It’s graduation season, the time of year when profound advice cascades from intellectuals and B-list celebrities.
If the speechwriter has done his/her job, you’ll find in these speeches messages worth sharing. When it’s time for your next employee meeting or leadership development talk, use these quotes from commencement speakers to inspire your writing.
“It’s easier to tear something down than to build something up. It’s easier to poke holes in an idea than it is to think of ways to fill them. And it’s easier to focus on the 100 reasons you shouldn’t do something rather than the one reason you should.”
“Raise people’s aspirations for what they can become and release their energies so they will try to get there.”
“What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded … sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.”
“You can be like a thermometer, just reflecting the world around you. Or you can be a thermostat, one of the people that set the temperature.”
“A failure often does not have to be a failure at all. However, you have to be ready for it. Will you admit when things go wrong? Will you take steps to set them right? Because the difference between triumph and defeat, you’ll find, isn’t about willingness to take risks. It’s about mastery of rescue.”
“The most enduring skill you can bring to the workplace is the ability to learn how to learn.”
“If you are successful, it is because somewhere, sometime, someone gave you an idea that started you in the right direction. Remember that you are indebted to life until you help some less fortunate person, just as you were helped.”
It’s too delicious to pass up. A corporate executive sends a company-wide email that is so insensitive or shocking that you must chuckle. Who approved this?
Social media regularly serves up examples of executive messaging gone wrong:
The Klarna CEO published the names and emails of individuals offered severance following staff reductions.
The Howard University Hospital CEO responded to nurses’ requests for raises with a list of budget-saving tips for the home including “Do laundry at night,” “Shop store brands, not name brands,” and “Do home meal prep.”
The PagerDuty CEO announced workforce cuts, executive promotions, and spending cuts in the same email. Then she added a quote from Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The most egregious of this club may be the CEO of Better.com. You may remember him firing 900 employees via Zoom just before the holidays a few years ago. He previously sent an email to employees “You are TOO DAMN SLOW. You are a bunch of DUMB DOLPHINS.”
Certainly, none of these individuals set out to offend employees (well, maybe except the dumb dolphin guy). Despite good intentions, this happens fairly often. The efficiency and speed of online tools sometimes deceive us into thinking that quick communication is the best path. That often leads to unintended consequences.
It is worth the extra time to get the message right.
When crafting employee messaging, especially if the topic is challenging, follow these steps.
1. Put yourself in the audience’s shoes. Is this the right message? Is it clear and in jargon-free language? Most importantly, is it thoughtful and empathetic? If you were reading this, would you feel it was relevant and respectful?
2. Have someone else review it. Even the best communicators benefit from input. Having someone else evaluate the messaging, and provide feedback to improve it, reduces the chance of misunderstanding. This is where a professional communicator can help.
3. Offer support. When the message has the potential to cause uncertainty, provide some direction on when more information will be available. Don’t forget to say thank you. When employees feel recognized and valued, they’re more likely to trust management. Perhaps even forgive a tone-deaf email.
The term quiet quitting has emerged recently as a post-pandemic trend for employees who are burned out and actively choosing to the bare minimum. It’s just a fancy way of saying that employee engagement is taking a nose dive.
Companies that routinely rank high in employee engagement are committed to fostering a great workplace where culture is seen as a business imperative in both good and challenging times. It’s more important than ever that employees feel connected, appreciated, and recognized for their efforts. That’s where a sound employee recognition strategy can make a difference in overall performance and workplace culture.
Employee recognition programs should be a vital component of every company’s employee engagement strategy. It’s a smart retention approach that’s also good for the bottom line.
Studies show that businesses with formal recognition programs have approximately 30% less voluntary turnover than those without them. And they’re 12 times more likely to have strong business results.
But often recognition programs encounter two problems.
A new recognition program may start with hoopla, but as time goes by, suffers from diminishing visibility. Without consistent internal marketing to employees and continuous leadership sponsorship, the recognition program loses participation and effectiveness.
Recognition should be clearly aligned with a company’s purpose and values so that there’s a common language for what success looks like. When behaviors and achievement are linked, it sends a clear message of consistent, visible recognition across the business
It’s a virtuous cycle. When people are recognized for their contributions, they perform better, trust grows and so does workplace culture.
It’s always a dagger to the heart of a communicator when you realize that employees are not getting the message. While large and small businesses still use an employee newsletter, many other digital channels are available to share information. So the old standard practice of saving reminders and announcements for the company newsletter has dwindled in effectiveness.
A newsletter content reset may be in order. The secret to improved readership is compelling content. Employees will not spend time, or even open any communication if they don’t see the value to them. Take a sharp look at the content provided and re-energize it with these tips.
Share success stories. We all need a little inspiration on the job. There’s nothing more powerful than hearing you did a great job. Share wins and celebrate stories about team members who live the company values.
Watch your tone. When the message is simple and conversational, it’s more likely to succeed. Think of your own experiences. What would make you want to read something? Aim for tone and language that is authentic and leave the jargon behind.
Start a conversation. Employees know the best ways to improve efficiencies and productivity. Ask them to share those ideas with the team. Create a method for employees to share ideas. When employees know their suggestions count, they are more connected to their workplace.
Include infographics. Break up the content with one fast fact conveyed through an infographic. This can make a complex point simple and memorable. Infographics will resonate with viewers who just want to scan the highlights. It will also increase the shareability of the content.
As always, the best way to drive employee engagement is to show people how their contributions make an impact on the business.
It is said that each new year brings a fresh start. That’s noticeably true in the workplace, where the holiday break provides a mental refresh and reset. January is the perfect time to jump-start internal communication and help employees prepare for what’s ahead this year. Use these four resolutions to get off to a great start.
1. Welcome to 2023 message. The CEO, or the executive team, should always begin the year with a message to employees. It’s an opportunity to say thank you for everything that was accomplished the previous year, to recap successes, and to look ahead to the current year. Most importantly, the message helps to align around shared goals that make the biggest difference in the business. Before they can perform, innovate, and deliver, team members need to hear from senior leadership. Don’t delay in creating this communication: get it done in January, even if you don’t have all the strategic initiatives completely mapped out. Managers must ensure employees understand how team priorities align with business strategies.
2. Communicate the company mission and values. How often do employees need to be reminded of the company’s mission and values? Frequently. While your business priorities may change in the coming year, the mission and values should be the cornerstone. Every announcement should be framed by the values. Performance management, recognition, and rewards programs should directly align. Accelerate the connection to mission and values in all internal communications.
3. Commit to storytelling. It’s time to acknowledge that the essay format you learned in high school is obsolete. The shortest distance between two people is a story. It’s effective whether recognizing individuals that live your company values or using data to highlight the gaps in business performance. Storytelling makes complex ideas simple, human, and relatable. The best stories are specific and spark emotion. When you incorporate storytelling into internal communications, you’re more likely to engage, persuade, and move people to action.
4. Prioritize employee connection and development. The shift to remote work means that there are fewer opportunities for informal development and coaching. Ensure that employees, on-site and remote, know that their talents and abilities are valued. Hold leaders accountable for providing meaningful developmental feedback that identifies and prepares employees to take on your company’s biggest challenges.
Navigating workplace change is never easy. For many of us, our job is our identity. When you lose that, it’s crushing. That’s why events like mergers, restructuring, and layoffs drive turmoil even among employees who are not impacted.
The announcements of layoffs at Twitter and Stripe, in the same week, provide a sharp contrast on how to manage this issue. Both businesses cut headcounts to grow profitability, but they took very different approaches.
For weeks, speculation was brewing about layoffs at Twitter. It’s been reported that close to 50% of the employee population was impacted. When the day arrived, impacted employees were notified not by phone call or meeting, but by email to their personal accounts. Their corporate email was deactivated. They were told they’d receive severance details by the end of the week (which seems to be 60 days’ salary in lieu of notice). And don’t come into the office. You’ll get instructions about returning company equipment later. There was also a reminder that while you’re still an employee, you’re required to comply with the Code of Conduct and corporate policies.
The following week, some separated employees were asked to return to Twitter—they’d been laid off by mistake. Oops.
Compare this to the announcement at Stripe, a digital payments provider. The CEO, Patrick Collison, penned an email so clear, accountable, and empathetic that it raises the bar for downsizing communications.
He starts out with the bad news: the employee population is being reduced by 14%. No need to scan all the way down to the bottom; he leads with the headline. Then he provides “the why.” Shifts in the global economic climate require the company to be leaner. He outlines a comprehensive exit package that includes severance, 2022 bonus, PTO payout, health care, and career support. He says the people leaving “will be fantastic additions at almost any other company.”
And then he does something I’ve never seen before: he details two mistakes the leadership team made in underestimating an economic slowdown and growing costs too quickly. That’s accountability. The rest of the letter is about what comes next and why the business will be well-positioned for the future.
Which type of announcement would you prefer if you were being let go? Which company seems like a good place to continue your career?
When the dust settles and both these businesses move to the “new normal” people will talk about how it all happened. A detailed communication and change management plan increases the chances that employees will trust and be engaged following a significant business event.
Accountability, transparency, and a view of what comes next make the transition easier for everyone. But what employees will remember is compassion and empathy.
One of the clearest memories of my childhood is connected to Veterans Day. At the end of the church service, the priest asked all current and former military members to stand and be recognized for their service. My father, who never spoke about his military service, would stand up, a little straighter than usual. There were dozens of others who did the same. As they left the church, they chatted and joked with each other about who had the easier tour of duty.
Recognition is meaningful.
Veterans Day, November 11, provides an opportunity to strengthen support for employees who are current and former service members and their families. A simple recognition or expression of thanks means so much to those who’ve served. Within the workplace, consider these actions to show that your company values the service, experience and commitment of military veterans and their families:
Invite employees who served in the military to a special gathering or luncheon.
Establish a military veteran Employee Resource Group.
Make a contribution to a community veteran scholarship program.
Highlight employees who served in the military in company media and websites.
Host a community day of service for employees to give back at local veteran facilities, national cemeteries, or VA hospitals.
Current service members and those transitioning from military life make excellent employees. Recruiting veterans can be a successful component of your diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy.
Connect with non-profit organizations like American Corporate Partners to provide career coaches and mentors to veterans, active duty, and military spouses.
Partner withhiring programs that benefit veterans, transitioning service members, and their families.
Expressing thanks and support makes all of us better leaders, partners, and colleagues. Make a commitment to show appreciation, develop, and hire those who served our country.
The Great Resignation is leading companies to rethink their approach to employee benefits. While flexible work initiatives seemed cutting edge only a few years ago (remember summer hours and Fri-Yeahs?), today a hybrid work environment is a standard consideration for many job seekers. Well-being offerings (financial, mental health support, parental/family care leave) are edging up the list of must-haves for job seekers.
While HR leaders grapple with which offerings to add or remove from benefits packages, an immediate solution is at hand: do a better job of communicating the value of the benefit programs you have now. Then promote new offerings as an extension of your company values.
Consider these three steps:
1. Market your benefits like you do your brand. Go beyond employee orientation and open enrollment and talk up benefits year-round. Research indicates that only 49% of employees understand their benefits and close to 80% do not review their open enrollment materials. Let’s do better! Develop monthly educational updates and interactive tools for employees to get more detailed information. Dive a little deeper into how your benefits make a difference to employees.
2. Survey employees about their benefit preferences. To really understand why some benefits are popular and why others are underutilized, conduct a detailed benefits survey. Just adding a few questions to the annual employee engagement survey won’t provide the insights needed to make accurate decisions. Times change and some of the current offerings may not meet the needs of today’s workforce. This data can also guide decisions on what benefits are needed to remain competitive.
3. Keep it simple. Remember, everyone learns differently. Use a variety of communication channels and tactics. Brief, visual content delivers a big impact. Few are willing to spend the time required to read through a Summary Plan Document. Clear language and easy-to-understand scenarios entice employees to learn more.
When employees believe they are valued in the workplace, productivity, retention, and engagement rise. Telling a compelling story about your company’s benefits can contribute positively to that result.
With hybrid work environments becoming the rule, not the exception, it’s time for a reminder about what’s appropriate to put in writing. The informality of email and digital channels permits communications to be fast, funny, and even sarcastic. Most of us would never take this approach in a formal letter or document.
Content shared via email, texts, or through team collaboration channels like Slack, Microsoft Teams, or Google Chat, can become problematic in litigation, particularly if it involves an employment situation. There are countless stories of people who thought their business emails were private. They’re not. They may be discoverable if relevant in a lawsuit.
Here are five tips to ensure a quick and “harmless” message doesn’t become a future problem.
1. Choose the correct channel. Would a call or an in-person meeting be better? Emails can be forwarded to individuals they were never intended for and anyone with a smartphone can take a screenshot.
2. Watch your tone. Email is eternal. Business communications should be appropriate, safe for work, and inoffensive. Don’t write anything that you’d be uncomfortable with others reading. Including your grandmother.
3. Is it clear? Read it over. Could anything be misconstrued or taken out of context? If you enter litigation, your intent will be analyzed closely by the other side.
4. Don’t begin or continue an argument. If someone shares incorrect information, it’s OK to clarify and provide the facts, but don’t debate or argue through email.
5. Avoid irony, sarcasm, and exaggeration. A message dashed off in a hurry often falls into this category. So does humor. But these are exactly the communications that can be problematic if a lawsuit occurs.
The office setting may have changed, but the risk has not. It’s even more important now to raise awareness about appropriate workplace communications so everyone understands what’s at stake.