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Employee Communications Best Practices: Showcasing Your Organization’s Culture, Strategies and Benefits Offerings to Demonstrate Value to Your Workforce

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: Best Practices for Employee Reward Programs

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 ( in Chicago. You can follow her on Twitter at @eliz_castro and @thecommsblog.

Difficult Professional Experiences Can Help You Become a Better Leader

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 ( OHC has developed social media strategies and manages Facebook communities for national brands. You can follower her on Twitter at @Eliz_Castro and @thecommsblog.

5 Best Practices to Grow Your Company’s Twitter Audience

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.

Internal Communications Best Practices: Reaching Employees Who Do Not Have Email Access

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.

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Blogging 101: Getting Started

Written by Mandy Boyle

Surveys by the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that the blog population has grown to about 12 million American adults, or about 8% of adult internet users. The number of blog readers has also jumped to 57 million American adults, or 39% of the online population. That’s huge.

“The act of telling your story and sharing part of your life with somebody is alive and well — even more so than at the dawn of blogging,” said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project in a recent New York Times article.

So what if you’re ready to tell your story and share part of your life? How can you get started? What’s the best way to break into blogging?

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Four Best Practices for Partnering with a Local Celebrity to Garner Media Coverage and Drive Audience Awareness

Written by Elizabeth C. Castro

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 ( 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.

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Ten Rules of Engagement for Managing Unhappy Consumers on Facebook

By Elizabeth C. Castro

Earlier this month I ordered something from, the private shopping site that features upscale fashion and accessories at significantly reduced prices. The item I purchased was part of a blowout sale, meaning the prices were crazy low and the sales were final. I thought I had totally scored an amazing deal. But when the package arrived via UPS, I realized they had sent the wrong item. And of course there was no return UPS label because it was a final sale, after all.

So I started fantasizing: I’d call customer service, get into an argument with the rep and be forced to….not boycott their website, not threaten a lawsuit but….wreak havoc on their Facebook page. Get public. Find out who else had experienced the same problem and get them to wreak havoc too. We’d take it over, just like the famed Nestle case study over the sourcing of its palm oil.  But alas, the scenario never happened thanks to the great customer service at Rue La La. But it got me thinking even more and more about the way that two-way dialogue via social media channels has shifted the relationship between brands and consumers.

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Want to Change Your Brand’s Identity and Platform? Do it Thoughtfully

By Elizabeth C. Castro, vice president, O’Malley Hansen Communications

Give the people what they want. It’s the most basic of marketing strategies to ensure sales and success of your brands’ products. But what if your product isn’t catching on, despite what the early research indicated? You might start to consider that it’s time to change gears — everything from your brand platform, marketing and creative concepts and core messages. But what about the promises you made, the audiences you’ve already connected with and all of media spends? Well, it surely isn’t a decision that should be made lightly. Brands should consider the implications and create a thoughtful transition strategy. Here’s how:

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Online Reputation is Currency for Young Professionals

Written by Mandy Boyle

We all know how important it is to build and grow your personal brand, but when you’re just starting out, it can be tough to figure out just what you should be doing to establish a solid reputation in the industry. So, to help out young professionals who need to start building a brand, here is the first in a series of posts on personal branding and what it means for you as you go through college, internships, and eventually, that first job in the industry.

Where do you begin? Well, let’s start with one of the most important facets of personal branding: your online reputation.

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