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Is digital the secret ingredient to engaging employees?

By Claire Herbert

‘You can take a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink’, it’s an old adage but it seemed to resonate at our Omobono Business Breakfast last Friday. As we tucked into our poached eggs and crispy bacon, both the coffee and discussion flowed freely.

Our latest What Works Where research highlights some key challenges facing internal communicators in 2015 and beyond. Not least the thorny issue to how to actually engage employees, rather than simply talk at them. Certainly the explosion of digital channels and associated communications opportunities has widened the net in terms of the ability to reach employees, wherever they are in the world and whatever their device of preference is. But making messages stand out is still one of the greatest challenges. So how can these new technologies be harnessed to increase engagement, rather than simply be additional tools to pass on information?

In my personal life I am often asked ‘How would you like us to communicate with you?’, so why not apply this to my work life as well? Our research shows that e-mail is still seen the most effective ingredient in the Internal Comms and HR recipe book, yet we’re constantly complaining we get too much of it. So why not let employees choose how they want the company to communicate with them? Radical? No. Harder to manage. Yes. Better engagement. Undoubtedly.

Ownership of the customer experience has also been a point of debate for us this year, but what of the employee experience? As with customers, employees are receiving communications from all the departments we surveyed (Marketing, Sales, Customer Service, HR and Internal Comms.) and this is being facilitated by digital platforms and channels. Marketing might well be leading the way with their adoption of digital, spending 65% of their budget on it, but internal departments are not far behind. Internal Comms already spends 62% of their budget digitally. So how is digital being integrated into the DNA of employee comms and who is taking the lead?

Businesses that are embracing digital, are integrating their activities more successfully. Whether that is through cross functional Digital Steering Groups or having IT embedded into the organisation. And we have seen that businesses with integrated digital communications strategies are at least three times more confident in their communications than those with no strategy. Is digital forcing businesses to be more integrated by its very nature then? 67% of businesses surveyed already have at least an informal joined up approach.

So how can the internal facing departments ensure employees receive a brand experience equal to that of the customer? 1. Embrace digital. Help employees adopt digital native behaviours in their work life as they have in their private lives. 2. Make internal connections. Those that collaborate, reap the rewards. 3. Draw the map. Set out the importance of digital internally and bring together digital champions across the organisation.

Is digital the secret ingredient to engaging employees? Well it certainly helps to bind the mixture together and improve the final bake. But a good relationship with IT is crucial, as is buy-in from the senior team – an example: if the CEO posts on yammer, employees are more likely to embrace it. And at the end of the day, remember that whatever you do, not everyone wants to eat cake!

To read ‘The recipe for digital success’ Internal Comms Perspective, visit

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