Should Corporate Goals Drive Employee Communications?

If the answer to that question seems obvious, then would you be willing to take a moment for a (slightly) contrarian point of view?

This post is inspired by a Ragan article I read on Friday, called “Communicators: Stop delivering news, start changing behavior.” Now, I’m all for employee communications that lead to results, especially those that impact the bottom line, as this article recommends. The question remains: How do we accomplish that? How do we turn our words into someone else’s actions?

The article posits that corporate communicators take the annual corporate goals and use them as your messaging “for the whole year.”

“Yup,” the author continues, “you’re going to repeat the same three to five messages over and over for a year.”

What, you wonder, could be wrong with that? Glad you asked.

Be More Strategic and SMART

When I saw the headline of that article, I was intrigued and excited to read something new about internal communications. Afterward, I thought, “Corporate goals? Really?”

Here’s the problem: At too many companies (maybe not yours, but certainly at a lot of them), annual goal-setting is at best an exercise, and it’s done in such a way as to accommodate every potential sea change in the business. In other words, they’re vague. And they’re often repeated year after year to the point of losing all meaning for employees.

A company I worked for posted the same annual goal for four years: Be Financially Sound. This is not specific enough to drive a 12-month editorial calendar.

If you’ve worked at a company that sets annual goals, then you know that the S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely) goals are set several levels down the corporate food chain, in the operational functions, where employees can have a direct impact on the bottom line.

Here’s my recommendation: If you’re developing employee editorial based on goals, assign Corp Comm writers to work with their client groups to identify the key functional area goals – the new ones that directly address the current business climate and competition, the measurable ones that determine what’s expected from product development or marketing this year and just how much of each product line Operations will heroically ship this year. Step away from the vague, showcase the specific, and you’ll more than likely turn up some amazing and inspiring stories about problem-solving, teams, cross-functional collaboration, and customer-focused effort.

The People Closest to the Work Understand What Motivates and Interests the People Who Do the Work

If you apply the strategy above and delve into operational S.M.A.R.T. goals, you’ll gain a much deeper understanding of the work of the company and the nuts and bolts of how product is developed, manufactured and marketed. Even better, you’ll see the “M,” “A” and “T” goals in action. This is where, as Operations folks often say, the rubber meets the road. It’s also where employee motivation can be influenced.

That’s important enough to repeat: Communications can have a genuine impact on employees when it provides information that helps them accomplish the key tasks they’re measured against. So, instead of repeating top-level corporate goals in stories throughout the year in the hopes of having an impact, what we as corporate communicators could be strategizing about is how to research, write (or digitally film), and deliver the information that helps employees “A” in a “T” manner and meet their “M” goals.

Another recommendation: If you’re struggling to figure out what that information might be, invite some employees (and front-line managers and HR folks) to the brainstorming.

Be Prepared and Flexible

Locking Corp Comm into an editorial calendar that repeats the same vague three to five goals throughout the year may not prepare you for sudden disruptions to business.

If the last three years of painful recession have taught anything, it’s that your break-out product, stock price, competition, environmental concerns, customer satisfaction, the general economic climate, federal regulations, and much, much more can change on a dime.

If Corp Comm wants to be strategic and S.M.A.R.T., it’s important to develop, agree upon and stick to editorial calendars to keep our work going smoothly. But, change brings surprises that even the most visionary leaders can’t predict at the start of the annual goal-setting process.

Recommended: Assign your Corp Comm staff responsible for functional area support to work with the leaders in those areas to report on and watch out for changes that could affect your business. These topics may not easily fall under the existing corporate goal categories, but you can bet they’ll be fascinating, and eagerly read and appreciated by your employees.