3 Lessons Taylor Swift’s Folklore Has For Employee Engagement
Looking to those at the top of their respective fields provides a novel source of inspiration that one can apply to their work. Taylor Swift is a brilliant songwriter and businesswoman. To stay fresh, relevant and interesting is hard for any brand or person; to do so as a woman in a male-dominated industry and in a culture that is often rooting for you to fail is a tremendous feat. With her surprise eighth studio album release, folklore, Swift proved once again why she is at the top of her game. She also had several clever tactics she took with the album’s release that internal communication and human resource professionals should take note of to apply to their work.
Lesson #1: Invest time in nailing your strategy — and don’t be afraid to pivot
Taylor wisely shifted strategy when Covid-19 struck. Gone are the days of milking an album for two years while one embarks on a stadium tour as a main revenue source. Seeing that that model may not be sustainable (or even preferable) for the foreseeable future, she took a different tact by creating and releasing content more quickly to plug the revenue gap.
Many clients I work with do not have a well-defined communication strategy — if they have one at all. That’s a problem. Right now, employers must take a hard look at what strategy changes are needed to meet the new employee engagement challenges Covid-19 has surfaced. While many human resource and internal communication teams have been in crisis communication mode since the pandemic first hit, as we slowly get used to Covid-19 being in our lives, the conversation is going to shift — and those businesses leading that conversation will be better positioned to weather the storm. Issues that will need to be addressed and updated in your employee engagement strategy include addressing the lack of leadership visibility at work, the changing emphasis within the employee value proposition, the challenges and practicalities of reopening workplaces, fairness issues around who gets to work from home and who doesn’t, new mental health needs, and more.
Lesson #2: She paid attention to what people want and need
Swift understood that what listeners want is changing. Short attention spans, being stuck at home, and being shaken to our core by a global pandemic means glossy pop with bombastic videos isn’t in vogue. Authentic and relatable content is what people want — and they want more of it. Releasing an album to a captive audience who may have grown tired of listening to her prior album Lover on repeat means she harnessed a privileged moment to give the people exactly what they want, which is new Taylor Swift songs to enjoy and dissect.
What your people need from you has changed. Perhaps they need more ways to create connection with colleagues and feel part of the team. Or they want you to understand that productivity may have tanked during lockdown and amended performance management criteria is in order. It’s up to you to proactively consider how the landscape has changed, and what that means for what people might need. Then, supplement that with a listening activity. One-to-one interviews tend to capture more nuanced and sensitive feedback, but surveys will do in a jam to get a steer from your people.
Lesson #3: Novelty captures attention
When we notice something new and/or unexpected in our environment, our attention is immediately drawn to it. Swift leveraged the power of difference by breaking her tried-and-tried (and expected) promotional model that typically heralded a new release. Instead, she dropped her new album overnight with no prior fanfare, which served to pique more curiosity and interest than it might have otherwise.
What does novelty look like in the employee engagement world? The key is going to be to go for the original, unexpected, and surprising. This could be the shape of a print item so it stands out in the mail; something in the environment that is unexpected, like a message embedded in a stair case; or even the message itself — something that they don’t expect to hear from their internal communication or HR teams. This is where brainstorms as a team that encourage silly ideas may just land you a winning, novel concept.
Taylor Swift knows how to get and keep listeners
Keeping fans presents the same challenges as keeping engaged employees. That also means some of the same solutions apply. So take a look at brands, performers and artists that do this well — and take a page out of their playbook.