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.
By now, some of us have been working from home, sheltering in place for six weeks and it’s not clear when we’ll return to work as we experienced it before. Unprecedented is too small a word to use to describe the toll: 2.7 million coronavirus cases globally and 26 million Americans have filed jobless claims.
Now more than ever, communications from company leadership is key to building trust and maintaining focus. In many businesses, leaders are working around the clock to determine a path forward. Proactively communicating with employees must be part of that strategy. Here are some practical tips to keep your team members connected and focused.
1. Start with Compassion
Many of your employees have been affected by the virus. Whether impacted personally by illness, caring for family or friends, supervising home schooling, or taking care of children, everyone is dealing with something. Be concerned about employees’ and health and safety. Direct them to Employee Assistance Programs and other company-sponsored benefits. Provide a sincere thank you to everyone keeping things moving for the business and your customers. Be human and sincere.
2. Be Clear about the Way Forward
Things are bad everywhere and everyone knows it. Communicate the steps being taken to preserve the health of your business. Identify the biggest challenges and what the leadership team is doing to address them. Be positive about what is working well. Ask everyone to encourage and support colleagues and customers, in ways big and small. Show pride and share stories of how your people support the community and each other.
3. Empower Two-Way Communication
People consume information in different ways, so use all the channels available to your business. Resources like blogs, email, video, and the company intranet are effective, but also provide a way to collect and encourage feedback from team members. Make it easy to access. Ask for ideas on redeploying resources, increasing efficiency, and creatively solve problems. When employees feel heard, they perform well.
4. Lean on Line Managers
This is the time for your line managers to shine. While online town halls and video conferencing from leaders are essential to provide clarity, the most credible source is the manager. Prepare managers with talking points so the message is clear and consistent.
As a communicator there are several key dates each year that
you must be prepared for. One of the most important is Open Enrollment.
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:
Know your audience
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
Get a head start
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.
Clarity is key
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.
Give them the cold hard facts
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
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.
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.
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.
I was watching a movie the other night (Jurassic Park III, underrated movie in my opinion) and there was a conversation between two of the main characters that stood out for me.
Billy “You have to believe me, this was a stupid decision, but I did it with the best intentions.”
Dr. Grant “With the best intentions? Some of the worst things imaginable have been done with the best intentions.”
Now in this case, Dr. Grant was talking about building a dinosaur theme park that ended up getting hundreds of people killed. On a smaller scale, businesses sometimes make decisions that end up backfiring with undesired consequences.
Business Insider published an article recently highlighting a perfect example of this. United Airlines announced they were making a change to their employee incentive program. Rather than using the existing quarterly performance and attendance-based bonus program they were moving to a lottery- based bonus program. Eligible employees would be entered into drawings for various prizes if the company hit performance goals during that quarter. The news did not go over well. Very shortly, United President Scott Kirby announced that they would be “pressing pause” on the new system after negative feedback from employees.
“Our intention was to introduce a better, more exciting program, but we misjudged how these changes would be received by many of you. So, we are pressing the pause button on these changes to review your feedback and consider the right way to move ahead.”
There was an obvious disconnect between the decision makers at United and their employees. In retrospect, this is something that could have easily been avoided. When introducing a new internal program, particularly one that employees are passionate about, be sure to understand what your employees value and take steps to prepare them for the change. Seeking input and instituting change management best practices will help ensure that new initiatives are launched successfully.
Conducting an employee survey is a low cost effective method to gather information on employee priorities and areas that need work. Conduct an employee survey annually or use spot surveys for immediate input before launching a new program.
Before rolling out new programs, test the concept through focus groups. This will give you a good idea of how new programs will be received and identify any potential problems before launch.
Institute a Soft Launch or Pilot Program
Test the concept in one functional area or with a user group over a specified period of time. This will give the pilot group time to ask questions and give feedback before the full program launch so the program can be tweaked before full launch.
Sometimes an idea looks great of paper but simply doesn’t work in practice. Being prepared will make the entire process easier. Get out in front of any potential problems and create a plan that simplifies the information with a clear and consistent message. How does your company communicate new programs? Please share your ideas and stories with me: email@example.com
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.”
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