Carillion shows us that engaging employees is an investment

Opinion: Carillion shows us that engaging employees is an investment, not a cost

Huw Morgan, director of Good Relations’ internal communications practice, argues that Carillion’s collapse shows why brands must invest in employee engagement.

Business journalists have been falling over themselves to predict the first big business to fall in 2018 and, with Carillion’s collapse yesterday, they have their first casualty.

History is littered with businesses that died because they failed to adapt to changing customer demands and market conditions. Fuelled by Brexit, Trump and today’s increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world, Carillion won’t be the last brand to fail this year.

Internal communications is best placed to prove its business value during turbulent times – be that a burning platform, the arrival of a new CEO, a shift in strategic direction or a major reorganisation.

At Good Relations, we believe that once a business has established its strategy, internal communications is crucial. Communicators must be equipped to work with the CEO to craft a transformation vision and clear engagement communications that resonate with employees long into the future.

Great internal comms means no jargon

Shortly after Microsoft acquired mobile handset manufacturer Nokia in 2013, new CEO Stephen Elop was famously lauded for his visionary “burning platform” speech. It crystallised the major business transformation required if employees were to combat the threat of Apple’s new, game-changing iPhone.

Unfortunately, a few short years later, he was widely lambasted for delivering a jargon-ridden change announcement in which he buried the news that 12,500 Nokia employees faced redundancy in a 1,100 word long email.

This story shows why keeping things simple and steering clear of jargon is arguably the first rule when crafting a change vision.

We work with clients to equip their leaders with the change communications context that helps the audience picture themselves in a brighter future. The best leaders communicate what the vision will mean for employees and their roles. After all, the first thought of anyone receiving any change announcement will be: “What does this mean for me?”

If your change vision is likely to mean a major restructure and a threat of redundancies, don’t try to bury the bad news deep in the communications or try to camouflage it with jargon about simplification, streamlining or specialisation.

Why brands must invest in employee engagement

Once you’ve articulated your vision, you need to equip leaders, influencers and managers to keep repeating it. According to Harvard Business School professor John Kotter, an authority on leadership and change, most business transformations fail because the vision is under-communicated.

Ideas only sink in after they’re heard many times and delivered in many ways.

Successful change engagement relies on planning, collaboration, clarity, leaders who walk the talk and a willingness to listen. Failure to listen and apply insight from employees experiencing change can be as damaging as having a jargon-ridden, uninspiring vision communication at the outset.

Mindful of Carillion’s fate, brands transforming to adapt and thrive in today’s turbulent world must invest in employee engagement or prepare to fail.

  • Huw Morgan leads the internal comms and employee engagement practice at Good Relations. He was previously Virgin Media’s head of internal comms. 
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