By Mark Dollins
Ever seen the words “sexy” and “employee communications” used together? In the world of PR and Communications, chances are pretty good that most communication students don’t see that combination much, if ever. In fact, based on how many academic institutions offer full-semester classes on employee communications, it’s doubtful most communication students know much about the topic at all.
I’m on a mission to change that, and to help communications students and educators see that learning to engage employees through strategic communication is hot — dare I say “sexy” — for employment opportunities. As in really hot.
On any given day in the US alone, there are tens of thousands of open roles looking for candidates with employee or internal communications skills. Practitioners at the very top of this game can earn incomes approaching seven figures. And the discipline of employee communication — now long past newsletters and posters — is recognized as a critical strategic tool to drive business results, gaining influence, visibility and the ability to secure resources. Sounds sexier by the sentence, doesn’t it?
What’s driving this increased demand for communications professionals who can engage hundreds, thousands, or even tens- and hundreds-of-thousands of employees in the priorities of their businesses? Two things. First, it’s the constancy of change. As companies move through big, strategic investments of energy, time and money to drive agendas connected to digital transformation, cultural shifts, and DE&I priorities — just to start — they desperately need communicators who can deliver internal counsel, strategy, speed and execution.
But the second and most recent driver of demand is the awakening of the world to a post-pandemic world of work. With more remote workers, gig workers, and hybrid working environments, the need for organizations to keep employees connected has never been more complicated and challenging. Nor has it ever opened as much opportunity for communicators to drive value. From internal social media platforms that drive collaboration and innovation to building leader skill sets that drive greater influence through communication, it’s all there.
Kevin Cox, Chief Human Resources Officer at General Electric, told me recently that through more than two decades as a chief human resources officer at three iconic companies, employee communication has played a prominent role, and continues to be one of his top priorities today at GE. From ensuring the effectiveness of change leadership efforts—to strengthening the employee experience—employee communication is one of the most critical levers for companies and leaders alike.
Lest you think this is a specialized, siloed career track, world-class employee communication teams operate in a 360-degree world, connected at the hip with colleagues who specialize in engaging external stakeholders. As we all know, the lines between internal and external communications, in many ways, have disappeared. Both share the need to be creative, data driven, strategic and integrated. But the unique competencies that employee communicators need increasingly are centered on change management and on engaging internal stakeholders with their organizations’ mission, vision and values.
Signet Jeweler’s Chief Communication and CSR Officer, Colleen Rooney, told me employee communications and engagement have always been critical disciplines for her company, but the pace of organization change and the impact of the global pandemic has literally exploded the need for internal communication professionals who understand how it works — with real-world strategies, skills and tactics. Her company — which owns Jared, Zales, Kay Jewelers and Jamesallen.com, among others — has deployed ground-breaking employee communication strategies as it’s driven transformational change and significantly improved financial performance through the pandemic.
It’s tough work, but when done well, it’s highly visible, and highly rewarding. The question you might be asking is, “How do I learn about this field”? Jon Stemmle, chair of the Department of Strategic Communication at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, has joined me in a quest to help answer that. We’ve got a first-ever new text book, Engaging Employees Through Strategic Communication, that ships September 30 from Routledge Publishing. We’ve taken decades of real-world experience, tied it to sound research, and woven in award-winning case studies and profiles of current practitioners across the globe. Whether you’re a student, an educator or a practicing communications professional, we’re pretty sure there are insights in this book to grow every career. From new and emerging technologies, to DE&I trends and employee activism, you can read and learn how employee communications has moved from the role of sad step-sister of PR to the much sexier role of business driver. And who wouldn’t want that?