Gina London: How to put communications first with your organisation
What do Bruce Springsteen and employee engagement have in common? The answer in a second. But first. Quick! Close your eyes and imagine all of your organisation's various processes as an expensive golden chain-link bracelet. Gorgeous.
Now, keep your eyes closed: Where among your organisation's processes is the link for communications? For too many, it's in one of the last positions. Communications is everything. It's how we connect. It's how we inspire. It's not a soft skill. It is the most critical skill of any organisation.
Earlier this month, a managing director for whom I am providing leadership coaching emailed his employees. He asked them to suggest possible venues and ideas for an off-site retreat. In two days, he received just two responses. Then, following my recommendation to introduce a competition or some other incentive around his request, he emailed everyone again.
This time he wrote that everyone submitting an idea would receive a reward. In two hours, he received 26 responses. He even went a step further. He printed the suggestions on a large poster board and gathered the staff around to vote for their favourite. There was high energy and excitement as the employee with the winning submission was cheered and given an additional reward.
My client was surprised at the difference incentives made in the levels of participation. He admitted he was even a little frustrated by it. "Why couldn't they have responded without the promise of reward?" he said.
My answer is that it's not the reward itself that prompts the changed response. It's the positive emotion that the reward or any sort of positive people-connected incentive generates.
We're not simply motivated by a job well done or by meeting productivity projections. We're people, not robots.
I recently spoke to Raj Mukherjee, senior vice-president of Indeed, the world's largest online job site, as it launched a new platform in its European headquarters here in Ireland to provide employers with top tech talent. He states that the real value of any company is creating enthusiasm.
"Don't worry about revenue," Raj tells me, "Revenue will come."
"When I started managing people, I didn't understand the importance of exciting people and keeping them excited through every interaction in the company. Human resources, the people, must be front and centre of what any company does. Apple, for instance, builds a people culture inside the corporate culture. You know the old adage, 'Culture eats strategy for breakfast?' Well, the ceo must embody the culture, and every single other person must learn to become a representative."
Imagine that gold bracelet again. Is your comms team brought in only after a new employee rewards system, or new human resources policy, or other new idea is ready to roll out? You know, the situation in which the chief marketing officer or the chief information officer or the chief whatever officer calls in the director of communications and says, "Okay. Tell everyone this is happening" type of approach?
No, no, no! Instead, consider what might occur if management brings the communications director in at the planning stage. Strategic communications can create enthusiasm by incorporating positive people strategies at early levels to help identify and prioritise stakeholder alignments and concerns.
Last spring, I was fortunate to lead a "Lunch and Learn" session with the communications team from the ESB Group. We explored and discussed ways to better connect the company around ideas of efficacy and activation.
ESB created a friendly contest to provide two tickets to the Bruce Springsteen concert to an active employee. Engagement around the campaign was at an all-time high, demonstrating that we love a good-old-fashioned competition. In addition, rewarding tickets to the Springsteen show also proved to this American (just a few days away from the 4th of July) that you don't have to be "Born in the USA" to love the Boss. So, as you think about your own corporate culture this summer, don't take advice from me. Take it from ESB, Raj from Indeed and the terrific managing director I'm coaching and consider:
How can you get employees to happily comply with a new policy of their own accord?
Who are the various department influencers out there beyond supervisors who could help promote the new idea internally? And what will incentivise them positively?
Conversely, who are the known naysayers and what can be done pre-emptively to help bring them on board to champion an idea?
What will it take to enthusiastically socialise your new idea?
Is there a way to roll out your new ideas in incremental phases and make it fun?
Is there a way to gamify your new idea? Like a friendly competition with real prizes around the new idea? What's the #hashtag around the campaign on social media that your employees can use to build excitement and generate a buzz?
Good employee communications don't have to involve gift certificates or even concert tickets. You can take steps now to create a culture of positive incentives. Deploying strategic communications first involves taking time to fully consider what motivates your employees. Your people.
Think back to that golden bracelet. Your first link must always be the human link. Our human connections are what separate us from the robots.
PS. How are you feeling about your company's communication culture? What's working? What can be done better? Sharing your story can help you and others. Drop me an email at SundayBusiness@independent.ie
Gina London is a former CNN anchor and international campaign strategist who is now a director with Fuzion Communications. She serves as media commentator, emcee and corporate consultant. @TheGinaLondon
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