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...

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...

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...