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Avoid Disaster When Launching New Employee Programs

I was watching a movie the other night (Jurassic Park III, underrated movie in my opinion) and there was a conversation between two of the main characters that stood out for me.

Billy “You have to believe me, this was a stupid decision, but I did it with the best intentions.”

Dr. Grant “With the best intentions? Some of the worst things imaginable have been done with the best intentions.”

Now in this case, Dr. Grant was talking about building a dinosaur theme park that ended up getting hundreds of people killed. On a smaller scale, businesses sometimes make decisions that end up backfiring with undesired consequences.

Business Insider published an article recently highlighting a perfect example of this.  United Airlines announced they were making a change to their employee incentive program.  Rather than using the existing quarterly performance and attendance-based bonus program they were moving to a lottery- based bonus program.  Eligible employees would be entered into drawings for various prizes if the company hit performance goals during that quarter.  The news did not go over well.  Very shortly, United President Scott Kirby announced that they would be “pressing pause” on the new system after negative feedback from employees.

“Our intention was to introduce a better, more exciting program, but we misjudged how these changes would be received by many of you. So, we are pressing the pause button on these changes to review your feedback and consider the right way to move ahead.”

There was an obvious disconnect between the decision makers at United and their employees. In retrospect, this is something that could have easily been avoided.  When introducing a new internal program, particularly one that employees are passionate about, be sure to understand what your employees value and take steps to prepare them for the change.  Seeking input and instituting change management best practices will help ensure that new initiatives are launched successfully.

Employee Surveys

Conducting an employee survey is a low cost effective method to gather information on employee priorities and areas that need work.  Conduct an employee survey annually or use spot surveys for immediate input before launching a new program.

Focus Groups

Before rolling out new programs, test the concept through focus groups.  This will give you a good idea of how new programs will be received and identify any potential problems before launch.

Institute a Soft Launch or Pilot Program

Test the concept in one functional area or with a user group over a specified period of time.  This will give the pilot group time to ask questions and give feedback before the full program launch so the program can be tweaked before full launch.

Sometimes an idea looks great of paper but simply doesn’t work in practice.  Being prepared will make the entire process easier.  Get out in front of any potential problems and create a plan that simplifies the information with a clear and consistent message. How does your company communicate new programs? Please share your ideas and stories with me: ben.clayton@insight-communication.com

After #MeToo: Communicating Your Workplace Harassment Policy

In the wake of widespread media reports of sexual harassment, what is your business doing ensure a safe and accountable workplace?  Consider this: the #MeToo hashtag was shared more than 1 million times in just 48 hours after being posted to social media. The public debate continues as others are empowered to share their stories.

This is not a new issue. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 94% of U.S. companies have harassment and/or bullying policies that outline conduct that is prohibited. But if you think having a policy is enough, think again.  A 2016 EEOC study of workplace harassment revealed that policies alone do not encourage appropriate behavior. The study reported that approximately 90% of survey participants who experienced sexual harassment never file a complaint.

This is a unique, timely moment to be very clear about workplace harassment. It benefits everyone to make this a priority in your business. When employees experience a safe and welcoming workplace, they perform at their best and drive business performance.  As you review this issue internally, consider these communication best practices.

Review and update the existing Harassment Policy

Start by examining the current policy. When was the last time it was reviewed and updated?  If it’s been more than five years, it’s too old.  The policy should, at a minimum, list examples of prohibited conduct, detail the process for reporting objectionable conduct, and be signed by the current CEO. Then ensure that the policy, and the reporting process, is accessible.  Bottom line: let employees know where to go for help.

Time for leaders to speak out

Every leader must be accountable. Let employees hear directly from the C-Suite that harassment will not be tolerated. Human Resources can support this endeavor, but can’t shoulder it alone. Executives must step up and commit that when allegations are brought, they will be investigated immediately and that appropriate actions will follow.  Convey that retaliation is prohibited since many cases are unreported due to fears of job loss or reprisals.

Train. Train. Train.

Most companies provide online harassment training, but do you mandate that training is completed? Is harassment addressed in new employee orientation? Training will ensure a better understanding of the behaviors that comprise harassment. Additionally, the HR team must be prepared and ready to conduct prompt, objective and thorough investigations.

Amplify the message through internal communications

If an employee experiences sexual harassment–or witnesses it–do they know what steps to take? Make it easy for individuals to report. Use multiple channels to share the harassment policy and reporting procedure. Talk about it in town halls, blogs, create a video from the CEO and put a link to the policy on the home page of your company intranet. Make it loud so that everyone understands that harassment is unacceptable in your company culture.

A Thought as We Welcome 2018

The first week after the holidays is always painful.  So here’s something to lift your spirits.  Our first bit of advice for 2018 is from the master essayist Emerson who has deeply influenced leaders, thinkers and communicators for more than 100 years.  Tuck this away for when you need some inspiration.

“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day of the year.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Our Holiday Gift to You: Five of Our Favorite Business Communication Resources

With a dizzying number of tools, apps and online resources available to business communicators, it can be difficult to keep up.  Here are five of our favorites; our go-to sources for inspiration, innovative design and fresh ideas.  Happy Holidays!

Creative Market— Creative Market is an online marketplace for community-generated design assets. The website sells graphics, WordPress themes, stock photography, and other digital goods.  If you are building infographics, there are thousands of icons to choose from. www.creativemarket.com.

Grammarly—Unlike cursive handwriting, correct grammar never goes out of style. Grammarly’s  writing app helps ensure your writing is easy to read, effective, and mistake-free by automatically detecting grammar, spelling, punctuation, word choice and style error. It’s available as a free Chrome extension or online at www.grammarly.com.

HBR IdeaCast—This weekly podcast by the Harvard Business Review features leading thinkers in business and management.  What’s the connection to communications?  Great leaders understand the value of communications and alignment with corporate values.  There are lots of clever ideas to nab here. Available on Apple Podcast and www.HBR.org.

Ted Talks—Everyone needs a 15 minute mental vacation from the daily grind.  Watch a Ted Talk.  Our recommendation for business communicators is Talk Nerdy to Me by Melissa Marshall.  In less than five minutes she outlines a formula for bringing scientific content to a general audience. Use this approach whenever you’re sharing complex (or boring) information. www.TedTalks.com

Unsplash—There is no better site for beautiful, free images and photos than Unsplash. You can download high resolution files to use for any project. No attribution required (although always appreciated).  Just spend 10 minutes scrolling through the photo files and you’ll be inspired to improve the look of your presentations or handouts. www.unsplash.com

Build Workplace Culture by Communicating Gratitude

This month as we focus on Thanksgiving, consider the power of gratitude in your workplace. Before your thoughts turn to friends, family and football, spend a few minutes thinking about how appreciation can make a difference to your business.

Tom Peters was so right when he noted “People don’t forget kindness.” It’s the same with gratitude.  The power of a sincere thank you cannot be overestimated. In a recent study on employee engagement, the top factor of job satisfaction was respectful treatment of employees at all levels.  Second on the list was trust between employees and management.  If you practice the first item, you achieve the second one.

It takes conscious effort to build a culture where every employee feels appreciated.  We all like to be noticed for the good things we do.  People who feel appreciated believe their work makes a difference.  They are more willing to go the extra mile because they know someone notices.

Making gratitude visible is a step you can build into your internal communications.  Here are three ideas:

Appreciation by senior leadership—Create a year-end video of the senior management team thanking team members for their service this year.  Get out of the office and film it with front line workers.  Switching the wardrobe from suits and ties to ugly Christmas sweaters and elf ears will create smiles for years to come.

Appreciation by managers—Write a thank you note.  It’s low tech, but more effective than a gift card.  Be specific about how the individual contributes to the team.  Not only will your employee appreciate the gesture, they will know that you are paying attention.

Appreciation by team members—It feels great to say thank you.  That’s why peer-to-peer recognition programs are motivating to employees.  They strengthen a culture of support, collaboration and achievement.  Peer recognition programs should tie to your company values.  Tailor the program to your business, but make the recognition defined, public and fun.

The power of gratitude is a multiplier.  When you recognize people for their contributions, they perform better, trust grows and so does your workplace culture.

Listen Up: Try Podcasts in your Internal Communication Mix

Looking for a new way to reach your employees without blowing your entire budget?  Try podcasts. If you think it’s a niche channel, take a look at these numbers:

  • 4 in 10 Americans listen to podcasts on a regular basis
  • Podcast listening was up 23% between 2015 and 2016
  • 85% of listeners complete the entire episode*

Americans are falling in love with podcasts in numbers that increase every year. Recent podcast phenoms like Serial and S-Town attracted legions of new listeners. Guess what? Many of your employees are among them.

Internal communication pros are paying attention. Disney, IBM and Microsoft have added podcasts to their internal mix.  Perhaps it’s time for your business to do the same.

Consider these three things when developing a podcast strategy (or selling the idea to your boss).

  1.   Accessible everywhere.  What’s the one item most people can’t do without?  Their phones.  A podcast will allow you to connect with team members as they multitask: at the gym, on a walk, in the car. With the average daily commutes now at around 26 minutes each way, podcasts provide alternative listening content.  Smart speakers (think Alexa, Google Home, or Siri) are now in 20 million Americans in live in homes, providing another channel for podcasts.
  2.   Builds community. Engaging employees who work at remote locations or in non-desk roles is always a challenge. So is communicating across global time zones.  Podcasts are a viable alternative. It’s like being in a conversation, as if the speaker is talking directly to you.  There’s an intimacy that can’t be delivered in a company newsletter.
  3.   Shows your company leaders are human. Your CEO may be smart, but would you like to have a beer with him or her?  Effective leaders know the value of storytelling and conversation.  A series of podcasts with the senior leadership team will give employees insight into the personalities that lead the business and where the company is going.  It can help align people around  your business priorities.

* Source:  2017 Infinite Dial Study, Edison Research

Preparing for Open Enrollment

As an internal communicator there are several key dates throughout the year that you must be prepared for.  One of the most important is Open Enrolment.  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:

Start with a survey

The time to start gathering information for Open Enrollment is now. 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.

Reach out early and often

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.

Keep it simple

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.

Don’t sugarcoat the news

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

Tell Your Company Heritage Story

One of the most fascinating podcasts I listen to is NPR’s How I Built This.  The people behind some of the world’s best known brands give an insider’s view of the process of moving from idea to ignition.

In every case, there is not a clear path to success.  John Mackey from Whole Foods endured a devastating loss when a flood demolished his store (he had no insurance).  Blake Mycoskie, one of the pioneers of social entrepreneurship, received more orders for TOMS shoes than he had inventory.  He hired a team of interns to personally contact every customer to let them know there would be an 8-week delay. They only lost one sale.

If you’re not telling your company’s origin story, you’re missing and opportunity to inform, inspire and involve customers and employees.

Stories create memorable bonds. It doesn’t need to be a rags-to-riches chronicle to captivate.  Sometimes a failure story teaches a greater lesson. A well-crafted origin story becomes a shared experience, a powerful way to connect your most important stakeholders to your brand.  For employees, origin stories help to build appreciation for the past while ensuring their contributions are part of the ongoing narrative.

Here’s how to get started:

Connect visually.  Your origin story is your business family tree.  Share photos, documents, company meeting videos and artifacts.

Align with the business core values.  Show how the values that grew the business are still relevant today.  While businesses always evolve, the things that were important then are still important now.

Keep it interesting. Every great business story starts with an inspiring journey and experiences challenges along the way. Don’t just provide a timeline of dates.

Solicit stories.  Ask your employees to share stories from their first days with the business.  Who inspired them?  What was the weirdest tradition?

Tell the truth. Be authentic and don’t embellish the facts. That’s a fast lane to losing credibility. If the founder was a grumpy old so-and-so, say that. It adds more personality to the story.

Do you have a unique company origin story to tell?  We’re listening.  Contact us at answers@insight-communication.com

Summer Hours: A Perk Your Team Will Love

Our office is located in downtown Roswell and typically by 2 p.m. on a Friday afternoon the streets are already beginning to fill with people getting an early start to their weekend.  If you’re like me, once Friday afternoon arrives and the out-of-office auto-reply emails from clients start hitting your inbox, your mind begins to wander.

No matter what business you’re in, it’s likely that your employees begin thinking about weekend plans early on a beautiful summer Friday afternoon.   Many companies now offer the inexpensive but morale boosting benefit of flexible summer work scheduling often known as “Summer Hours.”

A recent survey by CEB revealed that 42 percent of companies now officially sanction starting the weekend early, up 21 percent in 2015.

Offering a Summer Hours policy is an economical perk that builds engagement and can improve company culture. Typically summer hours schedules run from Memorial Day to Labor Day.  This is also the most common time of the year for employees to take a vacation.  So how can your company introduce a summer hour work schedule?  It’s important to recognize that one plan will not work for every company.  Tailor your specific program to what will work best for your company and employees.

Here are a few idea and suggestions for implementing a summer hours program at your company:

Longer weekdays for time off on Friday.  Employees work extra hours Monday through Thursday in exchange for a half day or the whole day off on Friday.  Employees still work 40 hours total. This method allows each employee to decide the schedule that fits their needs.  Employees can choose to opt in or out of the program depending on what works best for them.

Every other Friday off.  Stagger days so that half of the office is off on one Friday and the other half is off the next Friday.  This is a useful program for companies that see a dip in their workload during the summer, especially on Fridays.

Holiday half days. Many companies embrace a summer holiday half day policy.  This gives their employees a half day off the day before Memorial Day weekend, July 4th, and Labor Day weekend.  In many cases, there’s not much work going on during this period anyway and employees have more time to spend with friends and family.

Friday half days. Is there anything better than receiving an email informing you that you can take a half on Friday? Not every company will have the flexibility to introduce a full summer hours schedule.  If you can’t implement one of these programs but would still like to reward your employee choose a Friday where business is slow and give your employees the afternoon off.

Does your business offer flexible work schedules?  Send us your stories: ben.clayton@insight-communication.com

Your 2017 Summer Reading List: Books and Podcasts for Leaders

You pick up many new and fascinating concepts while at college. Most lectures eventually are forgotten, but some things stay with you forever. One memorable bit of advice a professor gave me was that good ideas should be shared, studied, and reused.

Summer is the perfect time to read about the strategies of successful leaders. So take some time in the next few weeks–while curled up in a sleeping bag or lounging poolside—to dive into a good book like one of these to guide your communications and leadership development.

  • True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership—Bill George and Peter Sims. True leadership requires you to be true to yourself. Bill George and Peter Sims take the stories of entrepreneurs and titans of industry to show how following your internal compass can lead you to succeed and inspire.
  • O Great One!: A Little Story About the Awesome Power of Recognition—David Novak. David Novak outlines the simple yet meaningful effect of acknowledging and appreciating the actions of one’s colleagues. This amusing, straightforward book is a must for anyone who aspires to lead.
  • The Storytellers Secret—Carmine Gallo.  Gallo is one of my personal favorites because he writes about communications. This book showcases stories and techniques from some of today’s most successful brand leaders. A fantastic resource for anyone who wants to make an effective presentation or speech.
  • Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action—Simon Sinek.  A tie-in with the popular TED talk of the same name, this inspiring book charts the common connections of effective leaders and influencers.

For those of you who dread reading, try a podcast.  Here are two of our favorites. The TED Radio Hour is a collection around a central theme.  Each TED Talk is a little jewel.  No matter your interests, this podcast will spark creativity and fresh thinking.

How I Built This is a kind of “my true life story” interview with the creators of some of the world’s best loved brands. The backstories and challenges are sometimes more inspiring than the success their businesses achieved.