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.
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.
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.
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.
As an internal communicator there are several key dates throughout the year that you must be prepared for. One of the most important is Open Enrolment. 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:
Start with a survey
The time to start gathering information for Open Enrollment is now. 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 communications plan.
Reach out early and often
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.
Keep it simple
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.
Don’t sugarcoat the news
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 their colleagues.
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.
For many corporate employees, this is bonus season. In February, when year-end results are being finalized, the buzz builds. Will we make bonus, and by how much? In March, the anticipation is unmistakable.
Whether the news is good or bad, bonus season gives leaders a spotlight to connect individual performance and business results. While the architecture of bonus plans vary, most include a performance-related reward with a pay out when the company’s financial results and the individual’s performance meet set criteria. For example, when Apple missed sales and profit goals for 2016, Tim Cook saw a cut to his performance-based cash incentive. Don’t worry about Tim. Overall, he still did pretty well.
Whether the news is good or bad, the way you tell the story will impact employee engagement. Let’s look at communication strategies for both scenarios.
When the incentive target is achieved
Explain how it works. The only people who truly understand the bonus system work in Compensation. Prior to bonus announcement, send out a review of the bonus program with visual examples. Provide an online bonus calculator.
Celebrate. Good news should never be buried in an email. Create a brief video from the senior leadership team thanking employees for their contributions last year. An authentic thank you is always appreciated.
Set expectations for the current year. High performance cultures innovate, collaborate and continuously improve. Now is the time to be talking about 2017 stretch goals and aligning performance and priorities so bonuses are achieved in 2018. Create talking points for managers to cascade.
When the incentive target is missed
Explain how it works. See above. Talk through the plan structure. If thresholds were not achieved, clarify how that impacted pay outs. Remind employees that the bonus is just one component of a comprehensive rewards package and it’s performance-based. It’s extra pay for exceptional results.
Pre-announcement preparations. Prepare for this like you would for a customer or shareholder meeting. Compose key messages, draft FAQs and ensure managers are informed and prepared. Set up a channel for employee questions.
Hold town hall meetings. Where did the company fall short? Talk about it. Listen, answer questions, and discuss priorities and opportunities for 2017.
Proactive communications help connect the dots for team members. Businesses win when everyone knows, understands and lives the company’s values. Show them their contributions make a difference.
Successful leaders know that effective communications are a competitive advantage. As you begin 2017, make a resolution to evaluate the health of your employee communications. Are business goals and actions aligned? Do employees understand priorities and do they have a way to participate and share ideas?
Everyone talks about the importance of communications, but it’s just lip service without an actionable plan. Here are four ways to commit to better communications in 2017.
1) Map out your communications calendar right now—Begin with a “Welcome to 2017” 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— If a customer asks an employee what your business was about, what would they say? Everyone on your team should use the same headline. When people can connect their work to big goals, they are more engaged. Leaders who communicate the vision and values, 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. Was it complicated or overstuffed with facts? Simple stories make an emotional connection with the audience and hold their attention. Use your own experiences to make a point. I recently heard the president of a large hospitality group say that 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 form of communication, know that there is a better way. In 2016, there were 4.6 billion cell phone users in the world and most phones have video or photo capability. Your team members are viewing or creating visual media every day. Use photos and video 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. If you’re sincere, it will be memorable.
That will get you started. Need some help in communications planning for 2017? Get in touch.
Erin Andrews’ civil suit against the owner and former operator of the Nashville Marriott at Vanderbilt, and the resulting award of $55 million, should set off alarm bells for every business. In raw, gut wrenching testimony, Andrews recounted the emotional impact of being videotaped in her hotel room by a stalker. While the verdict assigned 51% of the penalty on her stalker, the hotel was found to be at fault and liable for 49% of the amount.
The verdict may be reduced or overturned on appeal, but the reputation damage is done. Guests don’t make the distinction between a company-owned or franchised business. They know the brand. In this case, they know that Andrews’ privacy, safety and security was violated at a Marriott hotel.
The individual who videotaped Andrews has already been convicted. The heart of this case was Andrews’ contention that hotel personnel gave out her room number to the stalker and did not tell her that he had asked to be put in a room next to hers.
That sounds like a training issue.
Well trained hotel personnel know to never say a guest’s room number out loud. They do not honor requests for rooms adjacent to members outside their travel party. Was the hotel employee who provided information to the stalker trained? We’ll never know. But the monetary penalty for the error is evident and the impact to the brand’s reputation is evolving.
Employee training in any business is an investment, not an expense. When employees are well trained, they perform with skill and confidence. They treat customers well and create an experience that builds brand love. Productivity and efficiency improve and turnover declines. Sure, training requires time away from operations, but that’s time well spent when employees understand their role. Knowing what not to do is as important as knowing what to do.
Companies that support employee training and development make an investment in business success.
“Please take some time to familiarize yourself with the contents and policies of our Employee Handbook and feel free to contact your HR representative if you have any questions.”
Does that sound familiar? Probably not, because in all honesty, who actually reads through their entire Employee Handbook?
Most of the time your Employee Handbook is distributed, put in a drawer and then thrown away when the next handbook is distributed. They are often an afterthought to both employees and employers that are only brought out in when someone wants to check company policies.
I recently read an article about one such extreme situation. The company, Quicken Loans, was summoned to the National Labor Relations Board offices this past December. The case against them alleged that the Detroit-based company had violated the First Amendment rights of employees and their protections under the National Labor Relations Act to discuss salary and benefits information. The allegation claimed that company policies in their Employee Handbook restricted discussions to the formation of a labor union.
Whether or not Quicken Loans is found in violation, this is a perfect case of why it is important to know what is in your Employee Handbook and why companies need to periodically update and revise it. Attorney Daniel Schudroff made a great comparison when he said “It’s like taking your car to the shop every six months for a checkup, the preventative maintenance could save an employer a costly event.”
It’s Open Enrollment season and that sound you’re hearing is not a cheery holiday carol, but the collective shriek of millions who are reviewing their medical benefit costs for 2016.
According to the Healthcare Cost Institute, a non-partisan non-profit entity, health care spending among those with employer-sponsored insurance increased 10 % from 2011-2014. The Milliman Medical Index (MMI) calculates the annual cost of healthcare for a typical family of four with employer-provided PPO insurance coverage. According to Milliman, this year’s Index is $24,671, an increase of 6.3% over 2014. Employers still pay the majority, but as cost sharing for medical benefits continues to climb, employees may be paying over 40% of the tab.
For internal communicators, there is no way to spin this. Businesses must manage their benefits costs, and since medical service is becoming more expensive, cost sharing is the prevailing technique to manage the company budget. But there is a way to make it less painful for employees and the business. There are 11 months leading up to Open Enrollment. Each month is an opportunity to inform and educate about the value of your company’s benefit plan. The good news is you don’t have to spend a lot of money to do it.
Start with a survey—Let’s get really basic: Do your employees know what benefits you offer? Design a simple survey (easy to develop on Google or through providers like Survey Monkey). Determine the awareness of all your benefits. Include Employee Assistance Programs, discounted purchase programs and retirement plans. Anything and everything. You’ll have a good foundation for the second step of this plan: education.
Develop a 12-month communication plan—Many companies cover all their benefits communications once a year to meet compliance requirements. Think about this from the employee’s perspective. No information for 11 months, then lots of information when decisions must be made immediately. It can be overwhelming. Use multiple channels to promote your benefits programs: news items, Lunch and Learns, posters. Consider highlighting one personal employee story every month. A consistent flow of communications about your benefits will increase understanding and engagement.
Be transparent—No one likes higher fees. However, if employees understand what’s driving cost increases, when the prices go up they’ll be more prepared. The time to share this information is mid-year, so the foundation is prepared for Open Enrollment. Telling that story during Open Enrollment is ineffective because your employees will be focused on their out of pocket costs. Get out in front of the issue.
Want more benefits communications ideas? Let connect.