Bridging the gap between the reality and perception of engagement

engagementOrganisations are currently operating against a backdrop of environmental, social, political and technological upheaval. Changes in the way people work, buy, communicate and live their lives abound while the communications narratives become ever more complex. The zeitgeist dictates how an organisation’s purpose and communications should match the growing expectations placed on it by its identity and need to address its engagement with staff and the outside world.

In terms of delivery tools and systems, the watchwords are innovation and leading edge-tech. Most organisations now trumpet their advances or credentials in these fields proudly, especially to the external audience. But what happens when these claims are put to the test by employees themselves through the lens of internal communications? The reality is that there is a gap. In some cases, a widening gap between the perception created by slick and timely marketing messaging and the reality of anachronistic attitudes to modern working practices, fear of risk, and refusal to embrace new communications tech due to cost or fear of failure.

The Institute of PR helpfully states that: “Businesses should make it a goal to close this gap, because a focus on employee experience is also demonstrably linked to bottom-line results. Companies that invest significantly in enabling leaders to work with employees on improving engagement are rewarded with a 29 percent increase in operating income versus those that don’t… and companies that invest in the employee experience are four times as profitable and generate twice as much revenue as businesses that don’t.”

The rewards are obvious. In fact, it is part of the challenge. Those responsible for communicating to their people understand that to win the talent battle, and be relevant in the brand conversation, you have to champion innovation in tech, brand purpose and present yourself as a modern, forward-thinking organisation to potential and current employees.

This manifests itself in the right words in internal comms, especially when it comes to referencing these concepts with core product lines or historic services. The problem is that our internal audience is changing. The managers and leaders from the old guard are retiring and younger colleagues entering the workplace have been trained on a different set of standards.


The nub of it

Herein lies the problem. Flexible working and commitment to supporting alternative working choices are high on many organisations’ agenda, with HR Director recording a five-fold increase in companies offering it to employees. However presenteeism was up 72 percent by the end of last year.

Despite the talk of technologically-enabled workplaces driven by innovation, 78 percent of communicators report having to use software websites and apps banned by their organisation to do their jobs effectively. Evidently there is a chasm between what organisations say to their people and the realities of day-to-day execution of their roles and levels of engagement.

Our audiences won’t tolerate this much more. The gap between internal and external perception of a brand is narrowing. Our audience has been forged in the crucible of touch screens and simple, effective communications, tempered with unending choice. Organisations are averse to investing in technology for fear of failure and obsolescence etc so as a result, are lagging behind in employee experience areas like tech and communications which is quite frankly shocking in 2020.

[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Abstaining from the conversation is more popular than engaging in it[/perfectpullquote]

Anyone trying to get to the bottom of this would probably point towards legislation, legacy systems and of course, budgets or the lack thereof. But when surveyed, comms professionals cite internal process and procedures as the number one barrier to innovation in these fields. These barriers are built on a culture of risk aversion in UK businesses. I’ve encountered scenarios where organisations are unwilling to introduce an employee app due to too many “security concerns” while simultaneously letting their customers travel, fly, buy, contact and even bank through apps.

The UK boardroom is seriously risk averse and it has become such an issue that abstaining from the conversation is more popular than engaging in it. This is causing many businesses to fall behind in even the most ubiquitous technological communication experiences, let alone anything innovative or ground-breaking. The volume of organisations banning WhatsApp outright tells you this.


A new approach

So how do we shed these shackles and start engaging in a modern, grown-up fashion with our savvy new workplace? The answer is to take some risks. There will always be expense involved, but the reality is that organisations who get this right will win the battle for the best talent over the next 20 years and use engagement strategies to retain it. Make a checklist of all the ways your customers and clients can interact with your brands, and if your employees cannot do the same, then close the gap by instituting those systems.

Ultimately, we must work on instilling entrepreneurial mindsets in organisations, especially when, hypocritically I might add, they hold up tech-savvy, forward-thinking organisations as aspiration brands. The Apples and Googles of this world did not get where they are by being risk-shy. They don’t entice the best talent, focus on engagement and provide the best workplaces by banning technologies and chaining people to their desks.

There have been well over 50 famous Google failures, but for every Google Wave there is a Google AdWords, for every Glass, a Cardboard. People often point out that being one of the richest companies, it’s easy to throw money away on failed projects. I’d agree if this attitude to risk had not been part of the organisation from day one. They have their profits and financial cushion because of this attitude, not in spite of it.

If we ever want to close the gap between perception and reality in our workplaces, we must be a little more honest with ourselves and take a few more risks.

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