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.
Has this ever happened to you? You’ve got an important message or a new program to share at an employee meeting. You know it will be revolutionary, empowering team members to grow and drive performance. Yet the magic is somehow lost in translation. You look out over a sea of disinterested—or worse—bored faces.
Now imagine what happens when you begin this way:
“Once upon a time…”
Did their ears perk up? Did they maybe even lean in? Just a little?
There’s a reason for that.
From the beginning of human time, stories have been the most effective way to pass on traditions, history, values and culture. To influence, persuade, rally, and pretty much get people to listen to and retain your message. And it’s about more than just being entertained.
Neuroscientists have discovered that there are chemical changes that occur in the human brain when we experience a good story. Oxytocin, that feel-good chemical that subtly and powerfully influences people to not only pay attention but to WANT to cooperate is released when we are emotionally engaged by the power of stories.
You don’t have to be Stephen Spielberg to tell a good story.
Stories have these elements in common:
A character we care about or relate to who wants something dear to him
Something or someone who gets in the way of what he wants
A breathless moment during which we’re very afraid our hero won’t get what he wants, and then, “Ah…” A turning point
Our hero either gets what he wants or doesn’t. But either way, he is changed forever and life settles into a new normal.
How can you achieve your business objectives with stories that engage, persuade, and move people to action? For starters, learn to see your communications in terms of:
Characters (team members, leaders, and customers)
Desires (objectives you & your audiences want to achieve such as a better working environment, a more engaged workforce, a more effective performance management plan)
Obstacles to achieving those desires (not enough money, inadequate systems and processes, the wiles of human nature)
Now go tell the story of how your hero climbed that mountain and planted his flag and be specific about how he did it. Your audience will want to climb that mountain with you.
Need help telling your stories? You’re in luck because that’s what we do here at Insight Strategic Communications. We help businesses tell their stories and get what they want, whether that’s buy-in for a new training platform or accelerating performance or engaging employees. Contact us today and let’s talk about how we can help with storytelling in internal communications (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Who is the worst boss you ever worked for? Someone immediately comes to mind, right? Perhaps there’s more than one person. Maybe your horror story is a client that was so difficult that you found a way to fire yourself from that relationship.
As years go by, we tend to add a little varnish to these nightmare stories. It becomes the legend that you share at parties when comparing nutty workplaces. Each person tells their story and everyone howls at the absurdity of the situation. I can think of three stories immediately (all true):
When I worked in a public school system Central Office, the Superintendent, who made three times more than anyone else, invited us to his home for a holiday party. There were about 20 people total. He sent out a note asking everyone to bring a dish and to give him $5 to cover the cost of the ham, which he was providing. His wife was so mortified that she welcomed us at the door with $5 bills, essentially reimbursing the “cover charge.”
Once my boss, an SVP, told me in all sincerity to keep working hard because “One day we’re going to want a woman Vice President in this company.”
Recently a client requested the design files for a completed project. He was in a hurry to get it, so we overnighted the package and sent him the tracking information. About 4 p.m. the next day he called me and unleashed a tirade that would burn your eyebrows off. The clean version is that he expected to get what he paid for and that we were cheating him by not turning over the files. A quick review of the tracking detail showed that the files had been delivered at 9:00 a.m. that morning and signed for by one of his employees. We don’t work with him anymore.
When I think about the worst people I’ve worked for or with, it fundamentally comes down to respect: I did not respect the individual or thought they didn’t respect me.
Are you the star of someone’s worst boss story? With 70% of American workers reporting that they are not engaged, there are lots of opportunities for leaders to do better. Here are few simple things you can do to connect better with your team members:
Expect the best in people-People will live up to your expectations, good or bad.
Ask and listen-When people feel unnoticed, they are less likely to care about their job.
Let people know you better-Show who you are. Talk about your favorite team, hobby or family trip so your team can get to know you.
Say thank you-It costs nothing to say thank you and it always makes a difference.