Empowering people


Build a customer-centered brand with these 3 strategies


Customers engage with your whole organization, and employees are not only the backbone of it but also the heart, brain and soul. Lack of intentional engagement with this vital part of your organization can derail your best-laid, customer-focused initiatives and result in a very public bashing of your services via social media, reduced sales of your product or congressional inquiries of your federal program.

While many leaders talk about the importance of their people, their actions in terms of internal communications say otherwise. So often internal communication comes down to agency-wide blast emails that contain everything but the kitchen sink, without regard for strategy, desired outcomes of the information being shared and audience needs.

Common miscommunications include:

  • Word barriers: Three-fourths of the words used in staff-meeting remarks or presentations are acronyms or consulting jargon.
  • Listen and leave: Staff are never questioned for feedback in meetings or engaged in meaningful conversations, but experience a “dump and run” by management.
  • Hot spam: “Hot” emails forwarded multiple times lack emphasis on why the information was important or what actions need to be taken by the recipient.
  • Segmentation: Emails are not divided by division, role, demographic or location — for example, an email of an employee recognition event featuring free ice cream is sent to employees located in a different state who cannot attend.
  • Reinforcement: Team calls do not recognize positive outcomes or ideal behaviors that drive the focus on customer needs and satisfaction.
  • Assumptions: Leaders state, “The team knows what I mean” or “It’s obvious,” while employees respond with shrugs, vacant expressions or have multiple, conflicting perspectives.
  • Integration: New-hire onboarding fails to include information on customers, business goals, culture or defined successes.

In order to deliver on a brand promise, you need to start with your employees. They should be a leader’s top customer segment due to their level of influence on how business is done, what products are made, how people are treated and ways resources are allocated. Staff are integral to fulfilling an organization’s philosophy of customer experience and must be included in the organization’s strategy.




1. Get personal.


In the world of customer experience and advertising, it’s all about the “micro.” Breaking up customer groups into the tiniest of segments in order to deliver precisely what they want — or don’t yet know they need. For many companies, employees are broken into broad categories such as managers, new hires or a team or division.

Are those large segments how staff self-identify or operate? Do you know how information flows between groups and individuals? You could be sending your most important information to “leaders” who don’t effectively frame and cascade the information (or just hit “forward” without context) and miss reaching the influencers in your organization who are the natural pied pipers of inspiration.

Get to know staff — their information preferences — and use a variety of approaches to educate them (e.g., motion graphic video, music, podcast, Slack, meme, text, Yammer, recorded voicemail message, PowerPoint, real-time text polling). When rolling out our new culture initiative, Grant Thornton used regular “Cappuccino Corners” at various locations that featured a well-trained senior leader, a personal example of the new value being rolled out and a small-group conversation.

If you can harness the informal information flows to deliver niche information, you’ll have more people rowing in the same direction for a faster, more effective trip that’s probably a lot more enjoyable.




2. Listen intently.


Understand what your staff needs to know, how they like to receive it and how often. For one Army client I supported, we issued a national customer survey and conducted focus groups to understand information preferences — content, format, frequency, tone, visuals and where/how they read emails.

We listened. We gave samples. We listened. We asked more questions. We listened. Then we changed the whole communications approach so that it was customer-centered information. The result? A 35.1% increase in understanding of the program’s services in less than one year.

What if your employees knew 35.1% more about your organization’s goals, values, business operations, policies, culture, resources, services and customers? Why not tailor corporate communications to better empower employees?




3. Share more.


If “Information is power,” use it to empower your team. So often I see leaders and organizations hung up around releasing information, trying to get the words perfect. Employees don’t need perfect; they need context, inspiration, fundamentals, data, accountability and direction. This comes only through the sharing of information.

Look for creative and targeted ways to share information. Remember that you’re trying to reach a variety of users and there are six primary adult learning styles — visual, aural, print, tactile, interactive and kinesthetic.

When it comes down to it, information is about education and learning. According to Prosci research (“Communication Checklist for Achieving Change Management”), the No. 1 way people want to learn about change is face to face. At one meeting that I facilitated, we had attendees write and share haikus on a key topic — creative, short and attention-getting. And of course, weave in employee preferences gleaned from the other points above.

Finally, as you work to improve your internal communications, remember that you get what you measure. So, if you measure tweets and emails sent, you’ll get more tweets and emails sent. Look at how you can measure the application of the information — sending it is not enough if it’s not internalized and acted on.

Copyright ©2019 by Strategies & Tactics. Reprinted with permission from the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA.org).




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