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Is your organization optimizing mobile communication effectively for workforce and customer engagement?1ewaod96d3k-jordan-mcqueen

Seems like old news, right? Mobile has been around for years: It’s no longer emerging—it’s here! Employees and customers expect mobile interaction with organizations and expect to have a consumer-grade experience when doing so. Yet surprisingly few organizations are using mobile to drive engagement effectively. This is borne out by independent research, our own client interactions, and those of other consultant friends in the industry.

Mobile is already in the hands of our target audiences. It’s pretty much on their person at all times. We know this. But consider the facts:

  • 90 percent of American adults have a cell phone.
  • 80 percent of Americans ages 18-49 have a smartphone (64 percent of all adults).
  • 97 percent of smartphone owners use text messaging—which is more than they use it for calls.+
  • 90 percent of text messages are read within the first three minutes, as opposed to email, where only 22 percent are read within the first three minutes. ++

As communicators or marketers, we ignore or underutilize mobile communication at our own peril. Still, despite smartphone technology advances, we continue to encounter organizations that only use mobile for the occasional emergency or crisis notification (school’s closed due to snow—go back to bed, kids)— including those with remote and hourly workers, who aren’t tethered to a computer during the day and to whom mobile may be the only available channel for real-time communication.

The Problem With Mobile-Accessed Intranets

A number of organizations may provide mobile access to the intranet, or other company-secured website or portal through single-sign-on, social opt-in, or other forms of authentication. Intranets and corporate portals keep proprietary and confidential information securely behind the firewall, which broadens the range of content that can be communicated through mobile. Communicators and marketers can link to the mobile-accessed intranet or secure company portal through emails and texts, which employees and customers may access exclusively on their smartphone. Sounds like a great solution for hourly and remote employees—that is, until user-experience is factored in. When it comes to intranets and company portals, the desktop experience doesn’t usually translate to mobile. Too often, mobile intranets and portals are awkwardly designed information dumps, overwhelming users with a menagerie of misplaced images and microscopic text.

Mobile-Based Apps and Microsites

Mobile-based apps and microsites may offer a better alternative for workforce and customer mobile communication, according to Joseph Loya, who discussed a number of effective ways to optimize mobile channels during a recent IABC WestFair event in Stamford, CT. Loya, a former Global Portal & Interactive Technology Leader at Mercer, touched on the following five steps to ensure workforce and customer engagement through mobile communication:

  1. Determine Accessibility

Digital/online communications are no longer limited to employees with desktop access to the organizational intranet. Most employees, including hourly employees and their family members, have the ability to receive communications through their smartphones and most others have the ability to receive SMS-text messages through their cell phone. What’s the breakdown at your organization? Determine how many of customers and employees have cell or smartphone access.

  1. Consider Firewall Implications

Does your organization offer mobile access to the organizational intranet? If so, was your intranet designed for mobile use? How user-friendly is the mobile intranet experience? How effectively are you leveraging this channel? Are employees engaged with it on a daily basis? How about hourly and remote employees? Intranets keep proprietary and confidential information securely behind the firewall. But you should determine which communications need to remain behind the firewall and which do not, including health and wellness insights, employee-branding and employee value proposition communications, which build morale and increase productivity.

  1. Leverage More Than Crisis Communication

Real-time mobile notifications about emergency weather cancelations are useful, but what else could be accomplished with anytime-and-anywhere mobile access? Think about the ways you could increase employee engagement and productivity through targeted messages to on-the-go employees. Think about the brand experiences you’d like your customers to have, from content that builds top-of-sales-funnel awareness to messages that drive last-stage purchasing decisions. What else could be accomplished through important messaging and notifications that could be picked up whether they were in the office, on a break, traveling, out sick, or out at a meeting?

Loya shared the story of a remote factory worker, who reluctantly agreed to participate in a health screening as part of his company’s health and wellness incentive campaign. Like many other employees, he didn’t pay much attention to the glossy benefits newsletters, but he did pay attention to communications he received on his smartphone. As a result of the screening, the worker learned that he had several life-threatening, but treatable conditions. His doctor wound up treating him for multiple related conditions that most likely saved his life.

  1. Transcend Text-Based Communication

Higher employee or customer engagement can be achieved through mobile by leveraging your current HR/benefits websites, vendor sites, and print/electronic communications. Text messages can link to stand-alone digital brochures, engaging infographics, newsletters, and videos. They can also increase traffic to specific content featured on existing websites.

  1. Optimize Mobile With An App or Microsite

According to Loya, organizations can plan for long-term mobile engagement by setting up an opt-in campaign for iisdi6lizem-matthew-wiebeemployees or customers to receive communications on their cell or smartphone. This involves strategy development considerations, such as the appropriate audience, frequency, message, media, and timing; the selection of an SMS provider and the setting up of an SMS account; and the execution of the initial opt-in campaign, using posters, monitor slides, videos, promotional events and online or in-person meetings.

This normally leads to the creation of an initial app or microsite, which may be optimized in one of the following ways:

  • Mobile Wallet Card: This app or microsite gives employees and customers a simple app-like microsite, which functions as a convenient, on-the-go directory to websites, apps, and phone numbers for key benefits and HR service providers—even digital ID cards, if available from vendor(s). The Mobile Wallet Card is an easily customized and branded one-stop resource, where each service is only a single click away (password login is required for some apps and websites), including a content management feature enabling easy additions, deletions, and updates.
  • Digital Communications for Education, Promotions, and Reference: Apps or microsites offer access to phone-friendly and interactive versions of organizational newsletters, guides, fact sheets, price lists and more, all of which are easily updated and always available.
  • Engaging Videos and Infographics: Apps and microsites also offer improved engagement over handbooks, booklets, and PowerPoint, converting these materials into high-impact mobile-optimized experiences that employ video and infographics.
  • Updates and notifications: Finally, apps and microsites provide a way for communicators and marketers to send just-in-time reminders and include links to digital brochures, articles, videos, apps, and more.

Tell Me More

Are you curious to know how mobile apps and microsites might help your organization? Please feel to share your impressions in the comments section below. We need each other, even as the communication and marketing professions continue to evolve at dizzying speeds. Let’s share and try to figure this out together. For more information or questions on mobile apps and microsites, Joe Loya can be reached at Payne Road Communications: Joseph.Loya@PayneRoad.com or by phone at 203.470.7999.

To view a live demo of the Mobile Wallet Card Loya’s firm built with partner Peter Datillo from Dakota Design, you can Text “Easy” to 31996. Then you’ll receive a text on your smartphone containing a link to the Mobile Wallet Card live demo. Check it out, it’s pretty cool.

If you’re in the Westchester County, NY or Fairfield County, CT area, visit IABC WestFair to learn about future programming events.


+ Pew Research Center, April 2015. “The Smartphone Difference” available at www.pewinternet.org/2015/04/01/us-smartphone-use-in-2015/

++ Source: mobileSQUARED, 2010.

Photo Cred: Jordan Mcqueen, Matthew Wiebe








Accelerating Engagement on Social Intranets

social intranet graphicIs it important for you to understand the psychological and motivational factors that drive engagement on social intranets? Maybe it’s more helpful for you to understand the factors that drive engagement with the content you create for blogs and social media. Either way, I’m committed to learning and sharing the best practices for creating content that accelerates engagement on social intranets and other collaborative platforms.

Terms like social and collaborative may sound sexy but can mean many things to our audience, which creates confusion. This impacts workers looking for actionable business reasons to use the social intranet, as well as those creating content for the social intranet (and other social platforms), who want clear guidance about the business issues that should be communicated there. This won’t happen unless the social intranet is introduced and maintained from a change perspective, using change management communication principles that make the most of psychological factors that unleash engagement there.

Use of social intranets is growing at most organizations, where the focus has shifted from if we should have social tools to how we should use them.

Many organizations talk about the benefits of the technology solution without first laying the groundwork for its importance to the strategic goals of the organization. Workforce change, adoption and engagement are business not technology considerations. But technology trumps all in too many cases, compromising plans for a well-designed launch and sustained engagement.

Going Deeper

Based on feedback from posts like Six Variables of Social Intranet Adoption and others I’ve created an e-book that you can download below. I draw from experience as a corporate communication leader with Pitney Bowes as well as successes we’ve had in my own as a communication practice since 2009. I’ll also reference inbound marketing strategy, where my firm has been privileged to help a number of clients realize business goals using content marketing and social media solutions.

The e-book steers clear of content migration plans and technical aspects of content strategy, such as information architecture, usability and taxonomy—important topics that remain ripe for future e-book endeavors. Here we’ll focus on great content creation and the process of leveraging psychological factors that accelerate and sustain engagement on social intranets and collaborative platforms.

Download this e-book to learn:

  • The Cultural Value of Social Intranets
  • Psychological Keys for Unlocking Engagement on Social Intranets
  • The Cultural Barriers to Success on Social Intranets
  • How to Get the Right Answers by Asking the Right Questions
  • How to Create the Right Context Before Creating the Right Content

Click for your e-book download:

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Thanks for listening, and feel free to comment below or contact me directly at crinc@earthlink.net.


A nationwide Tribe Inc. survey published recently indicates that employees at every level prefer two-way communication with senior leadership and with fellow employees and that they’re inclined to use internal communication channels to achieve this interaction.iStock_000023167701Small

Having arrived at our present point along the social media continuum you may wonder if organizations still debate the value of two-way communication—which would appear to be the case, or findings like this would no longer be newsworthy.

Two-way communication represents the finest opportunity we have to capture workforce feedback and encourage greater collaboration across the enterprise. Two-way communication facilitates workforce engagement and a more consensual leadership style, where leaders stay fully informed with frontline feedback so they can calibrate their decisions accordingly.

Two-way communication provides employees and staff with a voice, and should become even more of a priority in light of recent research indicating that four out of 10 workers are disengaged globally. Disengagement levels appear to be even worse in the U.S., where 70 percent of U.S. workers don’t like their job, according to the latest State of the American Workplace Report, as Sylvia Vorhauser-Smith pointed out in Forbes recently.

What’s more, most organizations have increased use of micro-blogging platforms like Yammer and Twitter for internal communication and there’s greater fluidity and a growing need to share information outside the organization to increase transparency and build brand equity. Often overlooked, employees and staff remain the most effective purveyors of brand identity at most organizations. Two-way communication, in presenting an opportunity to keep employees and staff engaged, represents the most compelling opportunity there is to convert employee and staff spectators into brand ambassadors.

In one sense, intranets are nothing more than a tool for simple two-way communication and discussion and social media is nothing more than a means for simple dialogue and conversation—part of the DNA of any organization. Still, outlier organizations persist in trying to undermine the importance of two-way communication. Here’s five objections we’ve heard. Do any sound familiar?

1. We can’t afford it

Maybe we can’t afford not to use two-way communication tools. Which makes better sense: Live in fear of providing an opinion platform because of the harm it could do to your organization’s reputation or acknowledge that the conversation is already happening and do what you can to shape those opinions positively? Get out in front of the message and build a transparent, responsive organizational culture or ignore the chatter and hope it goes away? The persuasive possibilities of employee voices online outweigh the reputational risks of social media to the organization, a recent study concludes. Studies like this confirm what we should already know.

2. What would legal say?

This is a case of the tail wagging the dog. The value of the legal function is beyond dispute, but their seemingly endless forays into risk aversion must be subservient to the mission and goals of the organization. Don’t spend needless energy worrying about gaining permission from legal, redirect it into telling them how you’re going to manage your two-way communication channels and collaborative workplace proactively using best-of-breed social media governance practices. Demonstrate that you have a response plan when things go awry and folks act unreasonably, as they surely will from time to time. That doesn’t mean you should throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. Just have a plan to deal with it: Respond to the issue immediately and honesly. If you’re acting ethically in the first place you’ll have nothing to hide.

3. Leadership by command-and-control takes less time

Some leaders value the people that work for the organization, but only within the confines of their command-and-control leadership style. They assert that talent is the organization’s most important asset but prove by their actions that not all talent is created equally. They occupy their position of power by merit alone, they would have you believe, rather than as the result of a confluence of factors which may have little or nothing to do with merit. I’ve seen this so many times it reminds me of the philosopher Diogenes who, when asked why he went about city with a lamp in broad daylight, confessed: “I’m looking for a honest man.” But feedback from frontline employees should inform the decision-making process of every leader because frontline perspectives can produce guidance that’s critical to the organization’s success or failure. That’s the point of two-way communication. Do we need a stronger argument than that?

4. Our communication channels are working fine

Are you sure? When was the last time a thorough communication audit was conducted to assess the communication needs of your workplace? We need to have a thorough understanding of the present state before we can begin to hope for the organizational culture change needed to realize the future state and long term goals. The audit should be conducted by an independent third party to ensure the integrity of the results, not by yes-men looking to tell you what you want to hear. Do you have data supporting the assertion that communication is working properly at your organization? Can you trust the data you have? If you haven’t created a culture where feedback is encouraged and respected the answer is no—not from annual employee surveys or anywhere else. Workers and staff won’t be honest—they won’t waste their breath—without unequivocal encouragement from leadership about the importance of their opinion and how it will be used to bring about change.

5. Our intranet doesn’t support the use of social media tools

You might want to look into that. Two-way communication should be at the heart of every intranet. Many so-called intranets are little more than glorified websites—all information push and no pull. The cry for help I hear from most organizations is not knowing how to use the social media tools they have, though some mid-market organizations can be found who are still holding out on a basic intranet investment. Many low-cost intranet-like options exist, from platforms like Yammer, which offer a Twitter- and Facebook-style user interface, to many open source solutions (click here review eight).

How the Best Places to Work Are Nailing Employee Engagement


3 Ways to Craft Killer Video Content

Which content development ideas and priorities guide you as a communicator, especially when asked to develop mission-critical video content for your company or organization?key security

Communicate Clearly

As communicators we’re looking to motivate and inspire our audience. We’re looking to capture discretionary effort—that indispensable element of workforce engagement. Make sure the content comes across simply, clearly and crisply. Be mindful of narrative flow and make sure your story dovetails with the visual content—this may require quite a bit of editing and perseverance. Don’t settle. Take a break to clear your head. Wait for clarity and trust your intuition.

Engage the Heart and Mind

Develop content that engages the heart and mind. There must be an element of infotainment—something playful or imaginative—where we present our message in a way that commands attention from audiences already overwhelmed by information overload. In most cases, we do well to ask if our video content qualifies as a suitable alternative to engaging options vying for their attention on YouTube and other social media. Will they want to share it with a friend or colleague? Would you?

Include a Clear Call to Action

You might have heard this a million times, but it bears repeating: There must be a clear and compelling call to action. What do you want your audience to do? Remember, you may need to use a variety of overlapping communication channels and platforms to ensure your audience understands the call to action, including embedded video in email (best practice usually involves a thumbnail JPG of the video with a play button that’s invested with a hyperlink—when folks click on the image inside the email it takes them to where the video is hosted). Think about ways to provide your audience with at least two or three exposures to a message. Statistics and our own experience tend to validate the fact that we don’t usually get the message during our first encounter.

What do you think? What other elements are critical for you when it comes to video content development? Check out the video below. Was the message clear? Did you feel inspired and was there a clear call to action?

Photo Credit: JulieBulie’s Photostream

Calculating the Cost of Workforce Zombies

In looking for ways to innovate and grow how many organizations have placed renewed emphasis on workforce engagement? Along with profit-to-earning-ratios how many have calculated the cost of workforce disengagement?

7346606900_d5d4811f36The cost of creating workforce zombies in a down economy is considerable because motivated and engaged workers are the ones that help struggling organizations back to profitability.

Corporate Culture & Discretionary Effort

I’ve spent most of my career on the staff side in corporate communications but also have experience in the trenches, on the business side in marketing. I know what it means to beat the pavement for a sale and what it means to cold call, mustering the courage to be appropriately persistent yet again with that business prospect you’ve nurtured over many months.

Motivation comes from within and yes, we all need to cultivate our own inner fire. But corporate culture is the often-overlooked outlier—the real game-changer for getting that extra measure of workforce engagement and discretionary effort. Workers look before they leap, asking: Are senior leaders trustworthy and transparent? Are they using two-way communication channels to incorporate workforce feedback into the decision-making process? Do they recognize workforce contributions to the bottom line? Have they created a career-path for workers, developmental opportunities, and work-life balance? When it comes to capturing discretionary effort company culture and the value of the employee deal can determine success or failure.

The Business Value of Dialogue & Conversation

Yet many organizations are slow to capitalize on the value of interpersonal connection. Senior leaders who reason that organizations can’t control two-way communication channels like social media may vote to leave them outside the workplace, failing to see their business value.

The reasoning of communicators like Stacy Wilson seems prescient: “Even the term social media is driving fear. Along with podcast, blog, wiki, etc., these are just different technologies that can serve as different communication channels to enable culture change—they can drive collaboration and dialogue more effectively than traditional channels. If we work with senior leaders to help them understand the business value and benefit of conversation, dialogue and collaboration, the fear melts away,” says Wilson.

“Innovation is an important business driver because it takes a lot of ideas in the pipeline to come up with that one marketable or patentable idea; conversation and dialogue help to generate a constant stream of ideas,” she adds.

Winning with Workforce Engagement

We have not yet begun to fight, said that lion of perseverance, Winston Churchill, as he faced down the adversities of World War II. Similarly, the battle for corporate profitability is over before it begins if we haven’t cultivated the indispensable asset of workforce engagement.

During a business visit to a Fortune 500 company in the Midwest I learned that workforce retention is no longer a concern for certain talent management professionals. Since jobs are scarce, they reason, where will workers go? What’s more appalling is that many workers are told that job elimination is a distinct possibility or that it’s being explored, yet no voluntary package or reasonable severance is made available for them to move on with dignity. So they remain in their jobs, plodding on like corporate zombies, waiting for the axe to fall.

Much of this was reflected in a Business Week story, which suggests that improving employee engagement is the surest way to turn the economy around. Less than 30 percent of corporate workers really care about their jobs—and nearly 20 percent actually want to undermine their co-workers, according to the Gallup study, yet boosting engagement just a tenth of a point can have a huge impact on a company’s sales, they reason. Is this not common sense?

For one example of a company that understands culture and workforce engagement check out this presentation from Netflix: Seven Aspects of Culture.

Let me know what you think.

Photo Credit: Archie McPhee Seattle’s Photostream, Creative Commons License, & Wikipedia


Five Features of Intuitive Infographics

As communicators charged with saying more in less space infographics have become a tool of choice, enabling our audience to quickly grasp complex sets of ideas and information data points. The medium holds endless possibilities; afterall, if you can scan an infographic and get what you need in a fraction of the time it takes to read a story, why wouldn’t you?

Though we could try to peg the first infographic to the walls of primitive cave dwellers and do so quite plausibly, our current use of them is relatively new with some visualizations of data more intuitive than others. So what are some common elements of an effective infographic?


Source: NYC Subway Map, Vignelli Associates, 2008 http://luzagraph.blogspot.com/2011/12/massimo-vignelli.html


Prescient observations shared by Antonio Poglianich of Mercer and Dan Taylor of Taylor Design during a recent IABC WestFair event touched on the following five points, where content seems to drive design:

Must Be Intuitive Apart From Text

The message of an infographic must be understood intuitively and visually, apart from the text. The map above designed by Massimo Vignelli is a good starting point. His work, firmly rooted in the Modernist tradition, achieves simplicity through the use of basic geometric forms. If extensive reading of the text is required to get the gist, what’s the point? Not that an infographic can’t have text, but it must be used sparingly and be arranged sensibly, as is done here with The History of Horses (see below). A good deal of text is shared, but it’s quickly and easily accessible to those who want to dig deeper and learn more—say, about 1066, when horses were used in jousting, or 2000 BC, when horses were first used in military warfare.

Must Be Visually Appealing

An infographic’s visual appeal is especially important when communicating numbers, and the images should be proportional. This infographic, How 2010 Changed Our Lives (see below), is visually appealing, with proportional images that are intuitive and compelling. What’s more, the data proof points are digestible with a quick visual scan.

Must Map Out Key Data Points

Of course, as communicators in the corporate context, the business reason for our infographic must be immediately apparent. We have to unpack the story in the data set and know what we want to say. Dan remarked about data dumps, where he receives reams of data from a client and is expected to make sense of it. Instead, Dan tries to understand his client’s strategic business objective and then gains consensus about key data points before designing an infographic. We should be prepared to furnish the same when working with graphic designers.

Must Illustrate Important Points

The most important points in an infographic should be illustrated, like the data visualized at the bottom of this post in What Can You Expect to Earn in Silicon Valley?

Another great example is this one, Farewell to a Genius: The Life & Times of Steve Jobs, where the important timeframes and achievements are clearly mapped and illustrated in a way that really pops. Also check out the creative use of fonts, color themes and graphics used to get these timely and relevant data points across.

Must Have Consistent Colors and Legends

Another great point about the Silicon Valley graphic and the Vignelli map is that the colors and legends are consistent. On the Silicon Valley one you can easily follow the data points you’re interested in, even as they flow into three different scenarios; namely, the best jobs, average salaries and national cost of living comparisons.

What are your thoughts? What would you add to this list?


5 Forceful Writing Habits for Intranet/Web Content

Let’s stop and think a moment about your changing role and responsibility as a corporate communicator: You’ve evolved from writer to content provider, providing usable chunks of information for an online readership. This may sound less than glamorous, but the fact remains, whether you’re writing a story or blog post for the intranet or online, and whether your readers consume your copy on a computer, iPad or smartphone.

What must you demand of your writing now that it’s consumed online?

1/ Be Considerate: Your readers deal with unprecedented levels of information and email overload; you owe it to them to produce content that’s intuitive and easy to scan and understand. Consider it an act of kindness and sensitivity. This brings us to how you package content, and here we do well to borrow from the field of applied industrial design—from the Bauhaus belief that design should be simple yet expressive, and which so greatly inspired the clean, intuitive and minimalistic product design of Steve Jobs.

2/ Be Simple (really simple):  The information you present online must be unsparingly clear—simple, free of jargon and anything non-essential. Not dumbed down, just streamlined. Ask yourself, “How can I get to the point faster?” “What can I take out to make this more effective?” Don’t review for grammar and spelling only. Add an additional review to eliminate redundancies: Completely eliminate, absolutely essential, foreign imports or free gifts, every single hour (hour is singular, making single redundant), that sort of thing. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication—again, as Steve Jobs used to say, and he was right.

3/ Connect the Dots: Think about the desired business outcome of your communication, not necessarily the communication result. If you’re writing for a leader or manager, walk a mile in her shoes. Close your eyes a minute. Think about her audience and think about the action she wants them to take.

4/ Be Approachable & Engaging: Be playful and irreverent wherever possible and appropriate. Keep your reader’s attention—like it or not, you’re competing for it with scads of infotainment on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Be inventive in your turn of phrase and be sure to look for the story behind the story. The old rules of journalism apply here. Make sure your sentences and paragraphs transition smoothly and logically. Unpack the narrative in a compelling way to engage your readers.

5/ Be Spare: A spare and functional design is paramount, including the strategic use of subheads and chunked content, so your readers can quickly scan to where they want to go if they don’t have time to read the whole article, which is frequently the case. Arrange your online content to be easy on the eye, and make sure your words have room to breathe. Don’t make it an eye chart; use white space strategically.

Thoughts? What’s your experience? Please weigh in below. I’d love to hear from you.

(We’re all the sum of our parts, and Dom would like to thank his friends/colleagues Andy Opila and Tracy Benson Kirker for inspiring this post.)



3 biggest communication challenges of 2012

When asked to identify the greatest challenges we expect to face this year as corporate communicators, our IABC WestFair communicators presented a picture of life in the trenches, where responsibilities were anything but predictable and change was the only constant.

Not surprisingly, the effective use of social media topped the list, followed closely by change management communication and the changing role of the communicator.

8121095529_7fe410f8eePractical approaches to social media were discussed, including the importance of social media guidelines, internal social media champions, executive sponsorship and interaction through micro-blogging platforms like Yammer and Chatter. Corporate culture emerged as the definitive arbiter of social media success on social intranets, and organizations with a non-consensual or command-and-control leadership with a lack of trust in workforce feedback should not expect to see results with social media—nor should social media efforts propelled by grass roots efforts alone.

We considered the dizzying array of social media tools and differing workforce attitudes about them, including exacerbating factors such as age, job scope and geography. Instances were reported where social media was “written off” by a business leader as the pet project of marketing and communication: “When we see engineers interacting on blogs we’ll be convinced,” they said. The blurring of internal and external social media efforts was discussed, and the challenges of using external social media channels to showcase internal business expertise and thought leadership.

The changing role of the communicator was discussed, including our responsibility to influence but not control two-way conversations on intranet communication platforms with social media tools. The need for tight relationships with human resources was reiterated, as well as connecting with the C-suite for brand and reputation management and, more than ever, business knowledge to help organizations be more productive as an essential requirement to earning a seat at the table with senior leadership. Being comfortable with constant change—or addicted to it—was mentioned, as well as the need for ongoing personal development to stay current and sure-footed in our constantly shifting communication landscape.

In terms of public relations, the importance of getting your message into the hands of social media influencers and “tastemakers” was stressed, who would then cultivate your message through to trusted real-time conversational channels. What the company says about itself, it was acknowledged, is no longer the trusted source of information it once was, now that breaking news and opinion has shifted to popular interactive journalism sites like The Huffington Post. Getting your message into the hands of the right blogger can now make all the difference.

In terms of change management, the importance of understanding the changing business models of older manufacturing-based companies was underscored, as were the challenges of communicating to a younger, more entrepreneurial and tech-savvy workforce who expect messaging on real-time mobile platforms. A continuous improvement mindset related to change strategy and tactics was considered essential for communicators, as was an appreciation for the positive dimensions of change—personal and organizational growth and opportunity.

The importance of gathering unfiltered workforce feedback and calibrating change communication content accordingly was considered essential to communication success, as was the importance of our role within the context of expanding corporate boundaries (due to globalization) and highly-matrixed organizations resulting from frequent mergers and acquisitions.

What communication challenges and solutions are you working with in 2012? Feel free to leave your comment here or on our IABC WestFair LinkedIN Group.

photo credit: Curtis Perry Photostream


5 Ways to Encourage Workforce Feedback on the Intranet

In considering ways to get more employees to provide feedback on an internal corporate site, as a client recently asked, it’s good to remember that feedback is provided when there is an assurance that the worker’s voice will be heard, considered and acted upon. This is a cultural issue, really. Companies modeling a consensual decision-making style will have no problem gathering employee feedback—since the culture is not risk-averse, but transparent and inclusive.

Contests or incentives are ill-advised, since they cut against the grain of the discretionary effort (engagement) and self-motivation required to capture authentic feedback.

Direct appeal from a senior leader: A straightforward, honest and sincere appeal from a senior leader with skin in the game is the best way to approach this issue—and a senior leader blog is an appropriate channel. It may be pertinent to acknowledge the mistakes of the past—or at least a failure to emphasize the importance of gathering direct, unfiltered employee feedback, if this is, in fact, the case.

The senior leader post could be titled, “the gift of feedback,” and lay out in the clearest terms why she requires employee feedback; namely, to guide her decision-making process, to keep an ear to the ground and make decisions based on the facts as they really are. In the clearest terms, the request for feedback should be described as an essential requirement of a servant-leadership model, not a nice-to-have after-thought of old school command-and-control leadership. It should include examples of how feedback has changed her thinking in the past.

Ask for feedback on relevant topics: It stands to reason that the senior leader blog/message topic must be relevant to the work people do every day. The senior leader should inquire about which topics would resonate most with the workforce readership. Toby Ward speaks of a using a CFO Blog with a particular client, where the CFO solicited innovative ideas to save money from the front-line workers. It was a topic within their purview, something they could speak about comfortably. The response was overwhelming.

Offer more than one way to provide feedback: Employees should be able to provide feedback in a number of ways—by liking posts on the site, by having an option to share posts on the site with colleagues via email (or social media, if applicable), and through comments after each post or message. The frequency and quality of this interaction is an important success metric. This capability for two-way interaction should exist after every post/message, not only in a dedicated area for feedback on the page (as was the case with this client). People are accustomed to weighing in on the post they are reading—not in a general feedback area, unless it is a customer service page.

Provide a feedback mechanism for every communication: Every email and corporate message should have an option for workforce feedback, or link to the full story on the intranet, where an option for feedback can be provided.

Build a culture of feedback: Feedback should be ingrained into the culture, encouraged not only at town halls and annual engagement surveys, but also during 1-on-1 meetings, staff meetings, skip-level meetings, web chats and Twitter town halls, and manager walk-arounds. It should also be a vibrant tenet of the performance management process, where a mid-year employee stay interview or career-development discussion should occur.

Once ingrained in the culture, feedback will flow.

What best practices have you come across to encourage feedback?

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Six Variables of Social Intranet Adoption

There are six motivational factors communicators should understand before attempting to drive workforce adoption of social intranets and participation with social networking and collaboration tools.Thumbs Up

This is part two of a discussion about the factors affecting workforce adoption of social intranets (see Key drivers of social intranet adoption), answering the question so often heard: “Hey, wait… how come no one’s using our new social intranet?”

1/ The Importance of Culture can not be overstated when it comes to variables affecting social intranet adoption, and the level of workforce engagement and willingness to put forth discretionary effort is perhaps its most reliable indicator.

  • Workforce Engagement: Take a look at data gathered from the annual employee survey. Is employee feedback encouraged and is it acted upon? Is feedback gathered once a year, or systemically throughout the year? Have there been layoffs and, if so, how were they handled? Relationships with managers: Are workers micro-managed or treated like trusted partners whose opinion matters?
  • The social intranet is discretionary!! This may sound obvious, but you can’t force workers to use a social intranet, or force them to collaborate and share ideas. Your workforce may be saying: “I don’t care about SharePoint or your Open Source intranet with all the social media tools if I’m not motivated to work here!”

2/ Senior Leader Support: Cisco’s social media manager, LaSandra Brill put it this way: “An important lesson learned at Cisco is that social media has to make its way into an organization top down (emphasis mine). All too often it makes its way in via the bottom layer – young people who know about social media try to make colleagues enthusiastic and launch small projects. This is a positive thing, but it is important that social media are integrated on a strategic level. This entails the need for budget, time and people.

And don’t forget, you will face critics within the company. In order to get a good start to success, the top management’s support is vital. At Cisco, the CEO, CTO and other executives are active bloggers and often initiate conversations. They show the way to other employees and inspire them through their personal story.”

I’ve seen too many well-intended attempts to drive social media adoption from small groups within an organization, only to learn that C-level executives want nothing to do with it or offer only token appreciation. These efforts are limited in value because senior leadership must set the tone of transparency, facilitating the cultural milieu required for social intranets to thrive.

3/ Intranet Governance: Accountability for a social intranet must be distributed throughout the organization or it will die on the vine, usually sooner rather than later. Again, Cisco uses a coordinated strategy for social media that’s determined by a team of ten called the Center of Excellence. This strategic governance team should be collaborative and cross-functional, and works best when represented by major functional stakeholders from Communications, Human Resources, Operations, Information Technology, and Business Units/Departments.

  • Business Unit Tactical Teams (each chaired by a governance team member) should be responsible for managing business unit intranet operations with responsibility for day-to-day decision-making, compliance, creation of customized local standards, along with summarized reporting to the enterprise governance team once a month.

4/ Social Media Guidelines: You want to encourage community interaction on your intranet, not box it out with too many rules. Effective social media guidelines, many of which are available through public search online, encourage active participation in the creation and sharing of information, from interaction through threaded blog comments, wikis, and group discussions, to creating a blog or group of one’s own. The social intranet should be a hub for collaborative business solutions and workforce engagement, so the rules should protect not police the workforce. Clear guidelines for acceptable use should help not hinder the adoption of social media tools for productive, internal purposes.

5/ Graphical User Interface (GUI): A number of user-friendly interfaces can increase adoption to your social intranet. Team sites, group sites and wikis are not always intuitive, and My Site Profiles must be filled out completely to fully inform the search function, the most important navigational tool on the intranet. But this can be dicey as workers get hung up on “profile completeness” as a measure of success, and communicators must find some inducement for compliance. The workforce says, “Just give me my Facebook interface (Yammer, Chatter, Jive) where I can engage with others using status updates, share comments and links, collaborate on documents and video, and follow others I care about in threaded conversations. Training required—none; ramp-up time required—none, these platforms are immediately intelligible because your workforce is already using them.

6/ Training: Companies like Southwest and Cisco succeed with an integrated social intranet—beyond simply using Twitter and CEO blogs—because they care enough to make social media a core workforce competency. Living out the values of the organization on the social intranet is a business goal for these organizations, and employees are responsible for carrying it out. With proper social media training the workforce becomes ambassadors for the organization, ready to handle anything a customer might throw at them in or outside of the workplace.

But I don’t work for Zappos—what can I do?

Some ideas for communicators working at a risk-averse or legacy-based organizations, who are looking to gain C-level executive buy-in for a social intranet:

Start small/look for small wins: Pilot your social intranet to a defined business area prior to enterprise launch. Your looking to mine the intellectual capital of the organization, and looking for workforce collaboration that leads to business solutions. Teach it, model it, capture it.

Tell it to the C-suite: Harvest video testimonials to persuade senior leadership of the value of social intranets, demonstrating the business value of an open, consensual organizational culture.

Have a plan: Create a strategic communication plan to drive social intranet adoption or hire a consultant to help (…ahem), leveraging various proven communication tactics to bring about cultural change, such as a corporate blogging calendar with suggested topics and frequency, communication tools for managers and project success metrics. Show senior leadership that you have a plan, while underscoring the value of harvesting employee feedback to guide their decision-making process.