The Power of the Employee Voice: A Guide to Harnessing Your Most Influential Audience
“Sixty-two percent of millennials would rather sacrifice pay to work for a purpose-driven company than work for one that does not have a purpose,” said Stella Low, senior vice president of global communications at Dell, during her powerful keynote at the 2018 PRSA International Conference.
I’ve always believed that a company’s talent pool is their greatest PR asset. No one is closer to your company values or brand promise than those on the inside. Loyal employees will sing their organization’s praises in times of glory and come to its defense in times of crisis. Like a momma bear protecting her young cubs – it’s that personal. Because where we choose to invest our time, energy and ideas is a direct reflection of us.
Yet, internal communication is often overlooked or not given the level of creative treatment that external communication receives.
Stella went on to make the bold statement, “There is no second-class audience. Internal is external. And external is internal.” Simply put: the external and internal divide is gone.
Stella stresses that for business leaders to build trust with their employees they have to be ethical, transparent, authentic and have a purpose. So, how do we harness the power of the employee voice to drive influence? Stella’s key lesson to the thousands of communication and PR professionals in the room was to embrace Dell Technologies’ I.M.P.A.C.T model.
The best example of the I.M.P.A.C.T. model in action is when Dell Technologies had to change the perception of its overseas facility. By immersing employees into the actual work environment through a creative virtual reality experience, this pivotal audience could “walk” the facility in real time, debunking any concerns about sweatshop like conditions in the most transparent way possible.
Stella concluded her keynote with “we are no longer just a press release department.” And I couldn’t agree more. I couldn’t wait to talk to her backstage.
My Interview with Stella Low
Q: What are the steps to turn employees into brand ambassadors?
A: Make sure you are constantly communicating. You should not just be communicating only when there is big news. For example, we have quarterly broadcasts where we have CEO, Michael Dell and our CFO talking about results. Our HR leader talks about benefits and it’s all hosted by our CMO. We also use it as a way to share and celebrate great examples of what team members are doing.
Q: How do you bring employees into the fold of a purpose-driven organization? And how do you measure trust internally?
A: We use something called “TellDell.” For example, we found out that a few years ago people were not confident in explaining our strategy. So, we had a training with HR for our senior leaders and they were responsible for cascading that training down to their teams. It would be very clear if our employees didn’t trust us. It would come out in that survey for sure.
Q: How do you handle employee communications around mergers and acquisitions?
A: You don’t need to spend a million dollars, but you do need to overcommunicate. And you need to communicate in lots of different ways. Sending out a single memo is not enough. Most often, people want to hear from their boss. Don’t dress it up as something it’s not. People understand that there are sometimes issues along the way and they want you to be honest. It all comes down to trust and transparency.
Q: How did you show that communications deserves a seat at the table?
A: I could not to do my job if I wasn’t strategically involved with some of the larger decisions. If you haven’t got a seat at the table – deliver. Prove yourself. Show the results. And then say this is how much better it would have been if I would have been there. The biggest lesson I ever learned about leadership was to understand your strengths and understand your weaknesses. Unless you understand yourself, how can you ever lead anyone?
Q: If you could write the headline of what’s in store for the future of Dell, what would it be?
Be known for more than PCs. Because we do so much more than that. I want us to be the number one technology company in the world that everybody thinks to go to when they have a business issue that they need to solve.
Today’s wide-eyed workforce is a passionate bunch who expect more from their employers and of themselves. The nine-to-five-time card is a thing of the past and people view their occupations as more of a vocation than simply a means to a paycheck. The employee voice is more powerful than ever. Harness this influence with thought, creativity and care to make an impact. Soon enough you’ll build a culture of brand ambassadors who are not afraid to brag about it.