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Category: Communications Strategy

Four Tips for Better Communications This Year

Everyone talks about the importance of employee communications, but it’s just lip service without an actionable plan.   Here are four ways to start the year off right and get better results from your internal communications.

1) Map out your communications calendar right now—Begin with a welcome message. Schedule dates for the entire year now to ensure it remains a priority. Keep the content fresh with a mix of performance results, customer and employee stories, and encouragement.  We all need more of that.

2) Articulate the vision— People are more engaged when they can connect their work to big goals.  Leaders who communicate the vision and values, and then put those values into action, see performance climb. 

3) Use stories to make an impact—Think back to the most recent story that struck a chord with you.  Simple stories make an emotional connection with the audience and hold their attention.  Use your own experiences to make a point.  I recently heard an executive tell his team he makes time for fitness daily because “We only get one set of parts and I want mine to last.”  That’s memorable and tells me something interesting about him. Leaders who share a little of themselves in communications are viewed as credible and human.

4) Get visual—Visuals are processed 60,000 times faster than text.  If you rely on email as your primary communication, know there is a better way. Use photos and videos as frequently as you use memos. Video is an excellent way to improve message retention, connect with remote workers, and engage senior leadership with teams.  The best part is you don’t have to have a large budget or be an on-camera pro to create memorable content. 

How to Craft a Winning Business Award Strategy

As I boarded a Delta flight last month, I noticed a list of their business awards right there on the plane door. Just a little reminder that I was flying with the Fortune World’s Most Admired Airline.

Some industry and business awards are worth the time it takes to fill out the nomination. A few are revenue generators: send a check, get a prize. The business awards that are truly coveted, those that can help a business enhance its reputation internally and externally, require strategy, planning, and effort.

Why enter an awards competition?

  • Be acknowledged as a leader by industry peers
  • Benchmark your business against competitors
  • Burnish your reputation as a great place to work, enhancing talent recruitment and retention

What are the general industry award formats?

  • High-performance awards–A focus on recognizing outstanding people, initiatives, or employers.
  • Questionnaire-based–Usually a survey, followed by an audit by an external body to validate the data. These can be industry-wide or internal surveys of employees.
  • Rankings–These are usually a listing of companies based on a survey, questionnaire, or audit by independent bodies.

Mapping out your awards strategy

First, understand that awards submissions require the investment of time, effort, and budget if you want to win. There’s an entry fee for submissions in every category, so if you select multiple categories, be ready to bring the bankroll. If you pursue an accreditation or questionnaire award, you’ll need to engage internal stakeholders to help with data gathering or responding to the employee survey. Most employee survey-based awards require a minimum response rate. If you don’t think employees will take the survey, don’t waste your money on the submission.

 Keep these things in mind when selecting award competition submissions:

  • How does this support your business objectives?
  • What return will you get for investing time, money, and effort?
  • Find out who won last year. Are they reputable or aspirational companies? 
  • Can you meet the data requirements before the entry deadline?
  • Will internal stakeholders be willing to collaborate and support this?

Here are two final suggestions to ensure the exercise is worth your time. First, read the category and nomination applications carefully. As a long-time competition judge it amazes me how many nominations 1) are submitted in the wrong category, or 2) the submission narrative does not match the nomination question. It happens more than you can imagine. This is where the assistance of an external consultant is invaluable.

Finally, once your business wins the award, activate a communications plan to share the news.   Ensure that you reach the right audiences on the right channels. Create an opportunity for Senior Leadership to celebrate with employees, thank them for their contributions, and build pride and retention. Then celebrate the win!

How to Get Employees to Read your Company Newsletter

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.

A Tale of Two Layoffs

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. 

Three Ways to Improve Benefit Communications

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.

Did I say that? Think before you hit send

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.

Marketing Your Workplace Benefits to Employees

Too often employees only think about their workplace benefits once a year–during Open Enrollment. Perhaps that’s because many Human Resources groups focus on the administration of benefits, not marketing the variety and value of the employee benefits package. Internal communicators can provide value by partnering on this issue and adding a little sizzle to benefits marketing efforts.

As the Great Resignation shows no signs of slowing down, companies that provide better support, education, and marketing of workplace benefits may obtain an advantage in employee retention. When benefits usage rises, businesses also realize the full value of this investment.

Here are three steps to consider in promoting your company’s employee benefits.

Understand benefits usage

While the list of benefits offered may be long, it’s unlikely that all benefits are equally as popular. Pinpoint the benefits that are underused by employees and set participation goals. Show you care by surveying employees to understand their interest in current offerings and identify potential new benefits that they value. Not surprisingly, benefits that support wellness and mental health/resilience

Prioritize benefits education

Market your benefit offerings to employees year-round. A deep dive each month on individual offerings can be effective, particularly if employees share their stories about why they use them. Create an annual calendar aligned with notable month-long observances (such as May-Mental Health Awareness Month; October-National Financial Planning Month).

Take a multi-channel approach

Covid-19 has forever changed the delivery and pace of internal communications. With remote work becoming the norm, it is imperative that benefits communications are available through digital channels. Lunch and learns can move to webinars. Intranet content must be compelling and regularly refreshed. Offer digital coffee breaks to engage employees to discuss workplace benefits. Raise the profile of your offerings and provide multiple opportunities for employees to learn more. When employees feel informed and supported in the workplace, engagement, retention, and performance increase.

ESG Reports: Getting Started

Investors and stakeholders are showing increasing interest in responsible business practices, particularly in the areas of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiativesThe U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports that 52% of public companies surveyed publish voluntary corporate sustainability or ESG reports outside of their SEC filings. While this type of reporting is currently voluntary, the SEC is expected to propose mandatory reporting rules this year.

The ESG report shines a light on the strategies and activities a business undertakes to be accountable and responsible.  While the annual report may have captured some of these elements in the past, the ESG report focuses on making a positive impact on society.

Implementing an ESG reporting process entails extra work and coordination across business functions.  For corporate communicators, the challenge is to hit the right balance of content and to transform data into compelling, human stories.

What is an ESG Report?

An ESG Report (and accompanying website) captures the environmental, social and governance impacts that arise from company business activities.   Before embarking on ESG reporting, the strategy, framework, selected metrics and tracking plan must be in place.

What should be included?

Right now there’s flexibility in the scope and content of ESG reporting, but investors and rating agencies typically want to see decision-useful information.  It’s tempting to cram the report full of success stories.  Remember, longer does not mean better.  Content will vary by industry, but may include:

Environmental:  Climate change; waste reduction; sustainable supply chain; Green initiatives

Social: Community engagement and philanthropy; diversity, equity and inclusion; corporate values: health and well-being

Governance: Corporate governance; ethical business practices; information security and data privacy; board diversity

Telling the story with impact

Evaluate the ESG issues that are most material to your company and be transparent about performance and opportunities for improvement. Then show how and why your business operates with integrity.

Revitalizing Your Company’s Recruiting Marketing

The Great Resignation has hiring managers on edge and recruiters working around the clock to fill ever-growing vacancies.  With turnover reaching new highs, organizations are scrambling to implement systematic changes in compensation, remote working, and rewards to boost retention.

Recruitment marketing is now a hot topic. As options for job seekers increase, it’s more important than ever that recruitment channels and materials are relevant, concise, and refreshed. Think sleeker, more digital, and more engaging.  If you’re not refreshing your content, you’re likely to lose out in the Great Talent Hunt. These three steps are a good place to start.

Audit your online presence

What does your recruitment marketing say about your business?  When was the last time it was refreshed?  Take a sharp look at your marketing materials the way a potential hire would, focusing on the areas listed below.  Then develop a plan to address any gaps.

  • Does your messaging explore why your company is a great place to work?
  • Is the design vibrant and engaging? Does it feature your employees?
  • Does your careers site look like your workforce? Does it support multi-dimensional diversity–age, race, gender identity, disability?
  • What’s your social media mix?  LinkedIn is still the world’s largest professional network, but Gen Z job seekers prefer Instagram, YouTube and TikTok. Expand your social mix and reach, but ensure you have the bandwidth to produce fresh content.

Lean in to an employment brand

Potential candidates want a simple answer to a simple question: What makes your company a great place to work?   If you can’t answer that succinctly, it’s time for an employment brand. An employment brand builds clarity, quality and consistency in the way you describe what it like to work at your business.  It helps you stand out from the crowd in the race to recruit the very best talent. To be successful, it should be clear, concise, relevant, relatable, and memorable. For current employees, an employment brand supports building a One Team culture, bringing your values to life, and recognizing and celebrating team members.

Connect with specialized talent

While an employment brand sets the look, feel and strategy for recruitment marketing, segmentation will help you attract key audiences.  This will support distinct marketing strategies, allow you to create targeted content, and improve visibility for your business within each segment.  Review your careers website and social channels to identify opportunities to connect with specific audiences like military veterans, interns/early careers, and experienced professionals.

Employee Engagement: Still Low

Gallup’s latest study on employee engagement revealed the awful truth that only about 3 in 10 American workers are truly engaged in their work and workplace. Following the havoc of the pandemic, leaders are struggling to inspire team members to take initiative, commit to their company’s success, and be more productive.

The long-running survey on engagement has shown that employees are engaged when their deeper needs to feel valued, grow and develop, maximize their strengths and make a meaningful contribution are fulfilled.  

The results of Gallop’s studies point to three specific things employees need to feel good about their jobs and be fully engaged. Here are some suggestions communications teams can use to make these three elements work for your company:

  1. Employees want a leader and a company who care about them and their development– When you truly believe employees are the company’s most valuable asset, it shines through in the frequency and manner with which you communicate with them. Let them know specifically how the company is working hard to ensure their success. Share information about important changes and initiatives as freely as possible to show employee how their contributions matter to overall business success.
  2. They’re looking for a role that matches their strengths– Every job presents interpersonal and character growth opportunities. Help employees see what mountains they can successfully climb right now and show how they can gain skills and experience on their career journey.
  3. They want to know that their contributions matter– Chances are, your employees believe—or once believed—in your company’s mission and values—what you contribute to the world at large. Keep this purpose at the core of your communications. Be sure you regularly articulate the relationship of the work employees do every day to your mission.

What’s the connection between all of these elements?  Proactive, inspiring, and consistent internal communications. It’s the most productive way to get everyone focused on priorities and engaged in their work.