Intake Blog

Values, Character and the Future for Employee Communicators

posted March 23, 2012 by Linda Kingman

In the chapter on employee stakeholders that he wrote for the new Handbook of Strategic Public Relations & Integrated Communications, Insidedge President Keith Burton shares some of the wisdom he has accumulated over more than 20 years of pioneering work in engaging employees in support of their companies and brands.  He also offers valuable advice about what communicators need to do to remain relevant and grow in their role as senior strategists advancing their company’s business.  As I listened to chief communications officers from the world’s leading companies at a recent meeting of the Arthur W. Page Society , there were two themes that struck me as very similar to the points Keith is making to students and others who are reading his chapter of the Handbook - themes we should pay attention to as we continue to advance the practice of employee communications and restore trust in business.

Values and Character Matter.  One of Keith’s points is that, “Today’s employees are looking for total values alignment with their employers.”  They must believe that their own values match those of the companies they work for.  He stresses that for employees to be truly engaged - to provide discretionary effort and serve as passionate advocates for their organizations - they need to see the link between their work and the company’s success.  And, employees must feel that their companies are authentic:   that what they tell the outside world is consistent with the employee experience inside the company.

The Page Society just released a new model for corporate communications.  It’s based on the idea that companies must define and build a sense of shared belief in corporate character - the enterprise’s “…enduring purpose - what it exists uniquely to do in the world - as well as the values and principles that guide the daily decisions and behavior of everyone associated with it.” 
At a time when Americans’ opinions of major corporations are at historic lows, the emphasis on values and character that Keith and his peers at the Page Society espouse is more critical than ever.  It’s important to hiring, retaining and motivating your workforce, and to rebuilding trust with consumers and other stakeholders.

Communicators need to become business experts.  Keith writes that, “Although communicators live in a world of words and images, the people who lead organizations live in a world of processes and numbers, and they expect us to relate to the way they keep score.”  Seasoned chief communications officers at the most recent Page conference agreed, saying that the next generation of communicators should explore getting their MBAs and serving stints in their company’s finance, legal, HR, strategy or supply chain operations.

Increasing their business acumen will position communicators to become leaders not just in their fields, but in running businesses and ascending to become CEOs.  And having CEOs who understand the importance of engaging actively with employees and other stakeholders will be invaluable to building stronger companies that are better employers and more respected members of society.

Great food for thought from some of the leaders in our field.