Employee engagement: Working in harmony

Do your staff know who they work for?

All too often, managers and their teams take a very narrow, task-orientated approach to their roles. This is usually because they are so focused on getting their job done, and done well, that they are unable to take a step back to see how they fit into the wider organisational picture.

The problem often begins on the employee’s first day with their new company. The manager is so keen to ensure that their new recruit understands the core role requirements that they forget to explain other important aspects of the job, such as how the employee can help the organisation to achieve its broader business goals and embody its culture and values.

It is all too easy for the individual to feel like a small cog in a big machine, and lack a wider business perspective. They are likely to feel disconnected from other departments and fail to appreciate the objectives and priorities of colleagues in other teams. This has a detrimental effect on both productivity and morale.

In certain areas, cross-department interaction will be fairly common. For example, in most commercial businesses it is critical that departments such as sales, marketing, research and development and customer service work closely together on shared initiatives. However, it can be very easy for other functions such as IT, finance and administration (which can often include teams such as the post and print units) to become isolated, particularly if their physical location in a back office exacerbates the situation.

If this happens, HR will then have to pick up the pieces and implement a series of expensive training, development and change management initiatives. So how can you prevent all this from happening?

Communicate well and early

It is critical that businesses ensure they communicate a number of key messages to staff as soon as possible.

Time, cost and resource constraints will, of course, mean it isn’t always possible to guide staff through a structured induction programme on day one, but employers should nevertheless make sure that all staff are informed of a number of key points at the earliest opportunity. These include:

Organisational strategy and business goal

  • What is the ultimate goal of the organisation?

  • Where are you now?

  • Where do you want to be?

  • How do you intend to get there?

Products and services

  • What business are you in?

  • What does the company produce, develop or deliver, and how do you differ from the competition?

Company interaction

  • How do each of the units within the organisation interact to ensure that the product or service is created and customer satisfaction is achieved?

Values and ethos

  • What does the company stand for?

  • Which values does it promote above all others, and how are employees expected to reflect, personify and enhance these values?

Performance expectations

  • What levels of performance does the organisation expect from individuals?

How will individuals be measured, and how will they be rewarded for achieving their objectives? For example, will there be occasions where individuals need to work late, work over weekends or stay away from home for a short period? Make this clear and, importantly, explain what the payback will be.

Work hard to get your message across

Begin educating staff before they are appointed. The company’s activities and values should be reflected in all recruitment operations. Careers literature and websites must bring the company’s brand values to life. Interactive quizzes and assessments that show what working life is really like in the company can help, as can profiles of recent joiners and other members of staff.

Assessment centres can be designed to take the form of a day in the office so that applicants gain an insight into what will be expected of them.

Induct staff properly

As mentioned previously, it is imperative that staff are taken through a comprehensive and coherent induction programme as soon as is practical – don’t leave it until they have already been in the role for months. Remember to cover the softer aspects of the organisation, such as its values, culture and ethics, as well as organisational processes and structures.

Appoint a mentor

In their early days with a new company, individuals are likely to have a lot of perfectly valid questions about different aspects of life within the organisation that they would prefer not to discuss with their line manager – for example, about socialising with colleagues. Someone who is able to lend a friendly ear from time to time, and who is not part of the individual’s immediate management team, can go a long way towards helping the person settle in.

It is also essential to use the right people to enforce the message. To give credibility from the outset, it is vital that influential figures from across the business are used to deliver the message to the troops. If senior managers are seen to spread the word with passion and commitment, others will quickly buy in.

Don’t stop after the induction

The only constant in business is change. Organisations have to ensure that staff receive a steady flow of communications to build on the information given to them during induction, particularly if new products or services are being launched, or if the organisation itself is going through a period of transition.

Avoid heroes

Instil the belief that no single department is more important than others. Creating heroes can be highly divisive, so when you celebrate a success, make sure everyone understands it was a team effort. For example, if a new client has been won, make it clear that the sales team delivered the winning presentation, the marketing team helped to write the bid, the print room produced the documents, the research and development team developed the product or service sold, and the legal team negotiated the contract in consultation with the finance department.

Treat staff as a separate audience

All employees need to be treated as internal customers and marketed to internally, with a series of tailored communications that help them understand the rationale behind the business plan, and how they can contribute to its success. Don’t simply ask them to read the company brochure and hope they will pull out key messages from this.


There must be a planned effort to integrate and motivate employees towards the effective implementation of organisational strategy. By co-ordinating this effort, HR teams and line managers can help ensure staff perform as ‘brand ambassadors’ within a wider family, rather than becoming ‘brand saboteurs’ in some dark, forgotten business backwater.

Five top tips

  • Adopt a marketing mindset: HR staff must embrace marketing techniques so that they sell and communicate the employer brand effectively. This will often mean getting HR and marketing to work together on joint initiatives.

  • Ensure information presented to employees is credible: While it is important to communicate, there cannot be a yawning chasm between what is promised to employees and what is delivered, or this will simply alienate the workforce.

  • Individuals need opportunities to step outside their ‘comfort zones’ and speak to colleagues from other teams: Today’s flatter organisational hierarchies and team structures often allow greater cross-team co-operation, but if such opportunities do not typically arise during normal business operations, you can help create them through formal and informal networking occasions.

  • Encourage dialogue and forward planning between managers: If managers can help their counterparts to understand the business priorities for their unit and their forthcoming priorities, staff are likely to be much more sympathetic when co-operation is needed. For example, the finance team must communicate when their year-end occurs, so that managers are not making heavy demands on them during this peak time. Equally, if the marketing department is planning an extensive direct mail campaign, they need to inform the postroom well in advance, so that sufficient resources are in place.

  • Capitalise on new technology: Intranets, message boards and e-mail mean that it is easy to cascade information quickly, so don’t neglect these information channels. If you have an internal staff newsletter, consider introducing regular ‘day in the life’ articles that provide different teams with a chance to explain what they do.

Our expert

David Lawton is UK country head of Cubiks, an international assessment and development consultancy. He has helped a number of major blue-chip employers improve the effectiveness of their recruitment, selection and management development processes. He is particularly interested in ensuring that organisations use their selection processes to reinforce and reflect their employer brand. 

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