May 26th, 2017
Being married to an engineer has its advantages and disadvantages. There are times when walking down the street I notice he’s no longer next to me. Instead he is staring intently at something trying to work out how it was put together or how it works. But from a work perspective my husband can be very useful, especially when trying to get into the mindset of the some of the hardest to reach employees.
I’ve discussed the issue of remote workers, or workers without regular access to computers, numerous times with fellow IC pros and the conversation has always concluded that getting them truly engaged in the organisation can be an uphill struggle.
While my husband does have regular access to a computer, and through me he understands the value of internal communications and why engagement is important, he still admits to paying very little attention to the communication efforts in the company he works in.
My father-in-law, also an engineer, is the same. The way he sees it is that he enjoys, and is good at, the job he does. It’s irrelevant which company he works for or what its strategy is as he doesn’t perceive it as being particularly applicable to him.
Both of them find it hard to relate to corporate messages more suitable to head office workers than people who spend half their day in overalls, in extreme heat and enclosed spaces. So, I asked my husband what would engage him and he highlighted a few things that have worked and what he’d like to receive. While this is just one person’s point of view, I thought it was a useful insight to share and I’d love to hear other IC pros’ thoughts and experiences of communicating with this type of audience.
When my husband and his colleagues aren’t working hard on the job at hand, they’re usually involved in a fair bit of banter. We all know that humour, if done well, can work with the right audience – but it’s often tricky to get sign off on it and it’s not uncommon for creatively humorous campaigns to rarely see the light of day.
In a previous job, the site my husband worked on actually created their own very popular annual newsletter that rounded up all the funny events of the year, gave out awards for biggest failure, and included pictures from team nights out, etc. None of it would have passed through an official sign off process but it was truly reflective of the culture they live and breathe every day.
And while it may not have contained information about the strategy or the business, it did engage them all. And once you’ve engaged people, it’s much easier to share the need to know messages with them.
No one was more surprised than me when my husband came home recently and said he’d spent the day in various workshops to do with wellbeing. He willingly attended a sleep clinic, a mindfulness and stress session, and a health check. He was impressed that the workshops had come to his site rather than him having to travel to them and that they addressed issues that he and many of his colleagues were facing.
The fact they also put on a barbecue was an added bonus.
It was a great way to engage my husband and his colleagues, making them feel the organisation was interested in more than just what they could get out of them.
Many of my husband’s frustrations with communications he receives is that he feels there is a lack of understanding around what it is he and his colleagues spend their time doing and the skill and expertise involved. They have to be focused on very specific tasks that require a lot of skill and knowledge. An error can cost time, money and, in extreme cases, injury or death.
Much of what they do is dealing with issues in the here and now and they don’t have time to consider the bigger company picture. Instead they’re trying to save the company significant amounts of money by fixing problems quickly and expertly – in that sense they are very aware of how their jobs contribute to the overall company performance.
Another example is when he receives a firm-wide email about the importance of safety, he is far from impressed. Working in the environment that he does, safety is of the upmost priority and it’s not something that’s taken lightly. While they’re more than happy to attend relevant safety briefings, being included in an email about ensuring computer cables aren’t a trip hazard is far from appreciated.
As the role of IC continues to evolve and we get busier and busier, it’s easy to lose sight of the reality of working for an organisation on the front line. Shadowing colleagues shouldn’t just be something that’s done upon starting a job, it should be a regular occurrence to ensure we fully understand our various audiences and communicate with them accordingly.
Face to face
One of the best examples of communication my husband has is when the site manager made a point of coming along to his team’s Christmas pub lunch. He thanked them all for their hard work, told them a bit about his plans for the next year and had a beer with them.
My husband was suitably impressed that a senior manager had taken time out of his day to do that, and even more so when he found out that this was a regular thing. The site manager also understood that after one drink it was time to go to let the team carry on and enjoy themselves without being self-conscious that senior management was in their midst.
It’s also normal to find him walking about the site, chatting to people and being visible. So, simple, but a personal thank you and giving people time can go a long way.
Let it go
My father-in-law is 58 and two years away from retiring. He goes to work, does a 12-hour shift, four days a week and goes home. He has often complained to me about how he is expected to attend courses or listen to briefings about the direction of the business. And he just doesn’t care.
As far as he’s concerned he works hard and does a good job and all he wants in return is his wage and a good pension. I asked him if there was anything his internal comms team or managers could do to engage him and he said no. He just wants to be left alone to get on with the job at hand.
It got me thinking, in every organisation there will be people like my father-in-law. People who are skilled and talented but don’t have higher aspirations, who aren’t interested in the bigger picture. And that’s ok. You’re more likely to fully disengage people like my father-in-law by forcing them to care than if you just let them do their job.
Sometimes we have to be realistic about what can be achieved and be ok with the fact that we won’t reach everyone.
As I said at the beginning of the blog, this is just one person’s view, and while it’s a view likely to be shared by his colleagues, I wouldn’t like to generalise. However, in my experience of working with a variety of different organisations, cultures differ greatly between office and non-office locations, yet whether it’s resource, budget or lack of understanding, it’s not always easy to reflect that in the comms.
I’d love to see examples of organisations that really do understand and accept the nuances of workers like engineers and if they do communicate with them differently to reflect the cultural they work in.