The scariest risk in corporate life is . . .

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Check this out: According to a Deloitte survey of 300 C-level executives, board members and risk executives globally, the highest ranking fear factor for the future of their businesses was the disruptive effect of social media.

“Which of the following technology enablers and/or disruptors do you believe may threaten your business model?”

 Social media  47%

Data mining and analytics  44%

Mobile applications  40%

Cloud computing  38%

Cyber attacks  36%

All of the surveyed companies have annual revenues of US$1 billion or equivalent, so that’s the first clue to these results: the bigger the company, the less perceived ability to control social.  By contrast, other items on the list look more “controllable” through technology, safeguards, processes and the like.  But who can control what someone else wants to say about you, to the entire Internet, after business hours?

It’s been said for some time that corporate culture is the ultimate differentiator, the ultimate brand and the ultimate driver of customer loyalty.  Social is where the rubber meets the road on this point.  Social goes well when all of the other important things are going well: fence line communities feel respected, analysts and shareholders experience transparency, employees are treated like human beings, customers feel valued.  When the fundamentals are in place, you have a healthy organism that can fight off small problems or pop-up perceptions.

If the fundamentals are flawed, no risk management strategy can save you.

This is why big businesses may have more to fear; with larger organizations and multiple moving parts, they aren’t even sure where all the ducks are, never mind getting them to queue up.

The old corporate responsibility mantra of “doing well by doing good” means more now than ever.  There are ranks and ranks of communicators inside and outside your business who are more than willing to opine on what they see.  Social gives them a megaphone; what you need to give them is a great experience engaging with you.

Internal communications functions do their most important work when they both create and serve as two-way channels between employees and management.  The better an organization really knows itself, the easier to make meaningful change and improvement.

When was the last time you did an organizational audit of your two-way communications effectiveness?

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When did a 35% engagement level become good news?

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Gallup came out with a study this year, State of the American Workplace, that they say identifies trends in employee engagement.  Different blogs have picked up on different sections of the report.  One blog echoed a report finding about working remotely, noting that engagement goes up to a “high” of 35% when people are allowed to telework up to 20% of the time.

So . . . yay?  That particular glass looks more than half empty to me.

In Gallup’s terms, the remaining 65% is made up of “not engaged” (putting in the hours, but not making extra effort or feeling the love) and “actively disengaged” (taking action to undermine others’ team or individual contributions).  Sixty-five percent.

Companies have probably resigned themselves to a one-third level of engagement as a matter of pragmatism—they probably also figure things aren’t much better at their competitors.  But that resignation leaves money on the table, not to mention keeps the business open to a whole range of considerable risks.

Gallup’s particular tack to addressing this is to focus employees on the customer experience and building the brand of the business.  I’ve seen this work, sadly with greatest effect in disaster remediation: when the whole business rallies to salvage a large-customer problem with accelerated effort, urgent teaming, milestone rewards.  Nothing like a crisis to focus the mind.

And the overall impetus to better engage workers with the business is directionally correct. But using this approach alone risks missing some of the underlying dissatisfaction and looking like you’re papering over real problems with a veneer of “just work harder.”  I’ve always found it helpful to sort dissatisfaction into higher-order and lower-order issues:

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My theorem of employee satisfaction is this: People will believe in your efforts to resolve higher-order problems if you have methods to resolve lower-order problems at the same time.  Put another way, as a communicator nothing is worse than trying to serve the needs of senior management who want to communicate the urgency of a business case when no one is remediating the basics of the employee value proposition.

One of the best parts about being a business communicator is the opportunity to act as a bridge between employees and management, because both of those groups think they know more about the other’s situation than they really do.  Good communicators have a gut feel about what will fly and what won’t—and they also know when communications alone won’t solve underlying situational problems.

Nobody should be satisfied with 35% engagement.  How could your business learn what it “doesn’t know it doesn’t know” when it comes to energizing employee’s contributions?

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