You Have It In You! Unleashing Employee Potential Thru Internal Communications

This morning I listened to a fascinating HBR interview with Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, senior adviser at Egon Zehnder. He’s the author of It’s Not the How or the What but the Who and one of the top thinkers in the talent management arena. His comments on human potential sparked some ideas about how internal communications can support employee engagement.

First, a little background…

According to Fernández-Aráoz, competency is only part of the picture when it comes to identifying and managing high potential employees. But when I think about the way most success stories and awards programs are done, the emphasis is on what the individual or team has done well. Not to be too precious about it, but that’s kinda their job. They are highly competent – and most communications programs focus on this select group of high performers.

But what about the high potentials? How do we identify and encourage those individuals with the potential to be higher performers?

Fernández-Aráoz defined 5 indicators to help spot, measure and manage this potential within each employee:

  1. Fierce commitment combined with deep personal humility

As corporate communicators, we can be so focused on getting the “big story” that we forget to ask for all of the characters – the unsung heroes who made the success possible.

  • Communications Tactic: Find the “assists” – the person who made the introduction, championed the project through R&D, or just kept morale up when enthusiasm waned. At an event, solicit nominations for the best “assist” and share these names at the end of the day.
  • What it does: Gives recognition and makes people feel valued.
  1. Curiosity

The “why” behind what we do is a big motivator in business and personal life. Curious people take everything in, then ask a lot of questions in their never-ending quest to understand. They are open to experimentation, knowing that the “right” way to do something may come after trying several wrong ones.

  • Communication Tactic: Ask employees what question they saw that needed an answer, and what process they used to solve it. At an event, setup a media wall – or a WHY poster board – where people write down what they’re interested in right now.
  • What it does: Highlights your organization’s curiosity and identifies it as a component to success.
  1. Insight

We live in a complex world, and the ability to connect the dots is an essential skill.

  • Communication Tactic: Ask employees for an example where they untangled a lot of data, perspectives, or dependencies. Follow up by asking how they avoided information overload. At an event, hire improvisers to craft a scene with 10-20 audience inputs solicited via an event app. Project these onscreen and check a box each time the suggestion is used. (Low-tech – a suggestion box with slips of paper). Or give attendees a MacGyver Challenge – a box of random items with the challenge of building something the rest of the audience would value, complete with a marketing strategy.
  • What it does: Encourages using what you have to make something great. (Something we at Bricolage love!)
  1. Engagement

Having an idea is one thing. Getting people to believe in and spread the idea is another. True engagement happens when we engage the hearts and minds of the people around us.

  • Communication Tactic: For employee profiles, interview co-workers on how their colleague inspires them, with specifics on what they do or say that makes them want to work with this employee. For events, revamp awards presentations to highlight the impact this individual has on others – not just the achievement itself.
  • What it does: Strengthens corporate culture by encouraging employees to connect to each other.
  1. Resilience

Whether a deadline is pushed up a week, or a mistake is caught just before the product ships, employees who work well under pressure model the type of behavior our Black Swan world requires.

  • Communications Tactic: Ask employees what obstacles they have overcome and how they kept their focus. As a bonus, ask how they manage stress. Everyone has it, but it is our reaction to their stress that determines whether we will be overwhelmed by it. At an event, create a Problem Board with common challenges – better yet, solicit them ahead of the meeting, then crowdsource solutions either in a working session or thru audience responses.
  • What it does: Emphasizes the importance of grit.

You probably have 5 high performance stories you can rattle off the top of your head. Now imagine how it would feel to have 500 or 1000 of those stories. By aligning corporate communications to the 5 indicators, you can help realize the potential of every individual in your organization.

That’s your potential.
What will you do to unleash it?



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