In 1999, a silver haired bespectacled gentleman – Rajpal at an advertising agency I worked taught me an important lesson.
Responsible for the production department his role was crucial to the success of any brand campaign we ran.
Those days, hard copy artworks were the norm as designs moved from concept to completion. Rajpal, a hard taskmaster and the ‘owner’ of the agency studio never allowed any artwork to go past him to production unless the copy chief, the art head and the client servicing executive had all signed on the copies. If anyone evaded his attempts at penning their signatures they often got it back hard. He would ignore their pleas on billing or look the other way for any new tasks which came by.
No amounts of name dropping or calls for urgency were entertained. He was labelled ‘hard hearted’ and ‘cruel’ by many in the organization but the leaders knew the value he added. He was the quality gatekeeper and the conscience of the agency! Rajpal would give his customary grin if an account executive told him how upset the client was or that we were close to losing a prestigious account. Nothing unfazed him. If you hadn’t got the requisite approvals and sign-offs the client could wait and the design wouldn’t leave the office!
By ensuring people put their skin in the game (by signing their name on what they crafted) or believed were their best work he put ownership back in context. Apart from the individual’s and the agency’s reputation on the line there was a lot more at stake – the client’s funds, the time and effort of many team players and most importantly, the respect for the process.
Think of the work you do every day in your department and what leaves your inbox as it heads towards your stakeholder. Did you put your best foot forward? Are you truly proud of what you delivered?
Consider a campaign your team is managing currently. Did your team sign off on their work? Do they have a stake in the outcome? Have you sought better quality on outcomes if they didn’t meet the mark? Are you agreeable if the outcomes were met if the process wasn’t followed? Does the buck stop with you or with the team?
What passes by you becomes the standard that others think you have set for yourself and for others. To have skin in the game you need to take ownership, champion quality and be committed.
Aligning employees on key organizational messages can be done using many channels such as webcasts, e-mail and chats. Call them ‘huddles’ or ‘open houses’ or ‘town halls’, face-to-face communication is known to be the best format to engage employees. Although getting all staff at one venue can be an expensive and unmanageable process at times. How can employee-leadership face-to-face interactions be effectively conducted? What must internal communicators be aware of while implementing such engagements?
Here are 5 key themes to consider.
Connection: To begin, you need a strong reason to connect with your employees. There are often many questions on their minds and not every question may be relevant for face-to-face conversations. Attention spans are on the wane and unless you link your interactions to a specific topic which appeals to employees you may not get wholehearted participation. There is also a lot to think of as you plan your interactions. Will the interactions be held at a specific location and periodically? Do you plan to have all or some of your leaders convey the messages? Do you want to invite questions in advance or keep a free-flowing format? It is important to give your employees sufficient notice on the sessions and make it accessible for all. Depending on how your businesses are structured or how the workplace is designed you can hold your interactions at spaces which don’t disturb employees’ everyday work.
Climate: The timing of these face-to-face interactions matter. Leaders must get in front of employees when they are most receptive to your messages. Employees need to have the mind-space to actively engage. It is important to be in front of your employees during times of large changes such as mergers, restructures, leadership movements and crises. Of course, meeting employees face-to-face needn’t be only about change – leaders need to also make time for recognitions and celebrate important occasions and successes.
Content: How you deliver in terms of content is as important as what you deliver. Give sufficient notice to employees on what they can expect during the interactions and how they can engage. Host a calendar on your intranet and explain how they can make the most of the opportunities to know the business context and their role in the organization’s future. Prep your leaders on the content they must address. If possible organize ‘dry’ runs. Structure the content to include sufficient time for Q&A. If you have a presentation to share, the leader’s interaction mustn’t be scripted or else it will appear staged. Provide messages that all leaders need to share consistently. An inspiring video interspersed during the presentation can add depth to the interaction. Often internal communicators are asked to keep business interactions ‘light’ by including entertainment/talent programs. De-linking the two pieces can provide better focus during the conversations.
Culture: Modify your approach based on your organization’s culture. If you have a rigid and hierarchical culture there is little chance of employees having open and transparent conversations. However, if employees do notice that leaders are accessible and respond with respect they will be keener to participate. On the other hand if you have a pulse of how your employees think you can consider involving them early in the process so that they feel comfortable with the interactions. Remember to circle back on suggestions that employees shared. If your leaders are unable to make progress with a specific suggestion it is important to communicate the reasons and the alternate solutions offered. It is fine for leaders to not know the answers to all questions as long as they are open to responding when they get the information sought by employees.
Consistent: Brand your interactions so that employees get to see consistent messages through your ‘surround’ communication. Empanel an informal group of employees to share feedback on the sessions. Report an update from every session with information on participation and themes which emerge from the interactions. Also capture feedback via online surveys to gauge the value of the interactions and the potential actions employees will take based on the messages shared. Review the questions for insights that can support future communication. Record a couple of interactions on video. These can also come in handy for your post session communication and for future interactions.
Although face-to-face interactions are time consuming and expect a lot from leaders they are rewarding and help build trust – a crucial competent of engagement.
What has been your experience with managing face-to-face employee conversations? Please share them here.
Decision making in corporate communication is as important as in any part of the business. Bad decisions can frustrate even the best intentions and demoralize the most energized team. Without a structured attempt at aligning objectives and outcomes placing your bet on any communication ‘property’ is a shot in the dark. Just as how Lina and her team discovered in a case study – ‘Shall We Brand An Athletics Meet?’ I shared recently.
Often communicators, branding experts or event management professionals are expected to define, create and invest in events that will enhance the brand image and reputation of their organization. They need to consider many questions. Those include:
- Which branding exercise makes the most sense for the organization?
- Do you sponsor an existing event or focus on a ‘not so well-known’ theme?
- Will you gain from a ‘first mover advantage’ or does it really matter?
- Is it wise to create your own event and brand it?
- How do you manage the engagement? Internally with a handful of employees or outsourced to an agency?
Such decisions can be vexing for even the most seasoned communication leader. Very often internal stakeholders have a say in such decisions and are called to align internal priorities with what will work outside for the brand. Bias can creep in and heavily impact final decisions. Such decisions are saddled with many challenges; they are often poorly thought through, lack clarity, and are unable to generate pride and excitement. Sometimes, a recent trend can become the wave your leadership team may want to ride.
How do you navigate through these discussions and what will guide communication professionals in arriving at a pragmatic approach for their event or brand strategy?
In this post I am sharing perspectives that can help communicators make an informed decision and steer conversations towards a meaningful outcome.
- Taking stock of your goals: Many organizations have a great event going year on year – either funding a sporting program or a technology forum. This can in partnership with an agency or in tandem with an industry body or a series of collaborators. Other companies look to this engagement and wonder if they need to join the bandwagon or do something that works in their interest. To arrive at that decision, the communicator must first understand what makes the most sense for the business, who are the stakeholders are and how do they perceive what the company stands for and will there be merit and appetite to pick something new. Triggers for event branding can be an output of an internal need – a new strategic direction, a need to increase the customer base, connect (or, reconnect) with customers, builds loyalty and recall. Outcomes expected from such events include more customer leads, proud employees, improved sales prospects, better brand recall and enhanced customer experience.
- Gauging your organization’s ‘branding’ readiness: Not every organization needs to be funding an event or creating one. Understand the motivators for getting into the event branding league and take a hard call if your organization is really keen to be in the game. Beginning a branding journey is easy but staying the course is much harder. Unless you have the resources and the inclination such events soon die a natural death. Your first port of call must be your employees – seek their inputs on what they expect from their brand internally and externally. It can even be that the organization needs to be more active as a corporate citizen and ‘own’ a social responsibility property.
- Arriving at your event ‘property’: It is never an easy task to nail the right theme to link your business goals. If you are in the healthcare sector it may be relevant for the organization to focus on improving a specific health area or lead in a certain challenge that is impacting society globally or locally. Research what is already out there in terms of organized and sustained brand initiatives. Are they one-off exercises? Can you think of any specific brand in your sector that stands out in your mind? If there is an immediate recall the chances are that the brand is doing something which works!
- What does the organization stand for? Are you known as knowledgeable, trusting, caring, and supportive or any other key attribute that defines your core? If yes, begin from within to identify branding themes that relate to these attributes.
- What do your stakeholders care about? Not just customers, it is also your employees who need to have a say.
- Where does your organization’s brand need to go? Is it known as old-world and archaic? Has the organization’s purpose evolved over the years? Does it need to now be seen as young and vibrant? Does your organization want to be known for being innovative? It needs to first demonstrate over time that there is merit in taking the ‘innovation’ space otherwise the branding effort will not be viewed as credible.
- How does it link to your organization’s business goals? Consider what is logical first – is you are in the sports business funding a athletics meet or a marathon makes sense. A bank funding a marathon can be a stretch even though initially it may be seen as good for the brand. To establish the connection you will need to invest heavily in terms of time, effort and funds.
- Is your organization taking an unique position? Think how the branding can differentiate you from others. What is that your stakeholders and employees will be proud to share with others? If there is an immediate recall you are closer to arriving at your branded event focus.
- Event branding approach: Consider a few approaches that resonate. Begin small. Consider seeding the initiative with your employees first. If possible, extend the initiative to their families and gauge the response. Focus on initiatives that are:
- Aligned with business objectives
- In line with stakeholder/societal needs
- Focus on long term relationships
- Test the idea and theme with stakeholders through a structured survey or by running focus groups. Improve and refine the approach based on feedback you receive. Consider if there is a team you can organize internally to own and drive the brand event engagement. If not, you will need to look up an agency that runs it for your organization. Budgets and other factors will decide if the latter approach is viable or not. Focus on a branding initiative that can be extended beyond the initial years, has a future potential and which can be sustained over time.
Communicate the progress on the branding decision making while you are moving forward. Keep refining the idea till you are confident you have arrived at what the brand’s stakeholders will value. Nothing works like going back to the core of your existence and seek answers within.