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.
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.
For many corporate employees, this is bonus season. In February, when year-end results are being finalized, the buzz builds. Will we make bonus, and by how much? In March, the anticipation is unmistakable.
Whether the news is good or bad, bonus season gives leaders a spotlight to connect individual performance and business results. While the architecture of bonus plans vary, most include a performance-related reward with a pay out when the company’s financial results and the individual’s performance meet set criteria. For example, when Apple missed sales and profit goals for 2016, Tim Cook saw a cut to his performance-based cash incentive. Don’t worry about Tim. Overall, he still did pretty well.
Whether the news is good or bad, the way you tell the story will impact employee engagement. Let’s look at communication strategies for both scenarios.
When the incentive target is achieved
Explain how it works. The only people who truly understand the bonus system work in Compensation. Prior to bonus announcement, send out a review of the bonus program with visual examples. Provide an online bonus calculator.
Celebrate. Good news should never be buried in an email. Create a brief video from the senior leadership team thanking employees for their contributions last year. An authentic thank you is always appreciated.
Set expectations for the current year. High performance cultures innovate, collaborate and continuously improve. Now is the time to be talking about 2017 stretch goals and aligning performance and priorities so bonuses are achieved in 2018. Create talking points for managers to cascade.
When the incentive target is missed
Explain how it works. See above. Talk through the plan structure. If thresholds were not achieved, clarify how that impacted pay outs. Remind employees that the bonus is just one component of a comprehensive rewards package and it’s performance-based. It’s extra pay for exceptional results.
Pre-announcement preparations. Prepare for this like you would for a customer or shareholder meeting. Compose key messages, draft FAQs and ensure managers are informed and prepared. Set up a channel for employee questions.
Hold town hall meetings. Where did the company fall short? Talk about it. Listen, answer questions, and discuss priorities and opportunities for 2017.
Proactive communications help connect the dots for team members. Businesses win when everyone knows, understands and lives the company’s values. Show them their contributions make a difference.
Successful leaders know that effective communications are a competitive advantage. As you begin 2017, make a resolution to evaluate the health of your employee communications. Are business goals and actions aligned? Do employees understand priorities and do they have a way to participate and share ideas?
Everyone talks about the importance of communications, but it’s just lip service without an actionable plan. Here are four ways to commit to better communications in 2017.
1) Map out your communications calendar right now—Begin with a “Welcome to 2017” message. Schedule dates for the entire year now to ensure it remains a priority. Keep the content fresh with a mix of performance results, customer and employee stories, and encouragement. We all need more of that.
2) Articulate the vision— If a customer asks an employee what your business was about, what would they say? Everyone on your team should use the same headline. When people can connect their work to big goals, they are more engaged. Leaders who communicate the vision and values, then put those values into action, see performance climb.
3) Use stories to make an impact—Think back to the most recent story that struck a chord with you. Was it complicated or overstuffed with facts? Simple stories make an emotional connection with the audience and hold their attention. Use your own experiences to make a point. I recently heard the president of a large hospitality group say that he makes time for fitness daily because “We only get one set of parts and I want mine to last.” That’s memorable and tells me something interesting about him. Leaders who share a little of themselves in communications are viewed as credible and human.
4) Get visual—Visuals are processed 60,000 times faster than text. If you rely on email as your primary form of communication, know that there is a better way. In 2016, there were 4.6 billion cell phone users in the world and most phones have video or photo capability. Your team members are viewing or creating visual media every day. Use photos and video as frequently as you use memos. Video is an excellent way to improve message retention, connect with remote workers, and engage senior leadership with teams. The best part is you don’t have to have a large budget or be an on-camera pro. If you’re sincere, it will be memorable.
That will get you started. Need some help in communications planning for 2017? Get in touch.
Before you craft your next message, take a look at these and enjoy.
“When you are telling stories, have a point. It makes it much more interesting for the listener.” Planes, Trains and Automobiles, 1987
“Don’t use seven words when four will do.” Oceans Eleven, 2001
“Learning to listen, that takes a lot of discipline.” Forever Strong, 2008
“Some people without brains do an awful lot of talking.” Wizard of Oz, 1939
“Avoid using the word very because it’s lazy. A man is not very tired, he’s exhausted. He’s not very sad, he’s morose. Language was invented for one reason, to woo women. And in that endeavor, laziness will never do.” Dead Poet’s Society, 1997
“The Internet’s not written in pencil, Mark. It’s written in ink.” The Social Network, 2010
“Whoever tells the best story, wins.” Amistad, 1997
“You must write your first draft with your heart. You rewrite with your head. The first key to writing is to write, not to think.” Finding Forester, 2000
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” To Kill a Mockingbird, 1962
Everybody has to sell a little. You’re selling them this idea of you, you know, you’re sort of saying trust me, I’m, um, credible.” Broadcast News, 1987