In August 2019, Alex Gorsky and 180 other CEOs in the Business Roundtable, the influential association of America’s top companies, signed a statement on the “Purpose of a Corporation.” That statement has had a profound impact on how companies view—and value—their employees.
The statement rejected the principle of shareholder primacy that had been the dominant driver for American public companies since Milton Friedman wrote in 1970 that the primary purpose of a company is to “make money for shareholders.” In its place, the Business Roundtable said the purpose of a corporation must consider benefits to all stakeholders—employees, communities, customers, the environment and shareholders.
While the statement places employees on an equal footing as investors and customers, Gorsky highlights the powerful potential of employees to raise the tide for all stakeholders. The question then becomes how to tap into that power.
As the CEO of Best Buy, Corie Barry, emphasizes,
Her call for employees to “steer” their organization to what’s important sounds radical. But, not surprising for the leader of one of America’s largest retailers who has her finger on the pulse of her customer base, the American public. She understands that customers value doing business with employees who are trustworthy and credible.
In fact, this year’s Edelman Trust Barometer survey found that businesses (42%) rank highest in credibility and the opportunity to build trust in comparison to media (8%), NGOs (17%) and government (32%).
So, it’s not surprising that savvy CEOs and their communications leaders would look to build on that credibility by featuring employees in marketing and encouraging their involvement in community programs and with the media. Additionally, social media creates unique opportunities for communications professionals to further spread the voice of the company with the online posts of their employees. Highly engaged employees on social media can also have a major impact in building the brand.
Internally, driving employee engagement and empowerment have become key functions for communications professionals. Each year, Gallup studies the impact of employee engagement on business outcomes. In its latest report, it found that businesses with top engagement quarter over quarter had 23% more profit, 18% better sales growth, 14% higher productivity and 18% lower turnover. Gallup lists “trust in leaders” as the most important driver of employee engagement—what leaders say and how they walk the talk is critical. Another major engagement factor for Gallup is companies with a culture of empowerment.
The Edelman Trust Barometer study also reported that employees listed empowerment opportunities as the most important factor in choosing a place to work. So how can leaders create an employee empowerment culture? It begins by providing employees with the freedom and information they need to make informed decisions. In an empowerment culture, listening becomes more critical than speaking for leaders. Truly empowered employees have valuable information to offer—lessons learned, market intelligence, customer feedback, technical data, operational improvements, safety warnings, risk identifications, personal observations and more.
In most organizations, employees must be encouraged and enabled to initiate productive employee-leader dialogue. The enabling is relatively easy—providing communications tools, technologies and training. The encouraging is tough. Employees need to be convinced that communicating with leadership is safe and is valued by the company. That will take time. Annual employee engagement surveys and frequent spot polls and focus groups are effective ways to show that organizations care about what their employees think—but only if they are followed up with reports of what the polls revealed and demonstration that the company is applying the results.
A major test for engagement and empowerment—and the commitment to the Corporate Roundtable’s purpose principles—has been the pandemic. The economic fallout from the pandemic provided an opportunity for employers to align with their employees to take a stand in support of their company’s social “purpose.” This resulted in a constructive dialogue about values and mutually supportive activities by employees and their companies. That, in turn, strengthened employee engagement, reaffirming a recent McKinsey research report that found frontline employees who “feel purpose” at work are up to four times as engaged as those at organizations where purpose is not reinforced.
Meanwhile the dramatic workplace disruption created by the pandemic lockdowns, accelerated remote workforce trends and technologies that have helped to engage and empower employees. Applying those technologies, employees remained productive and used their newfound independence to show the benefits of empowerment.
At Moore, our marketing and communications engagement with clients this year has ranged from being on the frontlines of the crisis and economic recovery to a strong focus on employee engagement. Our clients understand the importance of their internal audiences—employees, board members, investors—being equally recognized and engaged as external audiences.
We also turn this attention inward at Moore. Our 28-year strong culture continues to empower and place the greatest emphasis on team communications, recognition, and listening to feedback as we evolve our services and engagement with client partners. Customer service has always been the hallmark of Moore, and that is driven each day by the Moore Team.
There have been many silver linings through the pandemic this year. For many companies the virtual two-way engagement has created more leader-to-employee transparency than ever before. Passing the test of the past year of crisis is proof positive that employee communications is indeed experiencing a major transformation—and the most successful organizations will continue to elevate this engagement in 2021.