Internal Corporate communication Strategy

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When we think about the terms branding and communication, we often think about external efforts targeted at consumers of products or services which are normally the purview of marketing agencies or internal marketing teams.  However, internal corporate communications to our employee base is critically important in determining our ability to align our teams around one united purpose or mission and to effectively launch programs in support.

Developing an internal communication strategy necessitates that we consider the following:

Audience –  Who is our audience and what do we want them to hear?  Are we speaking to senior executives, investors or to our employee base?  If to the employee base, t what level should the communication be written?  Speaking to a group of data scientists may be different than speaking to a group of retail employees.

Channel/Format which channel(s) will be most effective when delivering this message?  IS this a message that can be communicated in writing or is the intent likely to be lost?  Should a live feed be followed up with video available to all who may not have been able to attend?  Is the expectation for all people leaders to waterfall the communication down through their teams?

Goals/Objectives this can be further broken down into the following categories:

Decision Making where the goal of the communication is to listen, understand all viewpoints and come to a consensus in order to be able to move forward

Information Sharing where the priority is around getting the information out and disseminated quickly, efficiently and accurately

Status Update meant to connect employees to areas of focus

Team Building crat alignment around short and long term goals and foster personal relationships on your team

Problem Solving often linked to a discussion focused on deliverables and how you as a manager, can remove roadblocks to allow your team to progress

Innovation brainstorming sessions that can focus on how to drive the company forward and gain a competitive edge

Schedule – decide how often and when this type of communication needs to occur.  There is a fine balance between over and under communicating

Responsibility – who should have the responsibility for crafting the communication and who should have the responsibility for delivering the communication.  Inherent in everyone’s responsibility is the need to follow up to ensure that the message you wanted to deliver was indeed received.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that communication plans and channels will take care of themselves.  A well-orchestrated plan with all of the above components will help to ensure that your company is both aligned and informed!

 

The Only Constant is Change

sherrie-suski-officeChange is inevitable in our personal lives and in our organizational lives.  Growth, without it, is impossible. Yet, instead of embracing change, most employees, and people in general, find it unsettling and approach it with trepidation.  That is the very reason that you should have a well thought out plan when it comes to introducing change to your organization.  Change Management can be thought of in three steps: 1) Preparing for the Change, 2) Managing the Change and 3) Reinforcing the Change.  

Preparing for the Change

There are a number of questions to ask as you start to prepare for change across an organization and the larger the company, the further in advance you need to start.  It is not unusual in a very large organization to see a change management effort span 2-3 years.  Be ready to:

  • Establish Organizational objectives- determine what you are trying to achieve or what problem you are trying to solve
  • Identify Groups Impacts- determine who the change might impact
  • Identify individuals impacted- note if any salary adjustments are warranted
  • Readiness assessments- conduct assessments to determine if your organization is ready to make a change and how much, if any, resistance you will face
  • Identify risks, potential resistance- talk openly about risks and how you would mitigate those.  Would people leave? Would they become less engaged?
  • Document Strategy- document everything in a project planning tool like Asana, so everyone can add to it
  • Build team structure- contemplate a team structure and decide who will be responsible for which initiatives
  • Create a sponsor model- where do you need your sponsors and at what levels of the organization
  • Prepare sponsors- meet with your sponsors.  The questions they have are likely the ones your workforce will have

Managing the Change

Once you are ready to roll it out, think through the following:

  • What needs to be communicated – what and how should you communicate.  What channels will you use and who is responsible for drafting and then communicating?
  • What Coaching do we need- should you engage a coach or firm whose primary objective it is to run these types of change initiatives
  • What training is needed- who needs to be trained and on what and how will they receive the training
  • How will we manage resistance- where do you expect resistance to come from and can you get ahead of it
  • What does success look like- imagine that everything went smoothly, which it won’t, but it’s important to have a vision for the goal

Reinforcing the Change

Once you have rolled it out, you will need to reinforce it through multiple channels and multiple times.  You will feel like the communication is overkill, but I guarantee, someone will say “ I was never notified of this”.  Some of the ways you can reinforce the change are:

  • Collect individual feedback- whether in person or through surveys, it’s good to know how people are reacting
  • LISTEN to impacted employees
  • sometimes employees just want to vent and that should be OK
  • Audit for compliance- since you went to all the trouble to make the change, you do want to ensure that it actually stuck, so figure out how you will audit
  • Measure that change has taken place- contemplate up front what measures of success look like.  Is time to market faster? Is there less turnover?
  • Identify gaps and develop appropriate responses- no matter how much time you spend, something will always be overlooked.  Figure out what it is and course correct.
  • Celebrate Success- don’t forget to celebrate and thank the people that made this all possible!

The time you spend up front detailing a well thought out change management plan will pay huge dividends upon execution.

Employee Experience Platforms – Improving the Moments that Matter

sherrie-suski-workerEmployees today expect to have the same quality digital experience at work as they do as a consumer/customer outside of work. Companies are responding by shifting their focus to address the full employee experience and those that figure out how to make their employees’ experience as wonderful as their customers’ experience will certainly have a competitive advantage.

It’s also about ensuring that in today’s often-fragmented organizations, employees feel connected to their work and their colleagues, understand the organization’s purpose and their place in it and can easily find the information they need for tasks ranging from making benefits choices to furthering their education and development. They are looking for that true omnichannel experience.

Employee experience platforms allow HR leaders to build employee journeys, develop apps, create and monitor workflows, and add chatbots and other forms of conversational interfaces to the mix. They can be used to facilitate communication of major events, such as a transformation the organization is undergoing or M&A activity with broad reaching impact.  It can also be used to help employees address, with self-serve capability, major life events, such as getting married or going on a leave of absence.

For example, ServiceNow,  is an HR service delivery portal that can be integrated with Workday.

While Workday is the system of record for transactions, ServiceNow is the system of action for services. It is used for on-boarding, self-directed benefits open enrollment, LOA’s, payroll changes and offers search capability for HR questions through a portal.  The two highly renowned platforms are integrated through synchronization of employee profile information in the HR application with your organization’s current Workday solution.

A positive employee experience is more than just a nice to have.  It is directly correlated to better customer service, improved sales, and top-line revenue growth and reduced costs. It’s much more than, say, just providing a good experience via a smooth payroll transaction.

An exceptional employee experience requires things like showcasing employee opportunities for growth, encouraging them to make important decisions, take prudent risks and innovate and demonstrate that they are a part of a winning team!

These platforms can be used to create and deliver “rich content,” including images and videos, that are branded to the company.  For example, the platform can deliver personalized push notifications to employees based on their roles. Cleaning staff, for example, will see regular reminders of how their job helps prevent the spread of bacteria and viruses during flu season.

Changing behavior takes time—it’s about messaging, measuring and iterating and having the technology platform that makes it possible.

Employer Value Proposition

In this economy, defining your EVP, Employer Value Proposition,  is critically important.  Each candidate you speak with likely has multiple offers and if you can’t clearly explain how and why you are different and better and what you stand for, it is likely their decision will be to take their desirable skill set elsewhere.

For those of you with knowledge of basic psychology, think of the EVP as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. There are base needs where you need to stay competitive.  Those include compensation and benefit offerings.  There are differentiators which include whole wellness initiatives and career growth and there is the unique reason why you r company exists.  More employees today are looking for alignment between their personal values and the values a company espouses.

Competitive Offerings

Remaining competitive in this fast moving economy is no small challenge.  A scarcity of qualified people to fill positions a makes this a buyers’ market.  Ensure that your midpoints are truly targeted at around the 60th percentile of the market and consider developing a lead/lag or lead/lead structure that will allow you to stay ahead of the market not only at the beginning of the year, but throughout the year as well.   Benefits are another area that you need to just take off the table in the candidate’s equation.  They should be competitive, your employer to employee cost ratio should be average or better.  You might consider adopting a safe harbor 401(k) plan where all employer contributions are immediately vested.  This is appealing to the millennial crowd who are expected to have upwards of 15 jobs throughout their lifetime.

Differentiation

Here’s your opportunity to really stand out from the crowd.  Make sure you can answer the questions around a prospective employee’s career path within your organization.  What percent of your positions are filled internally?  Do you have Individual Development Plans?  How often are they updated?  What type of training do you offer? What is the most likely next position and how long might it take to get there?  How are high potential employees identified in your organization?

Workplace lifestyle or total wellness is another area that you can make a name for yourself.  Employers are waking up to the fact that employees who are struggling with emotional, social, physical or financial issues outside of work are not able to bring their best selves to work.  Employers are increasingly focusing on wellness platforms that are not only fun, with contests and prizes, but offer employees a wealth of education opportunities.

Unique

Ultimately, your purpose statement needs to explore and clearly state your WHY.  It should be a unique expression that sets your company apart and tells you candidates what you truly stand for.  One of the better books on this topic is Start With Why by Simon Sinek.  Make sure that it speaks to what is unique about your organization and is not compiled of generic statements.

Overall, the more you understand about why a candidate should select you, the better able you are to convince the candidate of that fact!

Can People Analytics Strengthen your Internal Communication Strategy?

One of the largest challenges experienced by companies who grow quickly and broadly is that of communication.  It’s like the old childhood game of telephone. After it has been repeated 8 times, the message is no longer the same. It’s not on brand, it has lost its intent or worse yet, it is simply no longer factual.  Some companies are turning to People Analytics, a subset of Organizational Network Analytics (ONA),to start to solve these problems.

People Analytics allows organizations to visually see the flow of information within the company.  There are three main kinds of communicators, according to the Deloitte consulting firm, one of the main proponents of ONA. Central communicators are influential people who seem to know everyone, are up to date on important news, have lots of information to share and willingly share it. They can be located anywhere in a hierarchy and often times may be in lower level positions. Knowledge brokers, in contrast, facilitate information sharing by serving as bridges between nodes. These are people who are situationally connected based on a work product or short term project.  Peripheral communicators are low-profile people with poor or nonexistent connections to the organization. In order to have an effective communication strategy is has to be defined and executed with all three types of communicators in mind.  

Uses for ONA

For example, knowledge brokers often have important connections, not only situationally internal to the organization, but external to the organization as well.  This outside information and expertise can go underused if the broker lacks strong internal ties. Peripheral communicators are at risk of leaving the organization, which can be a detriment if their skills are highly valued. The insights from ONA may also reveal that people with formal authority and titles are not the real leaders of the organization. Identifying the leaders can, for example, speed buy-in and adoption of new initiatives.

Most companies have a strong focus on diversity and inclusion initiatives and companies can use ONA to spot exclusionary tendencies that might indicate discrimination or bias. Consciously creating project teams to ensure that there is diversity of experiences and thoughts goes a long way to securing the best outcome.  ONA can also help identify internal candidates for job openings and promotions. Strong communication skills are necessary at almost all levels in an organization.  

Workforce planning is another talent management function that can benefit from ONA. Managers can use the analysis to decide where to reassign people so they collaborate more effectively using the least amount of resources. ONA can help identify where work is being done and who is doing it, which can affect decisions about hiring, promoting and developing employees.

While not the only answer, ONA and the use of People Analytics can be one strategy to employ when contemplating your communication strategy.  Knowing where your starting point is, who your informal organizational leaders are and who you need to spend extra time with to ensure optimum levels of engagement is a big step forward!

Why you shouldn’t post a job description

sherrie-suski-descriptionsJob descriptions most certainly have their place.  Written accurately, they spell out the specific requirements for each position within the company, list essential job functions, any physical requirements and the education or certifications necessary.  However, few individuals are compelled to join a company based on a very dry outline of what the job entails. Employees today are looking for the story behind the company. What do they stand for? What is important to them?  Are they aligned with a candidates’ personal values? And how do the employees fit into that equation?

Zappos is a perfect example of a trend setting company that has done away with posting job descriptions altogether.  Instead of applying to specific jobs, their careers page allows candidates to opt-in to the Zappos community. People get to know the company on an informal basis instead of focusing on a job.

Here’s how they describe it on their Insights blog:

Anyone coming to our new careers site will see information about each department — our employees, the department’s unique culture, and which roles that department typically fills. Job seekers will have an opportunity to make an introduction to that department rather than apply for a specific position. The whole concept is to “take a look Inside Zappos.” Job seekers will get to take a look “Inside Finance,” “Inside Merch,” etc. If they look inside and like what they see, they can introduce themselves and become a “Zappos Insider.” Without the ability to apply for specific roles, we will no longer need to send inhumane rejection templates. Instead, we can begin to focus on long-term engagement.

Focusing on the company and attracting people who are aligned with your values is critically more important than sourcing for a specific skill set.  Often times, the skills for the jobs being hired for can be taught, but it is an uphill battle to convince someone who is not aligned with your culture that it really is the best way to do things, treat people, speak with residents etc..

Think for a moment about the difference in these two statements:

  1. Responsible for developing, enhancing, modifying and/or maintaining applications in the Global Markets environment
  2. Launch new trade application in the Global Markets environment

Which one is a call to action?  Which one says something about where the company is going and what is important to them?  And which one has the better chance of attracting a driven, high potential candidate?

This is a great picture of a skill set that was almost certainly not outlined in a traditional job description.  

Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want and to emphatically state who you are.  The old adage :if you don’t stand for something, you stand for nothing” is an immediate turn off to today’s top candidates!

Past Performance and Future Results

sherrie-suski-businessYou know those caveats that are posted on every website about every investment transaction?  The ones that say, “past performance is not an indicator of future results”. Those same warnings should be adequately displayed on every employee.  Past performance in one role, does not necessarily predict future performance in a different role or even the same role at a different time

 

Looking backwards- Performance Appraisals

Performance appraisal do a decent job of reflecting backwards.  What did an employee accomplish during the year? What goals were met? Where were their biggest wins?  There are a number of ways to conduct them, some infinitely better than others.

Annual- Annual performance appraisals are quickly, but not quickly enough, in my opinion, going by the wayside.  They have a tendency to really only be focused on the last quarter because asking any manager to remember what accomplishments their 5-10 direct reports had a year ago is a hefty task.

Quarterly- Many companies are taking steps in the right direction and moving to quarterly reviews.  These have a few benefits: They decrease the time between action and remediation if necessary, allow for more frequent communication between a manager and his/her direct reports and help to align individual objectives more closely with ever changing company objectives.

Realtime- a few companies have successfully mastered real time feedback. An open social media type platform where feedback is given on a continuous basis, sometimes daily, sometimes weekly, but it an ever-flowing stream of communication similar to a SnapChat streak, but without the pictures- don’t want to miss a day!

360- the really advanced organization have mastered the art of 360 feedback. This is quite a bit harder than it seems because the landmines are around accepting feedback, not just giving it.  For this method to be effective, you have to have a self-actualized workforce who is mature enough to handle and disseminate meaningful constructive feedback at all levels throughout the organization.  

 

Looking Forwards- Talent Planning

Organizations have realized that doing an annual performance appraisal and setting a few goals for the next year is far from a perfect process.  They know they need to develop leaders to be able to assume increasingly complex roles, but how? In steps Talent (sometimes known as Succession) planning.  Talent Planning looks forward.  It asks the question- what skills do I need to be able to have a greater impact on the organization? What is my potential?

Impact and potential are defined differently depending on who you talk to and what the organizational culture is.  In general terms having greater impact can be defined as having characteristics of Intellectual Curiosity, Critical thinking, Innovation, Agility, Change Management and Collaboration.  It is those traits that allow an individual to go beyond where they are today and tackle projects that will have a greater impact on the organization going forward. Not everyone who is a top performer will automatically score high on potential, nor should they.  Every organization needs a core of employees who are content being specialists and growing horizontally and not vertically!

Executive Coaching

Does Executive Coaching deliver on the promised results? The answer to that question lies in setting the appropriate expectations at both the organizational and the individual level.  The best coaches in the world cannot affect change with an unwilling participant and/or in an unsupportive environment. But what about a willing participant in a supportive environment?  What is needed in the process to not only affect immediate change, but sustain long lasting change, the kind that can make or breaks careers?

Most executive coaches are, in fact, behavioral coaches. If an executive is displaying behaviors that are in conflict with the organizational values or are simply not in their own best interests as a leader, then a coach versed in behavioral theory may well be an effective solution. Coaching works best with high potential people who are willing to make a concerted effort to change. This effort requires hard and sustained work on the leader’s part.  Most executive coaches will not take assignments that are less than 6 months and many run for up to 18 months with longer check in times.  That’s because change takes awhile before it becomes a habit that is repeatable without having to think about it. The leader has to truly want to change.  There is no magic bullet an executive coach brings that will allow the leader to succeed without putting in the effort.

The organizational environment has to be supportive as well. Organizations are made up of people, all with their own agendas, some noble and others not so much.  It sounds simple enough, but everyone involved in the coaching exercise has to want to person being coached to succeed.  If a senior member of the management team secretly hopes the coach returns after the initial assessment to say that the leader is not coachable, unwilling to participate or that it is some innate character flaw that cannot be addressed through behavioral change, then the likelihood of success is low.  For this reason, it is important for the coach to take the time needed to ask the hard questions and to continue to probe until he/she is satisfied that the coaching exercise is being pursued for the right reasons.

The Benefits of Executive Coaching

Enhanced Productivity

An effective coach can assist the leader in prioritizing multiple initiatives ensuring that the focus remains on those most critical to driving the business forward.  The coach can also serve as another person to hold the leader accountable for deliverables and can push back when excuses are given.

Empowered Decision Making

Executive coaching focuses on what is important and can support the leader in making empowered decisions that they may hesitate to make otherwise. Executive coaching assists in gaining clarity and helps to develop plans to minimize distractions and focus on actions that align with the business mission, vision, value, and goals.

Effective Feedback and Communication

The key to evaluating performance and driving change is truthful feedback, and there can be no better way for you to get quality feedback than by using a coach. Effective communication and collaboration in a business setting are key areas that drive the business outcomes. Good coaches will solicit feedback from 4-6 constituents across the organization to gain a well rounded view of the leaders communication style.

Emotional Intelligence and Empathy

Emotional intelligence is the “the ability to recognize your emotions, understand what they’re telling you, and realize how your emotions affect people around you. It also involves your perception of others: when you understand how they feel, this allows you to manage relationships more effectively.” In other words, your own emotional self-awareness serves as an aid to understanding other people’s emotions; furthermore, you respond with empathy to their needs. You can see why emotional intelligence is so crucial to leadership positions. A coach can point out areas where they think leaders are misreading or ignoring situations calling out for EQ.  

In closing, executive coaching can be extremely useful in situations where the leader and the organization are willing, honest  and hopeful participants in the process.

Wellness Programs

 

Bring up the word Wellness and what immediately jumps to mind is usually ways to improve the physical health of the workforce.  However, true wellness covers a broader spectrum and includes, not only physical, but emotional and financial wellness as well. Especially at this time of year when the urge to overspend is likely, a targeted approach towards financial wellness makes all the sense.  Similar to overeating and alter regretting it, over spending comes with its own regret and last log after the start of the new year and take much longer to rectify than losing a few pounds.  

The most effective Financial Wellness programs, however, are not a one size fits all.  A new study by Prudential Financial, Inc. examined differences in the financial needs and attitudes of various underserved groups in the workplace and the income inequality that affects each set. The 3,000 U.S. respondents included women, African Americans, Latino Americans, Asian Americans, caregivers, and members of the LGBTQ community.

Among key findings in the survey, African Americans across all income levels were more likely than the population at large to prioritize helping others financially, including caring for parents or other family members, paying their children’s college tuition, leaving an inheritance to their heirs, and giving to charity. Women in the survey earned an average annual income of $52,521, compared with $84,006 for men. Half of women said they were the primary breadwinner in their household. Almost 40% of caregivers don’t think they’ll ever be able to retire, compared to just 25% of non-caregivers, and caregivers were more likely to take out a loan or hardship withdrawal from their 401(k) plans.

In a statement, Lata Reddy, Prudential’s senior vice president, Diversity, Inclusion & Impact, said a person’s path to financial wellness is deeply personal. “While there are common experiences that tie us all together, there are also distinct factors that are unique to our individual journeys that impact the ultimate destination,” she said. “These factors need to be clearly understood for true progress to be made.” Reddy recommended that employers listen to the people in each community to understand their needs.

This ties in nicely with the Workforce of One approach that I am so an advocate of.  Programs created for the “average” employee are serving no one, because no one is the “average” employee.  Just like the Target page that pops up with different recommendations depending on who is logging in, we need to design our HR programs to ensure that we are meeting the needs of individuals.

Corporate Wellness Programs

 

There is some truth to the saying that “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.   And more employers are taking a holistic approach to their employees’ health and well being.  Not only is it good for the employees, it’s good for the company’s bottom line! To effectively integrate an approach toward health and wellness into the workplace, though, requires planning, education and a platform.  Enter the new breed of Wellness portals. Wellness portals are a critical piece of a total wellness solution.

Wellness portals are online platforms designed with responsive design in mind so that they can be accessed from any device at any time.  Wellness Portals offer a place for every member of your workforce to access secure, personal information having to do with their particular paths toward wellness. They will be able to track their progress in a wide variety of different program activities, set goals for themselves, and see these goals achieved which creates motivation to set new goals.

The Best Wellness Platforms Should Be Able To:

  1. Conduct a confidential Personal Health Assessment
    2. Educate (videos, books, webinars, biometric results)
    3. Track program participation and activity
    4. Make engagement easy with a mobile app
    5. Track and administer incentives and rewards
    6. Demonstrate how to be healthy
    7. Provide the tools needed to be healthy
    8. Deliver behavior change campaigns and challenges
    9. Encourage social support
    10. Create a health promoting culture

If you choose, Biometric screening can be integrated with your wellness portal so that the results of any screenings your employees have done can be accessed through their own portal and they can keep track of screenings year over year to track progress.  

Although a wellness portal is a fantastic, some employers believe that having an employee wellness portal is the same as having a wellness program. They mistakenly assume that all their company needs to improve employee health and reduce health care costs is get their employees to go online. A wellness portal is not a wellness program. It’s a computer software program that can be used to help deliver wellness programming and help manage the process. They have all of the features and benefits that come from the computer coding and programming and are tools to encourage and promote a healthy lifestyle!