It has been said that UK businesses today are living in turbulent times. With that in mind for me it is no surprise that there is a growing interest in corporate engagement. I want to define what I mean by Corporate engagement at the outset. This is because it is perhaps a somewhat vague and subjective term in so far as it inevitably means different things to different people.
Corporate engagement for me can be defined simply as how a corporate business engages with both its internal and external stakeholders to ultimately create value for the enterprise.
And I deliberately use the phrase “corporate engagement” as opposed to “corporate communication”. This is because the two are not the same thing for me and often I see UK organisations use the terms interchangeably. The difference between corporate communication and corporate engagement is primarily that just because you communicate your message well does not necessarily equal stakeholder buy-in or engagement with the message.
Corporate communication is centred on the transmission and exchange of corporate information, messages and ideas. Whereas corporate engagement, for me, centres around genuinely involving, establishing and continually maintaining meaningful connections with employees and external stakeholders that translates into energy and passion which is what ultimately adds value to a business.
Corporate engagement for me begins first and foremost with employee engagement. Highly engaged employees will become strong brand advocates enabling you to leverage your corporate reputation as a form of intangible competitive advantage.
External stakeholders will perceive messages that come directly from employees as opposed to the corporate entity itself as being more authentic and trustworthy. Authenticity and trust are like gold dust today in an age where corporations and businesses are under more public scrutiny than ever before and digital media is empowering citizens to be vocal against brands through social media – we see this with the rise of citizen activism today.
The challenge of course is engaging employees and indeed there has been much discussion recently about the global employee engagement crisis. Gallup for example reported in May 2016 that a staggering 87 per cent of employees worldwide are not engaged based on their research. Simultaneously alongside this Edelman released their Trust Barometer in January 2017. It showed the largest drop in public trust across the institutions of government, businesses, media and NGOs since they began tracking trust levels against this segment in 2012.
These are not two separate issues. They have strong interconnections. If we accept that they are interconnected then it follows that we must accept that a strategic and integrated approach is needed to effectively address the corporate engagement challenge of today. Of course to muddy the waters even further in the UK with the advent of Brexit it is bringing its own engagement challenges for businesses leading to even greater need for effective corporate engagement.
To illustrate my point traditionally Internal Communications sits within the remit of the corporate communications department in most UK business organisations. Human Resources in the UK would typically sit within the remit of corporate services. So they sit in two separate departments but have strong interdependencies and linkages in terms of corporate and employee engagement as well as corporate reputation management. With this in mind the immediate question then arises where is the strategic integration and how is it actually achieved in practice in organisations?
My leadership thought for the month therefore is that there can be too many silos in organisations globally today. The falling levels of public trust reported by Edelman and the research by Gallup around employee engagement point towards a need for deeper strategic integration between Internal Communications and Human Resources to build corporate trust and authenticity. That is only the starting point because what is truly needed is deeper integration of corporate engagement right across the functions and strategies of an enterprise. Collaborative working and collaborative innovation with engagement as the engine at the very heart of that.