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.