I have a horrible memory from grade school. My brother was a boy scout, and one year he made a rocket to earn a merit badge and left it to dry overnight. I found it in the garage and became convinced that the fins were misaligned. I gave it my “fix” and told no one.
The next day, we stood around the launch pad and watched Daniel’s rocket spiral off the pad like a North Korean experiment gone wrong. I never told anyone at the time, but I’ve always been keenly aware that my best intentions can sometimes lead to failure.
When I consult with clients on both a tactical and strategic level, I overemphasize that my role is to support them in bringing their ideas and vision to its most powerful effect. They have to own what I deliver, and I encourage them to push back.
My unique value?
I want them to take credit.
I also stay away from the fins.
Wordwright was engaged to develop a relocation campaign, which the company dubbed work+place. Typically, when a company moves to a new office, communications focus on the nuts and bolts of relocation: packing boxes, installing work stations, and finalizing move schedules.
But that can often be a lost opportunity.
Office moves are part of a company’s comprehensive real estate strategy, which in turn is tied to its business goals. Physical environment is important to employees and is one of many factors that can promote employee engagement.
With our award-winning Welcome Kit, we challenged conventional wisdom by consciously situating real estate changes within the company’s goals, articulating the ties between design decisions and company mission, and encouraging employee-management dialogue around moves and other real estate questions.
To learn more about how you can benefit from our communications expertise, call us.
The holiday season brings an opportunity to let people know they are appreciated. But in the workplace, employee appreciation isn’t always top of mind. In addition to their own holiday planning, managers face pressing year-end demands like goal setting and performance reviews.
This season, consider these 5 tips when thinking about how to say “thank you” to those who deserve it most. A simple, timely and authentic gesture of appreciation can encourage and inspire your employees, and raise your bottom line.
1. Break with routine. If email is your typical way of communicating, use a different approach that employees will be sure to remember. It doesn’t have to involve writing their names in the sky. Just leave a brief voicemail message, or send flowers to a home address.
2. Be authentic and specific. To reinforce performance or commitment, let employees know the exact behavior or quality that merits recognition. Avoid the overly broad “Thanks for all your hard work,” and instead acknowledge specifics. Ideally you have previously recognized the employee on the spot, but even if you give an end-of-year acknowledgment, be sure to call out the highlights. “Thank you for bringing fresh ideas to our team this year, like the time you suggested we meet outside on the grass to brainstorm marketing approaches.”
3. Use your own words. Composing a heartfelt message can be difficult, especially under work pressures, but resist the urge to write as if Legal or HR will scrub your words. If you’re having a hard time coming up with a thank you that sounds meaningful, try recording a message on your phone and then transcribe your spoken words onto paper.
4. Write it by hand. Because everyone sends emails and texts, be revolutionary. Write with ink and paper. Writing by hand takes time, but because everyone is busy, taking that time can be the greatest sign of your appreciation.
5. Have your holiday party in January. Before the holidays, employees are preoccupied, so a December 20th holiday party might not always be welcome. Throwing a mid-January holiday celebration is a great way to start off the new year while also setting the tone for months to come.
God bless front-line managers.
They take heat from above and below: bosses pressure them to drive teams harder and deliver fast results while subordinates grumble, make mistakes, get sick, cut corners, and ask for raises.
In addition to their own work, line-managers have to write performance reviews, monitor timelines, give instructions, coordinate schedules, check quality, resolve conflicts, all while concealing their own doubts and anxieties. And in the end, they do all of this with less. And for less.
So why should communicators be surprised when we give managers our carefully crafted communication toolkits—our key messages, Q&As, presentation slides, and talking points—only to learn later that managers forwarded everything to their teams by email, and considered their job done?
Those rich manager-employee conversations that we had envisioned?
That well-informed post-meeting Q&A session?
A glimmer of employee inspiration? Or engagement?
So are toolkits a waste of time?
Not by a long shot. Our mistake has been that we don’t properly prepare managers to serve as links in the chain that we envision.
For more than two years, Wordwright has been developing business in Asia through our office in Hong Kong. And here in Asia, there has been significant interest among our clients and prospects to train managers.
Specifically, we’re being asked to develop their communication skills. And not just presentation and writing skills. We’re teaching managers how to facilitate company-wide communications.
Seeing an opportunity, we have developed a curriculum that includes:
1. How to develop audience-centric key messages
2. How to find the right time and the best channels
3. How to conduct a successful meeting
4. How to check the team “pulse” afterward
When a message is owned and personalized at the line-manager level, it sticks. Employees hear something relevant and specific to their work and interests. Messages flow through the organization without being distorted.
Remember that childhood game called “telephone”? It’s a great metaphor for what can happen to the message you intend as it moves from person to person.
With trained managers as part of your communication chain, it’s unlikely that when executives say the word change, employees hear the word chance.
Read online story.
Communication strategist Paul Matalucci says he doesn’t envy what actor George Clooney has to do as a corporate downsizer-for-hire in the movie Up In The Air. And neither is he like Donald Trump in The Apprentice.
Clooney, in his role as Ryan Bingham, has to tell employees they have been laid off, acting on behalf of employers who are unwilling to do the job themselves, while Trump is brutal when he fires apprentices on his reality TV show.
“We never use the words `You are fired’ like Trump does. We always say `Your position has been eliminated.’ It’s important not to attach any blame to it all,” Matalucci explains.
As president of US-based Wordwright Communications, Matalucci helps companies communicate with staff and deals with senior leadership of big corporations with 5,000 to 150,000 employees.
Wordwright opened its office in Hong Kong in March 2010 and got its first client two months later.
The company is all about assisting clients to articulate their message, vision and strategic directions in good times and in bad, Matalucci says.
“Communication is prerequisite and fundamental to staff management and long-term staff development,” he adds.
Communication, Matalucci continues, has to be up and down in order to connect people and various business units throughout organisations.
“When the economy is good, much of my job is about strengthening a company’s communication capability both externally to expand the scope of the business, and internally to boost staff morale and rally support. When the economy goes south, a lot of communication will be shifted internally to reinforce and stabilise staff to give them a better sense of belonging.”
In really bad times, that means notification meetings and staff losing their jobs, a situation that has become more prevalent in the United States over the past few years.
When it comes to lay-offs it’s not Matalucci and his staff who do the firing; they train managers and companies how to relay the bad news.
“My training helps companies not to lose sight of the importance of doing it well when it comes to laying off people. And very often, people tend to forget that it is also quite an emotional journey for the manager who has to break the bad news,” he says.
“It’s never easy to lay off someone. We tend to tell our clients to limit the entire process to just four minutes because we need to give the employee the personal space to let the news sink in. But before we close the notification meeting, the manager will have to keep reinforcing the message to ensure that the message has been clearly understood because a lot of times it takes some time for the bad news to sink in.”
One important rule, Matalucci says, is that affected staff should be told the lay-off is not personal and no blame is apportioned, and that it’s merely a business decision. “We should never sugar-coat it because there is no better way of laying off someone. We must treat staff with respect and dignity,” he adds.
Going about the process in a professional way is also important to the company’s long-term interests.
“People remember how badly you treat your staff when you let them go and they will spread the word so good people will not want to join your company when the economy improves. Treat staff well even in bad times and treat them with respect when you let them go,” he stresses.
RJ Asher, former head of human resources for Asia Pacific at Avon Products, agrees that communication is critical to a company’s long-term growth and its ability to attract and retain talent.
“No matter how big or small a company is or whether you are delivering good or bad news, the message has to be communicated the right way,” Asher says, adding that clear communication is imperative especially when a company is handing out bad news because it can eliminate misunderstanding.
“When it’s done correctly and in a humane way, people will not feel abused and the company is less likely to be challenged,” Asher says.
Matalucci points out that it is also vital to communicate properly with “survivors” to explain how their colleagues were treated and what the future plans are in order to move the company forward and stabilise staff morale. If there is any silver lining to notification meetings, Matalucci says they help in the career development of senior managers who can deal with such an emotional process in a professional setting and learn how to handle negative situations.
The following notes were collected on June 30, 2011, during a conference call with business communicators who attended the IABC World Conference 2011 in San Diego, California.
Is your workplace a community that communicates?
Presenters and attendees of IABC’s 2011 World Conference offered insights into the challenges facing communicators, summarized here as a series of tips.
Block, Peter (2008). Community: The Structure of Belonging
Bernoff, J., Charlene Li (2008). Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies
As a communicator with new eyes to the complexity of reaching international employee audiences, one fact has been drilled into me: when considering the best program or channel, leave nothing off the table. Anything that employees touch (or that touches employees) is an opportunity to reinforce messages, encourage dialogue, or to inspire.
The topic of volunteerism as a communications tool is an excellent example. We often leave volunteer programs to Human Resources or Community Affairs. But they’re actually great opportunities to create dialogue with and among employees.
I have noted a few characteristics of how volunteerism can be used effectively.
1) Find a cause/organization appropriate to your Vision/Mission. One of Wordwright’s clients, a successful biotech company, researches, develops, and markets HIV and hepatitis drugs. Their annual participation in AIDS walks and blood drives is a perfect fit—clearly aligned with the company’s mission to provide lifesaving drugs for the patients who need them. The relationship, however, does not have to be so direct. Financial institutions, for example, distribute capital within the communities they serve. Picking a non-profit community arts program or sporting association makes good sense because they too unite a community and strengthen its cultural capital.
2) Make the connection visible, and then report back on the experience. The link between the activity and our company’s mission should be stated clearly (even obviously) in related communications: memos, press releases, intranets, etc.
And as a follow-up to the activity, be sure to have someone capture the event in photographs or video and include the stories in future company-wide employee communications. It’s particularly effective to capture first-person narratives or testimonials. Ask employees how they felt during their volunteering experience. Who did they meet? What did they learn? What did they contribute?
3) Select an activity that can deliver multiple benefits. Another Wordwright client has an employee-run Science Day on their campus in Fremont, California. They invite local high school students to present their projects to company scientists. Not only do the client’s employees derive huge satisfaction from interacting with students, they’re also indirectly boosting potential future recruits and generating goodwill with the local community. And parents love it.
4) Use volunteer activities to deepen co-worker relationships. Often the attention falls on the volunteer work itself without addressing the need for participants to socialize before and after the event. A kick-off gathering with drinks and food puts everyone at ease. If employees are socially introverted, incorporate an ice-breaker. If the event is particularly intense or long, perhaps a closing celebration is appropriate. Encourage employees to stay together during break times instead of letting them run away to check their Blackberries.
A Curious Characteristic Noted
As I learn more about the practice of employee communications in Hong Kong and across Asia, I am struck by the frequency with which incentives are offered to encourage participation (weekends in Macau or digital cameras). I would love to discuss this with other Hong Kong communicators. I am struck by the inherent assumption that people won’t give their time and talents without a tangible reward. If our goal is enhanced teamwork, higher employee engagement, and stronger relationships between employees, what are we saying if we keep holding out other carrots?
I’m eager to hear your thoughts.
*accredited business communicator
Forming a Communications Council is the single most valuable step that a communicator can take without adding a penny of budget.
If your organization doesn’t already have one, don’t wait. You need the eyes and ears of your council to keep you current on the pulse of your organization.
Download our Communications Council Best Practices broadsheet, or read on.
Communications Council Best Practices
A Communications Council is a group of employees nominated to act as communication champions and representatives for their fellow employees. Responsible for checking the pulse of the organization across business, function, and geography, the council meets regularly to discuss vital communication issues, disseminate critical messages, and offer feedback.
Setting Up a Council…
For full details, please download our broadsheet, Communications Council Best Practices.