CONNECTIONS

An Edelman perspective on making meaningful
employee connections that deepen engagement,
build trust and accelerate business performance.

JANUARY 2015

ENGAGING FRONTLINE EMPLOYEES:
SIX PRINCIPLES FOR MAXIMIZING THE TWO-MINUTE WINDOW
BY GEREN RAYWOOD, VI CE PRESIDENT, EDELMAN EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMEN T

For communicators across a diversity of industries – retail, healthcare, energy,
manufacturing, hospitality – frontline employees represent the largest segments of their
workforces. They are the face of the company for customers, the first and last to touch the
product as it leaves the production line, and the
labor that moves the supply chain forward.
Frontline employees often…
Frontline employees are critical to engage, yet
they are also among the hardest to reach. They
…have limited time
for info not directly
are often geographically dispersed, pressed for
related to their jobs
time and operate within their own unique
ecosystems with cultures, management and
communication processes that can be difficult
…do not have access
for corporate communications to penetrate.
to traditional
corporate channels
And yet, these employees have no less of a
desire to be engaged and connected to the
…are geographically
broader organization and business strategy than
dispersed
from other
their corporate counterparts. Creating effective
company locations
communications for frontline workforces takes
extra time and planning, but investing in their
engagement can have top and bottom-line
…operate within their
business benefits, from improved strategy
own unique cultures
execution, to superior customer service, to
and processes
generally stronger workforce productivity,
performance, and retention.
Here are six steps to developing stronger connections with frontline employees:
1.) GET TO KNOW YOUR FRONTLINE EMPLOYEES.
Start by understanding frontline employees’ workday and work environment. Learn how
employees receive and use information, which sources and subjects they pay attention to,

what information and connections they need, and what they ignore. This knowledge will
enable you to build better strategies, content, and channels to connect employees to critical
business goals. Communication surveys, targeted focus groups, and establishing local
employee communication networks or virtual feedback forums are all straightforward,
relatively low-cost ways to collect feedback on frontline communication needs and
preferences.
One of the best ways for communicators to truly understand the frontline is to immerse
themselves in it. Spending time in the field observing and talking to employees, even
informally, can yield valuable insights. Every year, a major shipping company sends its
communications teams to the field to work shifts alongside the employees they support,
giving them first-hand insights that inform communications planning. Similarly,
communicators at a large retailer visit stores as “mystery shoppers,” observing interactions
and information flow between managers and staff.
2.) ASSUME YOU HAVE ONLY MINUTES TO CONNECT WITH YOUR FRONTLINE WORKFORCE.
One of the distinguishing traits of frontline workforces is
that they are extremely time constrained, and the average
window of time to reach them is small. While working with
a large national retailer, we set out to quantify the
amount of time store employees paid attention to
corporate communications each day. We designed a time
and motion study that tracked employees’ consumption
of information over a typical shift and then isolated and
analyzed the different kinds of communications they
received and paid attention to. The time spent on
corporate communications: just two minutes.
Because these employees have limited space in their day to access information not directly
related to their work, savvy communicators design information flows that exploit existing
routines in creative ways. For example, in hospital environments the corporate office-style
reliance on email and intranets is replaced by shift-change meetings and staff huddles.
One national fast food restaurant chain is experimenting with a new mobile app that not only
delivers schedule information, but acts as an engagement platform for training programs,
corporate information and employee feedback. Designing a select, very limited set of
channels for frontline employees based on their needs and routines can help establish
consistent, streamlined and reliable sources of information.

3.) SHIFT FROM CONTENT CREATOR TO CONTENT CURATOR.
As communicators, we are programmed to create more, not less, content. Yet strengthening
frontline communications is often about limiting the volume of information to deliver more
focused, actionable messaging.
One of the biggest planning challenges is aligning the many stakeholders needing to
communicate to frontline. It can be politically difficult to reign in leaders and business units
whose communication agendas and initiatives are competing for employee mindshare.
Three ways to manage expectations and information flow include:


Developing a solid annual internal communications planning process that involves
business stakeholders and incorporates their input, priorities and communication
goals;
Actively managing an editorial calendar throughout the year that stakeholders and
content owners have input into; and
Creating audience profiles for frontline employees that include strong, data-driven
filters to help prioritize communications based on roles and information needs.

4.) GET CREATIVE WITH DIGITAL AND SOCIAL MEDIA TO START A DIALOGUE…
Not all frontline workforces are connected by technology, but for those that are digital and
social media are making it easier to connect and engage. Innovative companies have taken
this a step further by building interactive digital channels to drive two-way dialogue with their
frontline workforces. Forums and feedback tools are designed and managed to provide
employees with opportunities to create and upload content, discuss and comment on
information and share stories of interest. This extends the level of engagement across the
organization and creates a valuable source of feedback for leaders and the business.
5.) …BUT DON’T FORGET FRONTLINE MANAGERS.
As sexy as technology is, over and over frontline employees tell us their number one
preferred source of information is their manager. The frontline workplace remains
fundamentally relationship-based, with employees relying on face-to-face interaction with
managers for information and direction. This final step in the cascade from corporate to
frontline is the most critical, yet the multi-level relay that precedes it often confuses and
dilutes messaging, leaving managers challenged to identify and align teams around the right
priorities. Organizations can help managers communicate more effectively with:

Communication Skills Training: Organizations with strong manager-as-communicator
programs focus on a variety of topics, including: translating strategy into action;
communicating change; encouraging two-way conversation and active listening; and
using storytelling to reinforce key messages.
Digital Tools: Dedicated internal resources for managers providing information,
collaboration, and training resources help build communities and encourage best
practice sharing. Resource examples include building a repository of company
strategic messaging and briefing packs searchable by topic and customizable tips,
tools and templates to help managers prepare their own communications.
Playbooks/Toolkits: Dedicated manager toolkits, playbooks, and newsletters provide
tailored materials, tools, and templates to assist in delivering day-to-day and strategic
communications in a clear, compelling way.

6.) BE PATIENT, BE REALISTIC AND MAKE EMPLOYEES’ LIVES EASIER.
Successfully reaching and engaging frontline employees takes time. Their days are often
physical, demanding and full, so there will always be natural limits to how far corporate
communications can go to reach them. Maximize the two-minute window by listening to
frontline employees, understanding who they are and how communications can make their
work lives easier.
ABOUT US
Edelman Employee Engagement helps organizations accelerate business performance,
delivered by highly engaged and trusted employees. We do this by making meaningful, trustbuilding connections—connecting employees with the company, connecting employees with
each other, and connecting employees with the outside world. We have a global network of
employee engagement specialists who can develop engagement strategy; deploy the tools
and processes to deliver it; create the multimedia channels and content that support it; and
design the insight mechanisms to measure it. For more information, email us at
employee.engagement@edelman.com, visit us at ee.edelman.com or follow us on Twitter at
@EdelmanEE.

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