‘Zero E-mail’ and Change Management: An Internal Communication Opportunity?

There are reports of Atos, a French organization planning to do away with e-mail in the near future. That near future is around the corner. The CEO has stated that after 2014 none of their 80000 employees will be exchanging e-mails.

Ambitious? Crazy? Impossible? Intriguing?

I have been thinking about what this change means for the leader, the organization’s image, their employees and internal communications. Also, what does it take to implement such decisions.

The arguments are definitely strong. Majority of e-mails aren’t relevant. E-mails are distracting. Employees are losing the ‘human’ touch and sending e-mails instead of connecting with each other.

For those who have read the book Switch by the Heath brothers you can see patterns that make wide reaching change work in this experiment by the CEO.

Let me share a bit about the book. The Heath brothers share fascinating real-life examples and research studies which demonstrate how people and organizations overcome resistance, get buy-in and make large scale change easy. Using a simple three part framework they drill down on specific behavior and actions that can improve the chances of driving change. The framework focuses on:

  1. Directing the Rider (appealing to our rationale side): As an example they share the story of Jerry Sternin working with a non-profit who involved poor Vietnamese mothers to find bright spots among themselves in order to fight malnutrition. In the Atos case, he has built a story on why e-mail is bad and social media is great.
  2.  Motivating the Elephant (addressing our emotional side): They share an example of how a procurement manager created a ‘glove’ shrine to help leaders ‘find the feeling’ on poor internal procurement practices and turnaround. In the Atos case, the CEO is saying – ‘have you lost touch with your personal side? Do you know your family anymore? Get off e-mail’.
  3. Shaping the Path (making it simple to get to the destination): The way in which websites have made it easier to now transaction online with a single click – take Amazon.com for example. In the Atos case, he is enlisting the support of change agents who can influence others. Also, giving them options for e-mail.

So, in this case what can the leader do more or less of to ensure change happens in a timely manner and yet not alienate staff?

To begin, by making a public statement he has committed the organization and himself to this change. By drawing attention to a deadline there is a goal and timeline for staff to work towards. The news reports already indicate that the program is underway and it evolved due to feedback which came from staff on reducing e-mail. So, it also demonstrates and subtly that the leader ‘listens’ to his people.

The CEO is leading by example and according to the article has not sent out an e-mail in the last three years, which is fascinating.

He has a plan to get to his destination and is shrinking the change and path. He has identified social media tools, chat and collaboration platforms as options to limit e-mail. By enrolling staff (and young staff, mind you – knowing that Gen Y are more open to using social media) and adopting a ‘train the others’ program he is ensuring change is gradual and everyone supports the initiative.

This ‘rally the workforce’ initiative is also a way to get everyone on the same page and aligned to a common purpose.

I believe it is a great example of turning an internal communication challenge into a war cry that engages the workplace. What do you think?

The Visibility Factor: How to Turn Around the Conversation | Final Part

In Part 1, I shared the story of Tanmay the Internal Communicator who engaged Anita in a discussion on a newsletter and wasn’t able to provide tangible direction. I loved the feedback to help Tanmay make definite progress. Thank you Mark, Adam, Sushma and Advita for taking time to raise the conversation to a new high.

For example, Adam provided a great perspective on supporting the client’s understanding of the channels and options available from the Internal Communications team. Also, by ‘partnering’ with the client the chances of improving the newsletter and owning the intranet are much better. Sushma’s idea to have an IT Customer Day is excellent considering it helps get the team face-to-face with clients and in their environment. Mark suggested developing a communication plan and giving the IT team opportunities to share their updates. Also to provide proof of how effective the channels were. Advita’s recommended taking a mock-up of the intranet and considering the employees’ feedback to help change perceptions and to stakeholders aligned.

Here are thoughts to approach the issue and get Anita to appreciate what works for her team.

To begin, Tanmay needs to understand from where Anita is approaching this issue.

In the recent past has Anita got feedback that her team’s work isn’t valued or known across the organization?

The decision to start a newsletter isn’t for Anita to take up. The Internal Communication team is expected to provide guidance on the channels and how to best optimize resources for communicating effectively.  Also, if there is already an online social media community then the IT team can form a community, own their content and share updates real-time.

To establish a team’s reputation requires lot of work. By sharing a newsletter doesn’t automatically qualify reach and visibility. Instead, Tanmay needs to coach Anita on steps to share the basics – what does the team stand for, what does it do, how does it make a difference to the organization, what are the current projects and the impact it hopes to make and what support does it need from staff. This content needs to go up on their community page and all IT team members should be actively engaged on the community.

That means, Anita needs to involve the group in coming up with possible content for the community so that they feel included. To add content that appeals to the community Anita needs to identify owners for each section so that content is periodically updated.

She is expected to lead by example and share the team’s great news/wins/go-lives via articles on the community. Furthermore, she can incentivize contributions on the community by recognizing the most active members. She should blog and use the social media tool herself since it helps to connect Gen Y especially.

Tanmay should be better prepared for such conversations with facts and trends to show how Spark is faring and refute any critical perspectives, if they aren’t right. Also, creating a newsletter to drive traffic to the online platform isn’t the best use of peoples’ time.

He also needs to set expectations on his team’s role in supporting internal communication. That means, the team isn’t expected to be managing her newsletter but can provide solutions for the spotlight to be trained on her team and other groups in a systematic manner.  There is a perception he has to manage – of his team only supporting ‘leadership’ and not others. While this may be true, Tanmay has to qualify why some stakeholders get more ‘high touch’ that others.

Tanmay needs to demonstrate cases where teams which have great work to showcase do get the relevant ‘visibility’ via the company intranet or other channels available. He can also recommend that Anita present her team’s work to leaders at designated forums so that she can highlight her initiatives and take their support.

Lastly, it is for Tanmay to clarify that a newsletter is a great channel to have but sustaining a newsletter takes time and effort – something which Anita may not have the bandwidth to do with her critical role.

So, it is best left to the experts – in this case, the internal communications team to think of suitable solutions for her team. Will the IT team appreciate if the internal communication teams prescribe the IT roadmap for an organization?  Then, why must IT recommend what the best approach is for internal communications?

“My Team Isn’t Getting Visibility. Let us do a Newsletter!”

Tanmay, the Internal Communicator is facing a dilemma. Anita, the IT Division Head invited him for a discussion to build visibility for her team with a newsletter and it stumped him. If he agreed to her request it would trigger similar requests from other internal teams. If he disregarded the request he will be perceived as an uncooperative team member.

Here is how the conversation shaped up.

Tanmay: “Hi Anita, you mentioned that your team required visibility. How can I be of help?”

Anita: “Yes, Tanmay. Ever since I took over this role I notice that the IT Division isn’t getting enough mileage for the work we do. Staff in the group and the rest of the company isn’t aware of all the projects we handle and also there is no ‘spotlight’ on us”.

Tanmay: “Can you explain more about what you meant by ‘visibility’?

Anita: “Look, our team is crucial to the organization’s success. We are the backbone of the company and keep the lights on, literally. However, we don’t seem to get any coverage .We believe we can publish a newsletter every month. That way, we can tell our story and all staff gets to know what work is on hand.”

Tanmay: “Can’t you use the company’s newsletter – Spark to share your updates as when you have one? We also have our internal social media platform – Evolve where you can post your updates. Have you considered trying that?”

Anita: “No one reads Spark! My gut feeling is that no one even glances at it. Evolve is better but people don’t go online unless they are driven to that page. This newsletter will drive traffic to the site.”

Tanmay: “What do you expect the newsletter to cover?”

Anita: “Everything about IT – our team, our work, the projects, our staff’s hobbies and interests, fun and games”.

Tanmay: “ Isn’t that too much information? Won’t that be overwhelming for your staff?”

Anita: “You need to either handle it or let me do it my way. Your team only supports the leadership and don’t help us get visibility”.

At this point Tanmay gauged that Anita didn’t sound very pleased with the support his team provided and decided to come back later with a solution to her need.

I invite you to think about Tanmay’s dilemma and share your perspectives.

  1. What do you think Tanmay’s strategy needs to be what choices does he need to make?
  2. How can he address this issue before it escalates into a full blown disaster for the Internal Communications team?
  3. What can Tanmay do differently when he is confronted by such requests?

Look forward to your comments and in my next post we will revisit what Tanmay can do to get back his mojo.

Making Your Internal Communication New Hire’s Integration Easy

Adding a new person to your Internal Communications Team?  Integrating a new member right helps the individual and your team put their best feet forward.

I have been inducted into a few organizations and noticed that those teams which invest less time to integrate newcomers often end up alienating people in the long run.  Very often you are expected to ‘swim or sink’ and it takes a lot more energy to appreciate what is expected from you. The stress of figuring out stuff on your own can be debilitating. If you want your colleagues to be successful and make your organization excel (assuming that is why you hired them) then the onus is on you to make their transition smooth.

Here are some practices that can improve your chances of making your new hire into the internal communication a painless experience.

Plan the entry and induction: Prepare a rough outline of the objectives and expectations from the individual’s induction. While most organizations expect the new hire to get started from day 1, it isn’t always possible for newcomers to begin without knowing the people they will work with, the surroundings they will be in and the type of work they will handle. List the people the individual needs to connect with, conduct an office walk through and introduce the person informally to those around. You may not get all stakeholders in a room but you can definitely plan to send out an introductory note.

Logistics and paperwork: Often the basic requirements to get connected and move forward are the stumbling blocks to getting a team member up and running. Pre-empt the needs ahead of the individual’s joining so that the time spent getting infrastructure in place is lesser. Be it laptops or approvals prepare a checklist and assign ownership among the team for completion.

Introducing the new person: Seek the individual’s background, interests and hobbies to top up the note which introduces the hire and explain the role and expectation upfront.  Be sure you are using the right designations and inform the appropriate leaders that the person will be reaching out to get connected and understand their work better. This helps clarify conversations that stakeholders can have with the person and allows better conversations.

The Big Picture as well as the nuts and bolts: Apart from people the individual can meet you can list out specific topics that key leaders can cover in their conversations. For example, the business overview, how the organization wins clients, what it does to retain talent, how people receive and share information among others. The Internal Communication team members can take turns to address topics such as channels, recent surveys and trends, upcoming initiatives, plans for the year and intranet content management process. Explain the rhythm of business – team meetings, expectations, work timings, workplace dressing, ethics etc.

Understand the individual’s expectations: To get started the new hire will be expected to know more about the organization’s goals, the business groups’ plans, the internal communication team’s plans, the supervisor’s goals and his or her objectives for the year. While most of the information may be available on the company intranet it helps to have a conversation with the individual and clarify doubts.

Getting comfortable with the workplace: Take time to familiarize the individual with the usual hangouts – the cafeteria, the breakout zones, the beverage counters and the sports facilities among others.  

Welcome fresh perspectives: It isn’t only about what you can share. Seek feedback on what the individual notices different about the workplace or processes. Maybe, you can discover things which miss the eye since you are too close to the action. For example, the individual (assuming is coming in from another organization) can compare and contrast how the induction is done at other workplaces.

Help identify a mentor: Navigating the corporate environment can be confusing and difficult. Without a mentor life can be tough for a new hire. If you have been in the system long enough make the effort to identify the right person to make the transition smooth. The mentor needn’t be from your team and it isn’t necessary for the individual to have context on the role. The expectation is that your new hire has someone to go-to and bounce off ideas and take feedback.

Set expectations on feedback: You may want to be cognizant that as the new hire meets with stakeholders there is a possibility that the individual will get unsolicited feedback and comments either positive or negative. Be open about he or she receiving requests for work and clarify that the expectation is to listen patiently.

Have other ideas to make the internal communication new hire’s transition easier? Share them here.