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Developing a Return-to-Work Communications Strategy

As businesses across the country begin to reopen following Covid-19, employees will need to feel safe and understand what to expect in new ways of working.  While some businesses have extended telecommuting through the summer, that’s not an option for everyone.  If you decide to reopen your business, here are some strategies to keep in mind.

Make Safety Visible

For employees to focus on their jobs, they must feel safe.  Federal and state agencies have issued guidance on safe practices, including social distancing, frequent hand washing, and cleaning and sanitizing of workspaces.  But these are mostly voluntary.   Show employees that you care by communicating safety procedures at your business.  Make it inescapable: posters, signage, emails, intranet pop-ups. Provide personal protective equipment at no cost to employees.  Review and update your telecommuting policies. Ensure your managers practice and encourage uptake of new well-being processes.

Communicate Constantly

The new normal is going to be confusing for a while.  That’s why it’s so important that the business leadership is aligned, communicates proactively, and walks the talk.  Train front-line managers on new working practices and talk about what you expect from them. The manager who doesn’t comply will be very easy to identify.  Ensure there are two-way communication channels so that employees can surface issues and obtain rapid responses. Use pulse surveys to identify issues that are creating concerns. Now is the time to be visible, encouraging, and also transparent about the business challenges and what how employees can help.

Support Mental Health

Six months ago most people could not imagine daily life during a global pandemic.  Unfortunately, now we all can. Your employees may have experienced the virus themselves, lost a loved one, know a friend or family member who is unemployed, or struggled with isolation or family issues.  Now is the time for empathy.  Show it in your leadership communications and encourage managers and supervisors to do the same.  Emphasize the availability of counseling benefits or Employee Assistance Programs.  Make it easy to ask for help.

There is not one prevailing roadmap through these challenging times, but employees want to hear from you.  Communicate and manage sensitively. Be human.

Internal Communications Best Practices for the Pandemic

By now, some of us have been working from home, sheltering in place for six weeks and it’s not clear when we’ll return to work as we experienced it before. Unprecedented is too small a word to use to describe the toll: 2.7 million coronavirus cases globally and 26 million Americans have filed jobless claims.

Now more than ever, communications from company leadership is key to building trust and maintaining focus. In many businesses, leaders are working around the clock to determine a path forward. Proactively communicating with employees must be part of that strategy. Here are some practical tips to keep your team members connected and focused.

1.      Start with Compassion

Many of your employees have been affected by the virus. Whether impacted personally by illness, caring for family or friends, supervising home schooling, or taking care of children, everyone is dealing with something. Be concerned about employees’ and health and safety. Direct them to Employee Assistance Programs and other company-sponsored benefits. Provide a sincere thank you to everyone keeping things moving for the business and your customers. Be human and sincere.

 2.      Be Clear about the Way Forward

Things are bad everywhere and everyone knows it. Communicate the steps being taken to preserve the health of your business. Identify the biggest challenges and what the leadership team is doing to address them. Be positive about what is working well. Ask everyone to encourage and support colleagues and customers, in ways big and small. Show pride and share stories of how your people support the community and each other.

3.      Empower Two-Way Communication

People consume information in different ways, so use all the channels available to your business. Resources like blogs, email, video, and the company intranet are effective, but also provide a way to collect and encourage feedback from team members. Make it easy to access. Ask for ideas on redeploying resources, increasing efficiency, and creatively solve problems. When employees feel heard, they perform well.

4.      Lean on Line Managers

This is the time for your line managers to shine. While online town halls and video conferencing from leaders are essential to provide clarity, the most credible source is the manager. Prepare managers with talking points so the message is clear and consistent.

Need help with internal communications?  Get in touch: Maureen.clayton@insight-communication.com

Let’s talk about 2020 Workplace Trends

Internal communications priorities should always align with business strategy and address emerging workplace issues. Our analysis reveals four workplace trends that need to be on your radar this year in order to attract, engage and retain the best employees.

Employee Experience

The Customer experience (CX) created a step-change in creating a holistic brand experience. With the tightest labor market in years, smart companies are reimaging Employee Experience (EX) to map and optimize every touchpoint in the employment journey. It begins with creating amazing experiences in recruiting and onboarding, followed by delivering the tools, technology and development opportunities that ensure a great workplace.  This trend is moving from nice-to-have to business imperative.

Millennial Majority

Millennials are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. workforce and will comprise 75% of employees by 2025. Their communication channel preferences are digital, with text, video and social apps among the top choices. If your communication channels are not mobile and visual, the impact on this employee segment will be limited. A bonus of digital channels: the analytics available will help you hone messaging and identify what’s not working.

Diversity and Inclusion Culture

The size of the millennial population in the workplace is not their only impact. Millennials are the most diverse adult generation in American history according to a Brookings study. The more diverse the employee population, the more wide-ranging their needs. Ensure your company’s diversity and inclusion strategy is visible, actionable, and led by a senior business executive. Consider establishing Employee Resource Groups to bring employees together for career growth, involvement and community.

Connecting with Remote Employees

Walkthrough any corporation today and you’re likely to see a sea of empty workstations.  Why? Because more businesses now offer flexible work hours and increased work from home arrangements.  This trend puts more urgency on the development and use of digital communications channels. Establish a clear, consistent communications plan and the technology to support it.  Don’t forget that everyone likes to be recognized and celebrated, especially when your role doesn’t allow you to interact with team members routinely.

 Looking for ways to improve your internal communications?  Get in touch with us at Insight Strategic Communications.

How to Write an Authentic New Year’s Message

As you flip the calendar over to 2020, there’s a substantial opportunity to persuade, motivate and focus employees. A new year is another opportunity to start fresh. For leaders, it’s a perfect time help team members align around business priorities. In terms of good, better, best, a town hall session is definitely best. But for many leaders, a New Year’s message is more likely.

The best leadership messages are focused, inspiring and brief. Here’s how to craft a memorable one.

• Say thank you. Start with thanking employees for their contributions in the previous year. Be specific about the positive and don’t be afraid to acknowledge any challenges.

• Map out the strategy. Identify 2020 priorities and how the business will drive growth, deepen customer relationships, and adopt ways of working that improve efficiencies and execution.

• Lean into your company values. The values are essential to ensuring that everyone, at every level, has a shared purpose. The culture you want to achieve is documented in them. Make that connection explicit.

• Encourage career development. Many employees, particularly millennials consider their jobs as a launchpad for career development and growth. Encourage employees to seek opportunities to learn, grow and take advantage of development opportunities.

Remember, communicate now. Waiting until later in Q1 sends a message that you’re not focused on 2020 priorities. We’re all looking for just a spark of inspiration to reset our thinking. You can achieve this when you craft a message that is authentic, actionable and aspirational.

Five Gifts That Exceptional Leaders Give All Year Long

We’re in full-blown holiday season now, aren’t we? As the clock ticks down to year-end, you may consider what your employees want this season (hint: not another coffee mug with the company logo). Take a look at these five ideas. They’re what your team members want all year long. And the best part is, it won’t cost you a penny.

Trust— When people trust each other in the workplace, there are wide-ranging results. Productivity and creativity soar, employees love their jobs and take better care of customers. You can build trust by involving team members, being consistent in what you say and do, listening more and sharing credit.

Guidance— Feedback is a gift, and the ability to give it is one of the most important leadership skills. You’re the coach and the quality inspector. When you show team members how they can improve, it underlines your trust in them and their potential.

Encouragement–Know each individual’s strengths and gaps so you can help them reach their full potential. Sometimes just knowing that someone believes you can succeed helps you achieve. A leader’s job is to help everyone get an “A.”

Empathy –We all experience difficult seasons in life. Know your team members so well that you can show concern for them when they experience personal challenges. Sometimes the best thing you can do is listen and show that you care.

Attention–Perhaps the most important gift, and the most difficult to provide, is your attention. Being present and noticing the little things can change a good work environment into a great one.

When your team members receive these gifts, what’ you get in return is a culture where everyone lives the company values and delivers great performance.

Happy holidays from the team at Insight Strategic Communications!

Activate a Culture of Recognition

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a gift and not giving it.” William A. Ward

Every day, committed and talented employees work together to create great experiences for your customers and positive results for your business. How do you celebrate them and recognize their contributions?

As we close in on year-end, take stock of the way your business celebrates employee and team achievements. A recent study by WorldatWork revealed that formal recognition programs, including service anniversary, extraordinary performance and retirement, are the most frequently offered recognition programs.

Now think about this from the employee’s perspective: if you have to wait a year to be recognized—or until your retirement—how engaged would you feel?

Recognition drives results
Saying thank you costs nothing but can make a tangible impact on the bottom line. Research indicates that showing appreciation for team members’ efforts can lead to a 20-30% increase in engagement. Operational impacts can include lower turnover and absenteeism and higher productivity.

Beyond service anniversaries
To make gratitude a foundation of your culture, consider bringing multiple programs together to build a consistent recognition experience:
• Peer-to-peer recognition gives employees the power to do the thanking
• Awards for those who demonstrate company values inspire employees to live those behaviors
• Welcome programs for new hires
• Social media celebrations for promotions, team achievements or community events,

Being recognized for great work is motivating and builds pride in all of us. If you’re looking for new ways to activate a culture of recognition, get in touch: Maureen.Clayton@insight-communication.com

How to prepare your employees for Open Enrollment

As a communicator there are several key dates each year that you must be prepared for.  One of the most important is Open Enrollment.  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:

Know your audience

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.

Get a head start

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.

Clarity is key

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.

Give them the cold hard facts

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.

How does your company communicate Open Enrollment? Please share your ideas and suggestions with me: ben.clayton@insight-communication.com

Six Inspiring Leadership Quotes from College Football Coaches

Our business is located in the heart of college football country. While other regions are passionate about hockey or “Sunday football” as we refer to the NFL, it’s hard to describe the intensity the college gridiron inspires in the Southeast.

In honor of the season that raises our hopes and crushes our dreams, here are some of the best quotes about leadership from college football coaches. Use them to inspire your team.

May all your communications this month be first downs and touchdowns.

• “Ability is what you are capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.” Lou Holtz, Notre Dame

• “Success doesn’t come from pie in the sky thinking. It’s the result of consciously doing something each day that will add to your overall execution.” Nick Saban, University of Alabama

• “The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential … these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.” Eddie Robinson, Grambling State University

• “My goal is to love these guys and put them in a situation where they can grow up to be the best men they can be. I have influence over them, and I take that responsibility seriously.” Mark Richt, University of Georgia

• “Your goals are constantly revised according to circumstance, but your purpose, your real reason for being, that supersedes everything.” Jim Tressle, Ohio State University

• “Let the light that shines in you be brighter than the light that shines on you.” Dabo Swinney, Clemson University

Three Internal Communication Fails and How to Fix Them

A recent conversation with a smart, successful corporate leader has me still shaking my head. He was reflecting on the lack of urgency and so-so performance of some of their teams. “They just don’t get it,” he said. “I don’t know how we can get through to them.”
It doesn’t take the investigative powers of Sherlock Holmes to identify a disconnect between the business strategy and employee performance. The failure here is not on the part of the employees, it’s the communications strategy.
Sustained communications remind everyone of what you’re trying to achieve together. Here are three frequent internal communication fails and how to fix them:

No consistent communications
Without communications, employees create their own narrative. No matter what channel works best for your business, choose a communications timetable and stick to it. Ad hoc doesn’t work. The message doesn’t need to be long, or over-produced. Sometimes an update, or a checklist or outlook for the next 30 days is enough. When weeks and months go by without a message from the leader, don’t expect employees to think things are OK.

No clarity on the big picture
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American works 44 hours per week, or 8.8 hours per day. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone was focused on the same goals? A survey by Weber Shandwick found that only four in 10 employees can describe what their employer does and only 37% know the company’s goals. Ugh! Leaders must be relentless in connecting people to purpose by clearly communicating the company purpose, mission and goals. Just when you’re sick of talking about it, you’re reaching someone for the first time.

Relying on email as your go-to channel
We’ve been talking about the death of email as an effective internal communications tool forever, but the dominance of millennials in the workplace should finally do it in. Every generation has a communication preference and the future is digital. If you’re relying on email to communicate with employees, you’ve got a problem. Add other channels to your communications mix and consider cloud-based products like Slack, GSuite or Microsoft teams.

Looking for ways to improve clarity, alignment, and trust with your employees? Need some help with that? Get in touch: Maureen.Clayton@insight-communication.com