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.
I recently participated in a panel discussion for business owners and entrepreneurs hosted by the University of Georgia’s Entrepreneurship Program. Our businesses varied, from retail and professional services to banking and healthcare. No two businesses were alike.
Here’s the part that interested me the most: When asked to share their most challenging business issue, it wasn’t business growth, technology costs or the pace of change that drove the conversation. It was people. Nearly every business owner identified people issues as their number one challenge.
They talked about the lack of buy-in for programs and systems. They talked about hiring the right people for the job, and then losing them once they were fully trained. They talked about how difficult it is to motivate front line employees.
Employee engagement is vital whether you run billion dollar business or a mom and pop shop. Your employees are the face of your business to customers. To win their hearts and minds is no small achievement, but it can be done without throwing money at the problem.
A recent Gallup Survey, The State of the American Workplace 2013, states that 70% of American workers are “actively disengaged” and not working to their full potential. Those with the lowest engagement in any occupation are service employees who are on the front line serving customers.
What can we all do to build engagement? Few of us can offer the rich perks offered by Google (like free food, haircuts and fitness training), but there are lots of ways to build pride and engagement. Here are just a few low cost, but effective opportunities:
Hire the right managers. You can talk about how much you love your employees and what a great culture you’re building but your managers must deliver that every day. If they don’t walk the talk, credibility is lost. My favorite former boss used to say great leaders have a balance of skills and style and both are equally important. Don’t hire an individual who is technically superior but can’t motivate and connect with their team. That type of person will drive off your best people.
Say thank you. It doesn’t cost anything to say thank you. Why don’t business leaders say it more often? Recently a business owner told me he often sent thank you notes to clients, but it hadn’t occurred to him to send them to his team. Try it. It works.
Tap into the power of philanthropy. People feel good about helping others. Find a charity that is a good fit with your business and your people will take it from there. Their creativity will amaze you. There are 1.3 million charities in America, and every community has a public school that needs volunteers. Better yet, ask your people what they would like to support. Set up a volunteer work day or fundraiser and see what a meaningful impact it has on your people.
Ask for feedback. Ed Koch, the former mayor of New York, built his brand on four little words, “How am I doing?” Be sure you have a feedback channel for bottom-to-top, instead of top-to-bottom communication. Whether it’s as simple as regularly scheduled staff meetings or a direct email box for ideas and questions, set up a way for employees to interact with management. Then take action. There’s nothing more discouraging than to share your ideas and issues and nothing changes.
Promote healthy lifestyles. Rising healthcare costs are a critical issue for all of us. You can show employees you care by supporting wellness activities. Start with healthier snacks in the break rooms and vending machines. Form an employee Wellness Committee. Celebrate with those who meet their wellness goals and encourage everyone to get healthier.
A house that’s built on an unstable foundation has little chance of being structurally sound. Similarly, a business that doesn’t align itself from top to bottom will find itself on shaky ground. Effective internal communications will serve as a way to inform, motivate, and guide your workforce toward your ultimate goals. Here are a few basic principles to help keep your communications aligned from top to bottom:
1. Take internal communications seriously. Often a business gets so caught up with external communications that internal communications are neglected. This is a serious problem. If your employees don’t understand your company vision how can your customers? Engage internal communications with the same enthusiasm and creativity that you would use when communicating with your customers.
2. Be consistent. If your message isn’t consistent, your communications won’t be effective. Once a message strategy is decided on, use the same consistent message across all available mediums (email, newsletters, videos, company meetings, etc.).
3. Get feedback from your employees. Employee feedback is often one of the most underutilized resources in internal communications. Give your employees the opportunity to tell you what areas you are doing well in and where you need to improve.
4. Set up measures to gauge the success of your internal communications. Successful internal communications can be measured many ways such as employee action, feedback, efficiency, or personal development. Once you have decided on an appropriate measure, track your success and refine your strategy if your goals are not met