And Then - Blog Title

5 Things You Need to Know When Handling a Crisis, from Crisis Guru Andy Gilman

Let’s face it: you can’t avoid a crisis. It will affect every communicator at some point. The key is preparation. It is especially important for internal communicators to be “in the loop” on what is happening with a company during the time of a crisis, because the employee audience is so critical to finding a resolution to any crisis. Last month on EE Voice, Sharon McIntosh and Sharon Phillips talked to Andy Gilman of CommCore about crisis communications and how internal communicator can prepare. To name just a few of his accomplishments, Andy has worked on cases such as the Johnson & Johnson Tylenol scandal, helping prep chairman James Burke for his 60 Minutes interview. Andy also weighed in on the Steve Harvey “don’t talk to me”instance where Harvey sent out an internal e-mail telling his staff not to talk to him while at work. Andy has been the media’s “go-to guy” for crises, with his expertise in both communications and law.In the podcast, he offered five great pieces of advice for internal communicators: Build your trust with employees prior to a crisis. A lot of crises have a long-term effect on the employees and their relationship with the company. As Andy said, “What if the crisis cause employees not to trust management as much? What if the crisis cause the employees to think the wrong decisions are being made? They’ll be thinking ‘Is this a place I want to work?’” Be consistent with what you say internally and externally. According to Andy, “Don’t say one thing publically, then say something else to employees.” With the prevalence of social media,...

3 Things You Didn’t Know About Chatbots – The Next Trend in Internal Communications

Chatbots: It’s not a word you hear often, and you’re probably wondering what they are. They may not be a huge topic in the workplace yet, but it’s good to be prepared for when the conversation starts. Let’s begin by diving into what a chatbot is. A chatbot is a software system that responds to your messages as if you are talking to someone. This software can be used for several things: sending money to other people, clocking in and out at work and setting up meetings with your co-workers. Some companies already have embraced chatbots to interact with their customers. For example, on Sephora’s site, you can upload a selfie and the chatbot will respond by putting the best color of lipstick on your selfie. And Facebook has adopted chatbots in a big way, with more than 100,000 bots currently available to users. Why should internal communicators have chatbots on their radar? Here are three reasons why you should be paying attention. 1)    Most employees have a smartphone, so they are already on a messaging app. Chatbots can be used on your employees’ messaging app – something they already use and are familiar with. This allows for the push notifications to always come through on your phone. “Your employees are spending more time in messaging apps than anything else,” says Chris McGrath, founder of TangoWork, and featured on the EE Voice podcast last month. Plus, employees are more likely to read these messages; research found that 90% of messages sent out by a bot are read in the first three minutes. Which brings us to number two: 2)    It’s a...

Dear United CEO: Listen to your employees

Dear Oscar: I realize you’ve had a difficult week, and I hate to pile on, but I must. I believe you’re one of the good CEOs out there. You’re also one of our few diverse CEOs, the first in your Mexican-American family to graduate from college. Employees like you, with a jaw-dropping 97% approval rating on Glassdoor. And there are solid reasons why PR Week awarded you “Communicator of the Year” just last month. But, man, what happened this week? Who was giving you communications advice? Everything I read before this crisis said you were a good guy. So I hope you don’t mind a few more bits of advice on your employee communications – particularly that letter you sent to employees: You forgot a cardinal rule of internal communications – anything internal should be written as if it were to be sent externally. I doubt you would have sat in a media interview and called a paying customer, who was literally dragged off your plane, “belligerent.” So don’t do it in your letter to employees. It’s embarrassing. You ignored your values. At some point, your leadership, HR and maybe even some employees helped you craft your Customer Commitment. These are painful processes, often taking months to land on the final language. But during this crisis – and probably long before – your customer commitment gathered dust on a shelf. The third sentence of your commitment states, “Our goal is to make every flight a positive experience for our customers.” I suspect that if you had been regularly communicating this to your employees, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation....

Employee Engagement: At What Price?

I live for employee engagement. I believe in employee empowerment and left my corporate job to devote my life and business to it. Defined, employee engagement is the emotional commitment to the organization and its goals, resulting in discretionary effort – those employees who go above and beyond what’s asked. There’s not many of them. Gallup says only 30% of employees in most organizations are engaged, costing companies billions of dollars. That stat has barely budged in 10 years. Increase employee engagement, and you will drive business results. This concept is at the heart of every internal communications strategy. For most internal communicators, it’s why we jump out of bed in the morning. We believe employee engagement can tap into that need all of us have to enthusiastically be part of something bigger than ourselves. So, when I read the New York Times 11,000-word exposé on Amazon (“Where overachievers go to feel bad about themselves.”), I thought, sadly, these employees, too, are engaged. And suddenly my concept of enthusiastic employees delivering exceptional business results seemed Pollyannaish. Amazon delivers over the top financially, but often at the cost of employees’ personal health and families. According to the article, these employees are taught to confront, sacrifice and push – no matter the price to their health or families. And then I read the detailed response from Amazon employee Nick Ciubotariu on LinkedIn, and I was blown away. First, he took his weekend to write a point-by-point counter response to the Times article; and second, he felt empowered to write this without any approval from PR. His blog post currently has nearly...

Updated your social media policy lately?

When I ask conference attendees who has a social media policy at their company, almost every hand in the room raises. But when I ask how many of those policies have been updated in the last few months, the hands almost uniformly sink. So let’s take a brief quiz. What do these three phases – all from one company’s social media policy – have in common? “Do not use any copyrighted or otherwise protected information or property without the owner’s written consent.” “You may not post photos taken at Company events or on Company premises without advance consent of your supervisor, Human Resources and Communications Department.” “If you discover negative statements, emails or posts about you or the Company, do not respond. First seek help from the Legal or Communications Departments, who will guide any response.” Answer: All three were found illegal by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which enforces the National Labor Relations Act, protecting the rights of employees – union and non-union – to act together to address various work conditions. And much of the guidance they give flies in the face of many social media policies out there today. All of these examples were taken from a report written by NLRB General Counsel Richard F. Griffin Jr. offering some valuable guidance on employee handbooks, including specific examples of social media policy language NLRB deems acceptable and in violation of employee rights. In the three examples above, the company was found to have language either overly broad or that discouraged employees from protesting unfair labor practices. I’m no lawyer; chances are, you aren’t either. However, as...

What if internal communicators thought like marketers?

Years ago I served two years of my career in marketing, and l didn’t like it one bit. I lived in a sea of numbers, managing a small P&L. Nearly every week we presented multi-page PowerPoint slides on how we would increase revenue and what we were doing to mitigate losses. What on earth was a former internal communicator doing here? I didn’t fit; I was Oscar in a room full of Felix’s. Fortunately, I was blessed with a patient and supportive boss, who educated me on the marketing process and tried to get me to understand a balance sheet. He even helped me navigate my career back into communications. The gift of that challenging experience was the value of a marketing mindset in my communications world. Since then, I’ve often asked my fellow communicators how we’d operate differently if we reframed employee communication like this: We are no longer internal communicators. Instead, we are marketing experts asking our employee/consumer base for their support and discretionary effort. What would we change? Research employees’ thoughts, habits and affinities before we communicated. Would a marketing team ever launch a multi-million dollar advertising campaign without talking to consumers first? Of course not. But how often do communicators send out information without conducting internal audits? In this new mindset, we’d pay attention to what employees say they want and what they could care less about. And we wouldn’t send any message without baseline research. Dig (and dig into) data. Recent studies show that more than 60% of internal communicators are still not measuring. That’s at once amazing and bewildering, considering how much there...

If Zappos can do this, why can’t the rest of us?

Last December I spent three amazing days – no joke – with a farmer, doughnut maker, author, apron entrepreneur, musician and academic, to name a few. And one particularly sharp internal communicator. (And yes, on more than one occasion, we walked into a bar together.) We participated in “Creativ Week,” a monthly experience for leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs to explore important social topics and learn more about theDowntown Project, an urban revitalization effort in downtown Las Vegas. Sponsored by Delivering Happiness, our theme was “Giving Forward: Sustainable Generosity and the new ROI (or Ripple of Impact).” We held meetings throughout downtown Las Vegas and a common discussion was company culture, particularly since Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh founded both the Downtown Project and Delivering Happiness. If you’ve read Hsieh’s book, Delivering Happiness, you know he believes that company culture is the number one driver of business success. It’s a pretty simple formula: Happy employees = happy customers = more sales. So, for a culture geek like me, one of the highlights of the week was a tour of the Zappos headquarters. (By the way, anyone can schedule a tour if you’re in the area; it’s even reviewed on Yelp.) Through my internal comms lens, I noticed a few things about Zappos employees: They have a sense of humor. We were greeted by Zappos “mayor” Jerry Tidmore who checked us in. Behind him, I noticed a wall of business ties, all cut in half. Jerry explained that, if anyone comes in for an interview wearing a tie, they offer to cut it off and put it on the “wall of ties.”...

Five ways to boost your internal communications creativity

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. My good friend, former colleague and internal comms expert was telling me she wasn’t creative. We talked it over and proved her wrong. We discussed many projects that demonstrated her creativity: from developing breakthrough internal communications strategies to hosting a mermaid-themed birthday party for her four-year-old that looked like it was planned by Martha Stewart. She soon realized that creativity was one of her major strengths. I wonder how many of our fellow communicators are in the same boat. If you work in internal communications, we often echo Rosie the Riveter, assuring our leadership “We can do it!” We are exceptional executors. It’s not that we’re unduly modest. We’re busy as hell, and many of us often forget or don’t stop to consider our own creativity. So how do we recognize and promote creativity within internal communications? Here are five suggestions: Use less corporate jargon. If we only did one creative, bold thing, just eliminate those words we know we shouldn’t use: utilize, leverage, world-class, impactful and synergize, to name a few. Be brave in pushing back on leaders who demand to use this type of language. And then write like real people talk. Your employees will listen. Write more intriguing headlines. David Ogilvy reminds us that, on average, five times as many people read the headline as your body copy. So give headlines some love. Write them in an honest, inviting and interesting way. And then make sure your copy delivers on the promise of that intriguing headline. Have a more creative purpose. We often get so caught up in being...

Dear CEO: About that end-of-year letter to your employees …

Dear CEO: It’s that time of year again – time for you to write a year-end, holiday letter to your employees. It’s great that you’re sending it, but I’m obligated to share some trepidation. It’s not that you shouldn’t write or send it; you absolutely should. A recent study emphatically finds employees who perceive their senior leaders as highly trustworthy have a greater level of engagement, dedication and loyalty to their companies. Trusting you makes them like you – and regular, meaningful communications from you to your employees is one of many ways to increase your trustworthiness. So, stepping out boldly on behalf of internal communicators everywhere, I offer the following advice … 1. Make it short(er). Yes, I realize I haven’t read your letter yet. But my guess is, even without seeing it, it’s too long. You can’t hold the attention of anyone for three pages, single-spaced. Or even two. Delete, delete, delete until you have only the critical items that can be scanned in minutes. 2. Be authentic. This letter has your name on it, and it should come from you. Employees will know if someone else wrote it, and you’ll miss a chance to build a relationship with them. If possible, take a crack at the first draft. Then lean on your communicators for edits and advice. But make it yours. Talk about the business, but share your humanity. 3. Be transparent. If you’re having a tough year, say so. Employees already sense this, so be straight with them. Let them know where you stand. Employees depend on you for their jobs, and they want to...

Five myths about employee ambassadors that are flat-out wrong

Maybe “flat-out wrong” is a little strong. But I hear them nearly every time I’m speaking about ambassador programs.  I’m sure you can cite examples in which each of these myths is true. That’s the way it goes with employee engagement. Every company has a unique culture, leadership and talent. Nothing ever is in stone.  So considering all those caveats, here are five myths about employee ambassador programs: All employees should be ambassadors. And therefore, goes this myth, there’s no need for a dedicated ambassador program, is there? In fact, as internal communicators, isn’t everything we do to create employee ambassadors? Well, yes. And no. Yes, that’s our lofty strategy, but no, it’s just not possible. That’s because engaging every employee in your company’s story is about as likely as making org announcements sound interesting. Truth is, you have a narrow group of highly engaged employees – probably about 10 percent, if you’re lucky – and a broad swath of disengaged employees. Focus on the engaged employees who can influence those disengaged employees. This brings us to… You can’t find your truly engaged employees. Of course you can. Think of your own team. Don’t you already know who’s engaged, influential, talented and someone others want to follow? Well, there you go. Or just ask for volunteers. There’s one thing we know about disengaged employees: They’re not looking to add work to their plate. Only your engaged employees are willing to give you the discretionary time you’re seeking. Ambassador programs have to be sponsored by top leadership. Obviously, it helps to have the CEO at least involved – if not...

Why I left a dream job

I didn’t just have a good job; I had a great job, the stuff of every employee’s dreams: Energizing, smart boss? Check. Growing company? Check. A team I loved working with? Work I cared about? International travel opportunities? Check, check, check. So why in heaven would I leave? Last year one of my mentors asked me a question: “What are you saying with your life?” I posted that question on my bulletin board at work, so I would keep it top of mind. I answered it every day with the same actions: working long hours, recovering on the weekends, rarely seeing cherished friends or family. It wasn’t the company’s fault; it was mine. Fueling the introspection, my 85-year-old mother was living in a foster home on the opposite coast, battling the final stages of Parkinson’s disease. Dementia was creeping in, and she obsessively needed to tell every family story to her most adoring audiences in her final years. So I asked myself another tough question: If my mom passed today, would I say I was a good daughter, even a good listener? It was time for a change – and not just a small one. So I quit the great job I had. Friends, family and colleagues told me I was either crazy, courageous or both. I was scared as hell, but I knew it was the right decision. On my final day in the office, I sent an email about why I was leaving.  The subject line:  “And Then …” I explained it was time for me to go and listen to my mother’s stories.  Three months later, in...