WEDNESDAY 5 JAN 2022 1:39 PM


Mia Claselius, head of communications for ABB Electrification, explores how to build an engaged and empowered community across cultures, generations and time zones.

The value of engagement and empowerment have been well documented. Gallup (2017) estimates that highly engaged teams are up to 21 percent more productive while studies demonstrate that employee empowerment has a significant impact on employee engagement.

The leap from theory to practice, however, brings many challenges. Since I began as head of communications for ABB Electrification in early 2020, the world has experienced one of the greatest global upheavals in 50 years. I couldn’t have imagined the changes and challenges that would follow.

Built on a foundation of trust, enthusiasm and commitment, authentic leadership has allowed me to foster an engaged and empowered community of communicators across cultures, generations and time zones.

Now more than ever, effective communication is about building authentic communications that deepen our connections with employees, customers and society. In ABB Electrification, we are building engagement and empowerment across the organization by working together to write the future of safe, smart and sustainable electrification powered by our people. Not only do we as communicators live by this every day, but it’s at the heart of all of our messaging. With a common purpose and an authentic message, we are able to take a digital-first approach, connect with our customers and drive innovation across the world.

Complexity in building engagement and empowerment can be a real challenge for an organization as diverse as ABB, especially when you consider that we work across 100 countries, all 24 time zones and five generations.

Our culture is at the heart of our success. To bring out the best talent in our people, leaders need to build a culture that enables everyone to flourish. The crucial element to success is enabling flexibility and attention to detail.

Take the practical example of hosting a meeting with comms members from diverse cultures and backgrounds. For some, eye contact is critical to developing trust, an essential factor of engagement. Yet, for others eye contact is deemed offensive or lacking in respect. Leaders hold the responsibility to set the tone, to demonstrate how, with a simple sentence or small body movement, both parties can be acknowledged as equally valuable.

Generational attitudes also impact our communication approach. We know that the next generation, Gen Z, demands impact, purpose not product, and accountability for change. Driven by a desire to connect with those who share the same values and beliefs, to belong, Gen Z supports brands with a greater purpose (a strong ‘why’), leaders with strong beliefs, and movements that enable them to make a difference. It is by understanding the ‘why’ that Gen Z builds connections, and it is by catering to this need, by building deeper, richer more meaningful connections and experiences, that communicators will ensure their message stands out.

My personal experience at ABB is supported by wider evidence. Companies that don’t align their purpose with their customer’s beliefs pay the price. Accenture Strategy’s 2018 global survey of nearly 30,000 consumers in 35 countries found that 53 percent of consumers disappointed by a brand’s words or actions on a social issue complain about it, and 47 percent walk away from a brand in frustration, with 17 percent never returning.

Time zones add a final level of complexity. Awareness of where people are based and allowing scope for teams to work across time zones is imperative. Success here requires a global mindset. Every activity, from customer service that ‘follows the sun’ to building extra time into deadlines to enable colleagues in other time zones to respond, needs an awareness of being a global business. Leaders set the tone on expectations, but success can only be achieved by empowering employees to make their own decisions.

As we dive into 2022, one thing becomes clear: now more than ever, effective communication is about building authentic communications that deepen our connections with employees, customers and society through engagement and empowerment. It is through empowering employees, those with the greatest knowledge of their area of the business, that we reap the rewards of their knowledge and expertise.