How Communications Effectiveness Drives a Great Employee Experience

Recently, employee experience has emerged as a key focus for companies seeking to improve strategy execution and results.

Change is the new constant in business. Companies must remain nimble and flexible in their business strategy. To succeed, they need to get the word out to all employees and gain everyone’s buy-in. But unless they take employee experience into consideration, they will achieve, at most, partial success. And an outstanding employee experience is much harder to create than one might expect.

A 2017 report from Deloitte found that 80 percent of executives rate employee experience as very important or important, yet just 22 percent of companies believe that they’ve successfully created a unique employee experience.

Businesses should make it a goal to close this gap, because a focus on employee experience is also demonstrably linked to bottom-line results. According to Aon Hewitt, companies that invest significantly in enabling leaders to work with employees on improving engagement are rewarded with a 29 percent increase in operating income versus those that don’t. Bolstering those findings, Jacob Morgan, author of The Employee Experience Advantage, notes that companies that invest in the employee experience are four times as profitable and generate twice as much revenue as businesses that don’t.

Communicators have sought to drive a great employee experience by improving the effectiveness of internal communications. They’ve focused their efforts on channel effectiveness: measuring and improving email open rates, video views, intranet visits, and other similar metrics. Those data points certainly help communicators understand how strong a company’s information flow is and identify where gaps exist. But those metrics provide an incomplete picture because they fail to take into account for the most important communications channel of all: your leaders.

The value of leaders in the communications mix can’t be overstated. After all, as the saying goes, “People don’t quit jobs; they quit bosses.” My 20 years of experience providing change management and communication counsel to global Fortune 500 companies have revealed a surprisingly stubborn theme: At many companies, leaders are being underutilized in providing the crucial link between effective communications and employee experience.

Leaders set the tone for employee experience, and they’re the key translators who take business strategy from the C-suite and turn it into effective, on-the-ground execution. They do this by clearly articulating a vision, providing clear direction and making strategy more emotionally resonant and relevant to the job at hand. Leaders also bridge the gap between internal communications and employees’ lived experience at work, which includes how valued they feel within their organization and applying the information they receive towards doing their jobs better.

So how do leaders become more effective communications tools and drivers of a stellar employee experience?

Companies must identify leader behaviors that need to shift to communicate more effectively and create a more positive employee experience. That, in turn, keeps employees more highly engaged — delivering the positive results everyone wants.

At Gagen MacDonald, we help our clients accomplish this by measuring their information flow using a series of standard questions backed by third-party research. According to a 2008 Harvard Business Review study, the fundamentals of good execution start with making sure information flows where it needs to go and decision rights are clear. Furthermore, the same study found actions related to improving information and decision rights are twice as effective as improving motivators and structural change.

Our proprietary index measures information flow and diagnoses gaps and barriers in six key areas, including content, sending and receiving, and infrastructure. By identifying areas to target for improvement and capturing internal best practices, a company baseline is established and can be used for future tracking of communications effectiveness.

To improve employee experience, however, companies need to take the extra step and ask additional questions about leader behaviors. At Gagen, we work with an organization to customize these questions to isolate specific leader communications that need improvement. Most organizations already have a general hunch about their communications effectiveness at the leader level. This analytic focus can help them pinpoint and quantify specific behaviors they need to improve.

Putting this process to work at a multinational pharmaceutical company, we identified that its leaders struggled with change readiness, a common problem at many organizations. The organization’s leaders excelled at telling people change was coming, but did not help them manage through it. Specifically, we found that a lack of transparency and knowledge of how change was progressing left employees floundering day-to-day, with engagement well below desired levels as a result.

Armed with leader-behavior-level data, the internal communications team was able to identify actions for leaders to take, including maintaining a steady drumbeat of communications, greater leader visibility, celebrating real-world wins, and putting setbacks into perspective. The result? Better communications effectiveness that also directly improved the employee experience and retention of top performers.

Measuring communications effectiveness at the channel level is an important first step. But it’s not only what you say, it’s what everyone does with that information that’s just as important.

Only when you improve information flow via communications and behaviors, do you achieve better decision-making, better employee experience — and better bottom-line results.


Patricia R. Bayerlein is a consultant at Gagen MacDonald, a strategy execution firm specializing in employee engagement, culture change, and leadership. She has more than 20 years of experience providing change management and communication counsel to global Fortune 500 companies to effectively engage employees and prepare leaders for significant change.

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