Andrea Greenhous first came to understand the principles of effective employee communication on Canada’s Parliament Hill.
Today, Greenhous is the President and Owner of Ottawa-based Vision2Voice Communications, providing creative internal communications programs and services, but some 25 odd years ago, she cut her teeth as a researcher and communicator in the heart of Canada’s government.
In that early position, she says the importance of brevity, accessible writing, and “making things interesting for people” were the first lessons she learned for effective employee communication. From my conversation with her Around the Bonfyre, it’s clear her accomplished career stands as a testament to those early learning moments.
Vision2Voice is recognized throughout North America for its “creative yet practical approach to employee communication,” but Greenhous’ inclination to make things interesting for employees may just be its raison d’etre.
“One of the reasons my company is called Vision2Voice is I feel that companies need to have a voice inside that is a reflection of their personality,” she says. “Every organization has their own kind of personality and culture. Your internal voice has to be a reflection of that.”
In her quest to help organizations find their personality, Greenhous has developed a proprietary formula for effective internal communication supported by three strategic pillars: Inform, Involve, and Inspire.
Pillar #1: Inform
This first pillar is what people tend to think of as the ‘vanilla’ responsibility of the internal communications function. But much like the qualities of that underappreciated flavor, taking the time to inform properly is more complex than it may initially appear. “It’s a foundational piece,” Greenhous says. “Employees need procedures, they need instructions for how to follow office rules, and information to do their jobs.”
Despite the fact that this pillar is a fundamental of effective employee communication, Greenhous explains that organizations often struggle with even the basics. She recalls an instance where a client lacked process documentation for employee use of the organization’s credit cards.
“It wasn’t that people were doing the wrong thing, they just didn’t understand the steps they needed to follow,” Greenhous says. Part of her work with this client involved examining the employee journey around the credit card experience and highlighting what they needed to know at each stage.
Despite the fact that we now live in the age of information, study after study shows employees lose several hours each week looking for information they need to do their jobs. What Greenhous’ Inform pillar underlines is how all organizations can stand to benefit from optimizing and streamlining these performance support and learning experiences.
Pillar #2: Involve
The second pillar is about fostering a sense of inclusivity and belonging through internal communication. “It’s bringing people together and helping them feel respected and connected,” Greenhous says. “It’s around creating a community and breaking down silos–communicating with people so that they’re involved in the life of the organization.”
One fundamental of this pillar involves (no pun intended) empowering cross-functional communication and relationship-building between employees, particularly through the use of social tools. Establishing feedback loops is another necessary step towards inclusive communications, as they make employee voices feel heard when their feedback is recognized.
Greenhous’ emphasis on the need for effective employee communication to be involving and inclusive is a response to an unavoidable element of work. Employees working full-time for the duration of their careers will spend (at least) a third of their lives at the office yet their social needs are frequently unfulfilled at the companies where they work. Giving people a voice also helps them feel empowered.
Greenhous’ call for communications to “involve” is a recognition that belonging is a requisite component of engagement, and it all stems from the way we communicate with each other. In a blog elaborating on the need for the Involve pillar, she writes, “Involving employees and ensuring they have a say drives innovation, cultivates collaboration, and boosts satisfaction, loyalty, and productivity.”
Pillar #3: Inspire
There’s no shortage of data showing that when work is meaningful, employee performance improves. It’s the reason why organizations go to great lengths to articulate mission, vision, and value statements.
But Greenhous isn’t content to let the ideas in these statements gather dust after their initial documentation. Her final pillar, Inspire, calls on organizations to invoke their mission, vision, and values with regularity and channel a “greater purpose” in their internal messaging.
“By helping to inspire workers, it can really have an impact on your bottom line results–but also their everyday experience.”
Starbucks, she elaborates, has benefited from inspirational messaging that emphasizes the role its stores play in local communities. The emotional lift this communication generates improves the experiences of both employees and customers alike.
“Companies like Starbucks, for example, create a little community place on the corner of the street,” she says. “You can go there and have an experience that makes your day a little bit brighter. All the baristas serve up a smile and some kindness with your morning latte.”
Greenhous’ understanding is that each communications pillar is essential–or load-bearing if you will. For internal messaging to resonate with employees, all three pillars must support their own share of a strategy’s weight. If a company can only channel one without the other two, dysfunction will follow, as she explains:
“If you’re inspired but don’t have the information to do your job, you’re just frustrated. If there’s a great purpose, but you’re not involved in the decision-making, why bother? You don’t own it.”
Creativity: the secret to effective employee communication
Effective employee communication involves more than pillars, principles, and frameworks. If those are higher-order elements of a strategy, then there’s still the question of how to execute those plans. Greenhous’ answer?
“I’m a big believer in fun, imagination, and innovation. The more innovative and creative, the more you can capture people’s hearts and minds. That’s the essence of what you’re trying to do as a communicator.”
For Greenhous, creativity isn’t an option for internal communicators–it’s a requisite skill for success in the role. “People have a limit to their mental bandwidth. They appreciate when you have a tone that’s friendly, direct, and easily digestible.” Many organizations spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on marketing and internal engagement but don’t invest in engaging their own people who are the heartbeat of the company.
Greenhous notes communicators don’t always have to bend over backwards to be creative. A great deal of internal communication concerns organizational policy and procedure, and it’s hard to make rules sound “fun.”
She advocates for finding a thoughtful balance between being straightforward and informative, and spicing your content up with images, flavorful language, checklists, bullets, and more. As she says, “People are just going to ignore your email until you come up with something that’s actually worth reading.”
But Greenhous also knows firsthand that sometimes going the extra mile for employees will give you the edge you need.
Prior to running Vision2Voice, Greenhous was a Senior Communication Specialist for the health science company Nordion, Inc., then called MDS Nordion. Among the medical products the company provided, one arm of the business specialized in processing radioactive isotopes used to diagnose and treat cancer.
Despite the value and social good employees produced, it was difficult for Gregenhous to connect these dots for them. “We couldn’t have a lot of connection to what our products did because we were in the supply chain,” Greenhous says.
That is until one day she came across an inspiring news story–a Canadian rower who went on to win an Olympic silver medal after having her cancer treated by Nordion’s isotopes. Greenhous soon arranged for the athlete to visit the company’s quarterly townhall and share her story with Nordion employees.
“When you’re a barista at Starbucks or a nurse at the children’s hospital, you’re on the frontlines,” Greenhous says. “We weren’t. We were in a B2B chain. It brought to life what our products did and made a difference.”
Greenhous says she went the extra mile for Nordion employees because she knew it would make internal communications meaningful. For many communicators, this experience may read more as an exception, not a rule.
Should creative pursuits of purpose always lead communicators to such unlikely scenarios like enlisting the help of Olympians? Perhaps not as often as we’d like, but it shouldn’t stop communicators from dreaming bigger, and it’s not stopping Greenhous. With an unwavering commitment to informing, involving, and inspiring employees, Greenhous is not shying away from making communications meaningful–and interesting–any time soon.