Chief Communications Officers (CCO) are often considered a conduit for explaining outside trends and developments to the leaders of the organisation. You will find them gathering and analysing intelligence coming from the media, governments, customers, employees and other relevant stakeholders. All this to deliver one objective – help management form the ongoing strategy of the organisation.

For many years now, CCOs have taken an active role in understanding the organisation’s biggest champion – its employees. Yes, employees, also known as the rational folks excited about rational things such as operations, technical details, quality, etc. A new Korn Ferry report points out, “Organisations rely too heavily on the innate motivation employees bring to work with them every day. When intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are more aligned, the result will be higher engagement and more inspired performance.”

So what does this all mean? And what do well-established employee engagement efforts look like? I turned to fellow EACD member Kim Larsen, EVP, Head of Corporate Communications and Relations, Danske Bank. A 15 +-year old veteran who in one breadth (lasting one hour) can elaborate on how engagement, commitment, and well-being of employees affects organisation’s results. We sat down for a chat recently to discuss what motivates people to invest so much of themselves into their job and their company. And what organisations can do to gives them a sense of professional and personal fulfilment and make them stick around?

SKU: How does this conversation start in organisations?

KIM: First, I think we need to stop dreaming that employees are motivated by business returns. We must understand that people go to work for different reasons, and none – or very few – of them are motivated by the return to the shareholders. Of course, being part of a successful organization is a key driver for most people, as it instils pride, but for very few people the bottom line of the company they work for is the principal driver.

Communication advisors can start this conversation by taking a look at their internal employee engagement survey or industry data (Gallup Statistics). Everybody knows that in order for organisations to be able to execute strategies successfully, you need to engage your employees, so they understand the strategy, what their role is and how he or she can contribute. My core belief is that everybody wants to contribute and wants to help to execute the strategy. No one goes to work with the intention to not execute the strategy and to not contribute. Leaders need to make it easy for employees to understand how they can contribute. That is all about leadership and leadership is all about communications.

SKU: I understand that part of your engagement strategy should be understanding why employees come to work and see if there is an emotional story to unfold. Can you elaborate on this?

KIM: In my opinion, the basic task of communications professionals is to create a common understanding between the organisation you work for and it’s many different stakeholders. To be able to do that you need to understand what really motivates and drives these stakeholders. The same goes for your employees. In my experience, people want to be proud of the company they work for and the impact of what they do has. In many organisations too much emphasis is put on the rational elements that we all agree on but which do not really motivate us.

If you look at, some of the best-in-class companies, sure they tell a rational story about technical nature of their products, costs, efficiency. But they also tell a different story which is what they enable their customers to do. They focus on sharing the ultimate effect of being in business.

In order to achieve this, it may be tempting to make a series of rational videos with rational clients giving their rational arguments as to why they like you, but that will only reproduce the rationality of the top management. I would encourage teams to see if you can find a way to tell the more emotional and appealing story as well. And then if you do a couple of videos with something emotional and something without and you can test it with some employees and ask them which ones did you like or if you measure which one got more interactions. That may give you enough credibility to next time move a little bit further on that line.

SKU: So are you telling me that you have set an emotional KPI for an internal communications campaign?

KIM: Well, not an emotional KPI as such. But we are running an internal activity called “dreams & ambitions” where we encourage people to share their own dreams or ambitions and do a lot of other activities aimed at reminding everybody that people are driven by their aspirations. That goes for our colleagues but also for our customers. When people come to us to take out a mortgage, it is not because that is their dream. Their dream is the house they can buy and the life they can get in that house. The purpose of the campaign is to make ourselves more comfortable to talk about the less rational sides of what we do. As such it is a KPI for the project to help us focus more on the more emotional side of what we do.

SKU: OK. Let’s go back to rational matters. Are you expected to show a direct correlation between employee engagement and business results?

KIM: Everything we do is based on the assumption that if we get employee engagement right, we will ultimately affect our business results. We don’t have to show a close connection between if engagement did this, then our financial results did this. Because this connection is difficult to document. But we strongly believe there is a strong correlation between employee engagement, customer satisfaction, and financial results.


  •  Like any communication activity, it is important to understand your audience, especially when they are your employees.
  • Don’t shy away from understanding the emotional reasons people come to work.
  • CCOs are the creative conduit organisations need to bridge the gap between what is important for executives and for employees.

A version of this article was originally published on LinkedIn.