Employee communications – working outside the box


In working with employee communications teams, I often hear frustrations of working in a very small box. There’s a feeling of a confined scope for impact that leaves communicators feeling disillusioned and disempowered.

The thing is that I notice this limiting box has often been built by the very communicators who are trapped in it. This looks like:

  • Tactical tunnel vision
  • Siloed work
  • Disconnection from the business

A few years ago, the one and only Shel Holtz took aim at this self-limiting model of internal communications and proposed a New Model for Employee Communications. I loved it because it drew a bigger, more strategic box for the function.

With Shel’s permission, I dug into the model to add layers that emerge as being particularly relevant in today’s organizational communication landscape characterized by noise, change fatigue and information overload.

Here’s what I came up with:

A quick overview on the model’s design and components:

  • Employee experience is at the heart. In our RTO world, organizations are finding that they are getting bodies, not souls. We have to do better at dialing into the heart of why work matters and focus on meaningful experiences. In addition, the broken telephone game that occurs between recruitment, onboarding, career progression and exit is no longer sustainable.
  • The strategic value of employee communications is multi-faceted and includes the critical components of enablement (i.e. setting employees up with the right information and the right context at the right time), community and belonging, listening and engagement.
  • The space of employee communication happens in culture – and employee communication practitioners have a major role to play in defining and animating organizational culture. In our current context of hybrid work, defining culture as a means of sense-making and creating shared meaning has never been more important.
  • A high-performance employee communications function has a strategic integration role for several dimensions including content and news, strategic business context, change, leadership and channel management. (Notice that channels are only one small part of the mix – your Intranet is not going to save you!)
  • Since we don’t communicate for the sake of communicating, we want to identify key outcomes for the function. The intent is that employee communications drives business results in the areas of business performance, client experience, strategic alignment and brand.

The skillsets and more importantly the mindsets required for a high-performance employee communications function have been redefined in the post-pandemic era. Employee communications leaders should effectively be stewards of the employees’ attention and focus. And after all, what can be more important than the attention and focus of an organization’s employees?

We’re not just playing the game differently. We’re playing an entirely different game – one that demands imagination, strategic savvy, creative integration and lots of heart. Now that’s the kind of opportunity that can light up the best employee communications talent. Organizations that have the vision to embrace this more progressive model for employee communications win.

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