest ways for any company is to facilitate experiences (not just work experience but life experiences) and to share the wealth of knowledge inherent in an organisation. Organisations that allow the employees to share the value generated in terms of knowledge, technology, experience and exposure through strategic and tactically clever internal marketing, will be rewarded with employees who don’t simply fill seats but actually apply their minds to the jobs.
NOTWITHSTANDING the greater emphasis being placed on internal marketing by many South African businesses, there are still several common mistakes that cause internal communication strategies to fail. Some of these are based on good, old-fashioned rules being ignored in the excitement of technology-driven campaigns. Others point to a greater need for understanding how to shift the behaviour of a new kind of employee: one who has greater expectations, more rights and is less inclined to accept old-style discipline. The following are golden rules to follow in the pursuit of internal marketing excellence.
Appeal to the heart. Your campaign will fail if it does not appeal to the heart and have a clear call to action. Often, we don't apply the same creativity to engaging employees as we would to engaging clients. The reality is that there is a difference between an employee who does something because they are told to do it, and one who does it because they are engaged and motivated to do so. The difference will be seen in the results that the company achieves. For a campaign to be effective, it needs to answer three questions:
What do I want employees to think?
What do I want them to feel?
What do I want them to do?
So an effective campaign must convince the head, appeal to the heart and have a clear call to action.
Often, strategic messages such as mergers, acquisitions, sales strategies and new market development are communicated via e-mail or a CEO announcement - which usually has the singular effect of deadening the senses of recipients. Using these mediums
alone (unless your CEO has Bransonesque charisma) is the equivalent of advertising a flat-screen TV using the impossible-to-comprehend technical booklet that comes in the box. It provides all of the information, but without any of the appeal. Compare this to industrial theatre, for example, which is often used out of necessity in workplaces with low levels of literacy. It has been a significant medium in the mining sector and largely responsible for the success of safety campaigns. Creative communications agency, Unplugged, has successfully developed a campaign incorporating industrial theatre and the use of venomous snakes, as a metaphor for safety hazards in the workplace. Creative director, Rick Melvill, explains: "Mining companies have been placing great emphasis on zero harm in recent years, but a lot of the time workers suffer from campaign
fatigue, and do not pay attention to the message anymore." In this situation, the snakes are then used as a discussion-generator around the hazards in the 'snake pit', also known as the workplace. This has significant and long-lasting emotional impact and 'memorability' - a result that probably couldn't be achieved through a CEO newsletter, no matter how well written.
Answer the question: 'Why?' When you're constructing your message, frame it with two important bits of information that motivate human behaviour: What's in it for your employee - how will it make their job simpler, easier, more profitable or more enjoyable? How will it contribute to the success of the business? When people understand the bigger picture and how it will benefit them personally, they'll be far more likely to change their behaviours, beliefs or opinions. One of the major state-owned enterprises in South Africa invested in an internal marketing campaign to help employees understand the relevance, importance and, frankly, the enormity of new project plans - not only to the organisation but also to the country. However, it was only when the messages began drilling down into how it would affect job security, offer opportunities for growth, and expose skilled employees to international best practice that the project gained traction. Why? Because it suddenly became more relevant to the ambitions, fears and daily working lives of employees.
Don't say too much. It's old advice, yet companies fail to follow this simple rule. People have a limited capacity for understanding, integrating and remembering information - especially when that information requires them to make a behavioural change. As Peter Lyman, from the School of Information Management at the University of California, Berkeley says: "Our form of literacy is a series of filters about what I will and will not pay attention to. Which newspapers will I read? Which television shows will I watch? There's way more of everything than I can consume or pay attention to; too many phone calls; too many web pages; too many newspapers. So literacy now consists of filtering, selecting the right stuff for me, and that's what we call literacy now. It's an economy of attention, it's filtering, choosing, selecting, customising." Be aware of the competition for share of mind and the vast array of messages employees receive every day (both as employees and as consumers) and choose only what is most important.
Provide five critical pillars of support. Driving change communications is tough! It requires people to overcome their fear of change, to shift their mindset and finally, to respond with a new set of behaviours. Change communication takes patience and perseverance (see the next point). However, in our experience there are a few steps that are critical to any change communications activity. These are:
The creation of a compelling and clearly articulated vision of the end game
Providing information - the stuff the employee needs to know to get the job done
Equipping them with skills - the abilities needed to get the job done
Sorting out the tools - the 'kit' needed to support them
Reward and recognition (either formal or informal) that reinforces desired behaviour
Don't say it once and expect people to change their habits. Reinforce your message. People forget. And we forget that we need to keep reminding them. The Coca-Cola brand is a perfect example of a company that follows this rule consistently. We all know about the product. In fact, it is the most recognised brand in the world. We also know where to buy it and we know that we enjoy it. But Coke doesn't stop advertising. Its marketers understand that we need to constantly be reminded in order for the message to stay top-of-mind. An intelligent internal marketing campaign should be layered - communicating the message through different mediums over periods of time to create 'stickiness' with the audience.
Don't send an e-mail to communicate important information (or, likewise, stick a few posters on the wall). At all costs resist the urge to fire off a quick e-mail communicating important information. We know it's easy. But it may be the least persuasive form of communication in the known universe. Here's a simple guideline. The easier and more convenient the medium, the less effective it will be in eliciting any kind of result. The bigger the 'ask' in terms of behavioural shifts or the more complicated the issue, the more 'face time' people will need to be convinced. Connect meaningfully. It requires more effort but gets better results. This is all the more important when the news is bad. We've worked with many organisations through periods of retrenchment and have seen CEOs engage with employees in vastly differing ways. While some stop, drop and roll - choosing to hide behind an e-mail - a handful of leaders have spared the time to sit with their employees and answer the tough questions face-to-face, making themselves available to employees for days or even weeks. The impact this has on the organisation is a greater level of trust, better resilience and improved speed of recovery. This is borne out by research conducted by Towers Watson, a leading global professional services consultancy, which states: "Companies that are highly effective at communication are 1.7 times more likely to be high-performers than companies that are not."
Strategic activation is not just another buzzword. Don't start developing a campaign by asking: Do we need posters, an AV or a desk drop? Instead, start by looking at the campaign objectives. What behaviour or result are we trying to achieve? And how best can we achieve that objective? In short, find out 'what' before you decide on 'how'. Let that inform the mix of activities on which you decide. Generally, internal marketing campaigns are executed for three reasons: to motivate employees; to change culture; or to orient employees to new systems/products. Each of these objectives requires a different approach. In summary, remember that ultimately, you're dealing with people who don't always behave in predictable ways. So remain flexible and open-minded in structuring any internal marketing campaign. And regardless of your target market, medium, frequency or call-to-action, create messages that are meaningful. Messages that are meaningful have the power to cut through the clutter, remain memorable and drive people to change their beliefs, feelings and actions.
QUANTIFYING INTERNAL MARKETING CAMPAIGNS
Can we create a measure for internal marketing campaigns? That's the eternal question and it still remains pretty tricky. However, the evolution of the discipline and access to technology by employees has made measurement more possible, if not easier.
Where measurement becomes tricky is in separating out the variables that impact on the campaign or programme, not unlike above-the-line or direct marketing, but maybe a little more difficult because of the sheer number of internal issues affecting employees attitudes, perceptions and behaviours.
If what you want is to identify and separate the factors that influence the outcome of a campaign and to determine whether the results you got were because of something you did or because of something someone else did - then there is only one way to do it. You would have to go through the laborious and costly process of controlled studies - which is impossible to do for every internal marketing campaign. So, you would need to decide about what is realistically measurable. These would include:
Efficiency of channel
For example: what were the results of using new media rather than traditional media? How far into the target market did the medium reach? This mix would depend on the individual organisation including factors such as access to technology, internal distribution and event attendance. You may be surprised to find that new media works in the most unlikely organisations. For example: many people have access to cell phones and sms's can be sent cheaply in a range of languages, offering the critical advantage of over-coming language barriers. The trick is to try a range of mediums and track which combination works best.
Effectiveness of communications
This is where technology can really come into play. Of course, you could do a 'tick-the-box' option on a questionnaire at reception. But you could also use random webcam interviews, on-line competitions and messaging integrated into team-building activities to test recall and memorability. As always, the key to effectiveness is: creativity in the
initial campaign, consistency in communication and importantly, taking the time to consider what would reach the most people in an impressionable way. It's not about the message. It's about a focus on the people receiving the message and that requires the most magical of elements - creativity!
Impact on employee behaviour
Did people change how they behaved? Generally, internal marketing campaigns are executed for three reasons: to motivate employees, to change culture or to orient employees to new systems / products. Each of these objectives can also be measured differently. This may include, for example, a perceptions audit, if the aim was to motivate employees. Or focus groups and customer feedback to ascertain culture change.
Did the changes people made as a result of the campaign affect productivity, profitability or the customer experience? Here's where the people responsible for internal marketing campaigns should work closely with the other parts of the business to take a base-line measurement of the results that would be meaningful to the business. It would be advisable to decide on specific targets in advance. For example: a 7% improvement in customer experience. It would also be prudent to ensure that the other criteria for effective change can be met such as providing employees with the necessary tools to do the job.
Depending on the duration, you should measure at various points in the campaign. You will be able to refine measurements to suit your organisation as campaigns are executed and you'll also have the option of refining the campaign to iron out any bugs and take advantage of what is working well. However, good communication is underpinned by imaginative and creative campaigns - so don't let an attempt to provide 'proof' undermine the heart of the campaign.
Newly appointed Operations Manager at Actuate Internal Marketing Specialists, Laura Mitchell (33), attributes her success to pride in everything she does.
Despite obtaining a B Com degree, Mitchell wasn't keen on ending up in the finance industry. “I wanted to be in the design / advertising industry, so I found an entry-level position in business development for a small outdoor agency in Johannesburg, with a package that paid very little. I realised that to be successful, it was important to focus on learning as much as possible, as quickly as I could, rather than on making money. So I became proficient in my role and, as a result, my confidence grew.
“From there I moved on to a corporate media house, then to a design studio and finally to the Actuate Group. At each stage of the way, I immersed myself in learning everything I could of how the business functions, what challenges it faces and what I could do to make a difference.” Being a natural problem-solver, Mitchell thrived on making small changes that contributed significantly to the company.
Progress for Mitchell centres around the combination of a successful business career and a happy personal life. “Progress is more about achieving a balancing act than about taking incremental steps towards perfection. It's about having a satisfying day at the office, followed by a relaxing evening at home with my husband!”
Mitchell's always found office politics a challenge, but realises the value of getting on with difficult coworkers. “Leading people can be difficult, but the most important lesson I've learnt from it is putting the right person in the right position!”
Her motivation, she says, comes from personal commitment to whatever she does. “Hopefully my record speaks of the pride I take in everything I do. I worked for a large insurance firm in London for two years and when I resigned to come back to SA, the CEO of the company came to my farewell party and ended his speech with: ‘Whoever replaces Laura will have big shoes to fill.’ I loved those words and hope to hear them again.”
She believes internal marketing is a very rewarding field for women. “The industry's well represented by them and, as a result, more are attracted to it every year. I've worked for several women, including my current employer. The Executive Creative Director is a phenomenal woman with an incredibly strategic mind and I'm learning an enormous amount from her.”
She offers this tip to aspiring young businesswomen: “Work hard, absorb everything, pay attention to the smallest details, learn your craft and success will come.” - THABISO THANTSHA
Terri Brown is like kryptonite to old-school corporate communication. Her mere presence can vaporise training files and melt slideshows. With a bit of talent and plenty of ideas, Brown established Actuate internal marketing agency in 2000. It took years to convince big corporates of this new multidimensional approach to interacting with employees, but eventually her "conversation cafés" began replacing the one-sided directives of old. Just consider Actuate’s role in the rebranding of Cell C. Brown brought in the then little-known comic Trevor Noah to star in a series of edgy and engaging videos. She combined this with electronic tutorials and other online tools to bring staff on board with the new corporate culture as no traditional tool ever could. Brown's creativity has also won multiple nods from the Loerie Awards, including gold for an MTN campaign — even though she can't promise that no training booklet or flow chart was harmed in the process. — Ian Macleod
Information is now accessible to all and executives no longer control the info space
THERE was a time a few years ago, when talk was all about the "democratisation" of information - wider access that new technology was sure to deliver. Well, that time is here. Social media has drastically democratised information. What does this mean? It means that in the past some people (usually figures of authority) had information and others didn't. And those who had the information - or access to specific information - had more power than those who didn't. In the corporate world, this meant that the chief executive (and the executive team) used to have access to a bigger volume of credible information, more quickly than anyone else. They also had absolute control over what information was disseminated to employees, and when it was done. But social media has made the information pyramid much flatter - we can easily access information about companies, competitors or the broader industry from a variety of easily-accessible sources. We hear everything from rumours to comment and analysis on social media.
Twitter-savvy staff can communicate with journalists or even the CEOs of rival companies to solicit different opinions. All of this means that employees are far more independent thinkers and are less likely to be accepting of what the executive team says. It also means that the CEO has to be more responsive, act more quickly and be more authentic and positive in communicating a message - or risk completely losing influence over key stakeholders, including employees. The biggest issue is, of course, that there is now no place to hide. The CEO has to build trust and be brave enough to be transparent, because he is up against a medium that has a natural credibility that CEOs don't always enjoy.
So, most employees understand that the CEO has an agenda. He is incentivised to persuade you of his beliefs and goals while social media can be agenda-less or can aggregate views, beliefs and agendas of lots of people - creating a more balanced view. Likewise, employees often feel that they can't identify with the CEO. The conversation in their heads goes: “He is (usually) not like me - in education, generation, social position, etc. I can't identify with him.” And while the CEO has a sense of authority that has worked in the past - these days it's the opposite. Employees feel that executive management speaks down to them whereas mediums like Facebook are on the same level, speak a common language and give employees a chance to express their views. Therefore, while the CEO may with every good intention make a formal announcement to staff, the chances of him being believed as a credible source and the chances of him being able to change behaviour is much slimmer than in the past.
This means that the CEO, if he wants to be effective, has to broaden his communication style - embracing new ideas that boost credibility and authenticity. This might mean using mediums such as Twitter, which is timely and appears more “genuine” - less structured.
It also gives the CEO the opportunity to read and respond to the comments of employees and to invite their participation.
But these principles are not limited to social media. More informal, personal conversations with employees - whether in the corridors or in chat rooms - inspire confidence and trust. The rule of thumb is less mediated, structured, published communication and more spontaneous, short, sharp interactions.
In summary, today's CEO should strive to engage employees in two-way conversation rather than dictate to them. And the only way to build trust and engage employees is to opt for more unmediated communication than in the past. The alternative is to battle against all the other sources of communication out there for the employee “vote”.
IN today's fast-paced and increasingly complex business environments, leaders are seeking ways to simplify their decision-making processes while simultaneously improving the performance of their organisations. Ultimately, the only way to achieve sustainable growth is through a team of motivated and productive staff. As internal marketing and communication specialists, Actuate focuses on sending key messages that influence levels of motivation, connection and alignment — and seeks ways to enhance them. Based on interactions with companies and on research, they believe that a big factor affecting the culture of an organisation and the attitudes of its staff is the set of values by which it operates. We are talking about values as decision-making instruments that drive certain observable behaviour, not the values that are found on posters, mouse pads and screensavers. And we are talking of how people experience the values, not what the values are called. Richard Barrett, an author and leadership consultant, says values are becoming the preferred mode of decision making in business.
“Since the world we live in, particularly the business world, is becoming increasingly complex, chaotic and unpredictable, values provide a more flexible mode of decision-making than beliefs,” says Barrett. He believes that when a difficult situation arises, there are three different ways that we can arrive at a decision on what to do. We can use our beliefs to formulate a response; we can use our values to formulate a response; or we can use our intuition to formulate a response. There are pros and cons to each approach, but Barrett firmly believes that values are best suited to decision-making. If we use our beliefs to make decisions, our decisions will reflect our past history in dealing with similar situations. And given that our past history is always experience and context based, our beliefs are not equipped to handle complex new situations that we have not experienced before. “When we use values in decision-making, we are consciously creating the future we want to experience,” he says.
“Values are not constrained by the past and are adaptable to new situations.” Research shows that values driven companies are among the most profitable. The theory behind this is that when organisations unite around a shared set of values, they become more flexible, less bureaucratic, and they develop a capacity for collective action. Having established the importance of formalising a set of values that leaders can base their decisions on and employees can unite around, internal communication and marketing strategies need to be formulated and executed. Values remain abstract concepts and must be translated into actual behaviours that can be seeded into the organisation. Essentially, you have to make the shift from values as nouns to values as verbs. Remember, a value such as "innovation" means something different to a marketer than an IT professional. It's through structured conversations amongst everyone in the organisation that values will find any traction. If your organisation is not achieving the results you believe it capable of, take a closer look at your personal values, those of your leadership team and the values governing the business. If they are not closely aligned and in sync with one another, you might have found the root of the problem.