Building Company Culture and Employee Engagement Through Communication
Senior Communications Specialist
I feel like good engagement begins with understanding: what information are the employees wanting and needing? What kind of questions are different members of our organization getting about policies or benefits? What are their usage patterns for our different channels of communication?
Get to know John
What is one of your achievements that you’re most proud of?
When I consider achievements that I’m proud of, my first instinct is to look at the achievements that have brought me peace or happiness, and those often involve the lives of others. It’s tough to answer this question, but I can pinpoint several things that make me feel like I’m leaving a positive mark on the world.
I volunteered as a teenager at a shelter for youth who had been, for whatever reason, taken from their homes. Being able to be there as a peer for them, play games with them, and maybe for a moment take their minds off of some of the scarier parts of the world means that maybe I was helping them in some way. I’m glad I did that, and I hope they benefited from that.
I could also point to my creative outlets. Music is an instrumental part of my life. I started playing piano from a young age and still play daily as an adult. Writing is equally as important to me. I love the art of storytelling, and I’ve been really lucky to work in fields related to it: marketing, advertising, television, and now automotive manufacturing. In each of those fields, I got to find the narrative in whatever project I was working on and bring it into focus. When I switched to internal communications in manufacturing, I was able to bring some of those experiences and lessons with me.
In that vein, I’m really glad to have been a part of the team who rolled out our employee communications app to our employee population. We have several sites in different locations, and the site where I work was the first to roll out the app to our employees – and it couldn’t have come at a more pivotal time. When COVID-19 arrived on the scene, we were able to use the app as a primary source of communications with our employees. It allowed us to keep our employees informed, learn the ins and outs of the new communication method, develop a course for its current implementation and consider our future goals for its use. I was very happy (and still am) with how well it’s allowed us to engage our employees.
And finally, if we’re discussing achievements and leaving the world a little better off – I can’t leave off my four girls: aged 15, 13, 11, and 9. They’re all excellent students, and I feel a little better knowing that they’re a part of the generation that will be in charge one day. I say this without any hesitation: they’re genuinely wonderful people, and not only am I proud of them, I actually like them, which is something positive I can point to – especially with two teenagers.
You have a great company culture. What are your top tips for building culture?
I think our company culture is amazing, and I really consider myself lucky to work where I do. It’s my favorite career experience, by far. I came from working in television, marketing, and advertising, so I’ve always worked in smaller organizations. I wondered what it would be like working for a company with more than a hundred thousand employees worldwide. Would I be another number? Would I matter? Would I be able to make a difference?
As it turns out, my experience has been amazing. There’s no one magic bullet to a great company culture; it’s a combination of so many factors that naming them would take quite a while. In the interest of brevity, I can point to a couple of things which I think really help build the great culture we have:
We have a defined set of core principles that define our current actions and future goals, and these focus on everything from diversity, transparency, accountability, to creativity, respect, and the environment. It’s been my experience that for us, it’s more than just a set of nebulous ideas – it’s something we actively strive to practice daily. Although I work for a large corporation, I feel like my job matters. There’s clear leadership with clear goals, and that’s communicated on every level.
If a large part of our culture is the result of our goals and leadership, the other part is from how our teams operate. I can’t point to which came first: the great people or the supportive environment in which collaboration can grow, but I suspect it was a mix of them: innovative and collaborative people help shape the environment around them, creating a fertile ground for ideas to grow.
I feel like we also strive to help each employee in the organization understand what part we all play towards creating a successful company with a great product. When there’s buy-in from employees, it improves morale. Instead of feeling like a faceless and nameless number in a large organization, I feel like an integral part of its functioning and continued success.
We all like to feel like we matter, and when a company takes time to look inward as much as outward and view its employees as important, that culture can take root and grow organically.
All organizations have corporate communication (e.g. legal, HR) that needs to go to all employees. What are your strategies for getting employees to engage with that kind of communication that is sometimes boring or confusing?
There are a lot of similarities between marketing and advertising and internal communications. For all of them, engagement is key. There’s a message, there’s an audience, there are the available channels for delivery, and there is the feedback and measurement of the ultimate impact of that message. However, there are major differences as well. In advertising, we were able to take each message and determine a specific demographic or psychographic to target. In manufacturing, our workforce was already diverse, and each message needed to be broad enough to be available to everyone while also brief enough to get the message across at times when everyone is available.
Much like traditional marketing and advertising, though, we have multiple channels through which we can reach our employees: videos, digital signage, print media, and so onlikewise. The last two decades have brought a landslide of changes to the communications landscape in general, and that applies to our employees as well. When we launched our employee app, it gave us a channel to reach our employees right where they are, on their schedule.
I feel like good engagement begins with understanding: what information are the employees wanting and needing? What kind of questions are different members of our organization getting about policies or benefits? What are their usage patterns for our different channels of communication? We use that information to help shape what we communicate about, and to make sure that the information is relevant, timely, and clarifying. In that way, even though the subject may be a little drier than a human-interest story, it’s still something in which our employees are interested.
When messages are initially crafted in another group within the company like HR or management, it can sound quite dry and corporate. Working within the internal communications department, I advocate for “humanizing” the message, and I feel like that helps engagement, too.
What techniques do you use to navigate changing employee expectations regarding their employer communications?
I love data, and I feel that good data drives communication. It’s really easy to track hard, quantifiable data in manufacturing, like units produced or jobs per hour, etc. But in communications, getting at good data can be a complicated process. Luckily, as technology advances, so do our methods of feedback. We can see the numbers behind what content employees are interacting with and how long they engage with that material. We can see what works and where we have opportunities to improve.
One of the realities of communications is that there are rarely any one-size-fits-all solutions. I know my daughters can search for information online in a heartbeat, and there’s some truth to the belief that younger generations are more comfortable with technology. So as demographics change, I expect their media habits to change as well, and moving from a more traditional broadcasting method of communications to more interactive and responsive methods lets us see what works and what doesn’t, and make decisions based on that data.
We also supplement with real one-on-one interactions. Prior to COVID-19, our company held regular roundtables and focus groups where we spoke with employees in different parts of the organization and sought their feedback. We’ve had to make a few changes to the process, but the core of the reason for asking for that feedback remains the same – it adds qualitative data to our quantitative data and helps us understand what our employees need and want from us from a communications perspective.
Do you have any words of wisdom you would like to share with other comms professionals in the manufacturing space?
If I had any wisdom to offer to other professionals in the manufacturing space, it would be to continue learning and seeking out new knowledge. I’m sure it drives my superiors crazy sometimes, but I’m always asking “why?” Why is this done this way? What kind of data supports this method or technique? I approach everything with an open mind geared towards learning – if we do something one way and it works, I want to know why so that I can potentially apply that technique somewhere else. Or if we do something one way and we don’t have clear data on its efficacy, I want to look deeper and see if there is indeed data there to support continuing the process or revising it.
I’ve found that there’s some truth to the old adage “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Technology continues to evolve, and with it so do our communications tools and methods. But in the end, people are looking for information that impacts their lives, or information that makes them proud to be a part of an organization.
So, my words of wisdom aren’t really words of wisdom, as I feel like it’s something communications professionals are already excellent at. Start from the point of view of the audience to which you’re communicating, use data to develop everything from the content to the tone of that content, and develop new tools and use existing ones to tweak and evolve anything and everything you can—the channels available, what different audiences seek out and interact with, what tone strikes the best balance between getting across pertinent information briefly while still remaining interesting, and keeping your finger on the pulse of the employees, leadership, and communication trends as a whole.
Oh, and take time for your hobbies.