Authenticity: A secret communications weapon

  • Posted on July 30, 2019
  • Estimated reading time 3 minutes
corporate communications tips

This article was originally published in Forbes.

Rapid changes in technology, generational shifts and working remotely have dramatically transformed the workplace for many of us, but one of the things that I have learned throughout more than 20 years as a communications professional is that nothing is more powerful than keeping it real.

Here are the top three approaches I find useful when it comes to keeping corporate communications authentic:

1. Find the #humanimpact
Many of us want to feel that our work makes a difference. As confirmed again in a 2019 Gallup perspective on millennial job satisfaction findings, millennials, in particular, want to make a positive impact in their communities and society at large. Whether as consumers or employees, they are prepared to walk away from companies that do not share their values.

We embrace that perspective. As a technology company, we actively look for opportunities to reach beyond the nuts and bolts of what our systems can do to focus on what we help our clients and our communities achieve. For example, we equip cancer specialists to conduct virtual consults so that they can help more patients faster than before. We help not-for-profit organizations extend their reach by enabling their embrace of digital technology; we fund scholarships for young women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

To find the human side of your own stories, here are a few things I recommend to colleagues:

  • Partner with your corporate citizenship or social impact team. This is a natural fit since they are likely looking for similar types of messages and they will be happy to have the attention -- and support -- of the corporate communications team.
  • Reach out to your employees. When describing what they do to friends and family, our own team members often instinctively move past the technical jargon to the stories underneath. Since we started embedding our #humanimpact hashtag in our internal communications, our employees now bring us examples of how their teams’ work is making an impact.
  • Similarly, think about how you describe your company’s work to your own friends. Chances are you don’t describe how you helped a company operate more efficiently. You weave a story about what your client is now able to do for its customers, thanks to your company’s work.

2. Ask -- and listen
In today’s pull-instead-of-push world of communications, paying attention to how people want to be communicated with is probably the most important piece of advice I give my peers. Of course, the hard part is using the input you receive to evolve your communications strategy. We have found, however, that paying attention to our employees’ communications preferences and responding to their needs has impacted our employee satisfaction results.

To stay on top of what our employees are thinking, twice a year we include questions about how and what we communicate in our all-employee satisfaction survey. In addition, our corporate communications team conducts regular communications surveys of slices of our employee population, as well as focus groups with 8 to 10 people from our nonexecutive ranks for a deeper-dive discussion about what is working well and what is not. My favorite question to ask in these focus groups is twofold: What should we stop doing? What should we do more of? In addition, all of our newsletters now have a feedback option where readers can let us know what they think about the content in just a click or two.

Like a lot of companies, earlier in our history, almost all major messages came from our CEO. That made sense at the time. In a small, fast-charging company, people wanted to hear things straight from the top. However, as we grew, our employees told us that, in addition to the CEO, they wanted to hear more from their area leadership and direct managers.

Listen to your team members. In this case, if employees are looking for more communications from local leadership, empower those in leadership roles to guide the amount, type and timing of information their teams receive.

3. Keep it fresh
A hard truth is that we can write memos, create videos, produce town halls and help write all the blog posts we want, but they do no good if no one pays attention to them. I find that today’s workforces crave experiences. That’s why our communications teams around the world spend serious time thinking of new ways to catch people’s attention.

My guidelines are simple: Be creative; no idea is off limits. I give my team permission to try new things, and we regularly schedule virtual brainstorming sessions so that we can feed off one another’s ideas in real time.

Some ideas work, and a few don’t. Examples that have worked particularly well for us include a contest featuring members of the leadership team as computer icons, a hologram that pops up unexpectedly when you sign on, a global photo competition and our “Executives Unplugged” video series in which a country leader answers out-of-the-ordinary questions. Our CEO’s April Fool’s Day message has even become a popular company tradition!

Find out what your team responds to, and leverage these ideas to further communicate and engage.

In the end, these three goals -- identifying #humanimpact, listening to your audiences and keeping it fresh -- can help your team create the type of authentic communications strategies that engage and inform your employees. For us, as a technology company in a fast-changing world, they help us stay where we need to be -- on our toes.

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