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.
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.
Consumers today are more environmentally conscious than ever. Businesses are learning that sustainability and environmental awareness can drive purchase decisions. A recent study found that 58 percent of consumers consider a company’s impact on the environment in purchase decisions and are more likely to pick companies that practice sustainable habits.
Your employees care about this too. Earth Day is April 22 and is an excellent opportunity to showcase your company’s eco-friendly initiatives and promote green behaviors with employees.
Here are a few easy-to-introduce tactics that can reduce your business carbon foot print, save money and build engagement with employees:
Promote your company’s recycling and green programs.
Ask for volunteers for a “green team” to make recommendations about green initiatives.
Incentivize carpooling or car sharing programs for employees.
Promote electronic document usage to reduce paper waste.
Host a lunch and learn with a guest speaker from a community or government organization to discuss emerging technologies or eco-initiatives in your area.
Provide recycling collection areas and educate employees about what can be recycled.
Instead of stocking disposable water bottles, provide employees with reusable water bottles with your company logo.
Sponsor a community clean-up day just for employees.
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.
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.”
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.
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).
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.
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.
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