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5 Key Communication Topics That Can Convey Authenticity to Employees

February 14, 2019 • Sam Grabel

Earlier this week we had the privilege of attending an event hosted by Edelman, the global PR firm, which recently released its annual Trust Barometer. For those unfamiliar with the study, it looks on a global basis at the degree of trust garnered by everything from social media to politicians to employers in the general public. The insights for employers in particular are interesting. According to the study, there are five key communication topics that are most effective in increasing employer trust: societal impact, values, the future, purpose and operations. Each of these topics has the potential to enhance perceptions of employees that their employers are authentic—that is that they historically say that they’re going to act a certain way, and then actually do it. In other words, that they embody the four T’s of authenticity: transparency, truthfulness, trust and timeliness.

Let’s dive a little deeper into each of these areas to uncover why they are important to employees and why authenticity in these communications is so vital, and look at a few examples.

1. Societal Impact

Work isn’t work if you enjoy it. That adage seems to take you only so far these days, as larger numbers of employees want their work to reverberate in a wider context than self-fulfillment. Increasingly, employees are gaining a conscience when it comes to the societal impact of what they do at work. Nearly 60 percent of employees who are proud of their company’s social responsibility are engaged, which translates to longer terms of employment and increased creativity. None, perhaps, is more evident than at the famed Vermont ice cream shop, Ben & Jerry’s.

Ben & Jerry’s doesn’t welsh when it comes to their societal impact—or at least taking a stand on the issues. Through the years the company has championed countless causes, among them the voter registration drive made famous in the ‘90s by MTV,Rock the Vote,” various environmental initiatives, and anti-GMO and hormone campaigns.

Societal impact is authentically baked into the core of the company. Beginning in 1985 during its IPO, Ben & Jerry’s has put aside 7-1/2 percent of its annual pre-tax profits for the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation. The employee-operated grassroots foundation empowers employees to help initiate change they want to see in their local communities. The foundation’s work has remained steadfast over the last 30-plus years, and in 2014 won the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy’s Corporate Impact Award.

One way of ensuring employee engagement through societal impact is to involve them in the decision-making process. If they are involved in which charities and CSR initiatives the company supports, they will have a greater personal investment in the company.

2. Values

Employees increasingly want to identify with the corporate values—the fundamental beliefs on which a business and its behavior are based—of where they work. According to Herman Miller CEO, Andi Owen, who was on a Q&A panel at the Chicago event, when a company’s values are aligned with personal values, it makes it easy to be authentic at work. But stating them is not just enough these days—companies need to follow through on them. Talking the talk must equate to walking the walk.

Southwest Airlines made waves when it came out and said that employee happiness comes before customer satisfaction. The company has made strides to empower its employees to embody Southwest’s values, which are:

Live the Southwest Way:

  • Warrior Spirit
  • Servant’s Heart
  • Fun-LUVing attitude

And Work the Southwest Way:

  • Safety and Reliability
  • Friendly Customer Service
  • Low Costs

Photo Credit: Stephen M. Keller

If you’ve ever flown Southwest, you’ll know that their flight attendants and gate agents are a cut above the competition. They always have smiles on their faces, and more often than not they will go above and beyond to help resolve any customer service issues that might arise. This isn’t a coincidence. Southwest puts an emphasis on storytelling—that is, authentic storytelling—and is sure to praise employees through a number of mediums for living the values. From weekly “shout outs” to specific employees from CEO Gary Kelly, to monthly recognition of employees in the in-flight magazine, the company makes sure to put an emphasis on these values and their purpose.

It may seem at odds to have a “warrior’s spirit” and a “servant’s heart,” but Southwest employees seem to balance the two effectively and have fun while doing so.

3. The Future

Employees want to know that their future is secure. It is becoming more and more important for them to understand the vision for the future, as articulated by the company. These statements should be updated periodically as both society and corporate goals change.

Take clothing company Patagonia, for example. Its vision for the future is aspirational: To build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm and use business to protect nature. Simple.

The type of employee who goes to work at an outdoor clothing company probably enjoys the outdoors and the products Patagonia manufactures. As users of the products, they are constantly driven to continue improving those products for usability. By actively working to save the environment, Patagonia is not only safeguarding future sales to outdoor enthusiasts, but also ensuring their employees will have a company to work for as climate change becomes more prevalent.

4. Mission and Purpose

Values, vision, mission and purpose can be interrelated. It’s no surprise that all of them found their way into Edelman’s list of top communication topics. While values are what the company stands for, vision is where the company aims to be, and mission and purpose, simply stated, are what the company does and why it does it. As with values, employees more and more want to see that the company’s purpose aligns with their personal purpose—their raison d’être.

A recent study by the HR Technologist news outlet found that employees are the main drivers of demand for purpose-driven companies. When employees are engaged and feel a connection to the company, they can also become strong brand ambassadors, acting to attract more like-minded and engaged employees.

Facebook has changed its mission statement multiple times since it was founded in 2004, but its current mission, most recently unveiled in mid-2017, is “to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together… to stay connected with friends and family, to discover what’s going on in the world, and to share and express what matters to them.” This is a change from the previous mission to “give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.” The difference is subtle, but an important one given the various recent revelations related to the company’s sale of user data to third parties and its possible involvement in Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and the subsequent public outcry.

Earlier this month, though, Facebook announced that it will link employee bonuses to operational indices, including communicating better about the company and its role in the world, and increasing safety and security on the platform. While Facebook may have lost the plot in recent times, it will help its employees to know that the company is actively taking steps to reverse its public image and atone for some of its previous wrongdoings.

5. Operations

Employees want to know they are looked after and that management is making day-to-day decisions with them in mind. In a rapidly changing business environment, uncertainty about the future of an industry or company abounds.

Bacardi Limited, parent company of the rum bearing the same name, has an interesting approach to getting its employees involved in the future and operations of the company. As part of their Founder’s Day celebrations, the company will encourage employees to leave work early and go to a bar.

Image courtesy of Wine Dharma

In today’s liquor markets, bespoke and craft cocktails abound, and the future can look uncertain for a macro-distillery. The idea behind Bacardi’s “Back to the Bar” initiative is simple: to remind where the company came from, and to inspire where it will go. By getting into bars and talking to bartenders and patrons alike, the company hopes it will inspire its employees to think about how Bacardi fits into today’s landscape and motivate them to work toward the company’s envisioned future.

These five communication topics can help to convey messages of authenticity to your employees. By staying true to the nature of the company and using your past to inform communications to employees about the direction of the future of your company, you can build trust and engage your workforce more effectively.

 

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