A few years ago, a friend of mine was hired to conduct employee focus groups to gauge reactions to a new, and rather expensive, employee awareness campaign. When she asked for comments about the company’s communications vehicles, one participant pointed to the Exit sign over the door and said, “That’s the only sign in this place that I trust. The rest are all bulls___.”
Now, that’s a credibility gap!
Many companies suffer from a disconnect between what they say and what they do. One classic example is the company that trumpets, “Our people are our greatest asset!” while they establish employee policies that restrict creativity and entrepreneurial thinking. Or their executives talk about “work-life balance,” but employees feel pressured to check email and call in for staff meetings while on vacation. No surprise that these companies suffer from higher than average turnover and low productivity.
Companies that truly value their employees demonstrate their high regard by treating their employees like adults, like valued business partners.
These organizations foster an environment of open discussion and respectful conflict, encouraging employees to take ownership of issues and voice their suggestions for improvements. And when it comes time to be recognized, the employees’ contributions to the company’s success are rewarded.
So how can employee communicators bridge the credibility gap? Well, if your company is in the midst of a crisis of confidence, it won’t be easy. But it can be done.
First, you must establish a culture of open dialogue, one where employees are comfortable voicing dissenting opinions without fear of reprisal. That can be accomplished by publishing contrarian points of view in your newsletter and on your intranet. Managers can reinforce this new culture by inviting employees to voice their objections, and listen without becoming defensive.
Next, you must ensure that your company recognition programs, both formal and informal, reward behaviors that reflect your desired culture. Don’t restrict recognition to tenure. If the one of the company values is innovation, then employees who think differently and challenge traditional processes should be recognized.
Finally, the best way to bridge the credibility gap is with timely, transparent employee communications. Executives, managers –and the internal communications team — must commit to addressing real business issues and providing honest progress updates that are free of spin and “corporate speak.”
Otherwise, once the economy turns your employees will be looking for that Exit sign.