Minnesota companies compete with vigor for a coveted spot on the Star Tribune Top Workplace list. Many start with the premise that company benefits or perks — the Ping-Pong table in the lounge or stellar coffee in the break room — push employees toward voting their firm a great place to work.

These along with quality core benefits such as retirement plans, health care benefits and flex time do play a role. But without transparent and effective employee communications, no level of perks can overcome a culture where employees don’t trust their management.

To be a great workplace, a company needs a philosophy of consistent, persistent, responsive and transparent communications that engenders trust and where employees can speak their mind without retribution and where their concerns are heard, even if management can’t fully address them to their ­satisfaction.

How can companies do this? By putting a primary focus on the quality and consistency of the communications channels. If you hold all-employee town halls, make sure the speakers are rehearsed in advance so the messaging can be tested and refined. Employees can tell when leaders are winging it, and low quality presentations don’t build confidence in management. When presentations are of low value, optimism in the future success of the ­company declines.

Consistency also means communicating in a scheduled way. If your town halls are quarterly, make sure you hold them as planned. Last-minute all-employee meetings should be reserved for only the most vital, unexpected and time-sensitive news.

Create and use communications plans, and stick to them. If you publish news on your intranet two, three or five times a week, keep to that schedule, and forewarn employees if for some reason you can’t meet that expectation. Going radio silent even for a short time can make employees uneasy.

Persistence pays off, too. At my company, we take a surround-sound approach to communications. Our installed TVs in our lobby areas and elevator bays reinforce news, events and strategies that appear on our intranet and at our all-employee meetings. The TV slides recognize current employees for a job well done, welcome new employees, thank long-tenured employees and remind everyone of things to do, events, job openings and opportunities on the horizon.

Employees need this consistency. Don’t be conned by employee complaints saying “I’ve heard this before,” which can lead you to believe you don’t need multichannel communications. Most employees must see a message several times before they absorb it or act on it if they’re called to do so.

After building a consistent and persistent communications approach, an essential additional component is a feedback and response mechanism. Annual employee engagement surveys tap into attitudes once a year, but for effective ongoing engagement, your employees want to have their voices heard throughout the year via your communications channels.

For example, after each town hall, we send a survey asking if they found value in the meeting, whether they’re optimistic about the company’s future, what topics they’d like to see addressed in the future, and perhaps most importantly, what the “water-cooler buzz” is. From a communications perspective, this type of feedback can help your organization get better. But it also helps drive employee engagement by responding to their feedback. At each subsequent town hall, we present exactly the numbers on value and optimism, as well as what they’d like to see and what the true buzz is in the company. This shows employees their voices are being heard, that we’re listening, and that management is ready to respond.

At the end of this process of consistent, persistent and responsive communications comes the ultimate value to employees and their engagement — a sense of transparency from management and a feeling that leaders are being straight with them.

If you’ve been consistent, persistent and responsive, a feeling of transparency is a likely outcome but it can be fostered via other communications tactics. We hold bimonthly executive leadership forums where our CEO and one of his direct reports sit on stools in front of an audience of 25 to 50 employees sitting around tables. In this intimate setting, the CEO and executive answer openly any question that comes up.

Lastly, a culture of transparency carries through to external news. Should we receive negative press, we share it on our intranet and give it context. On nearly all external communications, we take an “employees first” mind-set — anything we share with the press we provide to ­employees first.

Top workplaces in Minnesota likely have top perks and benefits. But they are not enough. Consistent, persistent, responsive and transparent communications remain a key component to maintaining employee engagement and winning top workplace honors.


Paul Kelash is head of communications for Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America based in Golden Valley.