Americans are crazy about podcasts. Every week more than 60 million tunes in to one of the thousands of podcasts show available online. The podcast has become a reliable companion for millions as they work, do chores and, perhaps more than anything else, sit in traffic.
“(T)he medium has finally come into the mainstream,” commented Tom Webster, senior vice president at Edison Research, which has been tracking podcast use since 2006. For many of the same reasons that they have proven so effective in connecting entertainers, journalists and others to the masses, podcasts have become a useful tool for leaders to communicate with workers, particularly those working remotely.
Podcasts are a convenient way to deliver practical information, but more importantly, they carry certain intrinsic benefits due to the power of audio. Studies have shown that people are likely to engage cognitively and emotionally with stories transmitted in a purely audio format compared to by video or text. The podcast thus offers an ideal forum for leaders to engage and inspire their team with messaging that reinforces the company’s vision and purpose.
Indeed, when one of our customers, a major financial services firm, surveyed its employees about their thoughts on the company podcast, it found that workers were particularly eager to listen to shows that offered insights from leaders or offered a “day in the life of” somebody at the company.
The hunger to hear from leaders is only one of many indications that people desire a sense of kinship and purpose at the workplace. It aligns with what HR leaders at Facebook found when they analyzed hundreds of thousands of answers employees provided to the company’s biannual employee survey: workers of all ages and levels were nearly as likely to be motivated by being part of a community or serving a cause than advancing their career. In fact, many employees prioritized the first two over the last.
Employees are unlikely to be fully engaged in a workplace without a leader who can foster a sense of community and articulate a greater purpose than profits. Podcasts can play an important role in helping you do both.
Developing a leadership narrative
There’s no one way to craft content that will increase employee engagement and strengthen workers’ bond with their leaders. Every company and every leader is different. The key is to think about what makes you and your organization special. What is your narrative? What is the story about it that makes workers excited to be on your team?
Consider the difference between a century-old blue-chip corporation and a scrappy startup. In both cases, there is the potential for a strong narrative that binds employees together as part of a mission. In the case of the established company, it may be the tradition of excellence forged by previous generations of leaders. For a startup, it may be the determination to disrupt the status quo.
Whether you know it or not, you and your organization have a set of values and a story to tell about them. It’s normal for that narrative to get obscured by day-to-day work. It is sometimes hard to see the big picture amidst the daily minutiae of running a business.
If you have a hard time describing your organization’s narrative, you can bet your employees struggle even more to describe it. It may be worth it to dedicate some time with your team to reconnect with your narrative and ponder what makes your company special. Don’t hesitate to involve employees from every level of the company in this process via surveys and brainstorming sessions.
Once you have settled on a narrative, podcasts offer a prime opportunity to regularly reinforce it. How? Well, there are a variety of ways, but one powerful method you may consider is to tell stories about yourself and other people at the company that underscore the narrative.
Stories can be told in very different styles and involve very different plot points. One podcast may invite employees to hear your thoughts about where the organization is going and how you believe it can triumph over its challenges. In another, you might highlight another employee and their achievements, which may range from landing an important client to getting a black belt in karate. Blending stories from your and other employees’ personal lives into the company narrative helps to humanize the organization and the people behind it, which makes it more likely that employees will think of the company as a community.
Getting the style right
Just as important to finding a narrative is discovering the style that works for you or the others who will be creating content for the podcast. There’s no one style that works for everyone: the key is authenticity. If you’re not a natural joke-teller, don’t tell jokes. Find a style that feels natural to you and then seek to optimize it by getting input from others on what works and what doesn’t.
Don’t hesitate to hire a voice coach, even if you feel relatively confident about your vocals. There are evidence-based tactics for effective speaking. Renowned speech coach Roger Love theorizes that effective speaking is largely about controlling your breathing.
Measuring the outcomes
Once you’ve begun producing podcasts, how do you know if the effort was worthwhile? It’s important to track your content’s performance. Monitor the analytics in the podcasting platform so that you know how many people are actually tuning in and whether they’re listening to the whole thing. The larger your organization, the more important it will be to segment the audience so that you can see how the content is performing in different parts of the workforce.
By consistently monitoring podcast use, you’ll be able to pick up on workers’ preferences and attitudes. You can supplement that analysis by asking employees directly about what they like and don’t like about the content. Just the process of seeking their feedback is beneficial since employees will be more likely to get excited about the product if they feel they’ve played a role in shaping it.
Throughout this process, your employees’ podcast preferences will be only part of what you learn about them. What they say they want in a podcast is often what they want from their leaders in general: strong guidance, a sense of purpose and a feeling that they belong.