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A Hidden Communication Driver of Employee Performance

Change ManagementOur members have been talking a lot about the challenge of helping their enterprises adapt to change, even building a culture that supports adaptation.  And it’s no wonder: 67% of chief strategy officers report that “becoming more adaptive” is a top priority in their organization.  “Change fatigue” is a common complaint.

This has prompted us at the CEC to study what drives performance in a changing environment and what Communications can do to help.  As part of our principal research initiative for 2011, we surveyed nearly 2000 employees (American and European) of large enterprises regarding their performance, engagement, and a variety of attitudes and behaviors, alongside control variables like experience.  Not surprisingly, 79% indicated that they had recently experienced one or more changes in their job.

Next, we looked at what influenced the performance of these employees.  Consistent with previous research on the subject, we found, for example, that “Effort” – working hard, putting in extra energy when needed – is a significant driver of performance.  More interesting, we found that “Adaptivity” – trying new approaches to one’s work, seeking and sharing best practices – is an even more significant driver of performance.  Nearly FOUR TIMES more significant!  And the importance of Adaptivity relative to Effort increases with the amount of change experienced in the organization.

So what does this mean to communicators?  It all depends on what drives Adaptivity.  Past studies of “Engagement,” (closely related to Effort) for example, have shown a significant link between a sense of personal connection (to the company and its strategies) and Engagement.  Our study reveals this same relationship at play with Effort.  So communication initiatives aimed at helping employees see the connection between their work and company goals (CEC members, see our related research and best practices on employee engagement) are surely valuable.  As are efforts – typically led by HR, but often with important support from Communications – to improve manager quality, as this is the next-most significant driver of Effort.

But Adaptivity is different in subtle but important ways.  The top driver of Adaptivity is actually the support people get from their peers – shared values, new ideas, tangible help, and advice.  Next is “company understanding”; that is, knowledge of the organization’s goals and the risks / opportunities it faces.  We’re still studying this, but it looks like the communication environment within the company plays an important role.

Some hypotheses I’m eager to explore include:

  • Event-driven change communication does not help employees adapt to change – communication strategies need to be more ongoing / systemic.
  • The biggest communication barrier to adaptivity is NOT understanding of or buy-in to change, but access to the information and people needed to adapt.

I’d love to test your hypotheses as well.  Let me know what you think Communications can do to help employees be more adaptive!  And follow our progress on how to build a change-ready organization here.

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