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Why Don’t We Make Symbolic Gestures To Show Our Commitment To Employees?

Dinesh works as the Internal Communication Director for Tibre Corp, a leading multinational in apparel technology which has over 10,000 employees in 3 cities across the country.The company is going through tough times – hit by a lawsuit on the technology it uses, has reported a loss of 2 crores for the 3rd year and is losing employees by the dozen.  The leadership is concerned about the decline in employee morale and erosion of trust with the top management.

Joanna, the HR Head is keen to change the way the employees perceive the current situation and invites Dinesh for a discussion. Reflect on their conversation and share what you think will help them with chalking out their plan of action.

Joanna: “Hello Dinesh! Thanks for taking the time to meet up. I wanted to speak to you about the need for some serious interventions in our company.”

Dinesh: “Good to meet you Joanna. Go ahead – let me know how I can be of help.”

Joanna: “You know how things are currently and the mood in the organization is reflective of the situation. We are losing market share, the business leaders are unable to defend the lawsuit and the losses we are making and our employees are getting frustrated.”

Dinesh: “Hmm. It is a challenging time indeed.”

Joanna: “In recent focus groups I have had with many employees across our locations what comes out strongly is the need for them to hear more from leaders and to see them in person. They are also expecting us to take some dramatic action that will prove our commitment to their existence in the company.”

Dinesh: “What do you mean when you say they want to hear more from leaders? Also, what is your idea of a dramatic action?”

Joanna: “As in, they want leaders to communicate often – talk about what is going on, what we are doing as a business and how we can get over the situation. Dramatic action – I meant, like a symbolic step which provides them with confidence of what we are as a company. You know, stuff like removing policies that employees don’t like, or declaring our commitment to diversity, changing our office timings to make it more flexible, sending more employees on overseas assignments etc

Dinesh: “That’s interesting – aren’t leaders anyhow supposed to be meeting and engaging teams? Are they not doing so currently? On the second part – in terms of a symbolic gesture – how about leaders deciding to give up their salaries for a month or two or take a pay cut?”

Joanna: “Well, they are expected to meet their teams but you know with such challenging times they are always on the go – meeting clients and trying to keep the business afloat. They hardly find time to connect. Asking leaders to give us salaries or take a pay cut is asking a lot!”

Dinesh: “What about asking them to give us some privileges like the stock options or letting go of their bonuses? “

Joanna: “Well, that is tough to sell. You know they will not agree.”

Dinesh: “Hmm. Then I am unclear on the objectives of these symbolic gestures. What are you hoping to gain from it?”

Joanna: “You see – we want employees to think that the company is with them and that we are in this together. By taking some steps which will give them confidence.”

Dinesh: (looking amused) “Isn’t that a gimmick?”

Joanna: “No, it isn’t. We really want to rally our employees – we want them to feel good.”

Dinesh realizes that this conversation isn’t helpful and heading nowhere. He decides to excuse himself, buy more time to reflect on the situation and come back to the HR Head.

What can Dinesh do to make sense of what is being asked?  How can he help his leaders see how their intention of symbolic gestures can negatively impact their interests?

Keen to hear what you have to say. Do share your views here.

3 thoughts on “Why Don’t We Make Symbolic Gestures To Show Our Commitment To Employees?

  1. When faced with insecurity humans will instinctively try to pull themselves away from the uncertain situation and lack of communication will only add to this insecurity. In this case, employees are leaving the company as they are not aware of the possibility that the company might recover from the current crisis.

    Joanna mentions that the leadership wants the employees to think that the company is with them and that they are in this together. But as per focus group responses, it seems the leaders are hardly trying to stay connected with the employees. It’s understandable that as the company has incurred loss for the 3rd year consecutively, the leaders have tremendous pressure on them to maintain the existing client relationships/businesses. At the same time, not maintaining direct communication with the employees is only adding to the uncertainty the employees are feeling about the company’s future. If the employees are unable to get any kind of assurance from the leaders about their future, they are bound to leave the company for more secured careers.

    Though Dinesh suggests symbolic gestures like ESOP and pay cut by the leaders, none of these are accepted by Joanna. She again urges that the idea is to make the employees feel good. But in these testing times, one needs more than a feel good factor to stick around with a loss-making company. Employees need to be motivated and their association with the company needs to be highlighted so that they feel that they are part of the recovery action plan and that their contribution is vital for the company’s survival.

    At this time what the CEO/Head of the company needs to do, is to personally address all the employees either through Townhalls across all the 3 office locations or a pre-recorded video. A bold and honest message from the CEO acknowledging the challenging phase, and stating the plan of recovery action, thereby urging employees’ support might sound dramatic but that’s what the employees are waiting to hear from their leader. It’s been 3 years since the company has been incurring losses, and in this time period several employees must have left the company. But at the same time, there are many employees who are still with the company, for numerous reasons and there’s a fair possibility that these employees are still here because they feel responsible for the company’s growth during its hay days. The company must have rewarded them for their contributions, hence at the time of need these employees feel the need to stay put on their own, even when their leader hasn’t clearly asked them to do so.

    The personal message from the CEO should be further bolstered by similar messages from the business leaders to their respective groups. This will ensure that the entire company works towards achieving one common goal. In such times, a message conveyed personally will be more effective than written communication. Hence, the communication plan could have the following –
    1) Personal address by the CEO/head of the company to all the employees through a Townhall/video conference (this video should also be published on the intranet for further reference).
    2) Business leaders to personally convey the leadership message along with the specific plan of action to their respective groups.
    3) After six-months, a follow-up message on the assessment should be conveyed (through an email from the CEO). Business leaders can also address their respective groups with the specific assessment details for the group.
    4) At the end of the year, an annual message should be released from the CEO’s desk, clearly stating the outcomes of everyone’s efforts, thereby motivating them further for the next year.

  2. This is an interesting situation for Dinesh, as at the end of his conversation with the HR Head, Joanna resulted in bit of confusion as to what could be really done, in terms of making the employees to “feel good”. On one hand, where Tibre, a leading multinational apparel technology company, with more than 10,000 employees across 3 cities, currently hit by a turmoil, with a loss of 2 crores for the 3rd consecutive year and on the other hand, being losing out on employees by dozens.
    With a situation like Tibre, it is quite natural for the employees not only to have their morale down, but also get a sense of insecurity about their job as well, which can be upsetting to the company’s performance. And hence they tend to lose on confidence in management, which could result in a loss of productivity and bitterness at workplace. While Joanna’s efforts to change the employees perception about the organization is very encouraging, but with not much of help from the leaders, could be a challenging task. At this critical junction, the leaders of the company are expected to carry out employee engagement support at a constant level, which not only increases trust levels but also gives the employees a security about the job.
    As Joanna points out that that it is quite challenging for the leaders at this point to meet and engage employees, as they hardly find time out from their busy schedule at this critical moment, she also points out about a dramatic action which will help the employees to build in confidence about working with Tibre. But the suggestions she puts forward to Dinesh, about removing policies, making work time more flexible are not the possibilities that the employees would probably look forward to, considering the present situation about the company. What she clearly misses out on the fact that more than a dramatic action, a physical presence or appearance of the top leaders from the company, sharing their goals and ideas on how to take the organization ahead, as together, adds up to the confidence. Another fact Joanna should keep in mind that amidst all the losses for the 3 years, Tibre has not only lost a lot of their employees, but they are in danger of losing out on their best employees as well. Those employees who have been with the organization for the longest years, during good and bad days and those who have felt passionate and committed about working with the organization irrespective of any situation.
    End of the conversation, the objective clearly stands out – To make the employees think that the company is with them during the troubled time and that working out together will inflict confidence. Thus to achieve this, what Dinesh should advise Joanna and stress on the fact about the leaders engaging with the employees, at a more personal level. With more than 10,000 employees, the CEO should look at organizing meets at the different locations, which covers maximum reach. This not only attracts loyalty but also makes the employees feel that they are partners in building up the organization for a long term success. This is the kind of motivation that the employees would look forward to. Similarly, the CEO should also make sure to organize parallel meetings with the clients as well, where his vision and ideas should light up the spark.
    While the meetings are quite important and that it should be strictly adhered to every 3 months or so, but what’s more vital is that the CEO keeps all the employees on same page of the plan, the vision to reconstruct the organization. This kind of commitment or a gesture by the CEO not only reinforces values but it enlightens the employees with an urge of taking that extra effort or mile to make it their success as well, which is basically building up confidence. The CEO should also allow the employees to share their concerns and ideas openly during these meetings, which will not only give them a sense of encouragement but make them proactive as well. This is the best time for the CEO and the top management to recognize the potential employees and reward them. This will not only boost their long term employees but also will motivate the others to do well, thus heightening their level of commitment to the organization. It is the opportunities that the employees are looking at the moment, where they look forward to make a difference in the company’s growth and thus making a name for themselves.
    Apart from quarterly meetings, top management should also look to organize an annual meeting at the end, where the CEO can share data of achievements of the company, which will not only help the employees to assess themselves but also make them to continue the long term personal success connected to the organization, giving them the motivation to stay afloat, and improve productivity.
    It does take a lot for a CEO to enrich a vision about the organization, especially when it’s going under loss, but end of the day it’s all about creating the trust back, with an open communication, clearly articulated goals and unambiguous expectations, which demands shared values good reward systems, which helps you in being ahead of the pack with constant maintenance.

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