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In tough times, don’t forget your secret weapon

I got a Facebook message last night from an old friend (actually my first London boss) who I was delighted to hear from. Firstly, for the obvious reason – it’s nice when people get in touch – but more so because she’d read my blog (someone other than my mother emailing me about my blog is a rarity).

She’d been living and working in Spain for years until recently. She said with the recession there, her observation was that some large companies have just stopped bothering with employee engagement. A side effect of filling the work force with short terms contractors (less overhead risk) meant management perceived their need for communication to be less and subsequently their desire to invest in engagement went down. They stopped engaging people in the bigger picture.

As someone who is about to return to the UK (impeccable timing) to continue working in this field, I have to say I was slightly disheartened. Mainly because I think it reveals the knowledge still lacking in many organisations – that continuing to engage employees through the tough times, as well as the good can actually drive greater shareholder return. This is not the fluffy stuff. Getting it right can mean the difference between an organisation emerging stronger from the recession or a casualty of tough economic times. Engagement drives productivity and discretionary effort. Fact. Surely this in itself is enough for leaders to consider the advantages of continuing to communicate effectively through a down turn.

My advice to the C suite (and I say this to those in Europe as well as Australia) is yes absolutely, look at spend and be prudent, however don’t ‘cut-back’ on internal communication. It should be front and centre of your organisation during tough times. Your most powerful communication tool lies within your business – your frontline managers. Galvanise this army; equip them with the right skills, accountability and a powerful story, and you’re half way there. Enable them to have powerful conversations. Remember this should not be one way, the best employee communication is top-down, bottom-up AND horizontal, with a focus on informal influencers. Know who those go-to people are and leverage them.

As for my friend… after many years working in large and small organisations, she’s now busy avoiding mountain goats on a pair of skis in the French Alps.

As for me? Watch out UK. I come armed with a big and persuasive mission to fly the employee communication flag wherever I land (sans skis)…