How company values can guide your exec comms strategy

You can’t spend all your time communicating about every current event.

Employees want, and expect, companies to speak out about significant world events. They also need to know their leaders are authentically connected and understand how current events are affecting them. And certainly, as this Brunswick article argues, the companies that do not have a plan for speaking up will be left in the dust.

If the past few years have shown us anything, it’s that calamity is an ever-increasing companion. Disease. Social and political conflict. Economic disruptions. Climate and environmental degradation. The list goes on.

But you can’t spend all your time  communicating about every current event. As a communicator, you must work with leaders to help them define the company’s position and their own viewpoints. It will mean choosing when and where to take a stand to influence employee and public perspectives and knowing that not everyone will be comfortable when leaders are silent.

Research consistently shows that people want to work for companies that share their values. The World Economic Forum argues that a “belief-driven” workforce is on the rise, and they want more than “just salaries and benefits, but also social impact”.

So we must answer the questions: “What do we stand for?” and “Why?”

Too often, a company’s core values get an honorable mention during onboarding, but employees are left without actionable behaviors to guide key moments throughout the entire employee lifecycle.

Communicators can help lead their organizations through this conundrum by encouraging leaders to plainly stake out company values and clearly communicate to employees which issues they will consistently take a stand on. This may be a challenge if you are an internal communicator in a larger organization, so plan to collaborate closely with strategic stakeholders, like human resources, to influence the discussion.

Likewise, connecting communications to DEI plans can help foster a sense of belonging among employees and nurture understanding around shared values. Letting employees know they are seen and cared for doesn’t always have to come by way of a tragedy. Remember to focus on the good, too.

As this Mister Editorial article suggests a tiered approach could help communicators and leaders more easily make the appropriate decision on who should speak up about what and when.

Here’s a slightly adjusted take on Mister Editorial’s tiered approach that illuminates each tier’s corresponding values and links to companies who have made those values part of their mission statement.

Tier 1: Significant cultural, national and global events that affect society, people or a region

Examples: Natural or human-made disasters, war, mass shootings, or political decisions like the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade

Corresponding values: Advocate-minded (Business Made Simple), Be Human (Brilliant Ink), Empathy (Slack)

Messenger: CEO, Head of Human Resources or DEI

Tier 2: Common crises

Examples: Ethics or policy violations, workplace violence or malevolence, exploitation of customers, major financial losses, technology crashes, short- or long-term delays or closures

Corresponding values: Integrity (Hilton), Innovation (Igloo Software), Growth: Seeking Excellence (Staffbase)

Messenger: CEO or other chiefs, Head of IT, Special Initiative Leads

Tier 3: Holidays and other DEI observations

Examples: United Nations Observances, Heritage Months (e.g. Black History), Pride Month, Global Diversity Awareness Month, Employee Appreciation Day, Global Community Engagement Day, etc.

Corresponding values: Take difference to heart (Cisco), Equality (Salesforce), We value people, We act with respect (Nationwide)

Messenger: Head of Human Resources or DEI, executive sponsors of DEI groups, employee leads of employee resource groups (ERGs)

This is a simple start. Whatever approach you take, first nail down what is meaningful for your company and employees and weave it into everything. If those things seem vague, reflect on your company’s values…or perhaps, change them.

Chelsey Louzeiro is the Digital Community Manager at Heifer International, a global development organization on a mission to end hunger and poverty in a sustainable way.

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