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#PRin2016: 5 Things We’re Watching (Employee Communication)

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Editor’s note: Annually, we begin the year by featuring posts by industry thought leaders predicting key trends that will impact the public relations profession. Follow the series and join the discussion by using the hashtag #PRin2016.

“Ere the other side ye see, answer me these questions three.”
~ The Bridge Keeper, Monty Python and The Holy Grail (1975)

Among the benefits of PRSA membership is the ability to look (virtually) over the shoulders of fellow professionals who do the same sort of work you do.

I took advantage of that opportunity recently to ask three questions of my colleagues on the executive committee of PRSA’s Employee Communications Section (@PRSAEmpComms, #empprsa). I find the combination of information from these front-line professionals, the results of formal surveys of public relations agencies, and the views of some management consulting firms provides a helpful perspective on what to have on my own radar in the year ahead.

My three questions were:

  1. What developments or issues are you watching for in 2016?
  2. Why is that important to you or to others in employee communications?
  3. How might others of us keep our own watch?

So with a nod of thanks to several of my fellow executive committee members (Ally Bunin, Becky Graebe, Phil Mann and Nancy Weaver, APR), here is glimpse at what is on our radars for 2016:

  1. Mobile communications. This includes everything from the platforms that support mobile intranets to the apps that enable immediate communication (push-only and two-way) with employees. This is important to us for a couple of reasons.For one, it mirrors the non-work world our employees live in. We hear about some employees’ daily transition from the real world to a world of work where they are expected to leave their technology at the door. Mobile technology is a double-edged sword, we know, and we wonder how we can put it to good use in our companies without increasing the risk to their reputation. How can we effectively bring our employees’ voices into our companies’ social conversations, internally and externally?A second – and related – reason mobile communications is important to us is because it further blurs the line between work life and personal life. When employees can be available 24/7/365, how do we respect work-life balance? Do we become yet another contributor to the noise that employees must filter, leading them to disengage at a time we want and need them to engage?
  2. Change management. There are any number of ‘change models’ available to the practitioner these days. As a PR dinosaur, I still recall the simplistic AIDA sales/persuasion model of my early years: Awareness, Interest, Desire, and Adoption. A more refined model from Prosci Research expands on that: ADKAR® – Awareness of the need for change, Desire to support the change, Knowledge of how to change, Ability to demonstrate new skills and behaviors, and Reinforcement to make the change stick. And Phillip Kotter’s research offers an eight-step process: Create a sense of urgency, Form a guiding coalition, Create a vision, Communicate the vision, Empower action, Create quick wins, Build on the change, and Institutionalize the change.Which model – or what model – works for your organization or client? How can we help change-leaders understand the importance of managing/leading change in a way that invites employees to stay focused, stay engaged and become contributors to the change, not victims of the change? How do we help employees through the transition?
  3. Visual communications. We know our words, as golden as they may be, are being read less and less these days. In part, it’s because people have less time to read and to think. In part, it’s a bit of psychological self-defense against all the information coming at us. It’s also true that visual communications make a more direct connection to emotions, so crisp, relevant videos and impactful infographics may be more effective channels than articles in a newsletter or (ahem) a blog. Fortunately, there are many tools to help us create those visuals.
  4. Storytelling. This ancient ‘channel’ has taken on renewed importance in the past decade or so and is increasingly relevant to our future as we consider the three trends above. Done well and correctly, stories are shareable in social channels, both internally and externally; they quickly convey information that cuts through everyday noise; they create an image within the listeners’ minds so they can visualize the future resulting from change; and they engender an emotional connection that can engage the listener in powerful ways.How do we involve our employees in capturing and telling these stories? How do we help our executives become more effective storytellers?
  5. Culture. This may be the fundamental issue on internal communicators’ radar in 2016 and beyond. As I said to a group of PRSSA students the other night, we always need to answer the “So what?” question. We have all these our words, posts, pins, pics, shares, likes, comments, and stories. They certainly affect the attitudes, behaviors and opinions our employees convey inside and outside of the company. So what? Do they reflect the desired culture of our organizations? How can our work in the year ahead influence (nudge) culture in the desired direction?

So what can this information do for you? If you are interested, there are many resources you can use to add these or other topics to their watch list. Among those used by our Employee Communications Section executive committee members are these:

  1. PRSA communications, print and online at prsa.org. (Issues &Trends, The Strategist, PR Tactics, @PRSA, @PRSAEmpComms, and webinars, especially the Section’s Connect ’16 annual conference.)
  2. Ragan’s PR Daily from Ragan Communications at prdaily.com.
  3. Various LinkedIn groups (keywords: Employee Communications).
  4. Employee Communications-focused updates from boutique firms like The Grossman Group and Davis & Company.
  5. Management-focused information from McKinsey & Company’s Insights & Publications.
  6. Online resources from Digital Workplace Group.

Here’s hoping this gives you a jumpstart on your own quest for effective employee communications in 2016.


Jim Streed, APR, is an independent practitioner who has worked in a variety of settings, including agency, corporate, health care and state government. He is a founding member of the PRSA Northeast Wisconsin Chapter and has been active in PRSA leadership at Chapter, District and Section levels. He is professional adviser for the PRSSA UW Green Bay Chapter and membership committee chair for the PRSA Employee Communications Section. Follow him on Twitter @JimStreed.

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