[Our Perspective by Michael Voss and Jennifer Rock]
They might be the forgotten few, or the invisible thousands. They may work behind the scenes, in an isolated facility, or across the world. They might spend their workdays in airports and rental cars, or working the floors of manufacturing plants, print shops and retail stores. They could be tethered via headset to a phone system where the calls never stop, or untethered from the company entirely, working from home offices and coffee shops.
Who are they? We call them the Unreachables – those pockets of hard-to-target employees found in most large organizations. Their contributions are critical to the company’s success, but their roles make them difficult to reach and engage from a communications perspective.
Further complicating matters, these professionals often work under different pay plans than the balance of your employee base. Unreachables may be paid on commission, by the hour or on some other productivity measure – incentive plans that may conflict with the time required to read, view or otherwise participate in your communications channels.
So, how do you get your Unreachables better connected to your organization’s vision and direction? Here are a few ideas to get started.
Walk a mile in their shoes. Strive to understand everything you can about your company’s hard-to-reach employees, then build a communication profile of your audience. What’s their average tenure with the company? Where do they hear about company news first – Google alerts or their chatty co-workers? What’s the culture of their location/team?
Some tips on getting the most valuable information:
- Learn firsthand. Surveys are a great first step, but face-to-face focus groups and site visits are better. If your Unreachables are always on sales or service calls, orchestrate a ride-along for the day. If they work in a factory or a store, shadow them for a shift. Watch how they interact with company information and the corporate office. Observe how much time they spend on the phone or with customers versus on computers or in the break room. Gain an appreciation for how they contribute to the company.
- Ask why. Open-ended questions are your primary toolkit for better understanding an audience. And the word “why” is the most useful tool in the tray. For example, an employee may say she didn’t watch the last CEO address. Maybe the webcast starts before her warehouse shift begins. Or maybe her supervisor didn’t allow employees to participate. She may have had the opportunity to tune in, but felt the content wasn’t relevant to her. As you can see, each answer would require a different approach to solving the issue. Asking “why” identifies root causes, which helps you deliver more effective solutions.
- Dig for details. Keep in mind your toolkit includes other handy utensils – in particular, “when” and “how.” When do these employees have time to interact with your comm vehicles or channels? How would they prefer to receive information? Reframe your yes/no questions (e.g., Did you read the last financial update?) into detailed questions (e.g., How did you access the last financial update? – On my home computer, laptop in the break room, bulletin board, phone etc.).
Engage the top. Create a communications ally by working with the appropriate business unit leader or manager of your Unreachables. What goals and expectations has he set for his team? How and when does he communicate with them? What does he consider to be the most critical information they need? What is his perception of the company’s communications? This leader likely plays the role of gatekeeper for his virtual or isolated team, and your efforts will be more effective by working with him and within his team’s structure and processes.
Flip the script. If information usually flows one way – from corporate teams to your hard-to-reach employees – find appropriate instances to reverse the direction and show your commitment to getting them involved. Instead of simply informing employees of a new strategy, ask for their input in how they can help bring it to life – how does their team fit into the larger plans? Have these employees share their best practices with executives. Also, consider broadcasting the next all-company meeting from a warehouse or call center instead of company headquarters. Nothing says “you’re important to this company” like a meaningful visit from the top-of-the-house.
Get creative. Chances are, communicating with your Unreachables will require alternative communication methods – from a return to old-school techniques to an investment in new ones. Be open to this from the beginning, and remember that – with a little ingenuity – the solutions don’t have to be outrageously expensive or time-consuming. You might be able to boost your virtual employees’ job satisfaction with a tablet-friendly format for their reports. Your manufacturing team – who lack computer access – might benefit from printouts of the information most employees receive via email. The traveling sales staff (and probably most of your employees) would enjoy a transcript of your live Q&A sessions between employees and executives. Be open to tweaks, improvements and additions to your existing communications strategy.
Categories: Our Perspective