One size doesn't fit all

Recent research by Brunswick Insight asked employees what motivates them, what divides them, and most everything in between

Scene 1: A large ftse-listed company, headquartered in London, announces its new strategic plan to its employees. They have worked on the CEO’s script for the global webinar diligently, practiced the likely Q&As and even primed some willing associates with the first few posted questions. A reasonably high percentage of the staff log on and it all seems to go well. Long-serving employees around the world start messaging each other about the announcements.

A couple days afterwards, a young recruit based in New York is asked what he’d thought of it. It takes him a minute. Finally, he says, “Oh, you mean that old guy in London talking on the video? Oh, it was really boring so I listened to a podcast while I finished the project I was doing.” Mmmm. Asked if he knew “that old guy” was the Global CEO, he responds with scant interest. “Yeah, I guess.”

Scene 2: The email update from the CEO goes out. It is copied as a post on the shiny new collaboration platform that the IT department is very excited about. It doesn’t create a flurry of scathing reviews on Glassdoor. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief and moves on.

A follow up email isn’t sent to those who didn’t open the first one, or to those who opened it but didn’t click on it.

The update message was the same to all parts of the world. It was the same to every job function, seniority and tenure group.

No one had segmented the employee base and identified their fears and desires before the communication was crafted; no one tested different subject lines or calls to actions when it was sent.

No one measured how it had landed, whether anyone paid any attention or bought into the next steps.

Why not?

It is self-evident that business leaders need the engagement of their workforces to succeed. It is a given that it is harder than ever to get employees to pay attention and engage in complex situations.

And yet we rarely apply even the most basic marketing techniques that we use to engage with our customers to connect with our colleagues. We assume that one size fits all.

When Brunswick surveyed 42,956 adults in 26 markets in 25 languages, we found unsurprisingly that young and old think and feel differently. Post-Brexit and Trump, it also wasn’t so astonishing to see that degree holders and those without a degree had radically different positions or that those living in megacities had completely opposing views to those living outside of them. In megacities, 61 percent of respondents thought that globalization was a good thing, while only 41 percent of those living outside of them did.

In emerging markets, 60 percent of respondents thought that globalization was a positive force, only 36 percent of those in developed markets did. Emerging-market respondents are sure that their children will be better off than they are, while those in developed markets are convinced their children will be worse off.

We know these things intuitively. And yet … Knowing how different employee segments view the world enables us to anticipate how they will react to certain changes and so, communicate appropriately. So why don’t we?

Content creation and channel selection by audience segment is not just for external audiences. If we want our employees to respond during critical situations, we have to learn how to communicate with them effectively on a regular basis. It isn’t as straightforward as young or old, degree or not, city or town, developed or emerging market, male or female. These criteria overlay, complicating any effort to predict perceptions.

A 30-to-49-year-old male in an emerging market, from a large city, with a college degree is overwhelmingly positive about the future of his children (with a 50 percent net positive score in response to the question will your children be better or worse off than you are). An 18-to-29-year-old woman, also with a college degree but from a developed market and a small town, is overwhelmingly negative (with a -13 percent score).

Living in a megacity had more impact on opinions than living in a specific market. That’s worth keeping in mind if HQ is in a bustling metropolis and branch offices, plants or subsidiaries are not.

Maybe it is time we thought about our employees in the same way that we think about our customers. What makes them tick? What makes them act? What makes them recommend us? Maybe it is time we apply the same rigor to our segmentation, messaging and channel selection for our employees as we already do for our customers.