How communicators have become MVPs in the eyes of the C-suite

Here are the essential messages that must be shared internally and externally as a tight labor market and COVID-19 uncertainty pose tremendous recruitment and retention challenges.

In addition to all of the COVID-19 uncertainty that companies are still grappling with, now there is the double-whammy of a tightening labor market plus an unprecedented rise in resignations.

Across the country, employers are competing for talent at all levels. The freelance market is on fire. Service industry companies that have upped wages and offered new perks still cannot attract enough applicants. And when it comes to the knowledge workforce, competition for the ‘best and brightest’ is complicated by the fact that many do not want to return to the office—not full-time, not ever.

To be sure, this is not solely a CEO or HR challenge, but one that impacts the entire C-suite. As leadership teams develop strategies to respond to constant change while working to assess evolving labor needs and source new talent, communications leaders play an increasingly crucial role on two fronts. Frequent, nuanced, dialogue-driven internal communication is required to retain talent. Creative, authentic and employee-focused external communication is required to attract new talent.

As stewards of your company’s brand and culture, your role directly impacts employee retention and recruitment rates. It’s a job that today is more important—and complex—than ever. It’s not just about creating effective content for both audiences, but nailing the distribution, too. Crafting clear, compelling narratives for each of these cohorts tailored to the platforms where they are most receptive is what will drive immediate bottom-line results.

Internal messages

A company’s brand and culture are differentiators that help attract and retain talent in a sellers’ market. For many years, a disproportionate amount of energy was focused on an organization’s external brand perception. But considering the much higher cost of recruiting versus retaining talent, efficient, effective internal communications is an investment that more than pays for itself.

No doubt, your organization has ramped up employee messaging during the past 18 months. But if you think you might be over-communicating, think again. Back-to-work protocols on a state, regional and local level are changing daily, and “Delta variant” breaking news changes by the minute. This non-stop info-barrage can be confusing and overwhelming. Now is the time to remind your employees that you care—and not just once. Research has shown that most people need to receive the same message seven times before it sinks in.

With more communications channels and platforms than ever before, there are plenty of creative ways you can deliver that sentiment.

In order to demonstrate corporate values and convey employee value, here are the three core, internal messages that we encourage all communications leaders to play on repeat:

  • We care about your safety and wellbeing.
    • Here’s what we are doing to mitigate risk while still doing business.
  • This is where our business stands.
    • Here’s what we need from you.
  • We appreciate you.
    • You play an important role in the future of the company.

In order for messages two and three to be received, the first must be one of caring: “We know this is tough. Here is what we as a company are doing to protect your health and wellbeing, and the resources available to help you do your job safely in the office, or effectively from another location.”

Next should be an honest assessment of how the business is doing now and a reminder of the critical success factors that all team members should be focused on. This kind of transparent communication conveys respect and builds esprit de corps. When leadership brings employees “into the tent,” it demonstrates to everyone that they are part of a trusted team and that their efforts matter.

The third message is one of recognition and, importantly, it’s future-focused: “Thank you. We appreciate you. Here is where we – together – are headed next.”

Feeling stuck, or unclear as to their future career path, are frequently cited reasons for why employees resign. When they see a way forward—a future where they can continue to learn, grow and advance their career—they have a powerful reason to stay.

Each of these messages can be followed by the same question posed to employees: “What do you need from us to help you succeed?”

Remember, internal communications is a dialogue, not a monologue. It’s imperative that while leveraging multiple channels to share and sequence your key messages, you also are facilitating and managing a non-stop, two-way conversation. Whether that is happening on LinkedIn, Twitter, TikTok, DMs, internal chats or Zoom, this responsiveness reinforces that the company understands them, is paying attention and “gets it.”

Businesses are focused on driving revenue, but it’s the people that make them run. So, continue to show your people, in what you say and what you do, that you see them and hear them.

Transparency is paramount. Trust matters. Recognition and interaction go a long way.

External messages

The other side of the equation is, of course, crafting a narrative that draws talent to you. How does your company show up in the talent marketplace today? When prospective employees are researching your company, what messages are they getting across various touchpoints? And given the changes wrought by COVID-19, are you sharing the most up-to-date version of what it’s like to work with you?

From the business and trade press, to LinkedIn, Glassdoor and beyond, there are narratives being spun about your company and your culture that you may influence, but that you definitely cannot control. And those narratives are powerful drivers of how in-demand talent perceives the organization and decides whether to pursue employment with one company over another.

For those owned communications elements that are within your purview, the most powerful and persuasive tool for attracting talent is employee-led storytelling. Whether your prospects are Gen X, Y or Z, authentic personal narratives are what candidates look for to get a real sense of what working at a company might be like, and whether a corporate culture is a fit for their own personal/professional brand.

Our sense is that in the current hybrid landscape, this window into employee experience has an outsize role in determining candidate perception and interest across all levels. This kind of approach can be executed in organizations of any size, because highly-produced, glossy narratives are not the objective—authenticity is. Create (and incentivize!) an employee “Day in the life” video challenge to crowd-source your content. This is just one way to jumpstart an approach that showcases individual stories and demonstrates that every team member is unique—and uniquely important—to the company and the culture.

In the end, companies are made up of people, and successful companies usually have a higher percentage of strong performers. Attracting and retaining top talent has always been a critical success factor for companies. Are you ready for the spotlight?

Mary Olson-Menzel is the founder and CEO of MVP Executive Search & Coaching, and co-founder of Spark Insight Coaching.

Deborah Marquardt is an award-winning marketing communications leader and strategic advisor for global brands in beauty, fine jewelry and media.

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