Interview with Dan Simon: Ride the wave of change in PR

Interview with Dan Simon: Ride the wave of change in PR

The Communications profession is transforming at a breakneck pace, and I’ll bet a drawer full of  iPhone chargers I’m not the first person to mention it to you. From traditional articles in the increasingly digital-only newspaper, to the proliferation of credible, powerful blogs, to deepfakes on social media, to AI-powered storytelling and easy-to-use, computer-assisted multimedia production. The nature of the PR pro’s work is not the same as it was even five years ago. Maybe even five minutes ago. Luckily, innovators in the field can ride the wave of change.

I had the opportunity to interview Dan Simon, CEO of Vested and creator of Qwoted, a communications platform that enables the marketplace of news, about where he thinks our profession is headed and the changes he’s seeing to our work and our world.

Employee Social Media Ambassadors | Susan Emerick

Why would any organization choose to mobilize its people on social networks and why would employees go along with the idea? What technologies, policies and skills are needed to get a program off the ground without wasting time or putting your firm at risk? Susan Emerick, author of The Most Powerful Brand on Earth, addresses these questions and more in an interview with our CEO, Ethan McCarty.

5 Trends in 14 Minutes

Do you ever find yourself asking or being asked the following...


How many employees read the latest newsletter article? Did you generate awareness about open enrollment? Has the CEO's strategy video gone viral on your intranet yet? 

Wait. Who cares?! 

In an age of diminished institutional credibility, all organizations have a powerful, often-overlooked asset to directly influence customers, industries, and communities: their employees. 

Our CEO, Ethan McCarty shared 5 trends we're seeing in the industry in 14 minutes at the Dynamic Signal Summit. Have a few? Watch below. 

Want to think together? Drop us a line at hello@integralcomms.com

Cheers,
The Integral Team

5 ways CEOs can take advantage of employee activism

Now more than ever, leaders facing political, technological and societal tumult in their industries must create rather than suppress environments enabling employee activism. Wait, seriously?

Yes. Seriously.

As more employees stand up for what they believe in, including petitioning within their organization, employers can either hope the trend abates (not a good strategy) or make an effort to direct this potential energy productively. Microsoft’s recent experience with employees gathering online to voice concerns about the company’s contract with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is a prime example of why business leaders need to know where they stand, have mechanisms at their disposal for authentically addressing their teams, and shift their thinking to “employees are the first public” before an issue arises, not after the fact.

CEOs must equip themselves -- and seek the counsel of forward-thinking communications professionals -- to navigate muddy waters, encourage employees to support the organization’s values, and voice their own opinions. It’s daunting, but there are ways for your CEO to enable employee activism. Here are five examples of how to start today:

  1. Know your values

    A recent and phenomenal example of this is Delta’s CEO, Ed Bastian who made the decision to end discounts for NRA members after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Bastian knew Delta’s values and realized this was not a discussion the airline wanted to be a part of. He was so confident in the decision that he did not ask the board for their permission or warn them of the decision. Knowing your company’s values will not only help in a time of crisis or quick decision-making, but it will encourage and guide employees to live by them.

  2. Have open and accessible methods for employees to channel their activism

    Salesforce’s “Volunteer Time Off” gives employees six paid days per year to participate in volunteer activities. Having this type of policy in place shows employees that the company invests in their ability to make a difference and get involved -- on their own time. Rather than forcing employees to take personal vacation time or sick days, this policy gives employees the availability to take days, when needed, for causes they care about.

  3. Know where your executives’ hearts lie

    Executives serve as role models to all employees within an organization. Ensuring executives understand the causes supported by the firm is crucial to radiating values throughout an organization. When the government came calling to ask Apple’s chief, Tim Cook, to open a backdoor to customers’ iPhone data, Mr. Cook declined. He has since said that “privacy is a fundamental human right.”

  4. Put in place a robust employee advocacy program before the crisis

    Initiating an employee advocacy program aligned to your company’s preferred causes provides an outlet to reach your people and inspire action. Bloomberg LP offers employees the ability to have their donations matched by its foundation and also uses social media employee advocacy software to encourage employees who have volunteered for a particular cause to share related content from the foundation.

  5. Prepare to talk (and listen) to all sides.

    To successfully and appropriately encourage activism, employers must engage all sides of any debate dispassionately. It’s important to have company values, but it is even more important to ensure none of your employees feel they are inaccurately represented or discriminated against. All activism policies should be put in the context of the service or product your company delivers to its customers rather than politics. Above all, be prepared to tolerate respectful dissent. This encourages your people to have and express their opinions, but also makes room for them to support the company’s brand.

On the move: Change management vs change communication

We’ve been doing some very exciting work with Rachel Casanova and Dana Asher for companies moving offices, so we thought why not share our top tips for orgs making a big move.

First and foremost, there’s a difference between change communication and change management. It’s important to manage the tension between creating excitement for a move and allaying fears about it.

Secondly, firms tend to overemphasize the upside and leave the downsides unaddressed – sure we’re going to get sit-stand desks, but will I lose my sense of place and comfort?

In this short video, we cover how your company can help make any move a smooth one by following these three steps:

  1. Recognize people will fear loss
  2. Prepare to adjust your plan
  3. Personalize the move

Ride into the danger zone (with issues advocacy)

The danger of venturing into uncharted waters is not nearly as dangerous as staying on shore, waiting for your boat to come in.
— Charles F. Glassman, Brain Drain The Breakthrough That Will Change Your Life

Companies can no longer stay in their comfort zone when it comes to taking a stand on social issues.  Immigration, discrimination, the #MeToo movement, gun control, global warming, all polarize us in our personal lives and in our professional lives as well...and the list goes on. Not only do customers expect brands to speak up and take action, but so do employees.

In February, InMoment published a report showing that 58% of millennials, 55% of GenXers, and 51% of baby boomers think it’s important that brands invest in causes they care about. As companies feel the weight of public pressure to “fill a void”, Axios states, it is important that these firms determine which issues to avoid and where to engage .

This month, Morning Consult released a report about what millennials expect from brands. The graphic below from Axios represents a range of topics companies could advocate for and whether or not each topic will make millennials like a company more, less or neither.  

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As you can see, civil rights and gay rights are the least controversial, whereas abortion policy, supporting a republican candidate and stricter immigration are among the top controversial topics.

So, what does this mean for your company and filling the void? Could company values be the guiding light for navigating business decisions as well as the company’s stance on social issues? In a time when speaking up is more important than ever, organizations must use their voice and power to inspire social change. When it comes to many employees and consumers, there is no room on the sidelines.

Can you fake authenticity? Kinda.

Our CEO, Ethan McCarty had a chance to interview Vern Oakley, the CEO of Tribe Pictures, an award-winning film producer and the author of Leadership in Focus: Bringing Out Your Best on Camera. Vern shared his perspective on the relationship between authenticity and trust -- and how communications professionals can maximize both for their organizations. Take a look at their conversation below.

Q: How is authenticity related to trust when it comes to corporate communications?

Vern: Wow, that's a good one. I just gave a speech about trust being the most valuable commodity, and I told a story about being raised on my grandparents’ farm during the summers and one of the things he always taught me is a man's word is his bond. And so that becomes sort of one's character.

I believe the leadership, particularly the CEO, becomes the lightning rod for that kind of trust. You only have to think of companies like Wells Fargo or United Airlines or Uber to see what can go wrong for companies when they don't really have that trust in place. Trust can be a byproduct of authenticity. So, authenticity in itself isn't the currency its authenticity with trust and character that really complete the dots. Developing trust is a very fragile commodity easily lost and broken. And particularly in a digital society with all the tools and transparency that's out there we have to be even more authentic and be careful about building that trust.

Ethan: You can see what is happening across the board in a way that you never could before and that's a totally new thing. The new thing is, you know, all the behaviors, the things that we used to call internal communications because they were internal, all of that stuff has been exposed. I think the idea of authenticity and trust being related have a lot to do with the fact that the inside of organizations are revealed now more than ever.

It used to be that the first public that an organization had to deal with was its customers, but I really think of the employees of any organization as the first public. And I don't think most organizations are really geared to maximize that reality. There are a lot of folks who are kind of still thinking, “Oh, what we say and do internally stays internal.” I don't think that construct is very good.

I think about my own rides in Uber, when they first started, when that whole industry first started everybody got into the Uber and said like, "Wow, this is different." Here in New York taxi cabs are such an important feature of the landscape and of life here and then suddenly we're in these black cars or in people's personal cars. You ask the driver, "What's it like to be a driver for Uber?" And they start to tell you and they go into how they feel it's a rip-off and they're also driving for Lyft and they're treated better there or something. Well suddenly they're the expert on that company. There's no internal or external at that moment. It's just this total experience that you're having with the brand. And that's very, very authentic because it's coming from someone who really knows and you're either having a moment where trust is being built or trust is being degraded.

Q: Can you fake authenticity?

Vern: Well the way I think about this is that people do business with people and it's not that I do business with Southwest, it's that I get on a plane and I'm greeted by somebody from Southwest and that person either makes my experience good or not. And yes, really good actors can fake authenticity. There's that famous quote, “The most important thing in learning to act is to be truthful. And once you learn to fake that you're all set.”

If you look at some of the journal literature about authenticity, there's different levels of authenticity. Like listen, you and I are having authentic conversation, but if you were home talking to your parents you might have a different authentic conversation. When you're talking to your kids you might have a different one than talking to the Uber driver. Authenticity gets modulated in terms of the social circumstances we're in.

Q: Previously you were telling me a bit about maximizing authenticity when producing videos, particularly for executives. Would you talk a little bit about that?

Vern: Great question. Since I sort of started my whole journey in this theater world as a director and studying how to get the performance out of actors. In that field, what you're trying to do is take the twin masks of drama and comedy and sort of merge them seamlessly with the actors so they fully inhabit a character and that you, for that time in the movies or in the theater, enjoy that performance from that actor feeling that they're really a real person. Perhaps that's why when I come into authenticity in terms of putting leaders on camera, I think our job is to remove the mask.

Carl Jung says, "The privilege of a lifetime is just to become who you truly are." And so in my book, I am talking about this being a journey of really deeply embracing who you are so that a camera can actually capture that, which is a more exciting journey, a more real journey because the camera captures truth at 24 frames a second. Now some people, actors, whether they be Ronald Reagan or Donald Trump or Al Franken or others, faking in the public sphere. And they're very good at it. But most people don't have the training or the disposition to fake it. So the hardest part is to reveal themselves and to be vulnerable because these are high powered people, generally Type A, who are used to being in control of a situation. And when they come onto the studio, wherever they're being filmed, there are other people that actually have to help them, and other people that are in control. So there becomes a dynamic between the person who's interviewing you and the leader, and I call that the sacred space.

Q: How would you advise me to tease out that sacred space when I'm sitting there with my Senior Vice President of Sales and he has a little bit of anxiety about having a camera in his face?

Vern: Well, I can give some tips to people who aren't used to putting people on camera, but the first thing that I'm doing is having a conversation with them outside of the sphere of the set or the camera and just talking to them. And generally, in a conversation people are a little more candid, a little bit more who they are. And then sometimes they get in front of the camera and they become a different person. So, I think our goal is always to get that person to be who they are in the casual conversations with a bit more emphasis on words and communication and body language and tonality, but not to become someone else. Not to become the CEO or the leader of this particular group, but to be themselves and take their selves and their beliefs and communicate the message.

Q: How do you think people who do professional communications or communicate on behalf of organizations can engender this trust and deliver authenticity most effectively to their customers and their employees and the media?

Vern: Well, I have a very strong point of view about it. I said it earlier, but people do business with people. I think you have to humanize your leaders. You have to humanize your employees. You have to consistently do storytelling that, with a foundational base about the values and the mission and the purpose that surfaces up in the way that employees do their job. You have to hold the people who do exemplary jobs up and show them to everyone else and say, "This is what success can look like at our company.”

Peter Drucker used to say, "The purpose of a business is to create a customer." I think that is last century. Not that we don't have to create customers, but the purpose of sustainable business is to provide meaningful work to its employees. To provide profits for its investors. To provide a working and positive relationship with the community and all the stakeholders so that everyone is serviced because it doesn't work if everybody isn't winning.

###
 

Immigration, Microsoft & Employee Advocacy

The Trump administration has been getting a lot of heat for the separation of children from parents at border crossings. Employees of Microsoft began to voice concerns about their company’s contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Meanwhile, two former Facebook employees seeking to raise $1,500 to support families affected by ICE ended up with more than $5 million raised.

Later in the week, leadership from both firms as well as from Tesla, Google and Amazon denounced the separation of children from families. It’s reminiscent of earlier this year when Google employees pressured management to cancel contracts related to the company’s AI powering military drones.

So, what are we going to talk about?  

  • Employee activism
  • How it’s playing out in the immigration debate
  • What are tech firms doing?
  • What could they do better?

We're curious to hear what will you do when employees at your firm protest a company position? Drop us a line or comment below to share what's on your mind. 

Leading Through Disruption: Influencers Within Your Organization

Ethan McCarty, our CEO, was recently interviewed for a Page Society professional development program focused on training Communications professionals on the topic of leading through disruption. Here's a clip from the course -- which includes many notable and experienced people in our field.

Leading Through Disruption: Building Teams that Drive Transformation

Senior communications executives are now helping lead the digital transformation of entire enterprises. To do that, they also need to lead the transformation of their own teams—in terms of capabilities, team structures, tech stack, capacity to make data-driven decisions, and new ways of working together. This course helps forward-thinking Comms professionals to become stronger leaders and build more effective teams for a rapidly changing world. 

Learn more: https://awpagesociety.com/site/page-learning-lab
 

Your facilities designer might be a brand expert (or not)

The world’s leading firms use architecture to powerfully transmit their identity to customers, employees and users of all kinds. This has been the case for many years. Witness the Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island reinterpreting the relationship between academia and corporate America and driving sustainability practices to a new frontier.  Or take a virtual tour of Johns Hopkins Children’s Hospital and see how the physical environment is designed around healing in a transformative patient-centric model.  And countless other projects serving the public realm, like museums, transit centers, and libraries designed to elicit a response from those who experience the space.

More recently the public has gone bananas for Amazon’s jungle-themed presence in Seattle, Apple’s infinite loopiness in Cupertino and Bloomberg’s recently unveiled eco-friendly homage to London’s future and past.

Each of these examples tightly binds the physical structures of a company to its brand and the image it aspires to project. In each of these examples an interdisciplinary effort underpinned the achievement.

And yet in so many firms the marketers, communications team, technologists and recruiters see themselves as passive recipients of workplace design and allow themselves to be sidelined.

It doesn’t have to be so. Nor should it be.

Whatever your priority, workplace design will either have an ameliorating or deleterious effect. Recruiting and retention? Check. Client service? Check. Physical and cyber security? Check.

It’s surprising that physical environment isn’t more often seen as a way to drive these business outcomes. Very few organizations successfully put these efforts into one bucket that leverages the work environment to impact on more than one problem. Sure, that would mean shared budgets, changes in allocation of traditional spending. But this kind of collaboration  is sure to enhance your results. And this is especially true with the emergence of design thinking practices focused on the ‘user.’ Those in Real Estate and Design & Construction are increasingly open to collaboration with Marketing and Communications, Technology and Recruiting teams.

1. MARKETING AND COMMUNICATIONS

You’re sending a message whether intentional or not.  You’ve spent top dollars making sure your customers and clients understand your value proposition, your story, your promise.  Yet your employees who are responsible for bringing that promise to life may not be living in that same reality.  The space your employees work in should exude the company mission and values.  Your employees will engage further when they have a full understanding of that message and can find creative and innovative ways to bring it to product development and customer relations.

Get started
An initial conversation would include a review of the employee communications strategy — some companies’ Internal Communications teams have put one together formally. Some questions to ask:

  • What key messages for your organization are tacitly communicated by the design of your space?
  • Is digital or physical signage a part of the strategy?
  • What physical space projects are in the pipeline?

Case in Point: Sensory Marketing And Branding: The Power Of The Senses

“Until today, the most important variable used by brands to generate recognition and develop an identity in the market is the sense of sight. We can appreciate logos, corporate colors, characters and other graphical tools with which one can identify a specific product. It’s rare a person who does not recognize the Apple logo, the golden arches of McDonald’s, the white wave on the red background of Coca-Cola, etc. The list goes on and on. These elements, so far, are the epicenter of all business strategy in most corporations.”

2. TECHNOLOGY

The pace at which software user interfaces change is exponentially faster than that of the physical environment.  And yet, the fast iteration and improvement of the tools we use every day — from apps on our phones to the websites we visit — has set our expectations for all manner of change, including that of our physical environments.

And so physical designers must act like technologists, consumer electronics specialists, and software developers — or at least borrow from their playbooks where possible.  Consider how Agile methods like Scrum allow tight iteration loops in software development — what could be borrowed to inform how spaces are designed.

Take small conference rooms, for example.  It’s taken too long for the entire shape and orientation of rooms to change following the development of quick, simple, inexpensive screen share options.  We need to integrate thinking about how tech and spaces will inform each other.  And we need to let technology patterns challenge our design assumptions.

Spoiler alert: we forecast that acoustics will play an even greater role in the future of open space design as the “Alexa” affect/AI for office services expands.

Get started
An initial conversation would include observing which technologies are currently in use — especially those that are ‘hacks’ such as informal use of social networks, personal mobile devices and so on by employees and visitors to your building. Some questions to ask:

  • Do employees have the ability to use the spaces we’ve designed–how is mobility incorporated into our technology strategy?
  • How does our workspace technology measure up to the quality of consumer technological interfaces?
  • What repetitive patterns of behavior in our buildings could be automated for the visitor?

Case in Point: High-tech and human-centered: The rise of smart buildings

“We’re already seeing companies adopt technology that enables workplaces to be more efficient; sensors can detect which areas of an office are in use and feed into an app that allows someone to find the nearest empty meeting room. Other apps might adjust temperature in line with the preferences of different workgroups.”

3. RECRUITING AND RETENTION

People in the recruiting role often also have responsibility for retaining talent by trying to improve worker engagement, satisfaction, and productivity. And yet many say they didn’t think of the workplace as a lever worth pulling.

Our perspective is that by not actively pulling that lever you most definitely are pulling it — just not in the direction you should be.  The design of your workplace that a candidate experiences on her first interview sets the tone for the entirety of her experience as a candidate and employee.  The message you send on day one with your facility communicates the brand promise and either reinforces and further validates your best intentions or demonstrates a disconnect between who you say you are and who you really are as an organization.  We are all cued in to the term employee experience — but the candidate experience could just as well be called the “pre-employee experience” and, so being, it must come together on the workplace to transmit your firm’s style of leadership, culture, career development, and work/life balance.

Get started
An initial conversation would include a discussion of the employee value proposition — most companies’ Human Resources teams have put this together formally as an input to recruiting materials.

  • Do your facilities greet candidates in a way that is harmonious with the aspirations of your employee value proposition?
  • Are your recruiters and hiring managers briefed on the features of your locations?
  • Have you asked candidates what they think of your facilities? What was pleasing or irritating?

Case in point: Forbes: 10 Workplace Trends You’ll See In 2017

“Companies focus on improving their candidate and employee experiences. Companies have always created marketing experiences for customers, and prospects, in order to delight them, increase loyalty and grow their revenues. Next year, you will see the walls come down between your HR, marketing and customer service departments in order to develop experiences for both candidates and employees.”

Building a better future (collaboratively)
At the end of the day, collaborating with multiple departments to ensure your facilities do the most for your firm’s communication, technology and recruiting strategies will be hard. The constructs of budget management and measurement pressure everyone to maintain the status quo.

And yet, it’s doable! It all starts with putting personal and departmental ambitions aside and having an honest conversation about what would be best for the performance of the business.

Rachel Casanova is the founder of Balansett, a workplace consulting practice, and brings over 20 years of experience bridging organizational and culture growth and workplace design. 

Ethan McCarty is the CEO of Integral Communications Group, a consultancy that enables major brands to engage, inspire and activate employees on behalf of their employers.

Ethan McCarty Launches New Firm Focused on Strengthening Employee Engagement & Activation

Former IBM and Bloomberg exec launches Integral Communications Group to help major brands engage, inspire, and activate employees

NEW YORK, April 2nd, 2018—Ethan McCarty, a nationally recognized leader in the growing specialty of employee engagement, previously at IBM and most recently with Bloomberg, announced today that he is starting a new firm dedicated to helping major brands engage, inspire, and activate their employees.

“Employee engagement means much more than just communicating to employees,” McCarty says. “Integral Communications Group will work with its clients to promote employee behaviors that enhance sales, attract and retain talent, make the organization more secure, and maximize the return on the firm’s investment in its people.”

Integral, based in New York City, begins client engagements by designing strategies for bridging the gap between the client’s employee experience and its aspirations, business strategy, and values. McCarty has used that approach effectively at both IBM and Bloomberg, where he served for more than 20 years in a variety of executive roles related to employee communications, social media, and digital communications.

Many firms try, but fail, to activate employees as social media ambassadors, but Integral has proven methods for improving those outcomes. At IBM, Ethan led social strategy globally and designed and led the deployment of IBM Voices, a multi-tiered, company-wide program for educating employees about social media, identifying and maximizing the best behaviors and aligning employees to business outcomes at tremendous scale. McCarty likewise deployed a successful social advocacy program at Bloomberg that was uniquely suited to its need.

“Culture and employee engagement mean everything to a company’s reputation,” said Jason Schechter, Chief Communications Officer, Bloomberg LP. “Ethan is a true leader in our field in understanding that employees who represent the brand well, or poorly, can make or break a reputation, particularly in our digital, hyper-connected world.”

Employee communications, a once frequently-overlooked component of corporate communications, has been transformed by social and digital media, which employees use to communicate with each other and with their contacts outside the company. Employee social media activity can enhance a brand or tarnish it, making employee engagement more important than ever.

But social media alone is no silver bullet; Integral Communications Group will help its clients true-up their firm’s content and digital experience when it comes to employees. The most successful leaders know that a thoughtful communications strategy can make or break their effort to motivate their salesforce, ensure vigilant security behaviors and motivate employees to innovate. Integral Communications Group has a unique approach to evaluating and improving its clients employee digital experience, aligning editorial strategy for intranets and employee publications and counseling senior leadership on effectively communicating with employee populations of any size.

Research by Jacob Morgan, author of The Employee Experience Advantage, shows that organizations that invested most heavily in the employee experience were twice as often found in the American Customer Satisfaction Index. They were also more than twice as likely to be listed in the Forbes list of the World’s Most Innovative Companies, and were also more often to be cited in lists of best places to work.

“We are excited to launch Integral at a time when employee engagement is increasingly recognized as critical to a brand’s success,” McCarty said. “We will guide our clients to make real progress toward activating employee populations in ways that serve both the company and its people.”

Five ways employee comms can drive bottom-line results

To find the ROI, enhance employee productivity by raising awareness of the best ways to work, productivity tools, facilities, and collaboration methods.

When talking about communications, there’s a lot of confusion about what qualifies as a business outcome. Is it the number of page views your CEO’s memo got on your intranet? How about the average amount of time your employees lingered on the latest video you posted? A growing number of followers for your recruitment team’s Instagram feed?

While all of those metrics have merit, they’re not the ones that will keep your CEO up at night. Below, however, are five things that might. And if you work back from these five, chances are, your comms program will deliver significant value – and keep your CEO happy.

Sales

Driving sales would be dreamy, but isn’t that marketing’s job? Well, yes and no. While marketing teams play many key roles, they don’t always have the tools or experience to deeply engage the sales force. That’s where communicators excel.

Every company has products — so if you take the following sentence seriously as a communications objective, you will make great gains. Build greater understanding among the sales team of our products, our clients, and the marketplace. Put it up in your next staff meeting and see what your peers come up with.

Productivity

Let me guess, your company is a little quirky. It takes a while to learn the ropes. Oh, and there’s always some new tool or process coming along. Guess what? You’re not alone. We are fully enmeshed in an age of rapid change, frequent deployments of new IT, and iterative processes.

Open your ears to the pain points (don’t bother with an elaborate survey — let your own experience be your guide) and see if you can shave a few minutes of suffering off of every employee’s day with a little bit of clarity.

To find the ROI, enhance employee productivity by raising awareness of the best ways to work, productivity tools, facilities, and collaboration methods.

Security

A day doesn’t pass that another company finds itself on the wrong side of a data breach, cyberattack, or careless loss of data. You know who can make a difference? Your employees.

Despite the exciting headlines, it is rarely the case that these problems arise from truly hi-tech tactics. More often than not, the unfortunate event could have been avoided had the company invested in creating a culture of security.

Communications teams can make a company measurably more secure by partnering with security, running anti-phishing and safety-awareness campaigns, and contributing to a careful culture.

Benefits

Short of increasing sales, nothing improves the bottom line like increasing ROI. And that doesn’t have to mean cutting costs. Chances are your organization is spending considerably on providing benefits to its employees.

That investment pays off in many ways — from fewer sick days to more productive and energized employees to better odds on recruiting quality candidates who have heard about your great place to work. But if your employees aren’t using the benefits, they probably aren’t talking to friends and neighbors about them — and they certainly aren’t getting any healthier.

In your next quest for ROI, maximize your return on investment in benefits and employee programs by communicating how to use them wisely.

Recruiting

Last, but certainly not least, contemplate for a moment the cost of hiring and retaining great folks. Whether you are employing recruiters, doling out recruitment bonuses, or spending for online job postings, there are ways that the savvy communicator can pitch in.

At a minimum, think about instrumenting all of your external publications — blogs, press releases, YouTube, and more — with trackable links back to specific open positions. Better yet, feature your rock-star employees in authentic external campaigns — they’ll share with their networks, which are more likely than not filled with great people.

Consider this your new goal: Generate interest in jobs at the company by publishing content aligned with open positions externally, both through employee social sharing and digital channels.

There are many more places for communications teams to drive measurable value — but these provide a good start. And each one has observable behaviors that, with the right level of digital knowhow, can be tracked, measured, and improved to deliver even more benefit.

Ethan McCarty is global head of employee and innovation communications at Bloomberg.

Listening - The key to activate employee engagement

By Roger Bolton and Ethan McCarty, Global Head of Employee and Innovation Communications, Bloomberg

In a dynamic discussion a few weeks ago, a small group of Page and Page Up members meeting in New York City explored the challenges of engaging employees in support of the enterprise.

 In this era of radical transparency and low trust in institutions, employees have a lot more impact on public perception than ever. Engaging them in building and telling the company story thus is critical to building stakeholder engagement and trust.

The discussion was off the record, so we won’t reveal names or specific examples, but the key takeaways are worth sharing.

  1. Listening is the key to getting the story right. To make the company’s narrative really resonate, it should reflect the mission and purpose of the enterprise and relate to the actual work employees do. The best way to build the story is by listening to employees at all levels, not by huddling with the old guard at HQ. Everyone in the room described elaborate listening programs that were not just inclusive of the execs.
  2. Make it easy for employees to get access to shareable content. We had a great discussion of available platforms. Of course, the content must be authentic to their experience or it won’t resonate. See point 1.
  3. Motivate middle management. No surprise here, but middle management can be a blocker. Some in the room actually seemed to activate the very top and the bottom of the organization, but this could be a perilous end-run around middle managers. A better approach might be to engage middle management in message creation (see point 1) and find champions who love living, modeling and telling the story.
  4. Encourage employees to tell their stories on Glassdoor. Disgruntled ones do it anyway, so actively encouraging all to participate can help to present a more balanced picture. That’s assuming, of course, that you’ve observed point 1 already and have listened and responded to their concerns in a meaningful and material way (not just messaging).

One more thought: A lot of this listening and sharing is enabled by technology. If used thoughtfully to enable authentic human connections, digital engagement systems can be incredibly effective. All of us must remain diligent, though, about resisting the misuse of technology that has plagued the social media environment, where fake news and fake personas distort authentic dialogue between real people.

The leaders & culture 'digital' demands

Two pieces came across my transom today — one a summary of a meeting with IBM’s Ginni Rometty and Jon Iwata, the other a post from friends at Bloomberg Beta. Both indicate to me the direction that winning companies need to take and, you guessed it, I see Communications at its core. Especially communications with and among employee populations.

The first is a post to Fortunes’ CEO blog about the necessity for  industry incumbents to get off of their disrupted tushies and make the best use of their inherent knowledge, data and the capital they’re sitting on to take advantage of emergent AI. But, “the biggest problem they face is not technology, but rather creating a culture that can embrace and adapt to technological change. As Iwata summarized their view: ‘Culture is the number one impediment… Culture moves in a linear way; technology moves exponentially.’”

Ayuuuuup.

But as I began to learn at IBM (under Jon’s leadership, no less) years ago — company culture is a killer app, or just a killer. Depends. Mostly on how (or whether) or manage it. And by the way, the culture extends internally, externally and across time in ways that are damn hard to address. But digital networks of employees (future and past) leave evidence of behaviors, ideas and artifacts of feelings as never before. Observable…and therefore measurable…and manageable?

(Hint: I most certainly think so.)

The second post — coauthored by Roy Bahat and James Cham — suggests that industry needs a kind of Digital Drucker. Someone with some new ideas about management informed by the capabilities of machine learning. We need fewer genius/hero CEOs and more leadership who understand how machine intelligence can propel their firms (and their increasingly loosely-coupled-recombinant-adaptive workforces) to success. These new managers will “understand how to manage models, which are the flux capacitor of making software go beyond workflows to decisions.”

Couldn’t. Agree. More.

So in both of these articles — ostensibly kinda sorta about technology but really more about adaptation — you have an insight about how Communications as a profession must proceed. The best communications professionals will be consiglieres to their CEOs as their firms develop products, policies, platforms and employee populations open to ‘digital’ (for lack of a better term.) If we’re looking for a ‘seat at the table,’ then our best bet will be to understand the methods of communicating with and through digitally activated populations assisted by many, many flavors of machine intelligence.

Don't measure "internal communications"

Ok, first, allow me to apologize for the slightly click-baity headline. But I actually do mean it. Let’s all stop measuring internal communications for two reasons.

  • First, internal communications is probably not actually internal and,
  • Second, you’re wasting your time if you’re measuring the communications instead of the desired behavioral changes.

I’ve been on a bit of crusade for the past, oh, maybe ten years about the difference between internal communications and employee activation. Despite a drastically changed communications landscape, there’s a lasting idea about employees that seems all too pervasive: employees are an audience, and a monolithic one at that.

It’s just not true. For the most part, employee intranets are designed to mimic web publications from the 1990s or early 2000s. Sure, many have some collaborative or transactional tech bolted on, but, for the most part, the behaviors of the employees are a second thought. But I’m hopeful because I see more and more communications professionals looking over at their colleagues in marketing for some ideas about how to link their work to business outcomes.

It starts with measuring the observable behaviors — many of which have a digital fingerprint — instead of measuring the consumption of the content. In the end, employee communications is not about selling impressions (there are very few, if any, corporate intranets which serve up advertising), so measuring based on impressions is, well, a tough sell as far as I’m concerned.

At Bloomberg, we no longer use the term “internal communications.” We call our team Employee Communications. And it might even be more accurate to call it Employee Engagement. Or Employee Activation. Because we are not in the business of Internal or Communications. We are not in the business of storytelling. We are not even in the business of generating awareness.

We want to be in the business of driving behaviors that lead to business outcomes. Specifically, we are on the hook for improving sales, increasing productivity, opening the doors for our recruiters and building employee retention. We even help protect the firm by changing behaviors around security.

Awareness is just one arrow in our quiver, a means to an end; but it is not a business outcome.

There is a reason why we think of our function so differently. It has a name: Digital. The Internet changed the nature of the relationship between management and employees. While employees used to be thought of as an audience to receive messages, we now look at them as the messengers themselves. Together with the brand behind them, they are a powerful network, a potent combination of brand authority and personal authenticity. And we should focus our efforts on empowering their voices in ways that further the business’ strategic goals.

So where are we as a profession and what should we measure? The following four areas are worth noting:

Strategy and vision: There is no function better positioned to help senior leadership align the company with a shared sense of purpose, mission and even future than Employee Communications. This is especially true if you think of Communications much more broadly than just multimedia or written content. What does your architecture say about your company’s vision? What do the snacks served in your office say about your strategy? What rituals serve as guideposts for employee behaviors? When you think holistically about all employee touch points, a different story may emerge than you wish you’re telling. Likewise, a whole new set of measures may reveal themselves.

Marketing mix: In recent years, a whole cottage industry of software providers has cropped up with solutions for soliciting your employees to share company content with their personal social networks. There’s value in that to be sure, but employees are also the ones interfacing with your current customers. What digital mechanisms have you considered for compelling your employees to behave differently around customers? What does your employee mobile app do to remind them to be their best self and come equipped with the knowledge they need to build even greater value for your customers?

Reputation: I heard a great case study a couple of years ago when Slack’s servers went down. They had anticipated this could happen and equipped their entire employee population with the ability to respond to comments about the company through the company’s official Twitter handle. When the inevitable outage came, Slack’s main Twitter handle replied to every single complaint and compliment on Twitter thanks to this ingenious crowdsourced demonstration of trust. How would you measure that value with traditional metrics like page views and downloads?

Recruiting: While a handful of companies have found ways to get their employees to open up their own networks to their recruiters, for the most part, I still see firms deploying the same old tactic: a referral bonus. Fundamentally, this approach turns a potentially positive network expansion into a limited transaction. We’ve found at Bloomberg that working back from the business problem — in this case, the open role — and then putting the employees in the center of the story has been very effective. Our YouTube channel has dozens of videos highlighting current employees in roles we’d like to fill — these are the employees most likely to know similarly wonderful and skilled people. Each video has a link to apply for a job and the employees featured in these videos are happy to share them.

If we accept this fundamental re-framing of the function formerly known as internal communications, then the way we measure our impact should also change.

Primarily, we must stop using only Awareness as our KPI. Awareness is not an outcome. And its impact on behavior is dubious and difficult to measure. In addition, we must stop measuring after the fact and trying to reverse engineer business impact.

The measurement process starts with an active collaboration with business leaders and a clear understanding of business goals, and most importantly, a definition of observable behaviors that will drive outcomes.

Consider these two aspects of measurement:

Metrics that measure improvement

  • Any data that helps us understand our efficiency and the relative efficacy of our tactics
  • For example, the number of blog posts over time is an indication of productivity or the number of publications quoting a spokesperson is a measure of message effectiveness. But they are not – in and of themselves – measurements of business outcomes.
  • Open rates on email newsletters are a great improvement metric. At the end of the day, if everyone in the company opened the newsletter, you could brag about your open rate and still go out of business. But if no one opens the newsletter, then at least you know you should probably stop sending it out.

Metrics that measure business outcomes

Business leaders will not – and should not – accept measurements of activity as proxies for value.

  • Volume does not equal change – email opens, story clicks, and the like are important, but insufficient.
  • We must be able to define reasonable action that communications can take to contribute to observable behavioral change.
  • For example, how a widely read article about a new sales technique led to adoption of the technique, and a subsequent increase in sales.

It is critical to collect these metrics in a way that does not impede productivity of these teams. If measurement is baked in at the beginning, it’s easier. And of course: enable automation whenever possible.

There will be resistance.

Employee communications functions are not used to this kind of scrutiny. We’re not used to being on the hook for revenue generation. But we should embrace the role of consultant and/or strategic advisor. The alternative is being measured on volume of activity alone, which leads to an endless cycle of doing more with less. Tying your performance more directly to business outcomes makes the function more strategic. It encourages additional investment, rather than incessant belt-tightening. It keeps you relevant. And employed.