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Disengaged employees? Your internal communications could be the culprit

March 3, 2021 | Organisational Effectiveness

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Many companies continue to pour money into their internal communications initiatives and departments with the end goal of better employee engagement. While this is something businesses should pursue, why do so many continue to miss the mark?

According to Gallup, only 13% of employees rate their organisation’s leaders as effective communicators.

In our experience, the situation is much worse on the ground.

We once polled the employees of a client with a management culture questionnaire. We used this as an analytical tool to get the pulse of the business and understand some of the current challenges it was facing. As expected, communication was noted as poor by a whopping 52% of the employees, including managers and directors. When reviewing the results with a senior business executive, he was less than pleased with the ratings received for communication.

“We have invested heavily in communications over the past several years,” he said in frustration. “Why do our employees continue to feel that communication is poor?”

He was correct, they had invested to improve communications. They had hired an internal communications specialist and developed a communications strategy. The strategy implemented communications channels such as:

  • Breakfast with the president
  • An employee social media site
  • A revamp of the company newsletter
  • E-mail blasts with relevant information
  • Monthly town hall meetings

So, with all these actions aimed at increasing communication and employee engagement, why do so many still feel that communication is lacking? After hundreds of engagements and thousands of employee interviews we have discovered the answer and it may surprise you.

The missing message

Everyone wants to play for the winning team. However, more importantly, people want to know how they contribute to the team’s continued success. How many times have you heard a sports executive or star player comment that the crowd’s cheers motivated the team to elevated play or winning a championship?

Have you heard of the 12th man in Soccer or American Football? They understand that to have engaged fans, they must link how the fans’ involvement (cheers and chants) aid the team in its success.

Simply put, employees at all levels, want to understand the goals and direction of the company, how their individual contributions enhance the company, and how both are currently faring.

While most companies do a good job of communicating company direction and performance, many miss the important step of linking individual contributions to overall company success.

So, how do we communicate adequately to ensure our employees remain engaged in the game? Here’s how:

1. Link an employee’s work with corporate strategy

According to IBM, a shocking 72% of employees do not understand their company’s strategy.

Developing and mapping a comprehensive management control system linking corporate strategy, goals and initiatives to daily execution helps bring about the clarity that so many communication strategies miss.

For example: How does my job as a maintenance technician in the oil patch contribute to the company’s goal of increasing shareholder value? To have these meaningful conversations takes a series of connected values, goals, KPIs, skills assessments, meetings and progress reporting.

Being able to tell an employee that their individual efforts, such as improving their response time, eliminating quality problems and mentoring new employees, helped the business increase its market share because these improvements, and others, convinced new customers to sign on is great. Being able to show them this progress on the way to achieving it is invaluable and leads to world-class employee engagement.

2. Communicate often

Employees want to be communicated to frequently on what is expected of them and how their daily performance contributes to the business as a whole. To do this often and effectively, management must first have a very good understanding of it.

Leaving this important step to front line managers and/or quarterly employee reviews often leads to less than stellar results.

There must be a systemic process with communication flowing top-down, bottom-up and completed often.  How often? In many cases, daily, or at least weekly. The more closed-loop communication employees have with management about how their performance adds to company value, the better.


Despite their benefits, internal communications are sadly an afterthought for companies. Yet, when done well, they have a major impact on employee morale and engagement, which in turn benefits companies in many ways. For one, organisations with a highly-engaged workforce enjoy 22% more productivity.

Management must be able to systematically link corporate strategy to day-to-day tasks for employees. There must be a plan to communicate this clearly, strategically and often.

In the end, the key to a great internal communications strategy is not just a shiny programme with bells and whistles, but the ability to demonstrate to every employee that their contributions help the company succeed and that they are appreciated.

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