Category: Internal Communications

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:

After #MeToo: Communicating Your Workplace Harassment Policy

In the wake of widespread media reports of sexual harassment, what is your business doing ensure a safe and accountable workplace?  Consider this: the #MeToo hashtag was shared more than 1 million times in just 48 hours after being posted to social media. The public debate continues as others are empowered to share their stories.

This is not a new issue. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 94% of U.S. companies have harassment and/or bullying policies that outline conduct that is prohibited. But if you think having a policy is enough, think again.  A 2016 EEOC study of workplace harassment revealed that policies alone do not encourage appropriate behavior. The study reported that approximately 90% of survey participants who experienced sexual harassment never file a complaint.

This is a unique, timely moment to be very clear about workplace harassment. It benefits everyone to make this a priority in your business. When employees experience a safe and welcoming workplace, they perform at their best and drive business performance.  As you review this issue internally, consider these communication best practices.

Review and update the existing Harassment Policy

Start by examining the current policy. When was the last time it was reviewed and updated?  If it’s been more than five years, it’s too old.  The policy should, at a minimum, list examples of prohibited conduct, detail the process for reporting objectionable conduct, and be signed by the current CEO. Then ensure that the policy, and the reporting process, is accessible.  Bottom line: let employees know where to go for help.

Time for leaders to speak out

Every leader must be accountable. Let employees hear directly from the C-Suite that harassment will not be tolerated. Human Resources can support this endeavor, but can’t shoulder it alone. Executives must step up and commit that when allegations are brought, they will be investigated immediately and that appropriate actions will follow.  Convey that retaliation is prohibited since many cases are unreported due to fears of job loss or reprisals.

Train. Train. Train.

Most companies provide online harassment training, but do you mandate that training is completed? Is harassment addressed in new employee orientation? Training will ensure a better understanding of the behaviors that comprise harassment. Additionally, the HR team must be prepared and ready to conduct prompt, objective and thorough investigations.

Amplify the message through internal communications

If an employee experiences sexual harassment–or witnesses it–do they know what steps to take? Make it easy for individuals to report. Use multiple channels to share the harassment policy and reporting procedure. Talk about it in town halls, blogs, create a video from the CEO and put a link to the policy on the home page of your company intranet. Make it loud so that everyone understands that harassment is unacceptable in your company culture.

A Thought as We Welcome 2018

The first week after the holidays is always painful.  So here’s something to lift your spirits.  Our first bit of advice for 2018 is from the master essayist Emerson who has deeply influenced leaders, thinkers and communicators for more than 100 years.  Tuck this away for when you need some inspiration.

“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day of the year.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Listen Up: Try Podcasts in your Internal Communication Mix

Looking for a new way to reach your employees without blowing your entire budget?  Try podcasts. If you think it’s a niche channel, take a look at these numbers:

  • 4 in 10 Americans listen to podcasts on a regular basis
  • Podcast listening was up 23% between 2015 and 2016
  • 85% of listeners complete the entire episode*

Americans are falling in love with podcasts in numbers that increase every year. Recent podcast phenoms like Serial and S-Town attracted legions of new listeners. Guess what? Many of your employees are among them.

Internal communication pros are paying attention. Disney, IBM and Microsoft have added podcasts to their internal mix.  Perhaps it’s time for your business to do the same.

Consider these three things when developing a podcast strategy (or selling the idea to your boss).

  1.   Accessible everywhere.  What’s the one item most people can’t do without?  Their phones.  A podcast will allow you to connect with team members as they multitask: at the gym, on a walk, in the car. With the average daily commutes now at around 26 minutes each way, podcasts provide alternative listening content.  Smart speakers (think Alexa, Google Home, or Siri) are now in 20 million Americans in live in homes, providing another channel for podcasts.
  2.   Builds community. Engaging employees who work at remote locations or in non-desk roles is always a challenge. So is communicating across global time zones.  Podcasts are a viable alternative. It’s like being in a conversation, as if the speaker is talking directly to you.  There’s an intimacy that can’t be delivered in a company newsletter.
  3.   Shows your company leaders are human. Your CEO may be smart, but would you like to have a beer with him or her?  Effective leaders know the value of storytelling and conversation.  A series of podcasts with the senior leadership team will give employees insight into the personalities that lead the business and where the company is going.  It can help align people around  your business priorities.

* Source:  2017 Infinite Dial Study, Edison Research

Preparing for Open Enrollment

As an internal communicator there are several key dates throughout the year that you must be prepared for.  One of the most important is Open Enrolment.  In recent years healthcare costs have risen and plan designs have become more complex.  Open Enrollment communications have become more challenging and more sought after by employees.   To effectively communicate your company benefits you must create a clear and consistent communications plan.

With that in mind here are a few best practices to consider when planning out your Open Enrollment Communications:

Start with a survey

The time to start gathering information for Open Enrollment is now. The best way to find out where your communication gaps are is to go to the source.  Design a simple survey (through Google or survey providers like Survey Monkey).  Determine the level of awareness, what employees need more information about, and what you are doing well.  This information will give you a good foundation when you begin building your communications plan.

Reach out early and often

Going from no information for 11 months, then lots of information all at once when decisions must be made immediately can be overwhelming.  Rather than overloading your employees with a massive information drop, spread your Open Enrollment communications out over the year.  Create a 12-month communications plan that delivers small bits of information every month.  A consistent flow of communications about your benefits will increase understanding and engagement.

Keep it simple

Keep your messaging simple.  Your job is to break through all of the confusing technical details and answer employees’ most basic questions. What? When? Where? How? Provide clear information, dates, checklists, and decision support tools that are easy to follow.  Once your employees have an understanding of the process, they will find it much easier to come to a final decision.

Don’t sugarcoat the news

Your employees are intelligent.  Be open and honest with them.  Communicate any challenging news such as increased health plan premiums or rising deductibles.  Messaging that is meant to conceal this information will be seen as a negative and will impact employee morale.  On the same note, highlight the value of your benefits plan.  Promote wellness and have your employees share their stories of personal wellness with their colleagues.

Being prepared for Open Enrollment will make the entire process easier.  Get out in front of the issue and have a plan that simplifies the information with a clear and consistent message.

How does your company communicate Open Enrollment? Please share your ideas and suggestions with me: