Investors and stakeholders are showing increasing interest in responsible business practices, particularly in the areas of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives. The 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.
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.
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:
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 specificallyhow 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.
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.
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.
While your office may reopen soon, the pandemic is not over for many employees. Return-to- office communications should help employees feel safe, seen and supported. Their needs have shifted during the long work from home period. That’s why effective communications can go a long way to build trust and let them know their health and well-being is important to you.
Whether you’re moving to a hybrid work arrangement or expect employees back at their workstations in-house, the way you communicate will impact employee engagement. We’re counseling our clients to focus on the Big Three for re-entry communications: safety, well-being, leadership.
Make your commitment to safety visible
Employees can’t perform if they don’t feel safe. Be clear about steps undertaken to maintain a safe in-office experience, including the deep cleaning of the facility, protective equipment availability, or health checks. Are masks required? What changes are coming to the break rooms? Set up an online Coronavirus Info Hub where employees can get information, news or policy changes. Being specific about this is more important than ever before.
Many companies are broadening their wellness programs to focus on mental health maintenance and self-care. Employee Assistance Programs (EAP), often an under-utilized resource, are being more urgently promoted within benefits communications. Consider providing access to guided meditation apps like Headspace or Calm. Mental health apps, like Sanvelo and Moodfit, provide support for stress, anxiety and other issues.
Train and support front-line leaders
Train your managers and front-line supervisors with a comprehensive workplace re-entry plan. Ensure they understand any key changes in policy as well as safety protocols. Equip them to support team members with empathy. Supply guidance on regular check ins as well as fun activities like safe team bonding experiences, virtual happy hours and curated playlists. And don’t forget to praise good work and say thank you to managers. This group has been through a lot too.
One of the key takeaways of the past 16-months is that work from home is no longer a perk, but rather the future for many businesses. The hybrid workplace, where employees are co-located and have the ability to work remotely, is a hot topic, particularly with employees. A recent survey from SHRM revealed that 52% of respondents would like to continue to work remotely forever while 35% would accept a pay cut to work from home.
The shift to hybrid working means that companies have the opportunity to reset the workplace culture in many ways. But the tenets of pre-pandemic employee engagement have not changed. Communication continues to be the key to ensuring alignment and building company culture. Here are four recommendations we’re making to clients.
Conduct a health check for online collaboration tools
When the pandemic hit, businesses moved quickly to stand up collaboration tools that would keep employees connected and working productively. As hybrid workplaces evolve towards permanency, now is the time to assess how these tools are working and if remote workers have the right support and infrastructure for the long haul. If you don’t know how well they are working, survey employees now.
Create consistent person-to-person connections
Whether through group or individual online sessions, every remote employee should have a regular touchpoint with his/her manager. This ensures understanding of expectations and opportunities for feedback. Engagement lags when employees think their manager does not know, or care, what they do. Consistent interaction helps to build pride and performance.
Reimagine employee onboarding
The first 90 days in a new role is a pivotal time that can set up an employee for success or failure. Learning a new role while working remotely can feel isolating. Put practices in place to ensure the new employee understands the role, who to go to for support, and where to learn about the mission and culture of your workplace. Show your team personality with online Welcome party or a Hi There kit with company swag. Most importantly, give the new hire something to do and help prepare them to contribute.
Make recognition visible
The days of bringing everyone together for cake to celebrate a win or a milestone may be gone, but don’t skimp on saying thank you. Research indicates that when employees feel recognized and valued, they tend to be more satisfied, are more productive, and are more likely to engage with the rest of the team. Reevaluate your company recognition program with a lens on remote workers so that everyone knows their contributions are celebrated.
At the start of the pandemic, businesses without flex work arrangements were pushed into the deep end. Those companies that already leveraged online collaboration tools were better prepared. Now, as we close in on one-quarter of the adult population vaccinated, businesses are preparing for the new normal. For many of us that means returning to an office environment for the first time in many months.
WFH isn’t for everyone
A new Fortune/SurveyMonkey study of office workers shows that remote work will no longer be viewed as perk. But not everyone wants to work from home. Among the findings is that twice as many respondents prefer to be in the office than to work from home once the pandemic is over.
36% of respondents say they prefer to be always in the office
18% of respondents prefer to always work remotely
42% of respondents prefer a hybrid model with some in office/some remote work
These findings suggest that the future of flexible work arrangements will be a priority communication. Employees need to feel safe and appreciated. Leaders will need to make the case that culture and connection is continually evolving. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, so it’s well worth the time to examine and update corporate policies and the employee handbook now.
Involve employees and communicate
As you push reset on flexible work arrangements, be sure to involve employees. Surveys and online focus groups are effective tools to gather input as you finalize the business strategy.
And remember—if you ask for feedback from employees you must always thank them for the feedback and let them how their input helped to shape decisions.
February is Black History Month, a time to reflect, celebrate and learn about the heritage and significant contributions of Black Americans. Although many businesses are operating in work from home settings, there are many ways to engage employees in programming and spark meaningful conversations about racial justice that extend well past February.
Educate and spark dialog. Host a conversation series with guest speakers on topics such as Black culture, trailblazers and social justice. Encourage all employees to live your corporate values by educating themselves on racial injustice. Invite Black leaders within your company to share their career stories and talk about leadership development.
Connect and engage. Establish Employee Resource Groups, employee-led organizations focused on fostering an inclusive workplace and aligning with business objectives. ERGs are a powerful tool in employee retention, engagement, and development of future leaders.
Involve employees in brand and internal storytelling. Do your communication channels, recruiting and marketing materials look as diverse as your employee population? Employees are the most credible brand ambassadors, both internally and externally. Create new ways to showcase your employees and their stories.
Start a Leadership Book Club. Use the Lean In model as a template for a Company Book Club. Select at book, and create a company-wide reading event culminating with a moderated discussion with a company leader. Looking for inspiration? Here are some amazing books:
How to Be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi
“Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” by Isabel Wilkerson
“Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement” by John Lewis and Michael D’Orso
The NAACP offers guidelines on what brands can do for Black History Month . This includes focused recruiting efforts of diverse leaders, supporting diversity and inclusion programs within your business and engaging with local social justice organizations.
In May, our little company reached a noteworthy milestone: 20 years in business. Since 65% of new businesses fail in the first ten years, we were feeling kind of proud.
We had plans for a year of celebration including an anniversary page on our website and a memorable get together with the clients, partners and friends who had helped build our business along the way. And then Covid altered our plans. Considerably.
Just like any business story, ours was shaped by successes and failures, marked by amazing good luck and work-to-exhaustion cycles. We met the most remarkable people and learned so much from clients and partners. It’s been an honor to earn their trust as we’ve partnered to create engaging communications and build performance.
So instead of a socially-distanced slice of cake and a glass of wine, we’re sharing three principles we’ve adopted in our first 20 years. They apply to building to building a business or navigating your career. Thank you to everyone who’s taught us these lessons along the way.
1. Get prepared to be lucky.
Business success is sometimes equal parts of hard work and good luck. But luck is not sustainable. You have to be prepared. That means identifying gaps, finding partners who can do what you can’t do, and having the emotional intelligence to lead others. Do the work of being prepared.
2. Follow the strategy and be accountable.
A goal without a plan is a wish. As a new business, our goal was to stay in business. We became more sophisticated over time. Part of that is not being in love with your own ideas, focusing relentlessly on delivering the strategy, and making adjustments. When you write down an aspirational business plan, don’t put it in the drawer. Review it, update it, and hold yourself accountable for results.
3. Find a fan. Be a fan.
No matter what you role, everyone needs a fan. Everyone needs someone to believe in them, to cheer them on, to drop a positive word of encouragement when things seem bleak. Find that person for you and be that person for someone else.
As we enter the fourth month of the global pandemic, employees seek more communication and connection with their managers according to a new survey from Gallup.
The survey, conducted in June, shows that employee preparedness and alignment is down 20% from the previous month. Key findings include:
41% say that my employer has communicated a clear plan of action in response to the coronavirus.
41% say I feel well prepared to do my job.
41% say my immediate supervisor keeps me informed about what’s going on.
42% say my organization cares about my overall well-being.
During this time of uncertainty, let your employees know what they can count on at work by purposefully dialing up on communications with these three actions.
Prepare managers to coach
The best managers know their role is to support others through change. People are different, and will have different reactions in the workplace to this challenging issue. That’s why maintaining dialogue is so important. Train managers to connect and check in with employees and provide resources and tools to use when coaching team members.
Share and update your workplace safety preparedness plan
If team members are working on-site, they want to know that their safety is important to the company leadership. Communicate your COVID-19 preparedness plan, ensuring it is specific to your workplace, includes control measures to reduce exposure, and maintains a safe and healthy work environment. Provide an update in every communication from leadership. For those working remotely with an upcoming return date, spell out the plan so that they know what to expect. This issue will be top of mind for your team members throughout this year, so one and done communications won’t be enough.
Activate two-way communication channels
What process do you have in place to gather feedback from team members right now? Some companies have rescheduled or shelved employee surveys during this period. Employees still need to feel valued, heard, and engaged. Consider online town halls, message boards and group chats, or polls and QR code surveys for immediate feedback. Then, and this is important, act on the feedback. Share what you heard and let it guide your communications.
Looking for communications support for your business? Insight can help. Get in touch with us.
As businesses across the country begin to reopen following Covid-19, employees will need to feel safe and understand what to expect in new ways of working. While some businesses have extended telecommuting through the summer, that’s not an option for everyone. If you decide to reopen your business, here are some strategies to keep in mind.
Make Safety Visible
For employees to focus on their jobs, they must feel safe. Federal and state agencies have issued guidance on safe practices, including social distancing, frequent hand washing, and cleaning and sanitizing of workspaces. But these are mostly voluntary. Show employees that you care by communicating safety procedures at your business. Make it inescapable: posters, signage, emails, intranet pop-ups. Provide personal protective equipment at no cost to employees. Review and update your telecommuting policies. Ensure your managers practice and encourage uptake of new well-being processes.
The new normal is going to be confusing for a while. That’s why it’s so important that the business leadership is aligned, communicates proactively, and walks the talk. Train front-line managers on new working practices and talk about what you expect from them. The manager who doesn’t comply will be very easy to identify. Ensure there are two-way communication channels so that employees can surface issues and obtain rapid responses. Use pulse surveys to identify issues that are creating concerns. Now is the time to be visible, encouraging, and also transparent about the business challenges and what how employees can help.
Support Mental Health
Six months ago most people could not imagine daily life during a global pandemic. Unfortunately, now we all can. Your employees may have experienced the virus themselves, lost a loved one, know a friend or family member who is unemployed, or struggled with isolation or family issues. Now is the time for empathy. Show it in your leadership communications and encourage managers and supervisors to do the same. Emphasize the availability of counseling benefits or Employee Assistance Programs. Make it easy to ask for help.
There is not one prevailing roadmap through these challenging times, but employees want to hear from you. Communicate and manage sensitively. Be human.