Posts Tagged ‘internal communications’

Watson Wyatt apparently agrees with my point that employee engagement is not solely the responsibility of the HR department. In a recent study, the consulting firm showed that companies with effective internal communication programs are better positioned to keep employees engaged and retain key talent.

I won’t bore you with the statistics here, but I thought this is an interesting look at the role communications can and should play in employee engagement, particularly during such challenging times.

According to Kathryn Yates, global leader of communication consulting at Watson Wyatt:

As the economy continues to shift, keeping employees up-to-date on how the company is responding, and how they are affected, will help insure against their becoming demoralized and disconnected. Effective communication helps engage employees, and that has positive implications for productivity and the bottom line.

That being said, addressing employee engagement is ideally a joint effort among a number of internal departments. The stakes are simply too high, and the work too impactful, not to have buy-in across the organization.

ReadEffective Communication Can Drive Employee Engagement, Help Retain Top Performers, According to Watson Wyatt for CNNMoney (Press Release dated 11.09.09)


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Almost everything I’ve read or written about employee engagement to this point has referenced multiple surveys—and they all say pretty much the same thing. Most companies suffer from an engagement deficit, and it doesn’t take a genius to intuit that the current economic crisis is not helping matters.

But I find that the constant focus on the numbers actually detracts from the matter at hand. The statistics, after all, do not solve the engagement problem. They merely provide more information about an issue already known to exist at least to a certain degree.

Last night, I tested a number of surveys for a market research class I am taking. As the respondent, they seemed long and tedious. I spent more time than I care to admit trying to draw a meaningful distinction between a “4” and a “5” on the satisfaction scale.

But as the person who helped design the surveys, I understood why the questions were necessary. I knew why we were asking the questions and what we were trying to learn. Most importantly, I understood how we would use the results to inform our communications strategy.

Employee surveys are no different. They require substantial investments of time and money, and risk annoying the employees who are asked to take them. What is done with the results is critical and is the only justification for conducting the survey in the first place. So, I realized last night, it is absolutely crucial that companies take a strategic approach to conducting employee surveys.

I found a great article about this subject today, coincidentally. It focuses on a collaborative effort by Amway and Towers Perrin to incorporate business goals and strategy into the design and implementation of an employee survey. In doing so, the authors uncovered four guiding principles. In a nutshell, they are:

Integration: Questions should be designed to get at the heart of what matters most to the company. Results, therefore, become as valuable as key strategic and financial indicators.

Alignment: Surveys should be centralized (particularly across geographic regions) to ensure the focus remains on improving the culture of the organization as a whole. Consistency assures that results can be compared across regions later.

Discovery: Results should be presented in such a way that the organization’s leaders want to engage with the data and can collect insights that are relevant to key strategic initiatives.

Execution: Emphasis on organizational effectiveness, including survey roll-out and use of technology, is as important as design. Training at the local levels further supports a global leadership team and ensures uniformity and credibility across the board.

The results of this strategic approach were impressive. Not only did Amway achieve an extremely high response rate while reducing overhead, leaders were able to correlate employee feedback with business metrics. The ability to quantify corporate culture in terms of business performance was an extremely enviable outcome. Survey results also provided an opportunity to compare results across regions, thereby enabling leaders to leverage strengths across the organization and develop local solutions where necessary.

The article goes on to list seven also very useful steps for optimizing employee surveys (for strategic impact, of course).

Read: Jon Brickner and Joe Dettmann on Beyond Engagement: Using Surveys to Drive Strategy for Talent Management Magazine (11.09)

I’m not convinced that this process rests entirely with the HR function as the authors seem to suggest. Therefore, this article comes highly recommended from me, as an internal communicator.

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In an article also written this week, and as a follow-up to her post I cited a couple days ago, Deborah Fleischer explored why and how employee engagement and CSR can and should be integrated to benefit an organization’s bottom line.

The theory is if you can get employees engaged and excited about being greener in their personal lives, they will bring this excitement and energy to their jobs as well.

To this end, AngelPoints and Saatchi & Saatchi S have launched a new software tool to help companies increase and subsequently measure Slide21-300x225sustainability engagement among employees.

The new online Personal Sustainability Project (PSP) tool charts individual and team progress in a number of “green” areas by focusing on (1) creating project goals and commitment; (2) tracking progress and impact; and (3) measuring end results.

Read: Deborah Fleischer on Employee Engagement: AngelPoints and Saatchi S Launch New PSP Tool for TriplePundit (10.27.09)

Thankfully, this article also addresses the important questions you may be asking, such as: Who cares? Why should a company be so concerned about whether its employees are actively engaged in sustainability initiatives?

Employee engagement is a key driver for increasing employee retention, attracting the best and brightest talent, fostering innovation and capturing cost savings from efficiency. However, to capture these benefits, there is growing pressure on companies to get their employees thinking about sustainability and incorporating it into their daily jobs.

This summary makes it sound relatively easy, but employee engagement is actually a very complex, and challenging, issue for internal communicators. In fact, I am currently enrolled in a semester-long course dedicated to the subject of internal engagement (and will be blogging about it quite a bit in the coming days).

Slide12-650x487But in the meantime, the AngelPoints PSP model (at left) shows that motivated employees can ultimately affect improved business performance and inspire a corporate culture of sustainability. In case you’re not convinced, this general progression is supported by research conducted by consulting powerhouses Watson Wyatt and Towers Perrin (among others).

I’m optimistic that an online PSP tool will encourage employees to connect with one another in support of their company’s CSR strategy. Given the adoption of online communications tools in other areas of organizations, this seems like a natural progression. A bonus? Accountability. Always a good thing.

(Photo Credits: AngelPoints)

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On Friday, Forbes.com featured a write-up of an interview with Patrick Lencioni, a leadership consultant and author of several books on the subject. The article focuses on the degree to which technology can be relied upon to manage virtual teams and offers useful advice for organizations and managers alike.

Lencioni takes an interesting approach when he compares workplace teams to families:

No family would say, ‘Well, Dad lives in New York, Mom lives in San Francisco, and the kids are spread around the country, but thanks to my iPhone and computer, it’s no different from living under the same roof.’ The simple but often overlooked truth is that without the daily interaction of breakfast or dinner or homework or late night conversation or doing the dishes, a family can’t possibly develop and maintain the strength it needs to thrive during good times and survive during challenging ones. The same is true for teams that have no incidental conversations in the hallway, or at lunch or in the elevator for that matter.

But Lencioni understands that face-to-face isn’t always possible and turns to conference calls to facilitate virtual team meetings when necessary. He also acknowledges that high-end video conferencing may be an opportunity for better connecting virtual teams, but he warns that “no single device or tool can replace face-to-face interaction” and that such sophisticated technology is absent from most organizations.

Ultimately, Lencioni concludes that, whether meetings are face-to-face or via the latest technology, a few common rules apply:

Regardless of whether teams get together in person or remotely, they need to regularly revisit their purpose, values and mission. They need to work at developing trust and determining methods for hashing out differences remotely. They also have to establish ways to keep their team goals—not just their individuals’ goals—visible and urgent.

Read: When You Absolutely Can’t Meet Face-to-Face by Terry Waghorn for Forbes.com (10.16.09)

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Four years ago, I became a manager for the first time. Thankfully my supervisor was a patient mentor and helped me acquire skills that I still use to this day. But let me be clear: it was not an easy road. Those initial several months were incredibly painful (for both of us, I’m sure) and at times seemed an exercise in futility.

For reasons that baffled me at first, she insisted that I meet with my staff at 8:00 a.m.—daily. So each workday for two years, almost without fail, everyone in the department crowded into my office to talk about deadlines, identify roadblocks, and share ideas.

I was reminded of this exercise a couple days ago when I read an article in the current issue of Communicate Magazine, called End of the huddle?

Read: James Bennett on the irreplaceable value of face-to-face communications for Communicate Magazine

The author defines the huddle as:

… not a discussion but a series of statements listened to by the key members of the company. The huddle leader then asks each individual what he or she is working on that day and may ask for a short daily sales report or any outstanding achievements, events, or queries. Finally the leader questions each member on whether they are facing any potential ‘blocks’, or problems that could prevent them from carrying out their daily duties. Anything else is then taken offline and worked on separately.

In my department’s morning meetings, we never met for more than 10 minutes at a time and we mostly just glazed the surface of issues. But our huddles quickly became the most valuable touch points of my week as a new manager. They were a tool for me to learn about responsibilities and work product, an opportunity to identify potential problems, and a chance to get to know my staff on a personal level.

Now, software such as Yammer makes it easy for teams to connect and keep in touch with one another in a similar way. But whether online touch points are as effective as a face-to-face encounter is up for serious debate.

Bennett states that even using the best online networking tools, “face-to-face contact and that instant sharing of crucial first-thing-in-the-morning, targeted information is immediately lost.”

Today, with so much of an organization’s information-sharing facilitated by online tools, huddles and other face-to-face meetings are at risk for becoming obsolete.

But, as Bennett rightfully suggests, the value face-to-face meetings bring to an organization and its internal communications cannot easily be replicated in the online space.

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I refer to my conversation with Roger D’Aprix, where he predicted a conflict is emerging from the clash of two dramatically different organizational cultures.

He alluded to the concept of Generation F (for Facebook) and the particular expectations these professionals have for their workplace—namely that connectivity and networks mirror what people are accustomed to in their personal lives.

Intrigued, I did a little searching and found that it isn’t hard to collect evidence of this looming battle. Up for debate is whether and to what degree organizations should accommodate the new demands of the emerging workforce. It’s a good question—one that no one seems to be able to answer definitively just yet.

Gary Hamel wrote on this subject for his Management 2.0 blog for the Wall Street Journal, and I found his to be among the more interesting explorations of the topic.

Read: Gary Hamel on “The Facebook Generation vs. The Fortune 500” for the Wall Street Journal

In his post, Hamel presented the viewpoint that a company hoping “to attract the most creative and energetic members of Gen F” will “need to understand these Internet-derived expectations, and then reinvent its management practices accordingly.”

He proceeded to outline 12 characteristics on which companies will be evaluated by this new breed of workers. A few are pillars on which every organization should strive to operate, with or without the Internet: Power comes from sharing information, not hoarding it; Intrinsic rewards matter most; All ideas compete on an equal footing.

But others on the list seem to threaten the very ability of an organization’s management team to do its job and reach strategic goals: Resources get attracted, not allocated; Users can veto most policy decisions; Tasks are chosen, not assigned. While the old-fashioned hierarchical approach to management may need a 21st century facelift, I don’t think turning over complete control to employees is exactly what the doctor ordered.

In light of all this discussion about responding to employees’ social media needs, I found it ironic to read just this week that Robert Half Technology released the results of a study of more than 1,400 CIOs. The verdict? Only one in five companies (19%) allows social networking for work-related reasons. The big news is that more than half (54%) of businesses block employees’ access to social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter while on the job (a mere 16% allow limited personal social networking).

Apparently companies aren’t too concerned with being perceived by Generation F as “with it” (a term Hamel uses in his post). And given the current economic crisis, it’s unlikely that their ability to attract younger employees will suffer from a strict social media policy. But Hamel warns that, once it’s no longer a “buyer’s market for talent”, a company unable to recruit and retain “a vital core of Gen F employees will soon find itself stuck in the mud”.

When it’s all said and done, I hope companies choose to adopt social media for the value it can and will add to a well-planned internal communications strategy, rather than in response to increasing demands from the next generation of connected employees.

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