10 Jan 2018

Bridging the gap

Brands need to attract employee’s attention and engage their hearts as well as their heads.

Richard Douglas, Strategy

I was at a conference recently, and a talk I attended really struck a chord with me. The speaker was Tony Cooke, HR Director at Adidas, and his theme was how you bridge organisational and individual goals to develop and retain future talent – and reflecting upon some of the issues that often arise.

His view was that there are three tiers of goals which employees are encouraged to contribute to – individual goals, operational goals and organisational goals.

But rather than being of roughly equal importance, his view was that in most cases the operational goals tend to dominate employees’ lives, the individual goals are left to the individual and the organisational goals do not tend to contribute a great deal to anybody’s engagement with an organisation.

This imbalance is not particularly satisfying for the employee – and makes it challenging to build engagement. So why is that?

In his eyes, one challenge is that organisational strategic goals tend to be announced with a big bang – but are not then followed up. They are left to sit in a vacuum, untouched by the day to day activity taking place around it, but waiting to be held up and celebrated at the next strategic opportunity. It makes it difficult for employees to feel any particular attachment to them.

Clearly there is a need for more follow up. Strategic organisational goals should become part of the conversation, so that everybody is clear on the progress that the business is making. This not only reinforces the significance of the goal but also the individual employee’s efforts in contributing to progress towards that goal. If there is no follow up, a business cannot be surprised if there is little engagement with its strategy.

The second point that leapt out was Tony’s reflection that communication strategies can often be too wordy and “too highfalutin” for employees to grab on to. To me, that says that there’s not enough reflection of the every day in them; not enough of a line of sight between the ambitions of the organisation and the day to day operational requirements. It’s not to say that there is no place for creativity in communication – there is certainly a need to attract employee’s attention and engage their hearts as well as their heads – but there is a fine balance to be struck.

To really succeed, employee engagement communication has to be a consistent flow of information that reflects both the organisation’s strategy, makes clear how people contribute to it, but is also creative enough to inspire them. That doesn’t have to be over the top. Just enough to make a bridge.