Bridging the Manager-Employee Gap with Technology

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By Christopher Hannegan, Partner, Employee Engagement, Brunswick Group

RSS feeds. Real-time news alerts. Social media. These are just a few of the ways in which employees – nearly all of whom now have smartphones – can get instantaneous information about their companies. Gone or almost gone are the days when employees would huddle around notices in breakrooms or wait for all-hands phone calls with management or even a company-wide email to get the latest updates.

The pressure on employers to engage with employees in real-time is higher and yet more important than ever before. Employee engagement aims to help employees understand the business, ensure they care about the company and ultimately share their knowledge and experience, all of which deliver better business performance.

Adding another layer of complication, the dynamics of the workplace are changing rapidly, too. Jobs are disappearing, quickly, replaced by automation or not replaced at all, and in many industries, employee loyalty to a single company for their full career is a thing of the past.

A survey conducted by Brunswick Group of 42,965 adults in 26 markets revealed that one in four workers in developed markets feel their organization will no longer exist in 20 years. More than 50% of respondents across North America, Europe, and Asia felt that business leaders do not understand the challenges they face in life. Several respondents also noted their organization’s inability to adequately adapt to change and had little confidence in job longevity. While employees in developing markets expressed more confidence than their counterparts in developed markets, across the board, the fear of automation combined with employees’ concern that their organizations cannot adapt to change is very real.

What can be done about this?

The answer lies – at least in part – in using digital platforms and the new ways to approach content and delivery via these platforms.

The way people process information and form opinion has changed significantly. People want to be engaged in ways that are dynamic, short-form, highly creative and available across multiple platforms. This same thing holds true within companies – employees increasingly expect the same information experience at work that they have when not at work – this is the digital divide that we see opening up between employers and employees.

Essentially, the world has changed, and the way that companies engage must change correspondingly.

 

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A few guiding principles for companies to look at engaging their employees in this new world:

  1. Meet employees where they are. For employers who are looking to have more digital communications with their employees, it is important to meet employees where they already are. Communications tools that require employees to use a dedicated work-only service or app often struggle to gain traction as they require an additional obligation from employees. This is why many Chinese companies often use enterprise-wide WeChat groups to communicate with their workforces – it’s a platform that’s already well used by employees in their personal lives.
  2. A good content strategy is more important than ever. Choosing the best platform to connect with your employees is only part of what companies need to consider. Even more important is having an ongoing content strategy that shares strategic information with employees in a way that gets them to pay attention and ultimate act on it. Companies should determine what overall themes they need to reinforce with their staff and then illustrate those themes in creative and meaningful ways. HSBC, for example, has created a global video series that is peer-generated (no senior leaders) and shared internally as well as externally. Through the short videos, employees learn about HSBC’s strategy and are motivated to perform.
  3. Accept that email may not always be the answer. With the rise of social messaging and the evolution of lifestyle platforms such as WeChat, employees in major Chinese companies are active each and every day in digital. "Traditional" digital forms of communication, such as email, are being employed less and less for day to day communications and discussion. In fact, most professional people working in China will admit to responding to WeChat messages around the clock as part of the new rhythm of working. For this reason, be careful not to be too rigid or wedded to a particular platform or mode of communication. Instead, aim for consistency of message across whatever platform is employed.

When used strategically, a more digitally-led approach has a lot of potential to help bridge the distance between top-level management and employees. The most successful approaches emphasize greater transparency and real-time engagement. They also make it difficult for companies to hang on to bad communication habits, such as writing lengthy, jargon-filled memos inundated with corporate speak.

Work with employees to develop the best solution, always asking “to what end?” – instead of jumping on the latest fad, work with employees to understand their pain points and where technology can add value.

After all, the one thing that hasn’t changed in the face of rapid technology advancement is the need for genuine human connection, and that should be at the heart of meaningful engagement.

For more global insights and business intelligence like this, check out other reports from Brunswick Group