Yesterday I attended the CharityComms Internal Communications group: a great chance to meet with other IC professionals in the not-for-profit sector, share ideas and talk about the things that we do that make a difference. With over 30 people in the room, it was encouraging to see how many charities are now taking communicating with their employees (and volunteers) seriously – recognising the difference that engaging with their people makes to their cause and their beneficiaries.
An interesting aspect that came up in many of the discussions was the distinction between the engagement of employees with the cause of the organisation and their engagement with the organisation as their employer. This makes the way that you interpret staff survey data for charities a different beast to the way you would do that in the corporate world. If employees are emotionally connected to the cause – and often that is why they joined you in the first place – they will often report in a survey that they are prepared to go the extra mile, do more work, work for longer hours and so on (discretionary effort). However, my belief has long been, and research is now starting to show, that this does not necessarily mean that they are engaged with the organisation as their employer. For example, they may feel that things are not being done in the best way or that people are not treated well by managers. This can have an impact on the likelihood of employees to act as advocates for the organisation.
So what are the implications of this distinction in types of engagement? With research in this area relatively new and difficult to find, the evidence is only starting to emerge. You might say that if employees are putting in discretionary effort anyway, what’s the problem? But how much more will they do, and how innovative could they be in improving things, if they wanted to put that effort in because of how they were treated and not in spite of it. It seems to me that organisations that are aiming to make the world a better place in some way need to live their brand and values through the way they are with each other.
Which brings us to organisational culture, of course. Internal communication is not the sole factor in shaping an organisation, but it does have a significant impact. If people are able to communicate effectively throughout their organisation, contributing and feeling part of something, understanding why decisions are made and shaping how those decisions effect their own work, everyone benefits. This doesn’t just happen overnight. It takes input and deliberate action. Leadership is important, as is management and employee voice. Everyone has a responsibility to play their part. The more the people within an organisation understand each other, the more able they are to work together effectively for a shared aim. When that shared aim is going to improve the lot of others in some way, why wouldn’t you want to do that?
If your organisation needs to improve understanding and work out how your internal communication can contribute to improvements in engagement, give me a shout – I can help you work out what you need and how you’re going to get it.
Until next time