Blog

Category: Company Culture

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. 

Please Avoid Tone-Deaf Employee Messaging

It’s too delicious to pass up. A corporate executive sends a company-wide email that is so insensitive or shocking that you must chuckle.  Who approved this?

Social media regularly serves up examples of executive messaging gone wrong:

  • The Klarna CEO published the names and emails of individuals offered severance following staff reductions.
  • The Howard University Hospital CEO responded to nurses’ requests for raises with a list of budget-saving tips for the home including “Do laundry at night,” “Shop store brands, not name brands,” and “Do home meal prep.”
  • The PagerDuty CEO announced workforce cuts, executive promotions, and spending cuts in the same email.  Then she added a quote from Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • The most egregious of this club may be the CEO of Better.com.  You may remember him firing 900 employees via Zoom just before the holidays a few years ago.  He previously sent an email to employees “You are TOO DAMN SLOW. You are a bunch of DUMB DOLPHINS.” 

Certainly, none of these individuals set out to offend employees (well, maybe except the dumb dolphin guy). Despite good intentions, this happens fairly often. The efficiency and speed of online tools sometimes deceive us into thinking that quick communication is the best path.  That often leads to unintended consequences.

It is worth the extra time to get the message right.

When crafting employee messaging, especially if the topic is challenging, follow these steps.

1. Put yourself in the audience’s shoes.  Is this the right message? Is it clear and in jargon-free language? Most importantly, is it thoughtful and empathetic? If you were reading this, would you feel it was relevant and respectful?

2. Have someone else review it.  Even the best communicators benefit from input.  Having someone else evaluate the messaging, and provide feedback to improve it, reduces the chance of misunderstanding. This is where a professional communicator can help.

3. Offer support. When the message has the potential to cause uncertainty, provide some direction on when more information will be available. Don’t forget to say thank you.  When employees feel recognized and valued, they’re more likely to trust management.  Perhaps even forgive a tone-deaf email.

Four Resolutions for Better Internal Communications

It is said that each new year brings a fresh start. That’s noticeably true in the workplace, where the holiday break provides a mental refresh and reset. January is the perfect time to jump-start internal communication and help employees prepare for what’s ahead this year.  Use these four resolutions to get off to a great start.

1. Welcome to 2023 message. The CEO, or the executive team, should always begin the year with a message to employees.  It’s an opportunity to say thank you for everything that was accomplished the previous year, to recap successes, and to look ahead to the current year.  Most importantly, the message helps to align around shared goals that make the biggest difference in the business. Before they can perform, innovate, and deliver, team members need to hear from senior leadership. Don’t delay in creating this communication: get it done in January, even if you don’t have all the strategic initiatives completely mapped out.  Managers must ensure employees understand how team priorities align with business strategies.

2. Communicate the company mission and values.  How often do employees need to be reminded of the company’s mission and values? Frequently. While your business priorities may change in the coming year, the mission and values should be the cornerstone.  Every announcement should be framed by the values. Performance management, recognition, and rewards programs should directly align. Accelerate the connection to mission and values in all internal communications.

3. Commit to storytelling. It’s time to acknowledge that the essay format you learned in high school is obsolete. The shortest distance between two people is a story. It’s effective whether recognizing individuals that live your company values or using data to highlight the gaps in business performance. Storytelling makes complex ideas simple, human, and relatable.  The best stories are specific and spark emotion.  When you incorporate storytelling into internal communications, you’re more likely to engage, persuade, and move people to action.

4. Prioritize employee connection and development.  The shift to remote work means that there are fewer opportunities for informal development and coaching. Ensure that employees, on-site and remote, know that their talents and abilities are valued.  Hold leaders accountable for providing meaningful developmental feedback that identifies and prepares employees to take on your company’s biggest challenges.

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.

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.

The Power of Gratitude is a Multiplier

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 ways to build appreciation into your workplace culture:

Involve senior leadership– Create a year-end video of the senior management team thanking team members during this extraordinary year. 

Be specific– Don’t underestimate the power of 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.  Your employees will know that you are paying attention. 

Introduce a peer-to-peer recognition program– It feels great to say thank you.  That’s why peer-to-peer recognition programs are motivating to employees.  They strengthen a culture of collaboration. Tailor the program to your business, align with your company values, and make the recognition defined, public, and fun.

When you recognize people for their contributions, they perform better, trust grows and so does your workplace culture.

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.