I used to know a doctor who frequently complained to me about how his patients whined at great length about the pain the were in. He was a spinal nerve specialist.
Maybe he's in the wrong line of work.
Kind of like a prominent employee communication consultant who I'll not name who consistently writes claptrap on LinkedIn, along such novel themes as, it's not so much what you say but how you say it. Usually I don't open his posts.
But in his latest blog post, he purports to answer: "One Question You Need to Answer for Every Employee."
This time I fell for it. Why?
Because in a business that used to be led by real thinkers and fine writers—some still remember Roger D'Aprix, Larry Ragan, T.J. Larkin, L.C. Williams, Angela Sinickas—this guy passes for a thought leader. And why not? He's been in internal communications for three decades. He's accredited by the International Association of Business Communicators and the Public Relations Society of America. He runs a successful consultancy, he's often quoted in major media and he teaches the only graduate-level course on internal communications in the U.S., at Columbia University. But don't let me tell you, let him! "I’m a leading consultant, speaker and author that helps organizations drive results through authentic communications." (Author who helps, but let's not be churlish.)
Surely with all that experience and know-how, the leading consultant will have an interesting answer to his own simplistic question about what employees want to know than the weary old saw, "What's in it for me?"
Right? Because "what's in it for me" is what we've been saying employees want to know since the beginning of the industrial revolution. No, a thought leader like this—he's going to have something new for us. He must have something new for us. So I click on the link.
"At the end of the day," the leading employee communication consultant begins, "every employee wants to know 'What’s in it for me?'"
Oh no he didn't!
WIIFM—yes, there's an initialism for it—is what my old man would call a magnificent grasp of the obvious. Who, since we stopped singing "Ever Onward, IBM," needs to be told that people who trade their labor for money might have a self-interest in the deal?
No shit, Maslow. I mean, I hope employee communication people don't need to be told that.
So what's wrong with the WIIFM theory, aside from its musty aroma?
First off, the tone is wrong. It's an unfounded and impolite accusation of selfishness. And even to the extent it's right—that employees mostly are concerned about their own interests, it's not solely for themselves that they're out: It's also for their spouse, their children, their ailing mother and everyone else in their family and among their friends for whom they provide, not to mention their charities. I hope that point doesn't sound pedantic to you.
More importantly: People find out what's in it for them during their annual performance review with their supervisor and in administrative interactions with HR: A raise. A bonus. A promotion. Benefits. Whatever people really need, they need to get from their boss.
But employees, being human beings, want more than what they need. From employee communication people, they might learn answers to larger questions that are on their mind.
I think most employees want to know what sort of people they're working for—are the leaders of the company smart, kind and wise; or otherwise? Don't you want to believe the people you're serving deserve your help?
I think most employees want to understand what sort of people they're working with. Like it or not, you're part of your corporate culture, and it becomes part of you. Maybe employee communication professionals can help you understand that culture better—and your place in it.
And I think they want to know whether they work for an organization that's making a difference in their community, in the marketplace, in their country, in the world. And they want to see compelling and continuous illustrations of that difference.
That's because they want to know their work amounts to something, somehow. Because they want to know their life amounts to something.
Just as the leading employee communication consultant himself does, I'm sure. If you asked him why he does employee communication consulting, he wouldn't say, "For the money and the frequent flyer miles." He would talk (probably at excruciating length) about the purpose and meaning of his work, far beyond "What's in it for me."
Yet to "every employee"—to the subject of his life's work—the victim of his life's work—he ascribes the motives of dogs.
Maybe he's in the wrong line of work.