May 2, 2024 - Business

CEOs tap communicators to sharpen employee engagement

Deisha Barnett, UPS president, global communications, at the Axios Communicators event in Washington, D.C.

Deisha Barnett, UPS president of global communications, at the Axios Communicators event in Washington, D.C. Photo: Hector Emanuel

At an event in Washington, D.C., alongside the White House Correspondents' Dinner, more than 100 Axios Communicators readers gathered to discuss managing corporate reputation during an election year.

Why it matters: In times of uncertainty, polarization or transition, employees require more communication, not less.

What they're saying: UPS president of global communications Deisha Barnett said every communicator on her team must view employees as a key audience.

  • "Reaching our employee base is a lever that we pull every single time, and generally speaking, it's everybody's responsibility," she said.
  • Plus, sharing employees' stories is a major component of the strategy. "They are our best and largest group of brand ambassadors," Barnett added.

Between the lines: Making employees a primary concern is especially important in the current political environment, said Instacart chief corporate affairs officer Dani Dudeck.

  • "We prioritize internal communications above external, especially when it's really choppy out there — and even if the issues are unrelated to the potatoes and tomatoes that we're delivering."
  • "Our view is the more communication internally, the better, period," added Dudeck. "We don't shy away from the hardest question, even if it's rude, even if it's assumptive, even if the thesis is wrong. Our leaders unpack it all and are mindful of tone. Because of that, our internal dialogue is much more constructive."

Zoom out: There are risks to publicly weighing in on issues that do not directly tie to business objectives or corporate values, ROKK Solutions co-founder Ron Bonjean told the audience.

  • "Our research shows that companies increasingly need to stay aligned with who they are and their values. They should be thinking about what their customers use them for, and stick with that — so when a social issue hits, you really need to think about, 'Does this pertain to my business?' and if it doesn't, stay away from it."

The bottom line: Big, public declarations or performative pledges are things of the past. Instead, communicators are advising executives to focus on aligning with employees through sharp, transparent internal communications.

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