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Employees Are Now Your Most Important Stakeholder

Kelly Smith Aceituno

The C-Suite has had a busy 15 months. From managing the worst health crisis in nearly a century, to vocalizing the once taboo workplace topics of social and political unrest sparked by the murder of George Floyd, to the 2020 presidential election, leaders have had to prioritize culture and communications now more than ever before. To make matters even busier, this has all occurred in a world where the siloes of stakeholders continue to diminish, and what constitutes as “media” has rapidly evolved.

Now a new crisis is brewing. A power shift is occurring in the workplace spurred by a whipsawed economy and burnt-out employees being poached by competitors or leaving their careers behind to embark on entirely new endeavors. Post-pandemic clarity has led to the “Great Career Migration” and every industry is at risk.

But are CEOs prepared? A recent survey of CEOs by Fortune and Deloitte found that nearly 27% of CEOs described 2021 as the year of hope, followed by “opportunity,” “optimism,” and “recovery.” With all of this positivity in abundance, they may have missed Microsoft’s workforce survey noting that some 40% of global employees are thinking about leaving their jobs in the next year, and that business leaders were out of touch with employees needs and expectations.

As the economy resurges and companies transition to a hybrid work model en masse, culture and employee engagement strategies are now business critical investments that CEOs need to make, or they risk losing business continuity and growth opportunities.

Your employer brand, which lives on your website and social media channels, has never been more important. In today’s world, employees are no longer communicated exclusively to via internal channels, but also on social media platforms like LinkedIn and Glassdoor.

For better or for worse, employees, customers, clients, politicians, regulators, the media and other stakeholders all live as one big collective sponge, absorbing the news, engaging with one another and influencing perception in the digital landscape.

And there are risks. It has become common for social media vigilantes to identify and expose employees, on platforms like TikTok, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, for making racist or sexist comments that go viral. The crusaders publicly blast the individual’s employer and flood customer service channels awaiting a corporate statement that confirms the individual is “no longer employed at the firm” before moving on to their next target. Whether a household name or a company that flies under the radar, no individual or organization is immune. In fact, those with the least brand awareness often face the most risk as crises like these can impact SEO results for years to come.

Companies are also increasingly serving as their own publication platforms, by way of blogs, podcasts, conferences, webinars and video interviews. We have never lived in a time where direct stakeholder engagement has been more accessible – and visible – for the world to see.

Given these dynamics, it’s employees that now hold the greatest influence. They are your largest group of brand ambassadors and the most invested in your company’s future. They serve on the frontlines interacting with your clients and customers, and will gladly amplify your cause, assuming they know the social media policy. In good times they will support you, and in bad, they will often be the most vocal.

A year ago, CEOs spoke out against the killing of George Floyd. While it felt like the tide had turned, many of us rightfully questioned if it was in fact different “this time,” and if we would see real action and support from corporate America once the news cycle moved on.

A lot has actually changed in the past year. While hate still rears its ugly head, employees now have shifted their expectations on what is appropriate discussion in the workplace. We now rarely counsel CEOs on whether they SHOULD say something. The discussion has turned now to HOW should it be said? How do we develop a thoughtful diversity, equity and inclusion strategy and plan? How should we approach longer term employee engagement? Can we make all of our stakeholders happy?

These aren’t easy topics to get right. We are addressing societal issues that won’t be fixed with a simple employee forum or public statement of support. No matter how well intentioned, you will have employees who feel you’ve gone too far, or not far enough, with the same piece of communication. This discourse can also reach external stakeholders, who will have their own opinions and expectations. Having a strategy and demonstrating consistency is crucial.

Are you prepared for a post-pandemic world where communication and culture are interconnected across internal and external channels?

Employees are now your most important stakeholder.

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