Category: Case Study

Avoid Disaster When Launching New Employee Programs

I was watching a movie the other night (Jurassic Park III, underrated movie in my opinion) and there was a conversation between two of the main characters that stood out for me.

Billy “You have to believe me, this was a stupid decision, but I did it with the best intentions.”

Dr. Grant “With the best intentions? Some of the worst things imaginable have been done with the best intentions.”

Now in this case, Dr. Grant was talking about building a dinosaur theme park that ended up getting hundreds of people killed. On a smaller scale, businesses sometimes make decisions that end up backfiring with undesired consequences.

Business Insider published an article recently highlighting a perfect example of this.  United Airlines announced they were making a change to their employee incentive program.  Rather than using the existing quarterly performance and attendance-based bonus program they were moving to a lottery- based bonus program.  Eligible employees would be entered into drawings for various prizes if the company hit performance goals during that quarter.  The news did not go over well.  Very shortly, United President Scott Kirby announced that they would be “pressing pause” on the new system after negative feedback from employees.

“Our intention was to introduce a better, more exciting program, but we misjudged how these changes would be received by many of you. So, we are pressing the pause button on these changes to review your feedback and consider the right way to move ahead.”

There was an obvious disconnect between the decision makers at United and their employees. In retrospect, this is something that could have easily been avoided.  When introducing a new internal program, particularly one that employees are passionate about, be sure to understand what your employees value and take steps to prepare them for the change.  Seeking input and instituting change management best practices will help ensure that new initiatives are launched successfully.

Employee Surveys

Conducting an employee survey is a low cost effective method to gather information on employee priorities and areas that need work.  Conduct an employee survey annually or use spot surveys for immediate input before launching a new program.

Focus Groups

Before rolling out new programs, test the concept through focus groups.  This will give you a good idea of how new programs will be received and identify any potential problems before launch.

Institute a Soft Launch or Pilot Program

Test the concept in one functional area or with a user group over a specified period of time.  This will give the pilot group time to ask questions and give feedback before the full program launch so the program can be tweaked before full launch.

Sometimes an idea looks great of paper but simply doesn’t work in practice.  Being prepared will make the entire process easier.  Get out in front of any potential problems and create a plan that simplifies the information with a clear and consistent message. How does your company communicate new programs? Please share your ideas and stories with me:

Tell Your Company Heritage Story

One of the most fascinating podcasts I listen to is NPR’s How I Built This.  The people behind some of the world’s best known brands give an insider’s view of the process of moving from idea to ignition.

In every case, there is not a clear path to success.  John Mackey from Whole Foods endured a devastating loss when a flood demolished his store (he had no insurance).  Blake Mycoskie, one of the pioneers of social entrepreneurship, received more orders for TOMS shoes than he had inventory.  He hired a team of interns to personally contact every customer to let them know there would be an 8-week delay. They only lost one sale.

If you’re not telling your company’s origin story, you’re missing and opportunity to inform, inspire and involve customers and employees.

Stories create memorable bonds. It doesn’t need to be a rags-to-riches chronicle to captivate.  Sometimes a failure story teaches a greater lesson. A well-crafted origin story becomes a shared experience, a powerful way to connect your most important stakeholders to your brand.  For employees, origin stories help to build appreciation for the past while ensuring their contributions are part of the ongoing narrative.

Here’s how to get started:

Connect visually.  Your origin story is your business family tree.  Share photos, documents, company meeting videos and artifacts.

Align with the business core values.  Show how the values that grew the business are still relevant today.  While businesses always evolve, the things that were important then are still important now.

Keep it interesting. Every great business story starts with an inspiring journey and experiences challenges along the way. Don’t just provide a timeline of dates.

Solicit stories.  Ask your employees to share stories from their first days with the business.  Who inspired them?  What was the weirdest tradition?

Tell the truth. Be authentic and don’t embellish the facts. That’s a fast lane to losing credibility. If the founder was a grumpy old so-and-so, say that. It adds more personality to the story.

Do you have a unique company origin story to tell?  We’re listening.  Contact us at

Think training is expensive? A lesson from the Erin Andrews civil suit

Portrait of a business owner smiling with her workers in the background

Erin Andrews’ civil suit against the owner and former operator of the Nashville Marriott at Vanderbilt, and the resulting award of $55 million, should set off alarm bells for every business. In raw, gut wrenching testimony, Andrews recounted the emotional impact of being videotaped in her hotel room by a stalker.  While the verdict assigned 51% of the penalty on her stalker, the hotel was found to be at fault and liable for 49% of the amount.

The verdict may be reduced or overturned on appeal, but the reputation damage is done.  Guests don’t make the distinction between a company-owned or franchised business.  They know the brand.  In this case, they know that Andrews’ privacy, safety and security was violated at a Marriott hotel.

The individual who videotaped Andrews has already been convicted.  The heart of this case was Andrews’ contention that hotel personnel gave out her room number to the stalker and did not tell her that he had asked to be put in a room next to hers.

That sounds like a training issue.

Well trained hotel personnel know to never say a guest’s room number out loud.  They do not honor requests for rooms adjacent to members outside their travel party. Was the hotel employee who provided information to the stalker trained?  We’ll never know.  But the monetary penalty for the error is evident and the impact to the brand’s reputation is evolving.

Employee training in any business is an investment, not an expense.  When employees are well trained, they perform with skill and confidence.  They treat customers well and create an experience that builds brand love. Productivity and efficiency improve and turnover declines.  Sure, training requires time away from operations, but that’s time well spent when employees understand their role.  Knowing what not to do is as important as knowing what to do.

Companies that support employee training and development make an investment in business success.

Take a look at your Employee Handbook

messy manual

What is the last line in every Employee Handbook?

“Please take some time to familiarize yourself with the contents and policies of our Employee Handbook and feel free to contact your HR representative if you have any questions.”

Does that sound familiar? Probably not, because in all honesty, who actually reads through their entire Employee Handbook?

Most of the time your Employee Handbook is distributed, put in a drawer and then thrown away when the next handbook is distributed.  They are often an afterthought to both employees and employers that are only brought out in when someone wants to check company policies.

I recently read an article about one such extreme situation.  The company, Quicken Loans, was summoned to the National Labor Relations Board offices this past December.  The case against them alleged that the Detroit-based company had violated the First Amendment rights of employees and their protections under the National Labor Relations Act to discuss salary and benefits information.  The allegation claimed that company policies in their Employee Handbook restricted discussions to the formation of a labor union.

Whether or not Quicken Loans is found in violation, this is a perfect case of why it is important to know what is in your Employee Handbook and why companies need to periodically update and revise it.  Attorney Daniel Schudroff made a great comparison when he said “It’s like taking your car to the shop every six months for a checkup, the preventative maintenance could save an employer a costly event.”

Do you need support updating your Employee Handbook or would you like to give the design a refresh? We can help you with that.  Visit our website or email me at

7 Weeks in 15 Sentences

Want to learn something during your internship? Add one employee handbook, five blog posts, one print check, two client meetings, and the launch of a start-up. That should do the trick.

Throughout my seven week internship with Insight Strategic Communications I had the opportunity to work on projects that ultimately gave me a better understanding of brands, employee ownership, and proofing with the audience in mind.

The word “brand” was not new to my vocabulary; however, throughout the course of my internship, I gained a better understanding of the definition. I had never realized how many factors went into creating and maintaining a brand and how many different types of rules and standards must be considered when developing products—things such as font, color, positioning, and tone. As a communications consulting firm, we have to be aware of a client’s brand as we write, proof, and create content for them.

I spent a bulk of my time writing and proofing content and materials for our new company Nest Egg Communications—a communications agency that provides communications toolkits for employee owned companies. At the start of my internship I had no idea what an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) was, let alone what it meant in terms of business. I now know that ESOPs give employees a way to share in the wealth they create, no matter what job they hold.

I had the opportunity to refine and practice my writing and proofing skills while also learning to consider the audience and how the message might be perceived. Before I started reading something I would ask “who is the audience?” This was new for me, I had always edited content by determining if it was perceived well by me; but, what I gained from my experience is that the writing is ineffective if the intended audience can’t understand the message.

With this internship being my first real-world job, I was both nervous and excited; I was eager to learn but also afraid I didn’t know enough going in. However, through lots of questions and experiences I now know that not only can I meet expectations and do the work, but with some more practice I can thrive in the communications field and create great work.