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Category: Communications

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. 

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 correctly 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 the 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 video 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 employees appreciate the gesture, but they will also know that you are paying attention. 

Appreciation by team membersIt 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.

Managers are the key to a successful culture

A strong corporate culture is built on two sturdy pillars: trust and engagement.  Both grow when employees have an emotional commitment to their role and the business goals.  When ownership culture exists, the results are measurable and amazing.  Engaged employees:

·         Have a positive view of the company’s future

·         Serve customers well

·         Care about their team members

·         Regularly use their talents

·         Are proud of where they work

What’s the best way to build ownership culture in your business? Here’s the secret: attract, retain, and train great managers. Senior leadership may create the ownership vision, but line managers have the greatest influence in bringing it to life in your business.

Research reveals that in companies with a vibrant ownership culture, absenteeism, safety issues, and turnover plunge, while customer satisfaction, profitability, and productivity rise.  All of these things build bottom-line value.

Don’t overlook the importance of investing in training for line managers. It builds consistency in ways of working across the organization. 

Here are just a few ways managers can support company culture:

·         Set clear expectations and help team members understand their roles and responsibilities—how and why each individual’s contributions are key to the team’s success.

·         Offer opportunities to grow and learn.  They share knowledge, coach performance, and talk to team members about their strengths and opportunities.

·         Communicate regularly, not only about what’s happening but how the team aligns with business strategy.

·         Spend time getting to know team members.  It builds trust and breaks down barriers when managers act like humans.

·         Celebrate success. Even the small wins are meaningful and there are many small wins every day in your 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. 

Honoring Military Veterans at Work

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 with hiring 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. 

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.

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.