I was a reluctant entrepreneur. I didn’t have business school training, or someone else’s money, or a killer app to get me started. In fact, in 2000 when I launched Insight Communications, apps didn’t exist. After many years in corporate communication leadership roles, I knew I wanted more. I left my job without a detailed plan. It was an eye opener. Gone was the status that came with my previous role, my dedicated assistant, and a cool Midtown office. My new office was my dining room table. And it turned out just great.
Now Insight Communications is 17 years old! That’s a remarkable milestone when 8 out 10 small businesses fail. Over the years, we transitioned from marketing communications to internal communications. In 2014, we branched out to hatch Nest Egg Communications, a boutique agency focused on ESOP and retirement communications.
None of it would be possible without the customers who have sustained us, challenged us, and inspired us along the way. I am so thankful to them, particularly to Clay Robbins at Oglethorpe Power who was our first customer.
To celebrate our birthday, we have a gift for you: Our viewpoint on communications that separates great workplaces from good ones. Enjoy!
Less is more. The secret to effective communications is keeping it simple. Resist the urge to add more superficial detail. Your audiences will pay attention.
Commitment at the top is the key to success. We’ve worked with both types of leadership teams -those that are aligned and those who just say they are. Your employees recognize when your leaders don’t walk the talk. Get in step.
Personal stories leave a handprint on the heart. The shortest distance between two people is a story. When you share a personal story, people pay attention and remember the point of your message.
Be credible. We’ve seen more than a few companies ballyhoo their fantastic culture externally, while internally, the high performers are beating it out the door. Respect your employees enough to tell the truth. Be brave enough to be transparent, even when the news isn’t good. The most successful businesses tell it straight and involve employees in solutions.
Make your employees the stars. Let’s face it; we’ve all seen enough of the CEO. How often do you hear from frontline employees? Make employees the stars of your internal communications, recruiting and social media. It will bring your brand to life for customers, partners, and new talent.
Before you craft your next message, take a look at these and enjoy.
“When you are telling stories, have a point. It makes it much more interesting for the listener.” Planes, Trains and Automobiles, 1987
“Don’t use seven words when four will do.” Oceans Eleven, 2001
“Learning to listen, that takes a lot of discipline.” Forever Strong, 2008
“Some people without brains do an awful lot of talking.” Wizard of Oz, 1939
“Avoid using the word very because it’s lazy. A man is not very tired, he’s exhausted. He’s not very sad, he’s morose. Language was invented for one reason, to woo women. And in that endeavor, laziness will never do.” Dead Poet’s Society, 1997
“The Internet’s not written in pencil, Mark. It’s written in ink.” The Social Network, 2010
“Whoever tells the best story, wins.” Amistad, 1997
“You must write your first draft with your heart. You rewrite with your head. The first key to writing is to write, not to think.” Finding Forester, 2000
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” To Kill a Mockingbird, 1962
Everybody has to sell a little. You’re selling them this idea of you, you know, you’re sort of saying trust me, I’m, um, credible.” Broadcast News, 1987
I’m sitting with friends in a mostly-empty Phillips Arena to watch the Atlanta Hawks play the Boston Celtics. Actually, that’s not quite accurate. We weren’t really there to watch the game. We were there to get autographs from players, to hang out in freely-upgraded seats near the court (to try to mask the poor attendance to television viewers), and to troll the opponents as they walked to and from the locker room. Tickets were only $10, so it was a pretty cheap way to waste a Friday night in high school. The Hawks lost by 20. But to look on the bright side, Hawks employees gave us a box of inflatable thunder sticks (inflatable noisemakers) to take home. By the end of the season, the Hawks had won 13 games, and we’d won four boxes of thunder sticks and several items of game worn memorabilia — five shoes, two headbands, and a sock.
The NBA is a glamorous TV product that is played by some of the best athletes on the planet. But in Atlanta, the team was so bad that most of the “crowd” (and I use that term loosely) had to find ways outside the court’s lines to entertain themselves. If you did focus on the game, it was ugly. Not only did the team rack up poor results, but the quality of the play was terrible. Lots of standing around. Lots of one-on-one offense. And lots of complaining by players and coaches, which lead to the same by the fans.
Skip ahead to today, where the Hawks have the best record in the Eastern Conference and are the only team to have punched their ticket for the playoffs with a hefty 18 games still remaining in the regular season. They produced four all-stars — a club record. They’ve had a 19 game winning streak, tied for the sixth longest in NBA history. I never would have believed such success was possible 10 years ago.
The credit has to go to Head Coach Mike Budenholzer and the players who have adopted his “team first” mentality. His leadership is a perfect example to any leader in any walk of life on how to turn a team into something greater than the sum of its parts. The newly found success of the team is rooted in this philosophy. For example, instead of letting players pick their lockers, or ordering them numerically or alphabetically, “Coach Bud” strategically sat each player next to one teammate they could influence and one who could influence them. He instituted team dinners after road games. The examples go on, but maybe nothing signifies the adoption of his methods more than this excerpt reported by SI.com’s Lee Jenkins:
“Everyone is part of the shot,” [shooting guard Kyle] Korver says. “Everyone matters, and if you feel like you matter, you take ownership.”
That’s engagement, folks. Engagement isn’t about how fun your job is or how often you talk to your boss. It’s about your employees knowing that they matter. Employees who feel valued are more productive and happy people. This is what every boss should aim for, not just the ones on the hardcourt.
If you’re a business owner or you lead a team, take notes from Coach Bud. Think about the little things. Heck, even team meals and seating arrangements apply to many offices. Engage your team and you might discover that you have more all-stars than you thought.
If you work in any sort of white-collar environment, you’ve probably heard bosses ponder how to engage their workers, in particular, the youngest of those cutely nicknamed “Millennials.” The more experienced members of the labor force are often the first to tell you that Millennials are spoiled, lazy, etc. (Full Disclosure: I’m a Millennial) So what are the effects of having an unmotivated generation of workers, who’s problem is it, and how do we fix it?
While researching for this post, I came across an article on Forbes.com by Kathy Caprino entitled “Quit Trying to ‘Engage’ Millenials.” To summarize (or TL:DR for our Millennial readers), Mrs. Caprino states that Millennials can actually be productive members of your team, but only if they’re “properly managed” (sounds like engagement to me). However, I found this quote from her piece shocking:
“Your Millennials chose to apply for a job with your company and probably want to succeed or, at minimum, keep their jobs. They engaged you first, so stop assuming that you have hired a bunch of digi-zombies who must be engaged.”
This is an extremely poor characterization of not just Millennials, but anyone coming to work for a company. I will give Caprino a pass though, considering she goes on to describe ways “to attract, manage and retain [read: engage] Gen Y effectively.”
Millennials aren’t different from any other generation in that we all need to be engaged in what we do to be the most effective. Robert Hall, author of “The Disengagement Economy,” recently blogged about the engagement crisis we are facing. Below is a summary of his findings:
Gallup reports 70 percent of employees are not engaged in their work, 18 percent of which are actively disengaged. What’s even more disturbing is that this trend is following workers out of the office. Divorce rates have doubled over the past five decades. Divorced men are depressed at six times the rate of those who aren’t. Marriage is down 50 percent since 1970. Single-parent families have jumped 700% since the 1970s. And to bring it back to the youngsters, Millennials are rejecting marriage, political parties, religious affiliation, corporate organizations and trust in others at unprecedented levels. What’s the cost of all this disengagement, you ask? Researchers estimate $4.7 trillion.
Now think again about Caprino’s article, “Quit trying to engage Millennials.” I don’t know about you, but it infuriates me that people think this way. That leaders think it’s not their job to motivate. It’s not their job to sacrifice for lower earners. That, to quote Caprino again, “They engaged you first, so stop assuming that you have hired a bunch of digi-zombies who must be engaged.” Pretty infuriating, right?
The onus of engagement is on the leaders of businesses. Someone shouldn’t be called a leader because they have a fancy title. They should be called a leader because they motivate, empathize and inspire their colleagues.
Sadly, this is the same, basic solution that corporations around the world frequently rely on when it comes to solving problems, improving engagement, recognizing employees, etc.. And it’s for a perfectly good reason — it often works. It’s too bad this isn’t a sustainable way to solve every problem in the book.
I was fortunate enough to work with several dedicated individuals with InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG) on their Celebrate Service project this year. Celebrate Service is one of the broadest employee recognition events in the world, reaching out to more than 345,000 of their employees at hotels and offices in 100 countries. (You’re probably familiar with IHG’s brands, which include InterContinental ®, Crowne Plaza ®, and Holiday Inn ®.) In short, the goal of Celebrate Service is for everyone to take one week per year to celebrate how hard they work on a daily basis.
With this being my first year as a part of the project, I remember a question posed at the first Celebrate Service Meeting:
“How do we execute this project better than before and spend less?”
The answer was remarkably basic. Simple, genuine “thank yous.” It’s a concept that’s so rudimentary that it can be bypassed by our brains sometimes, which are usually trying to come up with the next big thing to impress our bosses.
Without delving into the minutiae of the execution of the project, the results were some of the best ever for Celebrate Service (est. 2010). IHG had more than 95% participation globally, their people loved it, and they spent less to do it.
Money helps, but sometimes it’s important to K.I.S.S.