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Category: Human Resources

Build Workplace Culture by 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 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.

Preparing for Open Enrollment

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.

How does your company communicate Open Enrollment? Please share your ideas and suggestions with me: ben.clayton@insight-communication.com

How to Communicate About Incentive Plan Results

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.

Four Ways to be a Better Communicator in 2017

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.

Think training is expensive? A lesson from the Erin Andrews civil suit

Portrait of a business owner smiling with her workers in the background

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.

Take a look at your Employee Handbook

messy manual

What is the last line in every Employee Handbook?

“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.”

Do you need support updating your Employee Handbook or would you like to give the design a refresh? We can help you with that.  Visit our website www.insight-communication.com or email me at   ben.clayton@insight-communication.com.

Three Tips to Take the Sting Out of Benefits Communications

Three Tips to Take the Sting Out of Benefits Communications

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.

Save Time by Updating Job Descriptions

Anyone who has ever been on a job hunt is familiar with sifting through hundreds, if not thousands, of job descriptions looking for the perfect match. Every day, job applicants around the world go into an interview thinking they are a perfect fit for a role, only to find that the position isn’t exactly what was described. From the hiring employer’s perspective, it’s a waste of time to use years-old job description sheets for positions that are new or have had a recent change in role or scope. It’s a waste of time and energy for both parties, but for the employer there’s also a financial cost, which twists the knife. Yet this continues to happen. Why?

The answer is simple. It’s boring! It’s a tedious exercise that needs to be given careful consideration and planning. Taking these steps on the front end will reduce the length of the hiring process and increase the retention rate of new employees. But it’s understandably difficult to afford so much time to a task so dull and time consuming.

I’ve talked to some managers about this, and while they understand it makes sense to revise and update job descriptions, they say it’s not totally necessary because “I have more pressing matters to focus on, and I can use interviews to make sure I hire the right candidates.” There’s no doubt that interviewing job candidates is a skill that will help you select the best option — the manager is right about that. But this rationale doesn’t account for the possibility that the manager will probably have to block off more time for more interviews. Using inaccurate job descriptions increases the chances of you bringing in the wrong candidates, costing you time and money.

Here’s an analogy. On your way home from work, your significant other asks you to stop by the store to pick up some bread. You pick up a loaf and bring it home. As it turns out, your SO failed to be clear that dinner rolls would have been ideal. The loaf of bread will work, but it’s not the best choice. If you need dinner rolls again tomorrow, you’re going to go back to the store to pick them up instead of using slices of bread again. The slices of bread will be…. reassigned, as they say, to lunch duty.

The best solution for updating job descriptions might be hiring outside consultants like us here at Insight to help you take it off your plate. We have experience creating and amending job descriptions for publically traded companies. If you feel you could use some help, email me at joe.patrick@insight-communication.com.

Survey Says: Invest in your Employees

When looking for a job what considerations do you take into account? Compensation is a key factor.  For some, a position with the right work/life balance is most important.  One thing that you need to take into account when choosing a company is their work place culture.  In my personal experience I’ve had jobs that I’ve enjoyed and others where I’ve dreaded coming to work each day.  When I look back at why I enjoyed some jobs and disliked others it usually came down to their work place culture.

Recently the Atlanta Journal Constitution released their list of “Best Places to Work in Atlanta 2015.”     Over 1,400 companies were nominated by their employees.  The results were determined based on employee surveys.   A number of common themes emerge among the companies that scored near the top.  These companies invested in their employees not only in the form of compensation and benefits but also in their well-being.  Employees at these companies felt respected, empowered, motivated, and appreciated by their employers.

“This makes perfect sense from a most basic human standpoint. People want to feel like they are a valuable part of something good,” said Jim Minnick, CEO and co-founder of the financial services firm eVestment. “It would be more surprising if the opposite were true.”

Tom Beaty, CEO and founder of the management consultant Insight Sourcing Group stated, “Everyone wants to be appreciated and feel like they matter. The loyalty of my team members is humbling and creates an obligation for me to ensure that they have a great experience, are able to continue to grow and learn.”

Some companies are so focused on performance and the bottom line that they forget to invest in their people.  Employees at top scoring companies said they believe in their company because their leaders believe in them.

When you invest in your employees, they will see the benefits to their well-being, and your company will in turn see the benefits to its culture and performance.

Need to work on employee engagement in your business?  Contact us and let’s get started.

Harnessing the Ice Bucket Challenge Concept for Employee Engagement

Photo of people engaging in the ice bucket challengeIt’s 30 seconds of sheer torment for a good cause that went viral. I personally know at least 20 people who took the ALS Ice Bucket challenge. And I watched every one of their videos on FaceBook. Every one of them.

Neighbors, friends, family.  Each video had its own personality, its own setting, its own rules. No professionally developed script, no fancy camera work, no sizzle reel. Just a bucket of ice, a cell phone camera, and a willing participant.

As of September 22nd, the ALS Foundation reported receiving $115 million for the cause as a result of the challenge, with literally millions of people participating.

The shocking part of this phenomenon is that so many people wanted to dump an ice bucket over their heads. Imagine harnessing the same kind of energy to rally employees around a good cause! Picking a cause that’s worthwhile and challenging employees to a fun, easy activity is a great (and inexpensive!) opportunity to bring the personality and culture of your business to life and support teamwork.

 So why was the Ice Bucket Challenge a game so many wanted to be part of?

 In a recent Forbes article about the science behind the success of the challenge, contributor Rick Smith identified three traits that make ideas go viral:

 “…Big ideas get noticed; Selfless ideas inspire action; Simple ideas write us into the story. Understand how to make your ideas big, selfless and simple and you will be able to control growth.”

Big.  In a culture of media and information overload, only the really big (ubiquitous) ideas gain any traction. Because there was a feel that everyone everywhere was watching someone dump an ice bucket over his head, a sense of shared experience grew up. Ask yourself how you can use your communications channels in creative ways to pump up enthusiasm and get everyone in on the game.

Selfless.  Empathy stirs us to action when we see someone else doing something selfless. And  there may be more selfish motives as well. Ever heard of “the audience effect?” That’s what neuro-scientists call that urge to donate or help out when someone else is looking. That’s why video and images of team members taking your challenge on social media, in your newsletter, on your message boards, are so important to getting everyone involved.

Simple. Asking people to do something that’s not too complicated increases participation. Simplicity also gives everyone the opportunity to make the activity their own and be creative if they want to be.

You may already have some great ideas for a cause-worthy employee challenge running around in your head. Here are some (maybe a little of corny) ideas to bounce off of:

  •  A Throw Back Thursday contest where employees donate when they post their pics to the company intranet.
  • How about prizes for the biggest ‘80s hair or the widest bell-bottoms?
  • Everyone loves a most beautiful baby contest particularly when team members supply their own baby pictures.

You can probably think of a lot of ideas more relevant to your culture. Give us a buzz at Insight! We’d love to hear what you think and help you execute your big idea to boost employee engagement!