Showing posts with label internal communication. Show all posts
Showing posts with label internal communication. Show all posts

Monday, February 4

Convincing Employees: Public Relations' Ugliest Public

Ten years ago, when you mentioned internal communication to most public relations professionals, the best you could hope for was a blank stare. (A blank stare was still one step up from any reaction at the mention of social media.) But it wasn't really their fault. Many of them were taught it was hands off.

"Oh no, we handle all external communication," one might nod in agreement, emphasis on external.

Conversely, internal communication was generally overseen by corporate communicators, internal communication teams, strategic communication professionals, employee relations experts, personnel from human resources, or someone from management. Public relations was rarely part of the equation, which was a bit ironic, especially in larger organizations.

As much as the media felt that public relations was a barrier between the organization and the media, many employees felt the opposite was true. Public relations professionals were the barrier between employees and the media (and sometimes the organization), especially when they asked all media calls be diverted to their department. Otherwise, the only time public relations might be in contact was when the pro needed a briefed subject matter expert for an interview or someone to sign off on a quote.

With some public relations professionals including social media within their sphere too, some people say the same thing about social media. Employees on social networks ought to refrain from writing, speaking, or talking about work. Really?

If the company thinks that employees don't get "the message" then why would they think anyone does?

In some cases, the employees know "the message" better than public relations professionals. Don't misunderstand me. I don't mean "the message" that has been carefully crafted in strategic planning meetings. I mean the message as it hits the streets.

Consider some of the BlackBerry messages out now. People are voting about it. Most reviewers are hedging their bets about it. And public relations is already weighing in with Alicia Keys. Really?

Do you know who has the real story on the likelihood BlackBerry has a chance? Employees. No, not the scripted kind. The kind who will tell it like it is — which elements were rushed, which coworkers felt pressured, what might have been said as the first round was passed around in house, and whether or not Keys is a demanding global brand guru.

Sure, most of them will keep their lips sealed for good reason. But that's the point. Any time employees can't be trusted to speak plainly about the new product, it's probably because they didn't buy into the communication that marketing and public relations developed. In some cases, they didn't even hear it.

I'm not saying that's the case for BlackBerry. My guess is most employees are hoping the hail Mary works out. If not, it's anybody's guess how long the organization can sustain itself. But for most organizations, the experiences it delivers — in terms of product performance or customer service —tell the real story.

For example, have you asked an employee if they saw a story about their story? Some are clueless and disinterested. Some are surprised and very interested. Some are knowledgable and ready to embellish it at the expense of the organization. Others will enthusiastically puff the company up. The same holds true for new product launches. Will employees secretly advise waiting for the updates? Will service plan providers wave people away from the sale? Is the message migrating from the inside out or are just a few people trying to convince the tech media market to take up the banner?

Monday, March 12

Communicating Internally: Engagement Matters

According to a survey by the American Psychological Association (APA), half of all employees who say they do not feel valued at work intend to look for a new job in the next year (almost three times as likely as those who do feel valued). But this turnover statistic alone doesn't capture the most convincing arguments within the study, given many employers are happy to see unsatisfied employees go.

The real boon comes from valued employees. 

Employees who do feel valued are more likely to report better physical health, better mental health, and higher levels of engagement, satisfaction, and motivation. In fact, almost all employees who feel valued at work say they are more motivated to do their best work and 88 percent say they feel engaged.

Translating this information into tangible measures is relatively easy. Valued employees take fewer sick days, produce better quality work, and are much more likely to refer or talk about their companies.

"The business world is in the midst of a sea change," says David W. Ballard, PsyD, MBA, head of APA's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program. "Successful organizations have learned that high performance and sustainable results require attention to the relationships among employee, organization, customer and community."

The real costs associated with unvalued employees. 

More than one in five (21 percent) of working Americans said they do not feel valued by their employers. And while this number doesn't necessarily seem alarming, it can be if those employees are consecrated within a single company. 

In fact, according to the APA, one of the underlying symptoms of companies in trouble are those with an abundance of employees suffering from chronic stress, especially when it is exacerbated by low salaries (46 percent), lack of opportunities for growth or advancement (41 percent), too heavy a workload (41 percent), long hours (37 percent), and unclear job expectations (35 percent).

Like other studies outside the workforce, the leading complaints among unvalued employees isn't tied exclusively to compensation. Employees, much like consumers, are looking for something more meaningful. They want to have a sense of purpose at their place of work.

Why do employees feel undervalued or unvalued at work?

• Fewer opportunities for involvement in decision making (84 percent).
• Less satisfied with the potential for growth and advancement (70 percent).
• Less likely to say they are receiving adequate monetary compensation (69 percent). 
• Less likely to say that they are receiving adequate non-monetary rewards (65 percent). 
• Fewer opportunities to use flexible work arrangements at the job (59 percent). 

A few years ago, a Gallup study on employee engagement found that about 54 percent of employees in the United States are not engaged and 17 percent are disengaged. (Only 29 percent are engaged.)

Remedies to increase engagement included two-way communication, trust in leadership, career development, shared decision making, and the means to understand the importance every role plays within a company. (Not surprisingly, many of these descriptors also appear on social media tip sheets.)

We've included some of these remedies before in several articles, including: Forgetting A Public, Manifesting Creativity, and Thinking Big. Coincidentally, the first article (conducted by a different researcher) also found that as many as 50 percent of all employees who did not feel valued would be looking for a new job. One of the most common reasons cited by employers who do not value employees was that it was an employers' market and their employees could be readily replaced. (It would not be surprising to learn that many of these companies feel the same way about their customers.)

Interestingly enough, the benefits of developing an engaged, participatory, and valued group of individuals is not confined to the workforce. The dynamic exists within volunteer organizations, social networks, and even families. The more people feel involved — and can better understand that their contributions carry meaning — the better results businesses, organizations, communities, and groups can anticipate in return.

Wednesday, March 2

Forgetting A Public: Employees, Again

Employee Relations
Employers who assume that the sluggish economy will keep their employees in check might be surprised in the months ahead. Almost 50 percent of employees have considered leaving their jobs. More than 21 percent have already applied elsewhere in the last six months.

The study, conducted by MarketTools, Inc., a feedback software management firm, mirrors another released by the Conference Board in January. It found that 55 percent of employees were dissatisfied with their jobs, which represents the lowest morale point in the last two decades. Other studies conducted last year revealed largely the same findings.

The Cause Of Employee Dissatisfaction.

According to the study, the most common complaints from employees suggested 47 percent were dissatisfied with their salary, 24 percent were dissatisfied with their workload, 21 percent were dissatisfied with their opportunities for advancement, and 21 percent were dissatisfied with their immediate manager or supervisor. However, before jumping on any knee-jerk solutions — raises, staff support, and management shifts — there is something else to consider.

When people answer job satisfaction surveys, they tend to provide misinformation. Sometimes you have to look at unrelated surveys to gain a greater appreciation for what employees are thinking.

overworkedFor example, a USA Today poll taken earlier in the year asked a different question. Instead of asking "What are you most dissatisfied with at your job?" they asked "Which of the following is most important about your job?" The answer they received paints a much different picture. About 21 percent cited job security, 20 percent said health benefits, 14 percent said work-life balance, 14 percent said salary, and 11 percent said retirement benefits.

But no matter what they say, there is something else. Most employees will accept less of everything if they are satisfied with their jobs. They do it all the time. (Even in education, private school teachers make less but outperform their higher paid counterparts.)

The Culprit Of Communication.

In many cases, the foundation of employee dissatisfaction is communication. In general, employers either communicate too much about challenges beyond their control, ask employees to look for problems, or do not communicate enough about the greater scope of external conversations outside the workplace. All three reinforce employee dissatisfaction.

Communicating Challenges. Even companies that are outperforming cannot resist the urge to mention the weak economy. Both companies that have had to resort to layoffs and cutbacks and those that grew mention it all the time.

We've read it in several company reports. Almost every one of them has a sentence that starts "Because of a weak economy" or "Despite a weak economy" within the first three paragraphs of their openers. Every time they say "weak economy," the mind immediately jumps to questions about job security.

Focusing On Problems. The same can be said about customer surveys, but employee surveys are even worse. Inexperienced communicators send out surveys that few employees want to take, most employees don't trust, and almost all of them set unintended agendas.

When you ask people to point out problems, they will instinctively find them. Ergo, the aforementioned surveys underscore the point. Ask employees what they are dissatisfied about with their jobs elicits a much different answer than what they value about their job the most.

Ignoring News Babble. Of course, employers don't always think about it, but sometimes their worst enemies are people who have very little to do with their companies. Politicians and newscasters continually pelt them with problems that demand more focus.

It's not a coincidence that health benefits struck a chord in the USA Today survey. Every time the health care debate comes up, people start to wonder how their health benefits stack up in comparison to everyone else, if they have enough, and what would happen if they had a major problem. Just wait ... in a few months when Social Security becomes a hot issue, employees will start listing retirement as a top two concern.

In all three cases, employees are being pelted with negativity. And the question employers ought to be asking themselves is whether they are contributing to the negative speak or doing enough to address the negative speak bombarding employees everywhere else. If you do not, then expect things to get worse — bad news and doubt spread faster than good news and promise inside any workplace, community, and social network.

The Cost Of Employee Dissatisfaction.

There are some employers who dismiss employee satisfaction outright. Some even stand by an adage that if an employee doesn't like working somewhere then they can show themselves the door. I agree that there is a certain percentage of employees who will never be happy no matter where they work. However, with employee dissatisfaction crossing 50 percent, it's safe to assume that a few bad apples aren't spoiling the bushel ... the bushel is spoiling the few good apples.

Nice store. Rude staff.There are tangible costs associated with dissatisfaction in the workplace. You can do the math several different ways. How many customers does a dissatisfied employee come in contact with on a daily basis? How many people (family, friends, associates) do they mention their dissatisfaction to? What is it like to work in an environment where one of every two employees points out unaddressed problems within the company or reinforces their disdain for the supervisor?

It's one of the lessons I share with communication students. In addition to conducting customer research, I tell them to consider the client workplace. If the employees seem unhappy, stressed, or demoralized, it is likely even the best marketing plan will fail because the conversion rate will be ridiculously low. In some cases, they might even be destined to fail.

How To Begin The Reversal Process.

As anyone who works in social media knows, no one can control a conversation. You can, however, manage it. While this only scratches the surface, communication can help reset the mood.

Avoid negative speak (if a weak economy isn't an impact, don't bring it up unless it's brought up). Skip the surveys and encourage productive team meetings (dialogue is more meaningful than multiple choice). Take public conversations and turn them into conversational opportunities — if health care is the political hot topic today, then use it as an opportunity to remind employees what and why you offer what you do. In some cases, it might even be worthwhile to improve it, even a little bit.

Consider the impact of the latter. While the nation debates health care, your employees might offer up how their company is covered rather than assuming they aren't. Just remember to avoid negative speak packaging. You don't have to reinforce what others don't have or include something like "despite the lack of health care at most companies" or "because of the out-of-control costs" to convey the point. They'll get it.

Of course, all of these solutions are proactive. From the original study mentioned, most companies aren't even reactive. Three-quarters of all employees say their companies do not solicit employee feedback. And of those who do, most only solicit it quarterly or less.

The irony is that while employees continue to be ignored, customer feedback models are leaning toward real time. That doesn't make too much sense when you think about it. If you think knowing more about your customers will improve sales performance, doesn't it stand to reason you might want to know something about the employee they have contact with? Maybe.

Tuesday, December 21

Nurturing Teams: Keep Incentives Simple

Fargo, North Dakota
Many people had a chuckle after learning about a sales team that was given an all-expenses-paid trip to Fargo, North Dakota, for missing their sales goals. Had they hit those goals, the makers of Hot Tamales would have sent them to Hawaii instead.

But some executives might ask whether or not it was smart. Infinitely so.

Just Born, the family-owned candy manufacturer that has been in business for eight decades (three generations), believes in motivating and engaging employees. One of its many philosophies includes that great things happen when everyday courtesy, kindness, and humor are woven into all our personal and professional interactions. And the Fargo team vacation underscores it well.

While some companies create incentive programs that make employees feel like they lost something, this company simply gave them something else. So instead of having an office filled with people who "lost" going nowhere, about two dozen sales people shared an experience that may even be a better team building vacation than had they won the most luxurious team trip.

Case in point. One of the sales associates told the AP, succinctly in good spirits, "Twenty to 30 years down the road, when we see each other, we're going to say, 'Remember Fargo?'" Whereas nobody seems to be dwelling on how they lost a trip to Hawaii, which is what they would have done otherwise. Worse, they might have even second guessed their sales, which increased by two percent (as opposed to the goal of four percent).

Developing Incentive Programs That Work.

Many employers put significant thought into employee reward programs, but sometimes they forger that employees do too. When faced with a rewards program, many employees ask: do I value the reward, can I realistically achieve the results, and is the reward really related to my (or my team's) performance?

Case in point. I worked with one company years ago that gave employees annual bonuses related to individual store sales, with the managers (up to 5 percent), assistant managers (up to 5 percent), and employees (up to 1/2 percent) receiving a scaled percentage of their salary as a bonus. While store managers seemed to be motivated (they received credit for new clients), it didn't connect with many employees — in-store sales people, stock personnel, or delivery drivers.

Why not? Because the bonuses were not related their performance. They were more motivated to excel in areas related to their job descriptions (and semi-annual raises).

In some cases, the program even split the team because as managers left the store to find new clients, employees felt deserted by management. In other cases, managers would aggressively pursue the bonuses as money they already counted on at the end of the year, sometimes wearing their performance emotions on their sleeves.

Even more daunting, store managers were also competing with outside sales reps. What made that especially interesting, however, is that outside reps' sales had to be filled at stores (and stores received credit for those sales). In sum, it was a mess.

Keep It Sweet, Simple, And Equal.

Now take a good look at the Hot Tamales sales incentive. The incentive was simple, sweet, straightforward, and singular in how it was structured. But best of all, even when the team didn't achieve its goal, they received something that fits in nicely with the company's philosophy, sense of humor, and is a memorable team building opportunity (maybe even more so than if they had received a trip to Hawaii).

Tuesday, September 14

Overemphasizing External: Companies Still Neglect Employees

While a new survey from the CMO Club and Hill & Knowlton reveals 52 percent of companies have yet to align marketing and public relations efforts, the real story is that 70 percent of chief marketing officers (CMOs) do not have an active employee engagement program.

Perhaps worse, 58 percent of CMOs believe marketing spearheads efforts to galvanize employees. Seriously? Having sat in several meetings where advertising agencies have unveiled new logos by giving employees pens and paperweights, I can assure anyone that not only are employees the most important public, but many of them also wear more than one label.

Five Reasons That Employees Matter As A Public.

People are more productive when they enjoy what they are doing. Most entrepreneurs always advise that you have to love a business to make it successful. Employees feel the same. If they feel like their employer is making a difference in their lives, then they will work harder to make a difference in people's lives, especially customers.

People are drawn to building something. Sure, most people are content to let other people set their goals in exchange for security and stable conditions. But great companies empower people more than they employ them. They frequently crowd source from their employees to make improvements on every level.

People want to be proud of where they contribute. One of the most neglected areas of crisis communication is employee communication. Even while companies such as BP spend millions to ease the markets, they forget the residual impact of several thousand employees who are embarrassed to tell people where they work.

People don't wear just one hat. This is especially true for B2C companies, but B2B as well. Employees are frequently customers and shareholders too. And, with the exception of luxury brands, consumers feel comforted knowing that the bank teller keeps her account at the same bank and the car salesman drives the brand he sells. Likewise, employees who have some of their retirement wrapped up in a company are equally sensitive to stock fluctuations.

People don't like surveys all that much. If your only employee feedback is in the form of a survey, they're not engaged. In fact, most employees are afraid to provide honest feedback for fear of being fired. It's much more effective to establish communication through supervisors (whom employees tend to trust) and some direct contact with executives. If your employees aren't comfortable with sharing information direct, it's likely a symptom of bigger problems.

Who Should Lead The Employee Engagement Effort?

Interestingly enough, many companies struggle with the question as much as they struggle with who is best suited to lead social media. Given all companies are different, there seems to be only one right answer. True integrated communication is ongoing, not ad hoc, which leaves the person best suited to the task being the leader.

Right. Leaders are best suited to lead whether they come from the public relations, corporate communication, marketing, investor relations, or even human resources department. And in communication, the best leaders tend to be those who are the most experienced across a variety of disciplines. Or, in other words, if you are an entrepreneur making the decision, choose people over professions.

Monday, July 12

Cutting Budgets: Reinvest It Instead

After what seemed like several steps toward economic recovery, the second quarter has shaken the confidence of some U.K. companies. Almost 20 percent cut marketing budgets. Business confidence is tuned to consumer confidence, according to the IPA/BDO Bellwether survey.

To some degree, it is expected. Last week, Diane Swonk, chief economist of Mesirow Financial, said it is likely that Europe will stay in a recession through 2011. (Report.) The United States is anticipated to recover quicker, but its recovery hinges on how many new regulations and increased taxes are passed in 2010.

The real bellwether for economic recovery, of course, isn't businesses or financial advisors. U.S. consumer confidence remains low, with a recent USA Today poll revealing as many as 54 percent of Americans surveyed believe their standard of living has not improved, when compared to that of 5 years prior. Fifty-five percent believe that things will not improve for their children.

In a different poll, just over 20 percent are satisfied with the direction of the country. The problem is private sector job creation. Even companies that are succeeding have been slow to hire new employees because there is no certainty.

The Alternative To Cutting Budgets Is Recreating Culture.

Conventional wisdom suggests that companies ought not to cut their marketing budgets. But as companies face a diminishing return on their marketing, they often feel compelled to make marketing cuts to forestall another round of layoffs.

What could they do instead? Almost every recession success story seems to have a common thread. The companies that win have successfully identified a company "culture" inside and out. They recognize that they cannot win with being faceless commodities no matter how deeply they slash prices. Instead, they rely on a culture with which consumers can identify.

• Wal-Mart. Say what you will about Wal-Mart, the company is still succeeding with what it calls servant leadership. The concept is so deeply rooted in the company that it has become part of its culture.

• Ikea. A growing global company, Ikea places its emphasis on leadership that reinforces its core values and culture. Even without knowing what is on sale, there is an immediate emotional connection with the name.

• Apple. Even as critics continually knock the company, it remains steadfast on success. The reason is simple. It focuses less on reputation and more on character or, specifically, a "culture."

• Zappos. Make no mistake, Zappos did it right. Ask anyone who worked at the company then and they will tell you. The most critical component to the longevity and success of Zappos is its culture.

So maybe cutting the marketing budget is less important than funneling some that money into defining the culture of the company inside and out. The challenge for those who recognize the need is easy to see. They don't know how.

The First Step Toward Recreating Culture.

Great communication happens from the inside out so never mind external crowd sourcing at the moment. As good as customers are at telling companies what is wrong, the people inside have to believe that they can deliver on the promises that their leaders make.

In order to recreate a new culture, it requires bringing internal stakeholders to the table and the deeper down the better. Not only do employees hear from customers day in and day out, but they are keenly aware of what can or cannot be done. Accept their input, pick from the clear differentials, and let them make that commitment before you take the message to the marketplace.

Reputation is the by-product of action, not communication. Communication and marketing merely make the promise.

For Apple it's innovation. For Ikea, it's affordable designs. For Wal-Mart, it's everyday savings. For Zappos, it's friendly online customer service. And sure, some people don't like those messages or those companies. But that is okay. Monopolies and market dominance make most companies lazy anyway.

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Friday, January 29

Absorbing Attitudes: Environmental Influences

At the end of World War II and again in the 1960s, environmental psychology became an increasingly popular field of study as shifts in society seemed to suggest that "nearby nature" affects people's mental and physical health. There are several reoccurring themes in the research (De Young, R., 1999, Encyclopedia of Environmental Science).

Common areas of interest within environmental psychology.

• Attention. How voluntary (things we want to notice) and involuntary (things that distract us) stimuli affect people.
• Perception. How cognitive maps recall past experiences associated with present events, ideas, and emotions.
• Environments. How people seek out and interact with places where they feel comfortable and confident.
• Environmental stress. How prolonged uncertainty, lack of predictability, and stimulus overload impact people.
• Participation. How involving people in design processes can contribute to feeling comfortable and confident.
• Conservation. How attitudes, perceptions, and values influence people toward an ecologically sustainable society.

My interest in the area of psychology was a result of working with my son on his science project. He placed two white carnations in each of three vases, and then added food coloring to two of them (leaving the third untouched as a control). The experiment was to test his hypothesis that the white carnations would adopt the color of the dyed water. They did, which opened an analogy that some people are familiar with (even when they are called by other names).

Tony Robbins includes it as his first of five keys to thrive in 2010, saying how important it is to feed your mind with positive messages and influences.

Harvard Business Review promoted the concept today by reintroducing emotional intelligence, a topic field I enjoy writing about under social intelligence.

There are countless studies that suggest children are prone to adopt parental behaviors, e.g., children of fit parents tend to exercise; children of parents who read tend to read; children who are abused have a greater tendency to become abusive; and so on and so forth. (However, the impact of nurturing depends greatly upon how individual children develop cognitive maps).

Unless we are vigilant in preserving self-awareness, we tend to adopt what we're exposed to.

In general, much like the carnations, we tend to be influenced by the information we absorb. In some cases, much like the carnations, we might not even notice those subtle veins of green or red. We're influenced (unless purposely uninfluenced) nonetheless.

In fact, it probably underpins another new study released a few weeks ago. Right now, only 45 percent of Americans are satisfied with their jobs. Fewer workers say they like their co-workers. And fewer workers like their bosses.

The lesson might be three-fold for anyone who wants to pursue it.

As individuals, we might pay attention to media we consume or groups we associate with as it can make a difference (which might be why the iPad speech seemed more palatable than the President's). As leaders, we might be especially cognitive as influencers over the teams we manage. And as organizational communicators, we might consider whether those messages help people become more confident as it could have a dramatic impact on the effectiveness of the communication.

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Friday, January 22

Improving Performance: The Weekend Effect At Work?

A new study, published in the January 2010 issue of the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, noted that people experience better moods, greater vitality, and fewer aches and pains from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon. Called the "weekend effect" by Richard Ryan, author and professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, the study found that even people with interesting, high status jobs tend to feel happier on the weekend.

"Our findings highlight just how important free time is to an individual's well-being." Ryan said. "Far from frivolous, the relatively unfettered time on weekends provides critical opportunities for bonding with others, exploring interests and relaxing -- basic psychological needs that people should be careful not to crowd out with overwork."

Among the most interesting findings from the study that tracked the moods of 74 adults (ages 18 to 62), was the distinction of whether people felt controlled or autonomous in the tasks they were asked to perform at work or on the weekend. Participants also indicated how close they felt to others present and how competent they perceived themselves to be at their activity.

The results supported a self-determination theory, which suggests that a person's well-being depends largely on autonomy, a sense of competence, and relatedness to others. The takeaway from the weekend effect for business leaders is simple. Affording employees more autonomy and nurturing emotional connections between co-workers could contribute to a greater well-being, competence in performance, and increased productivity.

The study also seems to provide real insight into why the right corporate culture can propel companies forward or how organizational leaders, internal communicators, and individuals can make a difference in the workplace.

Defining The Organizational Culture

• Organizational Clarity. Almost every successful model works toward establishing a vision, mission, and values to produce such clarity. However, where companies sometimes undervalue the mechanisms that contribute to the brand or corporate culture is that they forget to make every member of the team part of the planning process.

• Decision Making. As the study suggests, increasing autonomy across all positions can contribute to a better sense of well-being within a company. Generally, the biggest barrier for companies to overcome is eliminating the fear of failure, especially when employees are concerned about their jobs. In developing organizational charts, leaders might want to clearly define areas where employees can empower themselves within the workplace by allowing them to make decisions after any mandatories are complete.

• Organizational Communication. Earlier this week, there was an article that revealed almost 90 percent of UK councils block employee social media access (hat tip: Shel Holtz). The blocking often stems from fear that social media could reduce employee productivity. However, social media and social networks can be employed differently. With guidance, they can be used to bust silos (isolated departments) and help reestablish the free flow of information between employees.

• Management Style. We've been integrating leadership communication into the mix for the better part of two years. In doing so, many posts reinforce a concept that some companies seem to have forgotten: leadership moves people forward; management tends to regulate. In other words, authoritarian styles tend to be counterproductive, especially among younger generations that grew up with a greater sense of autonomy.

• Human Resource Development. If there are any trends that we would like to see developing out of the recession, it would be an increased effort to break down any barriers between human resources and corporate or internal communication. Whereas human resources can host development workshops, corporate and internal communication departments could develop joint communication projects that benefit workers between such sessions. The goal here, once again, would be to create a corporate culture that encourages autonomy, a sense of competence, and relatedness to others.

Of course, I don't subscribe to the concept that individuals should wait for employers to lead. So in looking over this five-point list, it seems some individuals might find ways to adopt these principles on their own.

In other words, individuals can improve their own sense of performance and well-being at work by defining their role within the company; making decisions based on how they react and respond to their environment; reaching out to colleagues in other departments when the need arrises; adjusting their own outlook to take on leadership qualities in dealing with others; and pursuing their own professional development sessions outside of work.

In that case, even if the work environment doesn't feel changed, individuals can improve their outlook or perhaps prepare themselves for a more rewarding experience at a company where such traits are admired. The choice is yours.

Monday, January 4

Setting The Pace: Present Tense

"How did I do, you know, last year?"

Although my son didn't know it, his question followed a common conversation trend. Most people were (and still are) mulling over last year.

AdAge called it the year the marketing world will happily put behind it. Politico recapped the top media blunders. Andy Carvin at NPR posted a word cloud expressing the responses of more than 500 people about last year. And so on and so forth.

"It's the wrong question," I told him.

You might ask how you are doing instead. Then you might find out "how you did" is irrelevant by comparison.

"How am I doing?" he asked.

"That's my question for you," I laughed. "How are you doing?"

Last Thursday, he didn't feel like he was doing all that well. He had a math paper to redo, 300 pages in his AR book to read, and felt rundown after taking a break from tae kwon do during the holidays. He didn't feel like he could get it all done.

This morning, four days later, he feels differently. Because after our conversation, he stopped focusing on how he did and started focusing on what he was doing.

So when I asked him today, he said was doing great. He had finished his math on Thursday, read 100 pages in his book every day to complete it, and began an exercise program with an investment of 30 minutes a day. Today — with all of his holiday homework complete, readiness to test on an AR book, and feeling positive about the future — he really is doing great.

In fact, he said, meeting all of his pace-setting objectives for 2010 wasn't even difficult. He still had time to visit his grandparents, work on a beginner electronics project with me, play with his younger sister, and enjoy free time on Club Penguin. We took in a movie too.

What can you learn from a ten-year-old?

By changing his focus from what he "had done" to what he "is doing," we were able to put his ideas into actions and his actions into results. Results tend to motivate people to move forward. And maybe they can for your team too.

Five steps to jump start internal communication.

• Plan to take action based on current employee assessments.
• Provide a clear direction to help them move forward today.
• Discuss and implement pace-setting actions that can start immediately.
• Practice reflective listening, using it to help overcome doubt or fear.
• Promote mutual trust by asking them how they "are doing."

By the end of the day (or throughout the week), ask them how they are doing. If they answer with enthusiasm, it's working. If they answer with anything other than, find out why and help them prioritize in order to achieve those early pace-setting goals.

It might seem overly simple, but my son wasn't the only beneficiary to setting the right pace for a new year. Within four days, we sent one business proposal out for review, added two new clients, and completed three major projects. We're doing great.

Putting in a few weekend hours on my part didn't dampen my spirits either. I still had time to tackle a few household chores, start a training program, and work in plenty of free time. So I'm doing great too. How about you?

How are you doing?

You don't have to answer right away. Give yourself a moment to adjust. Take until the end of the day (or end of the week if you really have to). And then let me know if the present tense feels better than the past tense for you, your family, or your team.

Friday, December 18

Revitalizing Teams: Five Steps To Success

Steve Tobak, a marketing and strategy consultant based in Silicon Valley, published a five-step process for turning around demoralized, underperforming groups.

His timing is right. The holidays provide a great opportunity for a psychological reset, with the first two weeks of the new year being the best time to establish a new direction, assuming executives doesn't derail the team by looking back at 2009.

Tobak's 5-Step Process For Turning Around Groups.

• Understand how it got that way.
• Pick your leaders, and add new hires.
• Rebuild reputation with executives.
• Set challenges with realistic goals.
• Demonstrate value to the company.

Enhancing The 5-Step Process For Revitalizing Groups.

Tobak estimates that his process will take a year or two, which seems to be far, far too long for modern companies and organizations. Most of the world, nowadays, needs measurable results in 180 days and demonstrated traction inside of 90. It's achievable, with some modifications to the process.

• Situation Analysis. Tobak is right that you have to have some understanding of how you got there. The strongest part of his post includes five of the most common reasons.

• Establish A Strategy. Before picking any leaders, set a new purpose for the group. What is it that the group is about and how does that fit within the company? It's especially important to set the strategy before picking leaders because individual positions within the renewed group might be different depending on that strategy.

• Establish The Tactics. Determine the baseline for work that needs to be done (and prioritize it) within the strategy. This will help you pinpoint where you can maximize individual team members in ways you may have never considered before. Then, and only then, if there are any holes, consider new hires with specific skill sets to fill them (but only after the next step).

• Set Challenges With Goals. Except, rather than simply setting them, it's more worthwhile to host a team meeting after priming key individuals within the group. Although you can have a frame work, it's important to let the team set those goals — not the mandatories, but rather what would constitute overachievement.* By the way, I suggest doing this step prior to adding new hires so the original team can own it.

• Demonstrate Accountability. I don't really believe you can "rebuild" a group's reputation. Reputation is an outcome. You "rebuild" the group's ability to achieve goals and reputation will follow. You can set the stage internally, with regular team meetings to report on individual progress. (You might want to meet with specific people before the group reporting, ensuring they have met mandatories and/or are ready to explain "why" they have not with feasible 30-day solutions.

*I flagged this point because in working with nonprofit organizations, political campaign teams, and even small- to medium-sized companies, I've found setting two bars can make a big difference. The first bar is a mandatory goal; the second bar is an overachievement goal.

The reason is simple. Having a second reachable overachievement goal ensures the group won't stop producing after meeting any minimums. In every group where I've established two bars, 90 percent tend to shoot for the higher goal, and the remaining 10 percent meet mandatories but don't feel pressured or demoralized for only reaching the first bar.

For example, oversimplified, if someone in charge of programs has a mandatory goal of hosting two programs in 180 days, the overachievement goal might be to host three, with the third being the one that they have the most flexibility to produce. Special projects like that, which are really an extension of goals, are often seen as an incentive as much as a goal.

Again, Tobak does have a strong start with his 5-step process. My enhancements will help make it move faster.

Other than that, there is only one more thing I might adapt. Any time I have the opportunity, I discourage companies from creating environments where different departments have to vie for limited resources. It's counter productive and demonstrates a lack of leadership.

Sure, I appreciate that many companies are run in this fashion. But that is the point, isn't it? It tends to show, much like it probably showed in the group before you decided to turn it around.

Monday, September 21

Managing Upturns: Reactionary Expectations

"Those who succeed will be ones that focused on fundamental issues as the financial crisis and the recession intensified. If competitors are cutting back advertising or cutting their sales force, now is the time to increase or maintain them." — Yoram (Jerry) Wind, a professor of marketing at Wharton University of Pennsylvania

Two weeks ago, I met with an executive who had decided a little bit of publicity could go a long way for her struggling business. A well-placed feature release, she concluded, would make all the difference.

Could it really?

In evaluating the business there seemed to be more nostalgia than newsworthy forward motion. So while a feature release on the company's past position and links to history might have made an interesting story to someone, it seemed far enough off from the company's business objectives that we made a different recommendation for approximately the same investment, but with an ongoing communication program.

While she thought the program was perfect, she passed. Perhaps when the economy shows more signs of an economic upturn, she said. We'll wait until we see increases in revenue. Right now, she said, our expectations are low.

“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.” — Michelangelo

While some companies are already noting that the best six-month run on Wall Street might be revealing an increase in consumer confidence, there are an equal number of companies and organizations that have tied their success to outside forces, especially the economy. A recent article featured by Knowledge@Wharton seems to suggest that even with an economic upturn, low expectations are the way to go.

It's a message that seems to resonate with employees. Watson Wyatt released a study today that reveals cost-cutting actions that employers have been making to deal with the economic crisis have contributed to a sharp decline in the morale and commitment of their workers, especially top performers. And, according to some key findings, everyone's expectations are already low:

• While organizations have been making major changes, employee engagement has dropped 9 percent since last year for all employees and close to 25 percent for top-performing employees.

• Top-performing employees are 20 percent less likely to agree that they understand the link between their own goals and the company’s goals than in 2008.

• Forty-one percent of employees indicate that changes have had an adverse impact on quality and customer service, while only 17 percent of employers believe this is the case.

“There is no scarcity of opportunity to make a living at what you love; there's only scarcity of resolve to make it happen.” — Wayne Dyer

There are two ways to view economic indicators and the environments in which businesses operate. The first is to view a company as reliant on the economic climate. The second is to discover opportunities within those environments.

The former group of companies are operating on the pretense that they need to protect what they have. The latter group of companies appreciates that they never had anything except what they innovated and earned.

The former group saw revenues decline, as their strategists predicted. The latter saw revenues increase, despite the recession.

What's the difference? Operating from a viewpoint of scarcity usually creates more of the same, with longer term consequences. Or, in other words, the executive I met with two weeks ago will not likely see an increase in revenue any time in the near future. The best she can hope for is that her competitors feel the same way.

Sure, it would have been easier to rehash her company's history in a feature release with no outcomes (or none that aligned with her business objectives) and then send an invoice for the effort. But sometimes accepting the wrong work for the sake of accepting it seems to me to be a different kind of scarcity that sends the wrong message to our team. After all, we're in the business of helping companies grow. We're not in the business of helping them decline. How about you?

Thursday, August 27

Redefining Publics: Employees First

While some companies consider social media to be the greatest change in how layoffs are handled, a new study, Global Trends in Separation Practices from DBM and the Human Capital Institute (HCI), reinforces that severance packages and internal communication remain the most critical components to survival.

"When employees leave an organization, they don't just become ex-employees," said Robert Gasparini, CEO and Chairman of DBM. "Departing employees become customers, referral sources, competitors, and perhaps even future employees returning to the organization. By well managing employee separation, companies can fortify loyalty and mitigate retention risk among the remaining workforce."

Specifically, the study found that 71 percent of organizations reducing their labor force experienced reduced employee morale and 62 percent reported reduced loyalty among employees. Unfortunately, for too many companies, this news came too late. And, in some cases, even companies that delivered fair-to-superior severance packages missed the mark on effectively communicating their efforts.

Internal Audiences Remain The Most Important Public

While such internal morale damage can be related to any number of factors — the reason behind the decision, severance pay, outplacement support, and continuing benefits — the only opportunity to turn it around begins with internal communication, especially for companies that never communicated what those benefits were or what they meant. Even more important, such communication cannot rely on vehicles alone. It must be personal, and probably led by a face-to-face meeting with management.

Although not related to layoffs, the recent internal communication leaked at Nielsen provides a excellent example. Had managers been briefed about the external communication, hosted small face-to-face gatherings with employees, answered questions, and then left behind a handout that focused on the future of the company, the outcome would have been very different.

Instead, Nielsen sent out a push message to employees despite the fact that most studies indicate only about 15 percent of employees read employee magazines, newsletters, internal blogs, memos, etc. (And, according to Jack Pyle, a fellow with PRSA, one West Coast employer discovered that only four percent of top managers in the company actually read corporate memos.) Worse, of the very few who do read internal memos, they are the most likely to forward the worst ones to the media.

Of course, none of this is intended to disparage employee magazines, newsletters, internal blogs, memos, etc. On the contrary, most internal communication studies simply reveal that it is not employee communication vehicles that are failing as much as the content contained within them.

And that makes us wonder if the question some companies ought to be asking is "how is our company's communication doing these days?" And, more importantly, is it connecting with employees so our customers have the best possible experience?

Friday, August 7

Fearing Social Media: Executives

According to a new survey by Minneapolis-based Russell Herder and Ethos Business Law, fear continues to underpin companies considering social media.

• 51 percent percent of executives fear it will be detrimental to employee productivity.
• 49 percent fear that participation will likely damage company reputation.

Among companies that have not considered social media as part of their communication plan, it's much the same.

• 51 percent said they did not know enough.
• 40 percent said they are concerned with confidentiality or security.
• 37 percent said they worry it will be detrimental to employee productivity.

The reality of misplaced fear in the modern workplace.

As the adoption rate of social media as a critical component of any communication plan increases, all the attention seems to have catapulted social media to the top of many corporate fear factor lists. And, with the recent ban by the U.S. Marines, considering it the number one concern for decision makers certainly feels justified. Or is it?

While our company has long maintained fear itself is the underlying cause of most corporate meltdowns and lackluster results, placing social media at the top of the corporate fear list is preposterous. Here are the leading causes for lost employee productivity, reputation damage, and security threats:

• According to the Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association, low employee morale and depression are the leading cause of lost employee productivity.
• According to an abstract by Elsevier Ltd. and several other studies, management credibility is the leading cause of reputation damage among companies.
• According to several studies by Deloitte, human error remains the leading cause of security threats over technology, with employee misconduct being the number one concern.

Are any social media fears justified on any level?

Not knowing enough about social media may be temporarily justifiable for slow moving companies (as too many jump in without any semblance of a plan), but the root cause for all other fears — productivity issues, reputation damage, and security threats — are almost always symptoms of internal communication problems and/or bad management.

In other words, the reason for not engaging in social media might even communicate more about a company or organization than had they ever engaged in the first place. How about your organization?

Friday, July 24

Pulling Employees: Five Es For Internal Audiences

As much as people talk about pull communication for customers, there is another audience that needs it. Employees.

Even when I speak to public relations students, I always include at least one class that reinforces just how much impact external communication has on internal audiences. My concluding point is always the same — the best communication happens from the inside out. Today, this concept is especially true as the barriers between the two are largely non-existent.

Five Es For Better Employee Communication.

• Engagement. Ongoing and open two-way communication that travels from the bottom up as much as the top down. Employees who feel connected to top management tend to outperform companies who feel disconnected, especially in an environment where more CEOs seem accessible to customers. At minimum, employees deserve to know first.

• Education. Ongoing education, training, and information that goes beyond company updates or departmental functions often provides a context greater than the confines of a single job description. One of the best internal communication pieces I had ever read for a utility was a five-part series on the history of natural gas. The employees thought so too.

• Empowerment. Setting goals and actions for employees is always important, but communicating that employees can make recommendations helps establish their ownership of a particular job function. The concept is what put Dana Corporation on the modeling map years ago.

• Encouragement. While leading by example is critical, demonstrating that an employer is capable of performing specific duties (if not already engaged in them) can invigorate teams. I saw an example firsthand when the general manager of one of the premier hotel brands in the world paused to "fluff" a chair cushion.

• Exemplification. Recognition for individuals, teams, or specific actions that go beyond the privacy of personnel reviews set precedence and help create corporate culture. One of the most successful campaign launches for a new health care program we developed for one company included visible incentives for those who enrolled early.

When you really stop to think about it, the same companies that have successfully developed social media programs are the same companies with internal communication programs that range from better than average to the best in the world. In fact, when looking back on the top ten list shared from EngagementDB last Monday, I'm a bit remiss that there was not more emphasis on the work behind the work that helped make these companies successful online. That work is internal communication.

Thursday, July 23

Picking Channels: Amazon And Zappos

Not everyone understands why Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos chose YouTube and Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh chose a blog post to break yesterday's $807 million* acquisition while reportedly ignoring mainstream media on the front end, but I think I do. Hsieh all but says it in his post.

"Over the next few days, you will probably read headlines that say 'Amazon acquires Zappos' or 'Zappos sells to Amazon'. While those headlines are technically correct, they don't really properly convey the spirit of the transaction," Hsieh wrote.

Less obvious in the statement but demonstrative in example, the Bezos video is even more telling. Take a look.

Still unsure? Both Bezos and Hsieh have a story to tell. And neither of these stories would overshadow whatever the mainstream media might happen to ink about the deal. In effect, intentional or not, Amazon and Zappos may have demonstrated why social media sometimes means more message control, not less. Or did they?

Social Media Meets Message Control?

Sure, there absolutely were news releases sent out and none of them include the more colorful quips about home-based power grids and purchase ding dongs as seen on the Amazon video. They do, however, carry quotes aligned with the direct communication via the Zappos blog and Amazon's YouTube video.

Ironically, while both the reflective and visionary are apparently confined to singular sound bites, the details of the purchase price are all over the map. Amazon released $807 million. Most reported $847 million. And TechCrunch estimates $920 million. Some of the numbers can be easily attributed to stock fluctuations. Some cannot.

Much more interesting than the numbers is the simple idea the mainstream media was initially left out. In doing so, the companies seemingly have more control over the message as most mainstream media seems content to run with what was provided.

ZD Net seems a little less impressed, taking the time to answer its own questions since nobody else is willing to. Fast Company has written all sorts of amusing things about the communication, which means they may be less than amused. Meet The Boss even sent out a news release that it had some sort of exclusive interview with one of the elusive CEOs. The story, however, doesn't really seem to measure up to what it was reported to be.

Even The Wall Street Journal has a mash up of what everyone else seems to be saying. All the while, no one seems to have direct contact with the sources.

Social Media Tends To Be Messy.

Do people really think the initial story, broken on public channels, was designed as an externally transparent internal communication to the employees of both companies? Weird.

It seems more likely this was a public communication designed for anyone who was interested in hearing it (with Bezos and Hsieh being the most interested) while establishing what Amazon and Zappos want the message to be. Is that a good thing?

I haven't decided. I like both companies well enough. We have good enough relations with Amazon, and its nice to know Zappos will still keep its home in Las Vegas (for now, anyway). I also have to admit that both the notion of internal communication shared with the public first or the idea that corporate posturing without probing questions from the media gives me goosebumps.

After all, this bit of communication clearly demonstrates that social media, for all its praise of being open, two-way communication, could take a turn to being completely closed if the public allows it. Given that the public doesn't really care about the deal (not until it affects purchases) and those who did mostly offered a quick "congrats" and moved on, it seems like the public absolutely will.

Monday, July 20

Making Myths: Public Relations On Social Media

There are a couple of public relations firms in my market that have mistakenly adopted the notion that social media is free, much like a shrimp cocktail, hot dog, or breakfast buffet used to be in Vegas. As the old adage goes, you get what you pay for. And in this case, the only thing their clients get is indigestion.

Case in point, I was recently forwarded an internal e-mail sent to all the employees (and ex employees) of one company, which was recently advised to adopt social media because it's free. The pitch presented the myth: social media is free because you can require your employees to market for you. In fact, they concluded, the more employees, the better the reach.

How Do Executives Interpret A Free Lunch?

The executive not only bit, he sent an e-mail that smacks of astroturf in the making and might be illegal (which is why we omitted the offending company's name). And instead of a free lunch, all he received was an internal crisis communication situation of epic proportions. How do I know? If it wasn't epic, someone would have never forwarded this to me...

This is not a request.

If you are receiving this email, you are part of the acme company and we all need to participate in these marketing efforts.

By the end of the week, we will audit the sites and if you have a facebook page and did not sign up, you will be written up.

Participation in making our company better is never an option.


There Is No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.

While it would certainly be easier to illustrate what is right about this e-mail (um, nothing), there are dozens of reasons to reconsider the free lunch concept. Here are the top ten reasons why marketing executives cannot eat for free, especially when they are really asking employees to pay for it on the backs of their friends and family...

• Requiring employees to turn personal accounts into mini-marketing vehicles is wrong.
• Asking employees to work overtime without compensation is wrong and could violate federal labor laws.
• Not every employee is suitable as a customer service spokesperson, especially if they're sequestered.
• Most employees are already overburdened with work and don't need online marketing distractions.
• Some employees share painfully vivid personal information about themselves online, better left unshared.
• Most social network accounts are personal; asking people to blast family and friends is futile.
• When employees leave, and one day they will, they will take those customer connections with them.
• Launching a social media program without a strategic communication plan increases company risk.
• Customers feel overwhelmed visiting Facebook pages or groups with a 10:1 employee-to-visitor ratio.
• Participation in making a company better is ALWAYS an option; it has to be earned by an employer.

Whereas no one can blame the executive for hoping employees might give the business a boost, the launch and entire program is fundamentally flawed. And, after the e-mail, even those employees who might have been inclined to promote the company were turned off by the apparent lack of mutual respect.

From what I've seen, a second marketing person tried to save the day with cheerleader follow ups, but the real kicker was the second e-mail from the marketing executive. It wasn't an apology nor did it exhibit any sense of empathy. His next e-mail retracted the threat, conveyed desperation (but we'd still like you to be our friend), and concluded that "open communication between all levels of our team is important in maintaining long-term success and a happy work environment."

As for those employees without Facebook accounts? They are not required at this time. (Seriously.)

Bad Communication Is A Sign Of Bigger Problems.

So how did this all start? Simple enough. The company is in trouble. And as a solution, its public relations firm offered up the notion of social media as a free lunch. While we don't know if they suggested it as an added value service (free) or for an additional monthly consulting fee, we do know the why behind the lie. If all the employees had signed on to spike the social media reach of this company, the public relations firm could have added the outcomes to its column inch counts. Sick.

Sure, digital communication is moving forward. Social media presents some compelling case studies. It can augment other communication efforts for a fraction of the cost.

However, not all public relations firms can make it work. Most lack the skill sets. How can you tell? If they open with the notion that social media is free, run away. If they fit somewhere on the carpetbagger list, find a new firm. And if they boast about taking seminars for six months to become experts, they are the furthest from it.

As the above e-mail illustrates, a little bit of knowledge about a subject doesn't make someone an expert. It makes them dangerous.

Wednesday, July 1

Bullying Employees: Organizational Risk

According to Gary Namie, director of the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) and author of the new book "The Bully At Work," published in 2000, workers are feeling the heat, as the bulk of workplace harassment cases involve superiors taunting employees. Although the survey sampling is small, some of the findings are interesting.

WBI Survey: Economic Crisis and Bullying

• 75.4% of perpetrators have higher a position than the target
• 65.9% of perpetrators are female; 81% of targets are female
• 27.5% said the bullying has become worse since the recession

"People are more stressed because there's no escape," Namie told The Miami Herald, saying that recessions trap employees to suffer from verbal abuse, humiliation, career sabotage, or intimidation.

For organizations, higher management might sometimes miss the warning signs and symptoms of bad leadership. As a result, the bullying continues with employees too afraid to report the infractions. But according to the International Institute of Management, there are several warning signs that top management and boards ought to consider.

Ten Signs That A Bully Is Leading The Team

• Management that does not allow disagreements and expects agreement in any public setting.
• There is limited or no leadership performance review for employees to provide feedback.
• Recruitment, selections and promotions are based on internal political agenda and personal loyalty.
• Some departments are underutilized while other departments are overloaded to make up the difference.
• Plans are heavy on talk but light on action; management tends to end programs and talk about programs that never develop.
• There is frequent and heated division, with language more focused on point scoring and buck-passing than sharing responsibility.
• Management wastes more time and energy on internal attack and defense strategies instead of executing the work.
• Leaders spend most of their time on fire fighting instead of proactive planning for next-generation products and services.
• Morale deteriorates and employees suffer muted commitment and enthusiasm compared to other teams.
• There is a high rate of absenteeism and a high employee turnover rate, with past employees spoken about poorly.

Sooner or later, key decision makers have to make the argument that the bully's too expensive to keep. In today's communication environment, it is only a matter of time before employees begin to publicly undermine the organization out of frustration because bad leadership tends to stick to the organization as a whole rather than the individual perpetrator.

A Bright Contrast To Bad Leadership

Years ago, when I first began studying leadership, Johnson Controls Inc. (JCI), a global leader in automotive, building efficiency, and power solutions, became a source of fascination for me after I was introduced to it by the book "In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America's Best Run Companies." I was interested enough that I purchased some stock at the right time.

However, over the years, it seemed to me that some of the qualities cited in the 1988 book (especially employee relations) were beginning to erode. So I sold most of the stock, but continued to keep tabs on the company. Last Tuesday, the company reported a second quarter loss of $193 million, or 33 cents a share. It doesn't expect positive earnings until the fourth quarter of this year.

Where's the bright light? Forbes reports that 140,000 employees of Johnson Controls took part in week-long series of discussions at more than 1,000 company locations around the globe one month ago. They were learning and exchanging ideas about how to sharpen the value they bring to their customers.

"Only 10 to 15 percent of our employees are customer-facing," said CEO Stephen Roell. "But our customer focus means examining all the interactions and hand-offs that take place inside and across the company. It's important that each employee see the connection between what they do and the customer experience, that they see that each of them has a vital role in that relationship and the satisfaction of our customers."

Aha. See the difference? Leadership.

Thursday, May 14

Managing Messages: Seven Fs

One of the best contributions Joanna Blockey, ABC, a communication specialist for Southwest Gas Corporation, lends to my class every year is the seven Fs of employee communication. I found myself thinking about them yesterday as they related to the Twitter misfire and other communication failures in social media.

While some people might wonder what social networks could possibly learn from employee relations, it seems clear enough to me. Participants engaged in a social network develop a sense of community. And, like any community, they aren't just users, customers, consumers, or participants (even if we use those words as descriptors). They are stakeholders. They are much more closely aligned to employees or residents or investors than loosely connected customers casually using a service. (Even if they use it for free.)

Social network members shape the communities in which they participate.

They invite people to join. They promote the network. They keep people engaged. They drive the conversations. They report the violations. They develop unique ways to expand the intended services. They make investments. And, they deserve the same seven Fs that Blockey prescribes for internal communication.

1. First. Be the source of information for your community. Report any news first.

2. Fast. Respond to feedback quickly, effectively, and in a timely manner. Share information fast.

3. Fair. Not all news is good news, but even bad news can be fair. Empathy remains one of most often missed ingredients in communication.

4. Focused. Attempting to sidestep pressing issues in favor of the frivolous is not much different than AstroTurf. Communication deserves to be prioritized.

5. Friendly. Sarcasm is sometimes warranted, but mean-spirited personal attacks never resonate. It doesn't resonate with those attacked nor anyone watching.

6. Factual. Make sure the information is factual. Sure, sometimes things change, but they tend to change less when facts are reported in the first place.

7. Follow Up. Communication is warranted until the stakeholders are satisfied. If they have more questions, answer them and offer time lines for updates.

This might seem overly simple to some, but the fundamentals are sound. After all, whether you call them tribes or communities or online customers, they don't follow as much as they develop relationships that some even define "like a family."

Wednesday, February 18

Shifting Niche: RiseSmart vs. TheLadders

Almost one year ago, two companies set out to differentiate themselves from other job search sites within the same niche: TheLadders and RiseSmart. Each wanted to dominate a subscription-based job site niche that focuses on jobs starting at $100k.

However, with the economic downturn, pursuing qualified employers or qualified candidates in a race toward a shrinking middle seemed increasingly futile. As TheLadders entrenched itself in offering employer-driven job search resources, RiseSmart set out to find a bigger court by adding outplacement to its core services.

Play From A Bigger Court To Win A Niche?

"Traditional outplacement services have simply become too expensive in the minds of many companies," Sanjay Sathe, founder and CEO of RiseSmart, said in a release. "Employers are frustrated with these services, because they cost a lot but typically don't demonstrate measurable results for employees. During a time of financial pressures, they've become a target of budget cuts."

The move makes sense. Whereas outplacement consulting firms represent a $3 billion industry to provide transitioned employees with career counseling, RiseSmart expanded its business model to include outplacement services that directly targets employers without giving up its candidate-focused service. For RiseSmart, it establishes a beachhead in the outplacement industry and nurtures employer relationships when the economy eventually reverses course.

The move benefits employers too. Rather than funneling employees to outsource companies that sometimes emphasize new careers, RiseSmart clients are directing laid off employees to a service that finds them jobs. If job placement can be expedited, former employees who have relationships with coworkers at the their former company boost morale despite layoffs.

Outplacement Services Can Improve Employee Relationships.

"Businesses sometimes forget that employees who are laid off are still part of the internal culture," one human resource executive, who recently managed several hundred layoffs, told me. "Just because they pack up their desks doesn't mean they break off all the relationships they made while working at a company. The morale of former employees and their ability to secure new jobs directly impacts the employees that remain."

While it's not formal communication, the message resonates with internal audiences. It shifts the focus from internal rumors back toward satisfying customers because employees know even if they are laid off, there is a plan to place them. Providing a sense of security may be critical during economic uncertainty.

Companies that do not provide a sense of security may jeopardize their own future. While the recession has temporarily lowered employee turnover, as many as 40 percent of employees at companies mishandling layoffs could seek new employment when the economy improves. High turnover rates typically cost between 150 to 250 percent of an employee's annual salary, with high-performing employees being among the first to go.

Relationships In Bad Times Create Opportunities In Good Times.

RiseSmart might not be the largest subscription-based job site that focuses on jobs starting at $100k, but it is playing smart. If it continues to cater to qualified candidates while developing relationships with employers during an economic downturn, it may overtake some middle ground as the economy improves. The move positions the company as a link.

Contrary, TheLadders added 400 new companies and recruiters in the fourth quarter, reinforcing its employer model. The number of candidates hoping to secure these jobs spiked 63 percent last year. The move positions the company as a middleman.

In reality, both companies are still battling for premium position in a niche market. RiseSmart may have expanded its court, but it still pokes fun at the competition. Recently, RiseSmart pointed out that as clever as the commercials from CareerBuilder, Monster, and TheLadders can be, none of them reinforce human side of job placement.

Other Voices Taking Note Of The Extended Matchup.

Mashable: RiseSmart is Job Hunting for Lazy, Laid-off Execs

Cheesehead: RiseSmart Gets $3 Million In Funding

AlarmClock: High End Job Search Site RiseSmart Raises $3M

Wednesday, February 11

Looking For Leadership: Engage Employees

As the economic downturn continues, employee engagement remains the critical component for companies to weather the worst and remain on track. It is not enough to simply demand more from top performers or expect employees to hang on with with the hope that job security seems safer than facing unemployment. Leaders need to energize the base.

Watson Wyatt, a global consulting firm, recently released a report that shows highly engaged employees are twice as likely to become top performers. They also miss 20 percent fewer days of work. And, three-quarters of them exceed or far exceed performance review expectations.

The benefits for highly engaged employees benefit the organization as a whole. Organizations with clear leadership and internal communication enjoy 26 percent higher employee productivity, have lower turnover risk, and have earned 13 percent greater total returns to shareholders over the last five years. They are also more supportive of organizational change initiatives, willing to get behind near-term plans even when they ask for sacrifice.

There are two catches. Executives need to be leaders more than managers. And, each organization requires its own plan.

“There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to employee engagement," said Ilene Gochman, global practice leader for organization effectiveness at Watson Wyatt. "Segmenting the workforce and tailoring communication, performance management programs and other resources to specific employee groups is the most effective way to engage workers.”

• Capitalize on “engageable moments.” In the best of times, companies can most easily energize new employees. Currently, most companies do not. Even after six months, employees tend to be less motivated to do their best every day. Instead, especially at organizations with hiring freezes, challenging economic times can become the catalyst, assuming management hasn't settled into complacency.

• Demonstrate strong leadership and clear direction. As we recently mentioned, employees want to know about their organization’s specific plans and progress. "What plan" matters less than the fact there is a plan.

• Manage organizational change with effective communication. Especially in an economic crisis, employees are anxious to learn the rationale behind decisions. Authentic communication from senior management will give employees a sense of purpose.

• Emphasize customer focus. Employees are already aware that job security is strengthened by satisfied customers. The two challenges most leaders face is if employees are too focused on internal rumors (will there be more layoffs) or if employers are not providing employees enough support to satisfy customers.

• Invest in the core. One of the most interesting aspects of the study was the emphasis placed on energizing the base. Highly engaged employees that are already top performers can be limited by their less engaged co-workers. Companies need to establish engagement with more than 60 percent of the workforce before productivity shifts.

From our own research, the majority of organizations have settled into a "holding" pattern, attempting to wait out the economic crisis. This presents a tangible opportunity for companies that energized to turn the economic situation into a clear advantage. As simple as it might sound, the decision can be articulated in a few lines from Robert Frost.

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."

The only question that remains is which road will your organization take? Without question, the choice will make all the difference. Our company, fortunately, has already decided to take the one less traveled by. And, we recently were engaged by an organization to help them do the same. What about your organization? Wait and hold or engage and grow?

Related reading:

City of Collinsville: We work to bring the employees into the decision making.

Edleman: One in four employees will consider switching jobs when the economy picks up.

The Employee Factor: Employee engagement levels erode over time.

Compensation Force: Recession-driven sense of shared destiny - are we missing an opportunity?

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