At the IPR Trustees Research Symposium in November, Bruce Berger, winner of the 2012 Pathfinder Award for an original program of scholarly research advancing the practice of public relations, spoke to an audience of research funders about his work. Summarizing decades of focus on employee communications, Bruce said:
Let me close by summarizing what I think I’ve learned about employee communications in 35 years of practice and research. I can do it in three words: leaders, supervisors and culture.
- Leaders who are visible, who are caring, empathetic, who are excellent listeners, and skilled and committed communicators.
- Supervisors who embrace their communication roles and are armed with relevant information and essential communication skills.
- And an open culture characterized by two-way communication, the open sharing of best practices and other information, and taking risks.
In my view these are the three foundation stones for effective and successful employee communications. If we take care of these three areas, other problems that we talk about so much – like trust, engagement, morale, retention, etc. – will be much smaller or they may slip away altogether. But if the foundation stones aren’t in place, then the problems will persist despite best programs or best practices we might apply.
Research in employee communications has been telling us these things consistently for 40 years.
Bruce Berger is Reese Phifer Professor of Advertising & Public Relations at the University of Alabama. Frank Ovaitt is president and CEO of the Institute for Public Relations.