Thursday, August 27

Redefining Publics: Employees First


While some companies consider social media to be the greatest change in how layoffs are handled, a new study, Global Trends in Separation Practices from DBM and the Human Capital Institute (HCI), reinforces that severance packages and internal communication remain the most critical components to survival.

"When employees leave an organization, they don't just become ex-employees," said Robert Gasparini, CEO and Chairman of DBM. "Departing employees become customers, referral sources, competitors, and perhaps even future employees returning to the organization. By well managing employee separation, companies can fortify loyalty and mitigate retention risk among the remaining workforce."

Specifically, the study found that 71 percent of organizations reducing their labor force experienced reduced employee morale and 62 percent reported reduced loyalty among employees. Unfortunately, for too many companies, this news came too late. And, in some cases, even companies that delivered fair-to-superior severance packages missed the mark on effectively communicating their efforts.

Internal Audiences Remain The Most Important Public

While such internal morale damage can be related to any number of factors — the reason behind the decision, severance pay, outplacement support, and continuing benefits — the only opportunity to turn it around begins with internal communication, especially for companies that never communicated what those benefits were or what they meant. Even more important, such communication cannot rely on vehicles alone. It must be personal, and probably led by a face-to-face meeting with management.

Although not related to layoffs, the recent internal communication leaked at Nielsen provides a excellent example. Had managers been briefed about the external communication, hosted small face-to-face gatherings with employees, answered questions, and then left behind a handout that focused on the future of the company, the outcome would have been very different.

Instead, Nielsen sent out a push message to employees despite the fact that most studies indicate only about 15 percent of employees read employee magazines, newsletters, internal blogs, memos, etc. (And, according to Jack Pyle, a fellow with PRSA, one West Coast employer discovered that only four percent of top managers in the company actually read corporate memos.) Worse, of the very few who do read internal memos, they are the most likely to forward the worst ones to the media.

Of course, none of this is intended to disparage employee magazines, newsletters, internal blogs, memos, etc. On the contrary, most internal communication studies simply reveal that it is not employee communication vehicles that are failing as much as the content contained within them.

And that makes us wonder if the question some companies ought to be asking is "how is our company's communication doing these days?" And, more importantly, is it connecting with employees so our customers have the best possible experience?

2 comments:

Jeremiah on 8/27/09, 3:18 PM said...

Having been laid off just last week, I can reaffirm how important internal communication is. The company I worked for had a layoff a year or so ago that blindsided everyone. Consequently, the remaining employees, myself included, were very upset over how it was handled. This time, my boss pulled me aside a few days before things were official and informed me of the situation that was leading to the next round of layoffs. He then vaguely informed the other employees that the company was having issues due to the economy and that layoffs may be coming and why. This not only increased my respect for my boss as a person but also made me want to keep a relationship that had developed over the past few years intact. Had he blindsided me with the layoff, I'm positive that I would be angry and hurt. As it is, I understand the situation and wish only the best for those who remain.

Rich on 8/27/09, 4:51 PM said...

Jeremiah,

Sorry to hear you laid off, and am sure you'll find yourself in the best possible position.

It makes a lot more sense to handle those situations as you described, and then, going beyond that, finding the best possible way to communicate to those who remain that they too will always know where they stand.

I think we all lose a little respect for those who forget that employees are not mere numbers, but people who help make the whole greater than the sum of its parts (assuming such a culture exists there in the first place).

One of the things that struck me about Gasparini's quote is how true it rings. Former employees are not only former employees, but rather people who become brand representatives. We I look at some major companies that continually struggle with their brands, I sometimes wonder how much of it might be fueled by unhappy former employees.

Hope things are already going better for you.

All my best,
Rich

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