Tim Witcherley

[Case study] Aligning employees with your business’ strategic priorities

by Tim Witcherley on November 20, 2014

When you read business management online forums and books, ‘internal communications’ and ‘employee engagement’ are terms that crop up very frequently. The theory is always that for your business to grow you need to make sure your employees are clear on your strategy, values and culture. That way they’re working towards your objectives and presenting the company to customers in the right way.

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It all makes perfect sense in theory, but it’s very common for business owners and managers to struggle with the practical steps needed to achieve this. This is because it’s hard to keep control of culture in a growing business, ensuring the values and purpose you had at the beginning filter down as you expand and mature.

This internal communications programme we did for Cisco is an example I use frequently when talking about company culture

Here’s the story. (If you want to skip straight to the key takeaways just scroll to the bottom.)

Cisco faced a big challenge.

The company enjoyed substantial external recognition for its contribution to the environment. There was commitment at a very senior executive level, and there were employees worldwide who championed the cause. But the sustainability initiatives weren’t widely known among Cisco employees, many of whom viewed sustainability as a box tick.

Cognition’s brief was to communicate Cisco’s sustainability initiatives to staff within Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Russia. Basically, to help close that loop between the strategic direction coming from the top and the passion from pockets of people among the grassroots. That way the enthusiasm for sustainability would become part of the culture throughout the company.

This required achieving buy-in from key stakeholders within the region, who would then help cascade the message within their geographies and departments.

To achieve this we created an umbrella brand for sustainability – OneFuture

All sustainability communications were grouped under the OneFuture brand to give them a recognisable look and tone.

Here’s what that involved:

  • Crafting a succinct vision statement for OneFuture – focusing on the crux of the message: that Cisco’s business and people were in prime position to take advantage of one of the industry’s most exciting market transitions, and that the sustainability commitment was about unleashing the skills, imagination and capabilities within Cisco to meet the needs of the changing world.
  • Homing in on the key messages the sustainability team wanted to communicate to key groups – recognising that senior stakeholders and frontline employees are busy people with their own targets and agendas, we needed to be clear on why they should pay attention to sustainability. We articulated this in key messages tailored to executives and employees, so that communications were relevant to each audience.
  • Launching OneFuture – with a series of posters in offices and videos sent via USB and email. The campaign emphasised that sustainability had moved beyond a box ticking exercise, showing how the company’s and individuals’ advancement was tied in – for example around being part of a sustainable supply chain, an increasingly important consideration for Cisco customers.
  • Creating a forum for engagement – central to the ongoing engagement was the OneFuture social platform for the Cisco intranet. The platform was designed as a forum for employees interested in issues around sustainable business to share ideas and promote projects across geographies and business divisions.

The launch of OneFuture was a success

Crucially, the campaign achieved the buy-in of the regional executives who controlled funding, giving the sustainability team a stronger voice at all levels of the organisation.

After a year, the OneFuture social platform had more than 1,800 members.

What medium-sized businesses can learn from this Cisco example

So how do you, as an owner, director or manager of a smaller company use this example when engaging your employees?

  1. A brand makes your mission clear at a glance, and gives employees something to latch on to. Your employees are busy, so make it easy for them to understand what you’re trying to achieve. Giving your programme a name and a visual identity gives the initiative a life of its own, and helps create an emotional resonance within staff.
  2. Be clear on the elevator pitch. Your employees won’t engage if they don’t understand what you’re trying to achieve. Cut out the jargon and waffle – say what you’re trying to achieve and why, in a few sentences.
  3. Tell employees what’s in it for them. That way it won’t feel like you’re imposing something: they’ll want to contribute.
  4. Provide a forum for getting involved. In Cisco’s case this was the social platform on the intranet, because employees were located all over the EMEAR region. But it doesn’t have to be that complicated: it could be a regular lunch meeting or an email list.

If you want to chat about your particular challenges around employee engagement or company culture just drop me a line here.

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Tim Witcherley

This post was written by Tim Witcherley

As Cognition's Managing Director, Tim sets by example by being an incredibly driven and commercial businessman who has built a very impressive marketing consultancy which has continued to grow year on year. With a very straight and honest approach to business, he ensures he gets the best results for his clients and builds strong partnerships with his suppliers.

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