Good morning, and welcome to job hell.
Or is it? A compelling case study for employee communication is British Petroleum, or BP. Since the accident on BP’s oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, as much oil spews out every few days as the total of the Exxon Valdez spill. BP’s external communication efforts, derisively called its “PR” by the media, have been discussed at length, but what about internal communication? What if you were in charge of employee communication at BP?
BP is one of the world’s largest energy companies. It provides fuel for transportation and energy for heat and light, plus retail services and petrochemical products. Sales were $239 billion in 2009. BP has 80,300 employees and 22,400 service stations. BP has active exploration and production in 30 countries. In 2009, BP had production throughput of 2.9 million barrels per day with 16 wholly or partially owned refineries.
Oh, and BTW, BP is now one of the most reviled companies in history.
Internal or employee communication professionals are hired to help employers achieve their missions. It is not easy on a good day, but faced with extreme situations like the BP oil spill, the work of the employee communicator is extraordinarily difficult yet crucial.
Right now, BP is in full crisis communication mode. But what about long-term employee communication?
BP employees are probably pretty much like employees anywhere. They want to do meaningful work for an employer who values it. They have financial obligations and need their jobs to meet them. I imagine you could plot BP employees all over Maslow’s Hierarchy. Each has his or her own needs. And, to be fair, many if not most, are probably sickened by the sight of what their company’s accident is doing to the Gulf of Mexico and its coastal residents’ lives.
Understanding employee needs is a requisite for building communication strategy. While we might sit here and speculate on what BP employees are thinking and feeling, if we are to be truly professional and strategic, then we would need to conduct research to know for sure. Interviews, focus groups, and surveys/questionnaires must be used to conduct our own primary research. Then we would know what we are facing. Then, and only then, could we formulate strategy — goals, objectives,and tactics — to address the situation.
Organizations succeed and fail. Organizations do good things, and they do bad things. But through it all, the need for the skills of the communicator remains constant. Considering this one important aspect of BP’s current situation, its employee communication, provides an instructive, if radical, look into what the role of employee communicator just might bring. Can we ever be prepared enough to face what may come?
Yes, we can. And as the BP incident illustrates, we had better be.