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
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
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.
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.
When iTunes debuted 18 years ago, it was a radical concept. Don’t buy the whole album; pay 99 cents for
the one song you like. Get a thousand songs in your pocket!
Apple made the announcement this month that it would move to
three individual dedicated apps for music, podcasts and TV. Users can maintain
their iTunes libraries and choose to subscribe to Apple Music. Pundits agreed
it was the right move, even though it’s the end of an era.
Think about your business communications: what channels or practices do you need to put
the brakes on?
Sometimes we stick with a communications process or channel
because it’s comfortable. It’s worked in
the past. It’s a no brainer to produce
it. But it takes a bit of courage to
realize that what worked before isn’t working now or is not sustainable in the
future. Change can be unsettling, but
it’s also troubling to find out your newsletter or intranet or CEO blog is
ineffective because it has no audience.
What is your least favorite thing to do? For some people
it’s cleaning their house, for others it’s going to the grocery store and for
some it’s working out. It’s not that
they don’t like the end result. A fresh
clean house, a fridge full of groceries or the feeling after finishing a workout
are all very satisfying and produce tangible results. They will tell you that they don’t enjoy the
This concept can also apply to business. How does your business engage employees to
share ideas to make the business better?
Involvement opportunities drive engagement, particularly with
millennials. Everyone wants to work
smarter, not harder.
One way to involve employees is by implementing a processes
improvement program. Start with a survey, suggestion request or contest. Employee feedback can help you quickly target
where you can improve and unlock potential.
Ask employees to provide suggestions on how and where the business can grow,
innovate, save money, or do things a different way. Some categories to consider are:
Reducing waste and time
Enhancing customer experiences
Increasing employee engagement
Promoting collaboration across the business
Once you’ve collected employee ideas and discovered an area
where you can improve, be sure to clearly communicate the new process and
connect it to the process improvement program.
Thank those who participated for their input, describe what is changing
and explain the benefits.
Your employees are an invaluable asset. Give them an opportunity to help improve your processes and the long-term results will benefits your business. Share your your stories with me at: email@example.com
Exhibiting at a trade show is a great way to get some face to face time with potential customers. Recently our company attended a national conference and trade show in Las Vegas. It was our fourth consecutive year exhibiting at this trade show and many of the same companies we see every year were in attendance. Some of the exhibitors always do a fantastic job, while others are missing the potential to maximize their ROI.
Here are six best practices that that you can use when preparing for and attending your company’s next trade show:
Start preparing well in advance. Getting a jump on your trade show prep is vital. Send out a preconference email to the list of attendees, map out your show strategy with your exhibit team, create product/service sales sheets, take care of any printing needs for handouts and schedule equipment and promotional item shipping.
Make sure your messages are clear and consistent. The most common question I get at trade shows is “So what do you guys do?” Each member of your sales team should be able to give a 30 second response to this question. Determine how you want to promote your company, create an elevator speech, and make sure everyone is on the same page.
Keep the messaging on your display and signage short and readable. Trade show participants move through the exhibit floor pretty quickly. All of your signage should be easily readable from the front of your booth. One mistake that I often notice is when exhibitors cram too much information onto their signage or use fonts that are too small. Provide just enough information to make attendees stop and ask questions.
Always provide giveaways. Who doesn’t like free stuff? Providing a giveaway will draw more traffic to your booth and is a great conversation starter. Always include your company logo or name on the product. It will remind potential customers of your interaction when they visited your booth after the conference.
Stay active on social media. Most conferences will promote a hashtag to use throughout the event. Post photos, give updates, announce speaking sessions and promote your booth number using the conference hashtag. This is a great way to drive engagement. Don’t forget to post a thank you to everyone who stopped by your booth after the conference.
Schedule a post conference wrap up meeting. It’s important to get feedback from your team while the conference is fresh on their minds. What worked, what didn’t work? What questions did the attendees have? What were your strongest leads and what are the next steps for contacting these potential customers? All of this information will give you a head start when planning your next trade show.
If you’re like us, you’re always looking for ways to get your message across in a new, unique, and interesting way. One communication channel that you might not have considered is video. Video is fast becoming the preferred channel for internal audiences because it’s the way we all consume information. Some news outlets have moved exclusively to video content and most include a video with any written content they publish. Today’s workforce has become accustomed to learning and acquiring information through video content.
Many of your colleagues are visual learners and video content helps simplify complex information and drives engagement when you communicate your message. Think about it. Which is more appealing– an email memo from the CEO or a quick 3-5 minute video where he or she speaks directly to your employees?
Research shows that people remember more of what they see and hear than what they read. Video grabs your attention and is more engaging than plain text. Seizing and retaining your audience’s attention is crucial. When you have their attention, they’ll retain the message.
Here are some options to consider when implementing videos into your Internal Communications strategy:
Online training videos or tutorials
Monthly or quarterly updates from your leaders
Announcement videos for new programs or initiatives
Recognition videos for company milestones or exemplary achievements
Employee interviews and testimonials
Videos of companywide events, such a community service day or group activity
Now you might be thinking, “I’m not a technical person” or “That would be too difficult to implement,” but it really isn’t. New technology has simplified video creation, editing and sharing to the point where anyone can do it.
Keep your videos short with a clear message. There are really no limits or restrictions to how you incorporate video content into your company’s communication plan. Think outside the box and see what ideas you can come up with.
If you’re like me you can’t get enough of the World Cup. It’s an event that I look forward to every four years. I have vivid memories of watching the U.S. national team play in the World Cup. You don’t forget waking up at 2 a.m. to watch the 2002 World Cup in Japan and Korea or standing in a packed bar in Auburn, Alabama watching the 2010 USA vs Algeria game. These are moments that I will never forget.
But on October 10, 2017 the U.S. team lost 2-1 to Trinidad and Tobago and was officially eliminated from the 2018 World Cup. This was a major disappointment, but I refused to let it ruin my World Cup anticipation. All I needed was a new team to get behind.
This was an easy decision. The club team I support, Tottenham Hotspur, plays in England and their star player, Harry Kane, is the England captain. I was all in on England. I began to learn about their national team fan culture, songs, traditions, and slogans.
If you watched the U.S. team play in the last World Cup I’m sure you’ll be familiar with the chant/slogan “I believe that we will win.” It was easy to remember, it flowed well, and it was very catchy. By joining in on the “I believe that we will win” chant you identified yourself as a USA supporter. For England’s supporters “Football’s Coming Home” or simply “It’s coming home” has been the rallying cry. The slogan has brought all England supporters together and is easily identified as being unique to England.
How do you rally internal audiences and engage them around a common theme or message? Use these best practices:
Develop a slogan or message that is simple and memorable.
Be consistent. Use the same message over and over in all your communications. When you’re just beginning to think you can’t say it one more time, that’s when it will finally get through to someone.
Create an engaging visual image. Visuals are processed 60,000 times faster than text. Your message will be more memorable when a visual is incorporated.
Looking forward to some time off this summer? While you’re relaxing at the beach or enjoying an early start to the weekend with Summer Fridays, make time to sharpen your skills. Each of these books listed below will help you become a more effective communicator and leader.
Inclusion: Diversity, the New Workplace and the Will to Change, Jennifer Brown
This book could not be more timely. Every successful business must ensure that all employees experience a welcoming work environment where they can perform at their best and are challenged to grow. Jennifer shares best practices and business cases that inclusion is an opportunity to make your business better. Share the book with peers at your business and start a conversation.
Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to your Biggest Challenges, Amy Cuddy
You may know Amy from her viral TED Talk where she contends that adopting a power pose, like Wonder Woman, can actually make feel more confident. Her book expands on this premise with practical tips for anyone who has to pitch themselves or their ideas. If you think of a witty retort after the moment passes, this book is for you.
Slide:ology: The Art and Science of Great Presentations, Nancy Duarte
Raise your hand if you’ve sat through presentations that include 50+ slides. For years I wrapped this book up as a holiday gift to clients, hoping they would read it and realize you don’t have to put paragraphs on slides. Nancy Duarte has carved out a unique niche as a presentation expert. If that doesn’t seem very exciting, consider that within corporations, presentations are the most used channel for delivering information. This book will help you strategize the story, content, and flow to impact and influence your audience.
Sell with a Story, Paul Smith
We can all agree that storytelling is a powerful communications tool. But it takes practice to create stories that instruct, inspire and ignite action. Smith provides fascinating examples on you can take even the most technical, data-driven content and fashion a memorable story.
We recently prepared a presentation for a client that had more than 100 slides…for a one hour meeting. Do the math: If you calculate time for introductions and leave even five minutes at the end for questions, that’s a pace of two slides per minute during the presentation. A blistering pace.
Then consider the content on the slides: lots of words, tables, and occasional graphics. Typeface size was 18 to 28 point. You get the picture. The intent was to hammer home thousands of ideas and facts. The client could not be swayed. They needed every one of these slides to deliver a successful presentation. They just wanted us to “make it pretty.”
I wish I could say we used our magical powers of persuasion to enlighten them to use a strategically messaged, visually compelling presentation. Didn’t happen. I did wonder what it was like in the room for the audience… and the presenter. I imagine they were both exhausted when it was over.
Presenters often start with a bunch of slides and try to cram them into a narrative—and it shows. The most effective presentations look simple because they were planned that way.
When your objective is to communicate, educate or influence, the most important work starts with the result in mind:
What is the point you’re trying to make or what must the audience learn?
Why is it important to the audience?
What story can you use to bring the material to life?
What do you want them to do with the information?
Every presentation should tell a story or take the audience on a journey. This applies even if you’re sharing quarterly returns (some of the most important stories). Once you identify your objective, develop the slides that are clear and compelling. Be concise. Use as little text as possible. Because you don’t want them to be reading your slides, you want them to be listening to you.
Then practice, practice, practice. The more comfortable you are with the information, the less you’ll need to rely on slides. Your audience will be grateful.
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.
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org