I was a reluctant entrepreneur. I didn’t have business school training, or someone else’s money, or a killer app to get me started. In fact, in 2000 when I launched Insight Communications, apps didn’t exist. After many years in corporate communication leadership roles, I knew I wanted more. I left my job without a detailed plan. It was an eye opener. Gone was the status that came with my previous role, my dedicated assistant, and a cool Midtown office. My new office was my dining room table. And it turned out just great.
Now Insight Communications is 17 years old! That’s a remarkable milestone when 8 out 10 small businesses fail. Over the years, we transitioned from marketing communications to internal communications. In 2014, we branched out to hatch Nest Egg Communications, a boutique agency focused on ESOP and retirement communications.
None of it would be possible without the customers who have sustained us, challenged us, and inspired us along the way. I am so thankful to them, particularly to Clay Robbins at Oglethorpe Power who was our first customer.
To celebrate our birthday, we have a gift for you: Our viewpoint on communications that separates great workplaces from good ones. Enjoy!
Less is more. The secret to effective communications is keeping it simple. Resist the urge to add more superficial detail. Your audiences will pay attention.
Commitment at the top is the key to success. We’ve worked with both types of leadership teams -those that are aligned and those who just say they are. Your employees recognize when your leaders don’t walk the talk. Get in step.
Personal stories leave a handprint on the heart. The shortest distance between two people is a story. When you share a personal story, people pay attention and remember the point of your message.
Be credible. We’ve seen more than a few companies ballyhoo their fantastic culture externally, while internally, the high performers are beating it out the door. Respect your employees enough to tell the truth. Be brave enough to be transparent, even when the news isn’t good. The most successful businesses tell it straight and involve employees in solutions.
Make your employees the stars. Let’s face it; we’ve all seen enough of the CEO. How often do you hear from frontline employees? Make employees the stars of your internal communications, recruiting and social media. It will bring your brand to life for customers, partners, and new talent.
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
It’s 30 seconds of sheer torment for a good cause that went viral. I personally know at least 20 people who took the ALS Ice Bucket challenge. And I watched every one of their videos on FaceBook. Every one of them.
Neighbors, friends, family. Each video had its own personality, its own setting, its own rules. No professionally developed script, no fancy camera work, no sizzle reel. Just a bucket of ice, a cell phone camera, and a willing participant.
As of September 22nd, the ALS Foundation reported receiving $115 million for the cause as a result of the challenge, with literally millions of people participating.
The shocking part of this phenomenon is that so many people wanted to dump an ice bucket over their heads. Imagine harnessing the same kind of energy to rally employees around a good cause! Picking a cause that’s worthwhile and challenging employees to a fun, easy activity is a great (and inexpensive!) opportunity to bring the personality and culture of your business to life and support teamwork.
So why was the Ice Bucket Challenge a game so many wanted to be part of?
In a recent Forbes article about the science behind the success of the challenge, contributor Rick Smith identified three traits that make ideas go viral:
“…Big ideas get noticed; Selfless ideas inspire action; Simple ideas write us into the story. Understand how to make your ideas big, selfless and simple and you will be able to control growth.”
Big. In a culture of media and information overload, only the really big (ubiquitous) ideas gain any traction. Because there was a feel that everyone everywhere was watching someone dump an ice bucket over his head, a sense of shared experience grew up. Ask yourself how you can use your communications channels in creative ways to pump up enthusiasm and get everyone in on the game.
Selfless. Empathy stirs us to action when we see someone else doing something selfless. And there may be more selfish motives as well. Ever heard of “the audience effect?” That’s what neuro-scientists call that urge to donate or help out when someone else is looking. That’s why video and images of team members taking your challenge on social media, in your newsletter, on your message boards, are so important to getting everyone involved.
Simple. Asking people to do something that’s not too complicated increases participation. Simplicity also gives everyone the opportunity to make the activity their own and be creative if they want to be.
You may already have some great ideas for a cause-worthy employee challenge running around in your head. Here are some (maybe a little of corny) ideas to bounce off of:
A Throw Back Thursday contest where employees donate when they post their pics to the company intranet.
How about prizes for the biggest ‘80s hair or the widest bell-bottoms?
Everyone loves a most beautiful baby contest particularly when team members supply their own baby pictures.
You can probably think of a lot of ideas more relevant to your culture. Give us a buzz at Insight! We’d love to hear what you think and help you execute your big idea to boost employee engagement!
Communication is key, and never was this more apparent to me than when I found my 14-year-old self alone and utterly lost in the streets of Rome, Italy at two o’ clock in the morning.
“Whatever you do, stick together,” were Dad’s last words to me and my brother before we headed off for a jog together around midnight.
Off we went, on our last night in The Eternal City before returning stateside the next morning, jaunting through a wonderfully historic town. When we were only blocks away from finishing the run, we were separated by a streetlight that had turned colors while we were on opposing sides. I insisted that my brother finish the run and I’d be right behind him.
I thought I knew best. That was a mistake.
I was indeed a block away, but I didn’t realize at the time that I needed to turn down the road instead of going straight. I ran and ran, expecting at any moment to see the bright white shine of St. Peter’s Basilica rise over the horizon (to which our hotel was in close proximity).
Knowing next to no Italian, I couldn’t find my way to where I needed to go. I saw a man sitting alone on a park bench and asked him where St. Peter’s Basilica was in the best way I could get him to understand.
“Dove St. Peter’s Basilica?” I asked, knowing the Italian word for “where,” but not St. Peter’s itself.
“Ah, San Pietro,” he responded.
“Erm, no. Saint Peter’s? You know? The big one? Grande basilica?” I asked again as I motioned with my hands. It was at that point I realized I was now speaking to him in broken Spanish — not my finest hour. Luckily, I found my way back just before the sun rose.
With that in mind, let’s talk about how we tell our stories (from a business sense). It’s important that our clients, and more importantly our colleagues, know where the business is heading. When we do this, we need to speak their language, so let’s leave the corporate lingo at the door, shall we? In Rome, if I could’ve communicated in a language that the man on the bench could understand, I would’ve been back in no time. There’s a lesson in there for all of us.