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 benefiting 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.