Posts Tagged ‘internal communications’

Social media and integration – go beyond buzz words

In Business Class, Connecting to Communicate, social media on June 3, 2010 at 7:01 am

Any communicator worth his or her salt knows to throw the word “integration” into every conversation, presentation, planning meeting or performance review. Even if you’re certain the person on the other side of the conversation has no idea what the word means, you know you have to use it once or twice or risk seeming out of touch and behind the times.

 Social media has only sharpened this truth. As more and more communicators accept the fact that social media is here to stay, they’ve also accepted the fact that, even if they’ve never so much as Twirped or posted an update on Facespace, they have to claim to be integrating social media into every strategy.

 On second thought, a lot of communicators seem to think integration is a strategy.

 So, let’s back up for a minute and look at the notion of integration. What does it mean?

 At the obvious, literal level, integration means bringing various elements together to create a whole. In communications, we’ve come to think of it as weaving together various communications tools, tactics and strategies in pursuit of a single objective.

 Fair enough. But what does this mean on a practical level? Well, a lot of things.

 In social media, for example, it means pulling together all the useful tools – using Twitter to promote a blog, or using Facebook to push people to a YouTube site, or something along those lines.  In the more traditional world of communications, it can mean using media relations to support an advertising campaign, or using a letter-writing campaign to encourage participation in an event. And in the holistic, bring-it-all-together world communicators should live in, it means blending social media with old media, new tools with time-tested tools, and outrageous ideas with tried-and-true approaches.

 In other words, it means using whatever you’ve got in whatever combination necessary to achieve your goals.

 But here’s the sneaky truth: Integration isn’t an option. Maybe once upon a time, you could truly rely on only one medium or tool to get a job done, but I doubt it.

Christianity? To get its start, it integrated the written word with direct communications, developed a network of buzz agents and used miraculous and powerful events to make its point.

Democracy? Again, a lot of the written word, media relations, a speakers bureau, pyrotechnics, customer evangelists, and so forth.

Disco? Radio, events, street teams, movies, print, aftershave commercials, whatever.

OK: Silly examples, perhaps, but a hard truth: Integration is neither a new idea nor an option. It’s imperative. But that doesn’t mean you can use Twitter to promote your CEO’s blog and declare your organization integrated while, down the hall, your media relations team is sending out its own messages and your marketing folks are branding the firm in a vacuum. Your whole communications program has to be working together, in sync, in alignment with your brand and your organization’s central, core message.

Otherwise, you’ll not only fail to integrate, you’ll fail to succeed. And no buzz word in the world is going to change that.


The view from the dishwasher

In Business Class, Connecting to Communicate, social media on March 18, 2010 at 10:15 am

To illustrate the value of open-book management, the folks at Zingerman’s like to tell a dishwasher story. And, while it’s primarily a story about how front-line insights can affect the bottom line, it also demonstrates a mindset that has become increasingly important in today’s highly connected marketplace.

A few months after the Michigan-based company opened its Roadhouse restaurant, the new eatery’s food costs were running high. While this is not unusual in a new venture, the folks at Zingerman’s (recently described by Inc. magazine as the “Coolest Small Company in America”) struggled to find the cause of the cost overruns.

So they did something unusual: They asked a guy back in the dish room for his thoughts. And this dishwasher noted that a lot of the dirty plates that came to him had French fries on them. Did the customers not like the fries? Quite the contrary; they loved them. But the portions were too big. So the company cut fry portions in half and offered free refills. Customers appreciated the offer of seconds, but few asked for them. As a result, the restaurant saved thousands of dollars.

Why would a company turn to a dishwasher—or anyone else outside the management suite—for financial insight? For Zingerman’s (as the company notes in a piece that can be accessed via http://zingtrain.com/more_samples.php), there are five good reasons:

  • It leads to better results. Letting people know the bottom line helps them see how they can add to it—and allows them to offer solutions to problems only they can see.
  • It’s in line with company values. While the Zingerman’s “community of businesses” seems to be particularly employee-focused, just about every organization seems to embrace some level of employee involvement these days. Opening the books is the ultimate embodiment of that philosophy.
  • It builds commitment. Give people information and they feel included. Make them feel included and they get more engaged. Engage them and they’ll feel more committed to your organization’s success.
  • It leads to better decisions. No one can make good decisions without good information. More information means more good decisions.
  • It teaches everyone to think like owners. Think about it: Do your employees think and act as though they are ultimately responsible for the organization’s success? No? Maybe that’s because they don’t have the big-picture perspective leaders have. Let them understand how your sales, costs and profits work, and they just might take a more personal stake in the organization’s success.

Certainly, these practices are timeless, but they hold special importance in today’s hyper-connected world. New media and social media put more of your people in touch with the public than ever before. That means your leadership and PR people are no longer your primary spokespeople – your people are, and they have greater access to the public than the front office ever did.

How can you trust them to say the right things? By equipping them and empowering them to think like owners. They’ll feel engaged and important. They’ll believe in what your brand stands for and truly want the organization to succeed. And, as a result, they’ll become the most powerful marketing machine you could ever imagine.

Change required: Social media demands a new way of thinking

In Business Class, Connecting to Communicate, social media on March 4, 2010 at 7:45 pm

Leaders can be funny people. They talk about driving change, about wanting to lead dynamic organizations and about “pushing the envelope.” They say they need their people to “think outside the box” and urge their organizations in new directions. “If we’re not leading the way,” they say, “we’re following the herd.”

But when their people come to them and say, “OK, in order to go in this new direction, we’re going to need to change the way we do things,” too many leaders slam on the brakes. It’s as though they’re saying, “I’m all for change, so long as everything can stay the same.”

The latest issue to spark this change/stay-the-same tug-of-war?  Social media. Most leaders know they’ve got to tap its potential, but, again, they hesitate when they realize the changes required to make it work.

What changes? Consider the following:

Out. Of. Control. The more you use social media to communicate, the less control you have over your message. It’s OK: Let go. Trust your customers to carry your message forward.

Keys, not key. You know your key message. You’ve drilled it into your people’s heads. Great. Now, let it fragment into a dozen messages, a hundred messages, and more. Don’t worry: Deep down, it’ll still be the same. It’ll just sound a little different to each audience that hears it. And that’s why they will, indeed, hear it.

It’s not about you. Really, it never should have been, but social media consumers must feel that your products, your mission and your communications are about them … or they’ll move on.

Friend of a friend. Make a new friend in social media, and you suddenly have access to hundreds more. Win a new customer, and you’ve suddenly got access to hundreds more of those, too. Cool, huh?

Stand and engage. Once upon a time, you crafted your message for one-way communication. Now you develop the foundation of a conversation. Stop delivering messages and start engaging in discussions.

It’s not what you make; it’s what it does. Products can be cool. Products can be innovative. But what consumers really want is an experience, a solution and a “feel.” Your products are simply a vehicle for delivering that experience, solution and feel.

There’s no place like home … page. That website the organization worked so hard to perfect? It’s not necessarily your home page any more. Instead, your “home page” becomes a virtual concept, a role filled by a Facebook page, a blog or some other web-based outlet.

Give it up. You don’t own your brand any more. Your consumers do. The good news? If it’s a good brand and you stay true to it, they’ll do more to spread the word than you ever could.

Off the clock. Your brand is being discussed while you sleep. That doesn’t mean you can’t sleep. It simply means you have to be prepared for a marketplace in constant motion.

Now, if all of that change makes your leader curl up into a fetal position, let him or her know the good news: Even in the face of all this change, a few things remain the same. In fact, they’re more important than ever:

Strategy. Social media isn’t a magic wand that solves all problems. Like any other tool, it only works if it’s employed as part of a focused strategy.

Relationships. Business always has been about relationships, and always will be. The good news? Social media makes it easier to forge relationships.

Focused message. Remember what we said about being prepared to fragment your message? It’s true, but it only works if you have a strong, focused message to begin with.

Quality. Social media doesn’t make silk purses out of sow’s ears. However, if you make a really good silk purse, it’ll help you spread the word.

Risk. Some things never change. If you want to get the greatest reward from social media, you’ll have to take a big risk. There are no guarantees. Just a lot of potential and opportunity. Are you up for it?

Strategic impact — Employees who know your strategy perform better

In Business Class, Connecting to Communicate on February 16, 2010 at 3:38 pm

If your organization is “typical,” how many of your employees understand your strategy? 80 percent? 65 percent? 50 percent?

How about “None of the above?” According to a Right Management Consultants survey, only about one-third of all employees in a typical organization understand their organization’s strategy.

Why does it matter? Because it has a direct impact on profitability. Employees who don’t understand the strategy disengage. Disengaged employees are more likely to leave an organization; their performance levels are low; investments in their training and development are wasted, and they’re drags on workplace morale.

Why don’t these people know the strategy? Poor communication. The worst part? Sometimes this information gap is intentional – 28 percent of the surveyed organizations only share strategy with leadership teams. In other cases, it’s a lack of effort or understanding – almost a quarter of respondents say they simply haven’t gotten around to communicating strategy to employees, and 15 percent say they don’t know how to communicate the strategies.

None of those are good excuses. Communicating strategy to employees is essential and easy. Here are a few basic guidelines: 

  •  Make it simple. Boil down your strategy to a few simple, numbered statements. Don’t bury the strategy in flowery mission statements or jargon-filled white papers. The added bonus here? Forced to crystallize its meaning, the leadership team will better understand and agree on the strategy.
  •  Be overt. Once you develop a concise statement of strategy, get it out to the people. Hold special meetings, or make it an agenda item at regular meetings. Send out special e-messages, post in on the Intranet. Distribute and post the strategy for all to see.
  • Repeat yourself. The most common lament among execs when asked why their people don’t the strategy? “They should … I told them in an email earlier this year.” Don’t communicate the strategy once and assume everybody got it or gets it. Repeat it. Find excuses to send it out again. Make it the focus of stories on your Intranet, in newsletters … everywhere.
  • Create a dialogue. Invite comment or criticisms from employees. Ask them questions and invite them to ask you questions.
  • Create alignment. As part of your employee review process (you do have an employee review process, right?), challenge employees to align their goals for the coming year with the organization’s goals. Help them see how they connect to the bigger picture.
  • Get managers on board. Managers are key information sources for employees. If the bosses don’t know or understand your strategy, they certainly can’t communicate it.
  • Report on progress. Let everyone know how you’re doing in striving for your goals and objectives, and be prepared to report on strengths and weaknesses in the strategy.
  • Hire for communications ability. Join a growing trend – about 60 percent of organizations report they are seeking executives who can communicate strategically and interpersonally.
  •  Re-visit and reconfigure. A strategy should be reconsidered regularly to make sure it still fits with the organization and marketplace realties. And once it is reconsidered, any changes should be communicated quickly and clearly.

Studies have shown that employees who understand the big picture that surrounds the “small picture” of their jobs are more productive and dedicated employees. Make it a point to successfully communicate your strategy to your entire workforce, from top to bottom, and everyone will benefit.

Talk amongst yourselves

In Business Class, Connecting to Communicate on February 3, 2010 at 9:35 am

As businesses and organizations talk about the audiences they need to target in order to reach their goals and objectives, they often overlook the one audience that has the greatest impact on success: employees.

Typically, this isn’t because leadership doesn’t appreciate employees – even the worst leaders know that the workers are the people who actually make things happen. No, it’s usually because they assume employees have been given all the information they need, and that they’ve heard it and understood it.

In a way, such leaders might be right. If all you want an employee to do is his or her job, then all you have to do is make sure that employee knows how to do that job and what tools to use (in simplest terms, which nut to tighten and which wrench to use).

But the best leaders know that, while putting these kinds of blinders on employees might get specific jobs done, it won’t generate the kind of engagement required to get the best from people. To illustrate this, biz gurus often point to a study involving an airplane manufacturer. One group of employees was trained fully and put to work; another group of workers was similarly trained, but also taken to the engineering lab to see how the parts they made helped the company build jets capable of flying higher and faster than any other jets.

Guess which group saw productivity soar?

I’ve thought a lot about these sorts of things in recent weeks as we’ve worked with a client that’s stepping up internal comm. – recognizing its value, the firm has committed considerable time and energy to getting it right. And that process reminded me of a set of “Rules for Internal Communications” I developed a few years ago.

I won’t pretend I invented these rules – but I will note that these kinds of guidelines often are overlooked when companies get focused on survival or recovery (as most are now). Oddly, it seems that many organizations consider dedicated internal comm to be a “luxury” only affordable when things are good. The best organizations realize they are a key part of any success.

So, with all of that as prelude, I offer “John’s Rules for Internal Communications.”

  1. Tell employees everything you can when you can.
  2. Don’t lie. (This might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many organizations justify lying to employees, or at least not telling the full truth.)
  3. Tell employees first – before anyone outside the company’s walls – and never let them learn anything about the organization through the media unless it is absolutely unavoidable (for public companies, for example, legal or SEC regs sometimes dictate timing, and any organization could encounter a rare exception based on business developments or relationships … however, even in those cases, employees must be informed as soon as is legal and feasible).
  4. Never put out vague or incomplete communications – you’ll raise more questions than you answer.
  5. Never leave employees to draw their own conclusions.
  6. Understand that any information void will fill quickly with rumor, speculation and gossip.
  7. Treat employees like adults – give them bad news as well as good news. Be clear, don’t sugarcoat, don’t try to sell them on a particular point of view.
  8. Always assume that a question raised by a number of employees is on the minds of many more – but don’t respond on a global scale to a localized problem – and always be prepared to answer calmly and directly the most cynical questions.
  9. Overcommunicate … but remember that burying employees in useless information will dull their senses to real information.
  10. Consider: Is there a chance I will regret what I am saying? Will I have to eat my words, or explain myself later?

Looking at this list in today’s context, I might add one more rule: Go with the flow in terms of communications vehicles. Take the time to learn how your employees like to get information, and then provide it that way. For example, don’t assume a newsletter and an email will get the job done if your people value face-to-face communications and more cutting-edge communications.

So, if you compare your practices to the list above, how many rules are you breaking? And which ones do you break most frequently? And, most important, what are you going to do about it?