Last week our family lost a young and important member of our family to a 4-year battle with cancer: my sister-in-law Rani Voracek . She was a smart, beautiful, kind and thoughtful 38-year old mother, wife, sister, cousin and friend. On her last day with us, everyone surrounded her bed to witness her final breath. It was a profound event, and it’s even more so several days later as we reflect upon her life– all of us in our own way.
On Facebook, it’s been wonderful to see the tributes. Family members and friends have been posting old photos from childhood and college. Some, like myself, have spent much time looking through years of her old posts, photos and videos. We can see how much she loved her family by documenting snippets of time as a doting mom who got a kick out of her daughter’s antics and the fun relationship she shared with her husband. Just about every time I log into Facebook, I can see that others are still commenting and liking her past posts. In a way, she lives on.
In between these constant reminders, and the tears, it got me thinking more about the power of Facebook to document and be a reflection of one’s life. It also got me thinking about the kind of content that many of us see in our newsfeeds and what your posts say about you. I know many of you will relate:
- The funny old friend from college that sees the world through a hilarious lense.
- That kid from your old neighborhood who’s found success through the coolest job ever.
- The person (or me!) who has a love of Grumpy Cat or funny children.
- That sap from high school who’s always ranting about something silly or boring.
- The lonely person who needs to get out of the house more.
- The political wing-nut who clearly does not share your views.
- That dude who loves the worst movies.
Your posts as seen in my newsfeed are a mix of content that I both love and hate. Sometimes I’m elated by your clever insights and musings. Sometimes I’m disappointed by your poor taste. Your posts tell me if you’ve found happiness or are in need of therapy. They show me if you are a success or if you’ve not quite lived up to your potential. They tell me whether you can control your impulses and emotions—or not. The reality: The content you post is not yours but it is a reflection of the persona that you want others to see. The harsh reality: We all form an opinion about you and we judge you, both good and bad.
Ask yourself this question: When you leave this world, what will your historical Facebook page say about you? Will it tell the people who care about you, “this guy/girl really depresses/angers/saddens me”? Or will it leave us with an impression of your passions, love and interests so that we can celebrate and remember your wonderful life? What singular message do you want (the collection) of your page to say, especially after you are gone?
For me and Rani’s Facebook community, she left us with us with a wonderful world that allows us to hear her voice, rejoice in her memory and see her beauty, joy and love. In retrospect, she got it right. Will you?
By Elizabeth Castro
One of the things I try to do as a communicator is stay engaged with the latest digital channels and improve upon existing ones that I believe are still relevant. So I often like to look back at old work to see whether it stands the test of time or how I might approach that same piece years later.
The other day I was looking at my archives of past work samples and came across some old employee newsletters from 2004. At the time I oversaw employee communications for a Chicago energy company and the newsletter was a big deal for employees.
The Evolution of the Newsletter
Before I had come to the energy company, the employee newsletter had already been revamped. It had previously focused on the fun aspects of employee life like birthdays, family photos and service anniversaries. The newer version now included information about strategic direction, business updates, preventative healthcare plan offerings and corporate social responsibility initiatives — but some information like anniversaries still remained.
As I looked through my stack of eight-year old corporate newsletters and content, much of which became incorporated into the company’s intranet, my impression is that they are still relevant in terms of the messages and approach:
First, we didn’t lose sight of what was important to employees, which was the personal touch. The culture of long-time employees meant that most of them had in a sense grown up together. They knew each other’s families and deeply felt connected to the success of the company. If the newsletters had focused exclusively on strategy, employees might have stopped reading it. So the revised version was thoughtful.
Second, employees still needed to be told about the realities of the evolving organization, that, like most companies over the last ten years, downsizing and cost savings were the new reality. Employees needed to understand what steps were being taken to maintain the health of the company, what that meant to the company’s operations and how they could be part of the transition.
Overall, the new version of the newsletter was an excellent compromise of the old and the new.
The Next Generation
When I took over internal communication efforts the employee newsletter remained an important communications tool for us. We continued to use it to share important business information, but we also told a lot of personal stories that made the information more engaging. We established good relationships with managers in other departments, especially Human Resources and Health & Wellness, so that finding the stories became easy.
Here are some examples:
From a benefits perspective, employees had seen their healthcare costs increase just like everyone else in America. At the same time, the company started offering other creative benefits focused more on prevention and healthier lifestyles. We wanted employees to learn more about these programs and how they were benefitting their co-workers. We also wanted them to take a more active role in living healthier lives. For one article during heart health month, we featured an employee who had heart surgery and how preventative screenings caught the problem early on. He wanted to share his personal story of survival in order to help others.
Also, community giving and employee volunteer efforts were common and something that everyone could come together on. These more grassroots efforts were a strong complement to the company’s overall corporate social responsibility efforts. We were able to talk about these efforts at the corporate level while featuring the individual efforts at various facilities. Assets like photos and video helped to document and promote these efforts and could be used beyond the newsletter.
In the end, my assessment is that this particular employee newsletter did a good job of communicating holistically to employees about the business and the people. Today, it could be even more aligned around company values and programs that define the organization.
Today’s Corporate Newsletter
Even in the digital age, employee newsletters, whether they are still printed on paper (for employees without email access) or available as intranet content, continue to be valuable internal communications tools. If you’re challenged to revamp an existing newsletter or create a new one, here are some general rules for content in today’s business environment:
Align with the Business Strategy – If your company has a specific list of operating principles ensure there is a section specifically dedicated to providing news and updates that relate to each principle. Employees will gain a greater understanding, in very tangible terms, of how your business is being run in relation to your goals.
Don’t Lose Sight of People – This is probably the most difficult thing for companies to accomplish. All too often I hear that employees feel like they are viewed as just a number. The best way to show employees what it means to be a success there is to find stories about employees who live the business strategy and have passion for their jobs. Again, it’s about turning high level business concepts into the tangible.
Celebrate Successes – This also focuses on people. All too often, companies forget to celebrate because if they tell employees the company is doing well, there’s the assumption that everyone will want raises. Well, of course they will! But that’s no excuse for failing to deliver some good news and possibly a small gesture that celebrates an achievement like a pizza party at lunch.
Tell them How You’re Really Doing – Financials provide a definitive insight into company performance and should be delivered in a comprehensive and sophisticated manner. But depending on the types of employees and job functions within your organization you might need to break it down even further. A simplified rating or color system (red, yellow, green), or a three line explanation about “what does this mean” can go a long way to reaching employees who don’t understand investor speak.
Showcase Your Corporate Social Responsibility Efforts – More and more companies are doing a better job of talking about their overall CSR efforts. But including stories about employees who are leading these efforts helps to put more of a face on these efforts.
Partner with Human Resources – For companies where the internal communications function is not part of Human Resources it’s incredibly important to partner with this department. In fact, I’ve often said that employee engagement is really a marriage between the functions. So be sure to communicate benefits, compensation and professional development information in the context of the operating principles, especially when changes are made to each.
Employee engagement research and case studies have shown us that employee reward programs can be instrumental in fostering a culture where employees produce stronger results in relation to the corporate objectives. We know that when employees understand their role and are recognized for direct contributions, they are more likely to embrace an organization’s mission, vision and values, and work above their standards towards a common goal.
Before you establish a formal employee reward program, it is important to understand the best practices that will ensure the program is meaningful to employees, successful for the organization and easy to implement for communications and HR professionals. Here are the necessary elements:
- Develop a framework that links the winning criteria with your business strategy and performance outcomes. The company must ensure that truly deserving people win. In other words, you must demonstrate that winners stand out among the crowd and have a real impact on the organization. Meanwhile employees must feel that the measures are achievable and realistic. For example, if a business goal is to reduce costs then the winning criteria should include identifying an operation and making the necessary changes that reduced expenses.
- Brand the program to embody the spirit of the organization. Understanding that emotion does play a role in employees performance, the award itself should capture what is truly means to be an extraordinary employee within the organization. The best way to ensure alignment with the business is to use similar themes and language found in your mission, vision and values.
- Offer different levels of awards with one top significant award. While you ultimately want all employees to strive for the top award, smaller awards allow you to comprehensively reward employees against a variety business outcomes and goals. You can also offer division or department-specific rewards that are unique to that group to ensure that it’s applicable to everyone.
- Focus on winning teams rather than individuals. The benefit of group awards is that organizations can foster an environment where everyone works towards the same goal. Employees have the opportunity to collectively solve a business issue, win together and celebrate together.
- Front line managers and directors are critical to the program’s success—get their buy-in early and often. The launch must first engage manager-level employees and demonstrate that it’s an important tool to help them reach goals. Next, managers need assistance to regularly remind employees about the program. Bottom line: communications from managers to their direct reports should be encouraging and ongoing.
- Be transparent about how and when you select the winners. Rewards programs fail when employees don’t believe in them—or believe that they have a winning chance. The solution is full transparency. A selection team or panel should include managers from all areas of the company and represent the interests of all employee groups. The members of the panel should be shared with the organization. Additionally, a timeline should be established that informs employees of deadlines and milestones for making decisions.
- Announce the winners in a significant way. Announcements should be seen as a time to celebrate and evoke a sense of pride within the recipients and their peers. Impactful announcements could take place at your annual meeting or quarterly leadership meetings. Additional announcements could be made in your company intranet, newsletter, videos or posters. Other ideas include creating an internal video or a holding a check/gift ceremony with a photo opportunity. However you decide to share the winning news, make sure that all employees see and hear announcement.
Finally, the benefits of employee rewards programs go far beyond engagement. There’s a halo effect that includes:
- Generating buy-in of new initiatives or objectives
- Encouraging innovation and efficiencies—and even significant change
- Attracting and retaining high performing employees
Elizabeth C. Castro is a senior vice president and corporate practice lead at O’Malley Hansen Communications (www.omalleyhansen.com) in Chicago. You can follow her on Twitter at @eliz_castro and @thecommsblog.
By Elizabeth C. Castro
One of the best bosses I ever had was a great communicator. He would take the time to sit down with his team and share important organizational news. Looking back, he seemed to understand that we needed to better understand the strategic focus of the company, his expectations and some of the changes we would see in the coming months. To say the least, I pretty much always knew where I stood, whether the information was positive or difficult for him to share.
His approach to leadership laid a strong foundation for me on how to communicate to employees, and in fact, under his leadership I had the opportunity to establish a formal employee communications program for the organization. This included better using our communications channels such as the intranet and email, but our biggest success came with empowering managers to share formal organizational news with their teams.
Our goal was to get employees to starting looking at their managers as a source of information and ensure that managers were “in the know” so they could deliver those messages and answer the tough questions. We thought it was important to get people to talk to each other in order to forge stronger personal relationships.
When it came time to transition my career and become a counselor to clients who also sought to help their managers become better communicators – I looked to him for some inspiration. Here are the best practices for building internal communications infrastructures and helping direct managers and supervisors become better, more consistent communicators.
Understand Your Culture
Before you can begin to communicate, it’s important to understand your organization’s culture so you know the challenges and opportunities. An internal communications audit is a great way to find out what information matters most to your workforce and the best ways to deliver those messages.
When conducting an internal communications audit, I like to use a combination of electronic surveys like Survey Monkey as well as in-person discussions across locations, departments and levels to gain a more realistic understanding of what people want to hear. As I’ve audited organizations across various industries, there are some common themes of what employees want to know:
- The health of the organization (the good and the bad)
- What you are doing to ensure the health of the organization
- The organization’s goals
- How they can help you achieve success
By and large, employees have a strong interest in the success of your organization and are willing partners to help you. In return, they want honesty and regular updates that guide how they approach their daily activities on the job.
Build the Infrastructure
Today’s complex global organizations create a unique challenge for internal communicators because their workforces are spread out across multiple geographies. Having a communications infrastructure in place – or the channels to communicate – is critically important for getting the right messages in the hands of employees. Of course this includes tools like an intranet or employee newsletter, but I’m really talking about something as simple as email lists. This is a list or lists of manager groups where you send information and materials to be cascaded down to employees. Once you have this in place, you have the foundation for creating opportunities for dialogue.
Provide the Necessary Tools
If you talk to most managers, you will find they would like to become better communicators with their teams but often don’t have the time or know-how. This is a fair argument given that managers already have busy jobs and that certain organizations don’t always have the discipline to develop key messages around each organizational initiative along with the materials to share with managers. But this can be achieved by standardizing how organizational information is shared and seeking the assistance of an agency partner for implementation if there is no designated internal communications function.
Standardization could include creating the following for each company initiative:
- A key messages template
- Materials such as a Q&A, handouts, flyers, emails and intranet content
- Instructions for managers on how to share the information with employees at existing team meetings
Cascading: Make it Top-of-Mind
Helping managers share information down to employees, verbally and at regular team meetings is one of the most important communications channels you have available within your organization. By and large, managers have a lot on their plates and may view communications as another added pressure. But if you offer them the right information in the right form with instructions on how to share it, their communications efforts can literally add just a few minutes to their existing team meetings.
Another opportunity available is to enlist the help of your organization’s Human Resources function, some of which may already offer manager training programs. We’ve seen success by giving managers training in employee communications and public speaking for added confidence.
Elizabeth Castro is a senior vice president at O’Malley Hansen Communications (OHC) in Chicago (www.omalleyhansen.com). OHC implements internal and external corporate communications plans and social media campaigns for big brands. You can follower her on Twitter at @Eliz_Castro and @thecommsblog.
Written by Elizabeth C. Castro
I think back on my incredibly fun 15-year communications career and there were several difficult job experiences that stand out to me. I recall certain positions where I was distracted, stressed and sometimes in tears at the hands of ineffective leaders who gave me some good reasons to seek better and more lucrative job opportunities. While some of these examples were difficult at the time, they ultimately allowed me to become a better overall professional and leader for my current staff.
I’m sure you have many lessons of your own, but here are some of mine that I think are valuable.
LESSON 1: Failure to address bad behavior will make you lose credibility in the eyes of your team:
The Situation – Imagine that a colleague of yours, who is technically a superior, comes to the office intoxicated and decides to sleep it off on the floor of his office, or attempts to bill a month’s worth of lunches to a client. Then imagine there are no repercussions. How you feel about the head of your department or company?
My Take Away – Take immediate steps to stop the behavior or terminate the employee. Failure to do so will make you lose credibility in the eyes of your staff. This one is so important because leadership’s inability to deal with unethical and unprofessional behavior destroys morale, distracts staff from their jobs and creates a culture of low performance and hostility.
LESSON 2: Mentoring and teaching junior staff to be great professionals is part of your job and builds a stronger organization:
The Situation – You’ve been given a task that you’ve never done before and the person who gave you the task claims to be too busy to give any direction, and complains when said deliverable is not correct. Talk about being set up for failure by someone who should know better.
My Take Away – Teaching and mentoring should be part of your job. If you want something done right the first time, and consistently right moving forward, spend the time on the front end to clearly explain the context of the assignment and expected results. It will be time well spent. This doesn’t just stop at specific projects, it also extends to professional conduct and career paths. Teach your junior staff how to act in a meeting, how to answer the phone, what to wear and how to interact – if they need it.
LESSON 3: Giving clarity about roles and expectations eliminates confusion and improves work quality:
The Situation – This one is slightly different from being a good mentor but just as important to young professionals who are not in a position of leadership. I’m sure that some of us have been in professional situations early in our careers where no one on your team had a clear role— and in the worst case scenario key pieces of a project didn’t get done correctly. I clearly recall getting sloppy directional emails from a supervisor to our team with no solid assignments and no project lead in place to delegate the tasks. The boss was unwilling to step up and be that critical mid-level manager, and the results showed.
My Take Away – Situational leadership is wildly important. Your team’s experience level will dictate how much you need to delegate and what expectations you have. Simply put: ensure that members of your team know what pieces of a project they own. And when they own it, it means they are moving it forward, know the status and can report on the progress at any given time.
LESSON 4: Getting out of the way and letting talented staff “show you their stuff” builds trust:
The Situation – Micromanagers. We’ve probably all worked for one at some point in our career. They not only want to give you the assignment, they want you to tell you how to complete the project—Every. Painful. Step. Of the way. To me as a mid-level staffer it made me think two things: this person has no trust, and likes to work 70 hours a week because they can’t effectively delegate. I almost felt sorry for this person.
My Take Away – Give clear direction and a deadline, then back off. (Or insert yourself when you need to). This is the number one positive feedback I’ve received from my team. I’ve been told by staff that they value how much I allow them to spread their wings and grow because I’ve challenged them to make decisions and find solutions. It’s what makes works fun.
Do you have other lessons to share? Post a comment.
Elizabeth Castro is a senior vice president at O’Malley Hansen Communications (OHC) in Chicago (www.omalleyhansen.com). OHC has developed social media strategies and manages Facebook communities for national brands. You can follower her on Twitter at @Eliz_Castro and @thecommsblog.
Written by Mike Barbre, contributing writer, Intermedia
So you’ve set up a Twitter account for your company. Now what? In this post, you will learn how to network and engage with your audiences effectively in order to grow your Twitter following and hopefully your customer base. By following these 5 simple tips, you can use Twitter to its full potential.
1) Be responsive
The easiest and most vital step in growing your audience is to communicate quickly and cheerfully. If someone shows an interest in your company, let them know you’ve heard them. Your Twitter feed may offer the first impression future clients have of your company. You want customers to perceive you as approachable, customer-centric and professional. Answering questions and responding to comments is the best way to do that.
2) Stay positive and avoid the critical (Sometimes, there’s a fine line)
The informal nature of Twitter lends itself well to tweets of all types. Remember that your company’s feed becomes a public face and make a conscious effort to stay positive. While a few off-the-cuff remarks can endear you to your followers by making your company seem friendly and outgoing, watch your tone. There is a world of difference between “Beautiful day in #CityName! Wonder if #CompanyName can work outside today?” and “Beautiful day in #CityName! Wish I was outside instead!” The former implies that your company values both work and enjoyment; the latter sounds like you would rather be outside than working. It’s a subtle difference that can have a big impact on your audience.
3) Give people something to invest in
Asking your followers to invest a small amount of their time and creativity can forge tighter relations between you and your customer base. For example, first look for the products or services that you offer and find one that appeals most to your existing followers, then base your promotion around it. Then consider how you execute the promotion. While a simple “retweet to enter!” strategy can be fast-moving and widespread, it won’t convey any useful information to potential customers. Instead, consider asking your followers to tweet about your products using a specialized hashtag for entry. Not only will you get responses, but likely more positive and unique feedback that you may not get otherwise.
4) Gain followers through shared, common interests with your brand
The best way to accomplish this is to create a unique and memorable hashtag and use it often. It should reference either your company name or your most popular and recognizable product, and be short so that it doesn’t take up too much of the 140-character limit. Hashtags create a page which stores every recent tweet using it; potential customers who click on your company hashtag can be provided with a wealth of information. Be sure to also use situational hashtags, like the hashtag for a trade show you’re attending, or one for your city. These can draw in new followers who are monitoring those tags or use them regularly.
5) Engage with popular “influencers” in your industry— their followers could become yours
Be sure to tweet at and strike up conversations with influential individuals and companies in your field. If you can offer on-topic, interesting tidbits for their followers, you may receive a share of the wealth. You may also attract the attention of other big names. Soon you may find yourself in an inner circle of industry experts, and the benefits for your company could be enormous.
Remember that the public nature of Twitter requires you to be warm, approachable and responsive while remaining professional with your peers. Implement these tips and listen to your current followers, and your company could become the next big trending topic.
Mike Barbre is a contributing writer for Intermedia’s Exchange Hosting, a full-service web hosting company. Coming from the public relations industry, Mike is now a social media community manager. When not on the web, you can find him rooting furiously for his Seattle-area sports teams. You can follow him on Twitter @MikeBarbre.
Written by Elizabeth Castro
Throughout my career I’ve had the opportunity to implement internal communications programs for a variety of corporations that have large numbers of employees who do not have email access. While many of us in internal communications have moved towards relying on digital channels in order to reach more people, faster, for less cost and across geographies, there is still a need for corporations to connect with large groups of employees the old fashioned way— verbally through their supervisors and on paper. The biggest internal communications challenge for legacy companies or newly formed parent companies with satellite locations is to ensure corporate messages reach, and are meaningful to, employees who are in the field.
If you’re a life-long Chicagoan like me, you know the 1985 Bears were – and still are – a big deal. They were the talent behind the Super Bowl Shuffle and the inspiration for a Saturday Night Live skit featuring big mustaches and “sout side” (the “h” purposely left off) accents.
So when we had the opportunity to conduct a consumer education program about an energy efficiency rebate program (www.chicagolandrebates.com) here in Chicago, we looked for a local celebrity that had a natural connection to the program – and was revered by Chicagoans. Our search led us to the legendary former Chicago Bear, Richard Dent.