We Communicate!
October 28, 2010 5:37 PM   Subscribe

"I loved that place. They really knew how to communicate with their employees." Have you ever thought this or said this?

I'm trying to brainstorm some ideas about how to improve how my company communicates with its' employees. Does your workplace do a really great job with communicating with employees? If so, can you tell me what that looks like?
posted by hecho de la basura to Work & Money (5 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: haha, this is actually the core function of my job. A few general words:

Don't worry so much about specifics communication platforms or messages, focus on the attitudes you want to engender in your employees, and work backwards from that.

Some of the the things that happy employees feel (this is real data, btw, not some crap pulled out of a social media expert's butt):

"I understand the vision/goals of my organisation"

"I understand how the work I do directly contributes to those goals, and matters"

"I feel that I am encouraged to innovate, and supported in doing so"

Number one source of employee happiness: Their manager

Number one source of information that employee trusts and actually heeds: their manager

This is an important point to remember: you can do all the razzle dazzle new media and funny barbeques etc, but if someone has a shit manager, or their manager is unable to communicate effectively, it will be for nought.

Thusly, a lot of our internal comms is devoted to training and enabling managers, not just to manage (through coaching workshops etc), but to communicate effectively.

Example: before we announce results or any other major announcement, we send out a briefing pack for managers. This can range from a word document, to a ppt, to an interactive pdf. Using the results example, we will send out an interactive pdf that explains our results in everyday language, contextualises them for the Australia/New Zealand branch of the company, and then further contextualises them for whatever particular business unit the manager happens to be in. This includes notable successess and failures, general direction, strategic priorities, upcoming changes etc. It also includes FAQ-like material, and other information, including collateral for managers to share with their employees. None of this is scripted; managers are meant to deliver the information in their own voices.

This has replaced presidents and vice-presidents from delivering that news and it's been a great success. In addition to regular employees, managers also feel they have a better understanding of the company and the direction it's headed in.

Another example: We have started trying to reduce the volume on internal comms, and increase the quality. We have found that videos, for example (if they're good), generate a lot more emotion from employees than other media. We may get less views from videos, than we do from podcasts or straight websites, but the comments are through the roof (and positive. The engagement is much higher). Employees love seeing the leadership "talking to them" in straight language about important things in the company - especially if there's some levity. And they adore finding out about it before it's in the paper that day etc. It makes them feel special, exclusive, etc.

Another example: All the leadership in the company is expected to do regular sessions where a random selection of non-leadership employees across the business (that _don't_ ultimately report to them, important point) meets for a general chit-chat. In these sessions, the leadership is supposed to further outline business priorities and directions, but most of the session is devoted to listening to the employees voice any concerns, ideas, suggestions, whatever they may have.

After the session the leadership has a form they fill out regarding how the session went, how many attended (lots of people don't attend), and anything noteworthy that was brought up in the meetings.

These are just a few examples, but you can see how a lot of what we do is aimed at empowering employees with those three qualities I mentioned at the top.

People - employees or no - need to feel that their work is meaningful (in the broader context of their employer; it doesn't matter if it's not saving puppies or whatever)

They need to feel that they are encouraged, supported, and trusted to innovate and improve, with the chances and risks that sometimes implies

They need to feel that their manager (and leadership) is understands what the organisation is doing, respects their work and non-work life.

Remember, though, you're only one part of the puzzle. If the organisation is doing shit and people are being laid off left and right, there's only so much you can do. Always take the broader environment into context. You can only minimise losses and maximise gains.

I could go on and on, but this is a good start. Feel free to memail me, I might be able to share some of the more successful examples of the work we have done. Our team got a very innovative manager about 18 months ago, and the quality of our internal work, its impact, and the respect we're garnering across the business has really shot up, so I have a very picture of what inneffective internal comms looks like as well.
posted by smoke at 6:34 PM on October 28, 2010 [22 favorites]

Best answer: My workplace does this.

Our group has a weekly face to face meeting with our boss, who has both responsibility AND authority. We know that if we make suggestions he has the power to do something about it.

The boss keeps us informed of things that are relevant to the business but not directly relevant to us; sales, strategic direction, interesting discussions with potential future customers/suppliers/collaborators, market predictions.

We all have a good picture of the turnover, the profit, how our salaries fit into that and how what we do contributes to paying the bills. When there's financial news to present, people take care to explain what it means and what the implications are, rather than just reciting accounting terminology. Usually we have a good idea how long the company would last if no further orders came in. If the bizarre rules of accountancy mean that the figures are misleading (like a massive invoice paid in a different year than the work was done) then someone will point this out.

Everyone speaks like human beings and not in buzzwords like HR robots. Nobody ever refers to employees as "resources".
posted by emilyw at 2:30 AM on October 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've worked in internal comms for a few big companies here in the UK. It's hard to research best practices because:
a) it's still a young discipline
b) companies are traditionally reluctant to talk externally about internal activities
c) so many companies are shockingly abysmal at internal comms

It's worth spending some time on Melcrum's website, they're a big internal comms agency and they have lots of case studies and articles on new and interesting techniques.

And rankings like The Sunday Times Top 100 companies to work for are great resources because they give you rare and valuable insights into the companies that are getting it right (alas, I think the Times' content is now behind a subscriber wall).

I would say that the most important thing in internal comms is not how you deliver the message but how you say it (even more so than the message itself, particularly with difficult messages where people are likely to engage on an emotional level before an intellectual one). It's absolutely critical to have a strong and consistent tone of voice that engages your employees as equals and adults, whether it's for a magazine, an intranet, a video or a speech. This may sound quite simplistic, but you'd be surprised how easy it is to fall short of just that simple principle once the hordes of HR middle management get their constipated claws into your pristine copy. If you don't have the right organisational structure, it can be an uphill fight.

And I would echo smoke's point about training and supporting managers to interact with their teams because they are invariably the weakest link in any organisation's communications infrastructure. Depending on the nature of a company, they may even be the primary channel of communication.

Good luck!
posted by londonmark at 5:42 AM on October 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I worked for a couple of years at this place before going to law school. It was one of the best jobs I ever had, at least in part because of how well the managers communicated with and trusted the staff. They sent me away, when I left, with a reading list that included the following books:

The Guide to Giving Great Service, which is ultimately what it's about, even if you're not serving the customer you are still serving each other. One of my managers used to say that the front-line staff will never give any better service to a customer than the service that they (the staff) have gotten from their manager. The manager sets the upper limit on what is possible, and sets the emotional tone for everyone else.
First, Break All The Rules, which is a picture of what makes a good manager a good manager in the first place, how great managers find ways to value and support their employees' natural talents in ways that allow the employees to really shine.
The Great Game of Business, together with its sequel, A Stake in the Outcome. These books talk about an experiment in communicating to employees enough information that they can make their own decisions about what is best for the overall health of the company, and creating incentives for them to make the best decisions possible. It focuses primarily on sharing financial information with employees, with the idea that this will show employees how they really do contribute to the health of the company, and foster a sense of ownership in their jobs.

These three books (plus sequel) really cover, for me, what a good management culture will look like by focusing on three things: service, talent, and ownership, and by providing managers the tools to build close, strong, healthy relationships with employees.
posted by gauche at 6:26 AM on October 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: All of these answers are excellent. Thank you all so much. I have some homework to do since we are sort of just flailing and in a crappy status quo, but I'm pretty stoked that there are resources for solving this problem. Brilliant! I feel hopeful!
posted by hecho de la basura at 3:39 PM on October 29, 2010

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