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 us, you’re always looking for ways to get your message across in a new, unique, and interesting way. One communication channel that you might not have considered is video. Video is fast becoming the preferred channel for internal audiences because it’s the way we all consume information. Some news outlets have moved exclusively to video content and most include a video with any written content they publish. Today’s workforce has become accustomed to learning and acquiring information through video content.
Many of your colleagues are visual learners and video content helps simplify complex information and drives engagement when you communicate your message. Think about it. Which is more appealing– an email memo from the CEO or a quick 3-5 minute video where he or she speaks directly to your employees?
Research shows that people remember more of what they see and hear than what they read. Video grabs your attention and is more engaging than plain text. Seizing and retaining your audience’s attention is crucial. When you have their attention, they’ll retain the message.
Here are some options to consider when implementing videos into your Internal Communications strategy:
Online training videos or tutorials
Monthly or quarterly updates from your leaders
Announcement videos for new programs or initiatives
Recognition videos for company milestones or exemplary achievements
Employee interviews and testimonials
Videos of companywide events, such a community service day or group activity
Now you might be thinking, “I’m not a technical person” or “That would be too difficult to implement,” but it really isn’t. New technology has simplified video creation, editing and sharing to the point where anyone can do it.
Keep your videos short with a clear message. There are really no limits or restrictions to how you incorporate video content into your company’s communication plan. Think outside the box and see what ideas you can come up with.
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.
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.
Our office is located in downtown Roswell and typically by 2 p.m. on a Friday afternoon the streets are already beginning to fill with people getting an early start to their weekend. If you’re like me, once Friday afternoon arrives and the out-of-office auto-reply emails from clients start hitting your inbox, your mind begins to wander.
No matter what business you’re in, it’s likely that your employees begin thinking about weekend plans early on a beautiful summer Friday afternoon. Many companies now offer the inexpensive but morale boosting benefit of flexible summer work scheduling often known as “Summer Hours.”
A recent survey by CEB revealed that 42 percent of companies now officially sanction starting the weekend early, up 21 percent in 2015.
Offering a Summer Hours policy is an economical perk that builds engagement and can improve company culture. Typically summer hours schedules run from Memorial Day to Labor Day. This is also the most common time of the year for employees to take a vacation. So how can your company introduce a summer hour work schedule? It’s important to recognize that one plan will not work for every company. Tailor your specific program to what will work best for your company and employees.
Here are a few idea and suggestions for implementing a summer hours program at your company:
Longer weekdays for time off on Friday. Employees work extra hours Monday through Thursday in exchange for a half day or the whole day off on Friday. Employees still work 40 hours total. This method allows each employee to decide the schedule that fits their needs. Employees can choose to opt in or out of the program depending on what works best for them.
Every other Friday off. Stagger days so that half of the office is off on one Friday and the other half is off the next Friday. This is a useful program for companies that see a dip in their workload during the summer, especially on Fridays.
Holiday half days. Many companies embrace a summer holiday half day policy. This gives their employees a half day off the day before Memorial Day weekend, July 4th, and Labor Day weekend. In many cases, there’s not much work going on during this period anyway and employees have more time to spend with friends and family.
Friday half days. Is there anything better than receiving an email informing you that you can take a half on Friday? Not every company will have the flexibility to introduce a full summer hours schedule. If you can’t implement one of these programs but would still like to reward your employee choose a Friday where business is slow and give your employees the afternoon off.
You pick up many new and fascinating concepts while at college. Most lectures eventually are forgotten, but some things stay with you forever. One memorable bit of advice a professor gave me was that good ideas should be shared, studied, and reused.
Summer is the perfect time to read about the strategies of successful leaders. So take some time in the next few weeks–while curled up in a sleeping bag or lounging poolside—to dive into a good book like one of these to guide your communications and leadership development.
True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership—Bill George and Peter Sims. True leadership requires you to be true to yourself. Bill George and Peter Sims take the stories of entrepreneurs and titans of industry to show how following your internal compass can lead you to succeed and inspire.
O Great One!: A Little Story About the Awesome Power of Recognition—David Novak. David Novak outlines the simple yet meaningful effect of acknowledging and appreciating the actions of one’s colleagues. This amusing, straightforward book is a must for anyone who aspires to lead.
The Storytellers Secret—Carmine Gallo. Gallo is one of my personal favorites because he writes about communications. This book showcases stories and techniques from some of today’s most successful brand leaders. A fantastic resource for anyone who wants to make an effective presentation or speech.
Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action—Simon Sinek. A tie-in with the popular TED talk of the same name, this inspiring book charts the common connections of effective leaders and influencers.
For those of you who dread reading, try a podcast. Here are two of our favorites. The TED Radio Hour is a collection around a central theme. Each TED Talk is a little jewel. No matter your interests, this podcast will spark creativity and fresh thinking.
How I Built This is a kind of “my true life story” interview with the creators of some of the world’s best loved brands. The backstories and challenges are sometimes more inspiring than the success their businesses achieved.
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.