Ward to the Wise

Remember Key Stakeholder Needs When Communicating With External Audiences

communicating-with-external-audiences-ward-ccAt some point, you’ve no doubt been taken by surprise when you heard a highly relevant news report about your own employer, client, financial institution or other organization in which you were a stakeholder. Depending on your relationship to the company, you may have felt slighted, or worse, alarmed and self-protective — an unnecessary and preventable outcome had someone thought through the needs of all the company’s constituents.

Certainly at times, legal, competitive, personnel or other strategic issues call for non-disclosure. But more often, the communication needs of primary constituents critical to the organization’s success are simply overlooked in the hustle-bustle to announce important news.

Sending a news release to employees within moments of its public release is a common practice in most companies. Sharing such information with employees so they don’t see it first on the morning news is a move in the right direction. News — good or bad — often creates questions for employees, and in the workplace, questions mean distractions and unproductive use of payroll.

Internal and external audiences frequently have very different information needs; relying on your external communication to “check a box” with employees may cause you to miss out on the greater opportunity to inform, educate, inspire and recognize your team.

Let’s look at two common situations where typical external communication can fall short for employees.

Sharing Financial Results

Financial analysts who participate in the quarterly call want numbers. They ask about capital expenditures, cash flow, EBITDA and EPS. They understand the terms, know the acronyms, know the industry dynamics and understand the impact and relevance of the answers. In contrast, most employees don’t have the financial vocabulary or big picture insight management does. Further, they need to know what the numbers mean to them, in terms they can understand. By simply recycling information you use for analysts, you miss an opportunity to focus your employees on achieving greater results. A more effective approach might be to anticipate what employees might hear, communicate proactively prior to the call about the topics — in terms employees understand and find relevant to their accountabilities — and follow up with a post-quarterly call to put it all in perspective.

Mergers And Acquisitions

The external audience wants to know who is buying whom, how the company’s sales will be affected, how the merger will influence the marketplace, and most important, where’s the upside in the deal. Employees, however, will have questions much closer to home. Will they have a new boss? Does this put their job in jeopardy? How will their day-to-day routines be interrupted, and when? Unanswered questions immediately affect efficiency, safety and product quality, so you must address the obvious questions right away. Active communication with employees before, during and following a merger or acquisition — as contracts and regulations allow — reduces rumors, builds trust and minimizes stress in the workplace.

Often, employees’ needs for real-time communication are overlooked, with management relying on the company periodic newsletter as the vehicle to deliver messages. When management tells employees they are valued, but their actions show disrespect for their own people, the real takeaway is clear: management doesn’t walk its talk.

Giving as much time and attention to your employees’ communication needs (after all, they are the people who deliver the results you’re reporting) as you do your analyst slide deck, can keep employees focused on the job at hand and help you reap the benefits of a well informed, highly engaged workforce.

Have you mastered employee communication? If you’re not sure your internal communication is what it could be, contact Ward. We’ve helped many management teams transform their employee communication into a highly effective system for delivering performance, and we can help you too.

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