An article in last week’s Grand Rapids Business Journal alerted me to another study about “talent.” It’s become almost cliche’ to say that CEOs value “attracting and retaining top talent.” This study was no different in that regard, but it did have a refreshing emphasis on communication as a tool to acquire and keep a skilled workforce.
The 2017 Gallagher Benefits Strategy and Benchmarking Survey had the usual discussion of benefits, salary and quality of life. But near the end it had this gem: communication is a key factor in employee satisfaction. What I especially appreciated was a comment from one of the executives of Gallagher, an insurance, risk management and consulting firm. He noted the need for a comprehensive communication strategy to communicate the solutions human resources provides, but that only 15% of companies have such a comprehensive strategy.
This not a revelation to people who work in or teach public relations, particularly those who focus on what is typically called internal or employee relations. It’s a specialty form of public relations, focused on a specific public–employees. When I teach public relations management and other courses, I devote some time to the objectives and strategies of employee relations. I know more than a few PR professionals, including a growing number of former students, whose full-time job is to manage internal communications.
There is an increasing number of books on employee communication, including the recent “Excellence in Internal Communication Management” by professors Rita Men and Shannon Bowen (writing this blog post reminded me to order it!). The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), which has special interest sections for various specialties within the broad profession, has long had an Employee Communications Section.
All of this is to say that it’s good to see the CEOs and management consultancies are understanding that communication is vital to the talent problem, and that communication is not just “getting the word out” but requires strategy that is tailored to the public and the goal. This comes from educated and practiced public relations professionals. They may be embedded in the human resources department, or they assist HR from their separate PR department. But however it’s structured, a PR professional is both a tool in the talent acquisition and retention of an organization and a form of talent in it’s own right.
The fact that PR “talent” is also sought is evident in the Bureau of Labor Statistics forecast that there will be a 6% increase in demand for “PR specialists” between 2014 and 2024. I think it will be higher if the definition of “what they do” on the BLS site went beyond “maintaining a favorable image” and “sending news releases.” That may have summed it up in 1914 when “public relations” was new. But the profession is far more diverse than that now, including employee relations.
I would hope that the focus on “talent” will help CEOs and others see the full breadth of what public relations is and can do for a company. One day managers will place as much emphasis on employee relations as they do on consumer relations.
As one example. consider the simple “employee life cycle” that mimics cycles for products or consumer engagement. To truly attract and retain talent, companies need to be thinking about what and how they communicate through all stages:
- before even hiring, reputation matters. Potential employees look at how current employees are treated, and people talk! The goal is to become an employer of choice in your industry or region, the place top talent would love to work if possible.
- when hiring, process matters. This is the initial relationship formation stage. Communication needs to be frequent, transparent, and respectful.
- the employment stage is obviously the crucial one, and must go beyond dissemination of information and policy. That’s necessary, but the objective needs to be motivation, morale, and retention. More than cheerleading is required.
- the exit, whether by retirement, job change or termination, must be managed wisely. Good companies do exit interviews to understand why an employee is leaving, and to get honest reflection on their time with the company. Excellent companies have alumni employee programs and keep in touch years after employment, recognizing that former employees are their best ambassadors in talent acquisition.