Performance driver

In the latest communications effectiveness
survey conducted by Watson Wyatt
Worldwide, information from 750 companies representing 12 million global employees provides hard data substantiating the correlation between effective communication
practices and improved business results.

“The relationship between effective communication practices and shareholder value
is no longer anecdotal,” says Kathy Kibbe,
west division communication practice leader
for Watson Wyatt Worldwide, San Francisco.
“This is our third communications ROI study
and, when we look at the results, companies
with the most effective employee communications programs provided a 91 percent total
return to shareholders from 2002 to 2006,
compared to 62 percent for firms that communicated least effectively. Additionally,
companies that improved their communications effectiveness experienced a 15.7 percent increase in market value.”

Smart Business spoke with Kibbe about
how CEOs can drive communications effectiveness within their organizations and the
best techniques for achieving results.

What is the CEO’s role in influencing effective
communications?

CEOs and other members of the C suite set
the tone for communications effectiveness
by creating a line of sight between the mission, vision and goals of the organization and
the employees. Top executives recognize the
role managers play in communicating the
organization’s messages and how vital those
managers are in driving a plan to improve
communication. Our research shows that
employees want to hear directly from their
CEOs about important business messages.
They also want their managers to translate
those issues into their daily realities — and
managers need C-suite support to do that.

What were the secrets of the top performing
companies?

Best performing companies keep their customers front and center as they communicate organizational change. Letting employees know how their performance impacts
customers not only drives employee engagement, it drives financial performance. For
example, we worked with a retail client to build an internal customer support center
and our mission was to make sure that every
employee in that call center had a strong
sense of their internal customers as well as
how their service to employees affected
external retail customers down the line.

Managers can play a role in connecting the
dots for employees who may not deal directly with end customers, such as IT professionals. In companies with high communications
effectiveness, the IT workers know who their
internal customers are and how their work
impacts both internal and external customers. Also, when change is communicated, the discussion should focus on why the
change is beneficial for customers, not how it
will better serve the company.

How can CEOs support managers in their
roles as communication leaders?

Managers are the interpreters of change
within an organization. They give the change
context, so it’s important that managers
know not only how to communicate change
but how to talk to employees about what the
change means to them individually. It’s also
important to involve internal groups, like
communications and HR, in the design and
execution of communications programs, especially around organizational change. In
our survey, highly effective companies had
comprehensive change management programs that engaged managers in the process;
those companies reported that their managers were nine times as likely to enthusiastically implement new approaches to work.

How are the executives in the top performing
companies measuring ROI?

These executives are measuring employee
engagement as an indicator of communications effectiveness, and they are also tracking
the scores within specific employee groups
to see where they might have more localized
issues. Some are also tracking employee
retention and productivity increases as a way
to measure communications effectiveness.
After deciding which levers they want to
move to drive shareholder return, CEOs can
track the results and refine the organizational communication strategy.

The top performing companies also incorporate company branding into internal communications programs as part of their
employee engagement and retention strategies. Internal branding allows companies to
define to candidates the employment experience, how employees are expected to perform and what they receive in return.

Did the survey note any opportunities for
improvement?

We’re seeing a downward tick in the number of companies that are soliciting employee input about major decisions, such as how
work gets done. Companies are also becoming a little less transparent in communicating
the reasons behind major changes. My sense
from talking to clients is that they are not
soliciting input because they fear an inability
to act on employee recommendations. But
sometimes having the conversation about
why the organization can’t meet employees’
requests is just as critical. It’s this kind of
respect for opinions and willingness to be
open about the business that can drive real
engagement. There are too many benefits to
making employees part of the discussion to
shy away from having the conversation.

KATHY KIBBE is the west division communication practice leader for Watson Wyatt Worldwide, San Francisco. Reach her at (415) 733-4334 or [email protected].

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