How do employee’s EXTERNAL interests work to engage people INTERNALLY? #MercerActive

“Why would anyone outside my office and work team care about the 5K I just ran for charity? I mean, I’m proud of it, but it doesn’t feel like something the whole world needs to know about, and why would I use our firm’s hashtag?”

I was recently asked these great questions from a modest colleague who I was trying to convince to post about it on Twitter using our MercerActive hashtag. Never mind that people post all the time on much lesser accomplishments, but why associate it with #MercerActive? The short answer is that it helps build colleague engagement across Mercer, but that probably deserves a bit more explanation.

The MercerActive hashtag was established to create connective tissue around all the health and wellness activities our colleagues do in their spare time, or occasionally on behalf of Mercer (e.g., race sponsorship, office softball team). You may be wondering why not just let colleagues post on their activities on their own accounts, and those who follow them can be updated there, rather than create a special hashtag? Here’s why.

  1. A communications “binding agent”: At many global organizations, employees tend to bond with their immediate team and office mates, but not with anybody else across the company. There is absolutely nothing wrong with local bonding, especially since it may be that work and customer activities need to be very local. However, even if that is true, there are always good reasons to get people to link with colleagues outside of their local teams. For instance, it opens up connections between people that allow for idea and information sharing. It also reminds people that they are part of something bigger than their local team that both gives them a broader perspective and helps them see how their work fits in with the company’s overall mission. There are a number of “binding agent” topics that reach across employee populations. Health and wellness is something that employees are concerned about and interested in all over the world. Whether it is achieving an athletic accomplishment or talking about a new healthy diet, it sparks interest and conversations among employees who would otherwise never speak.
  2. We want active employees: Unlike some personal interests that employees may hold (e.g., rebuilding car engines, puppeteering, etc.), health and wellness is one that promotes the interests of almost all companies. Most companies have some health and wellness program that this would fit into nicely, or at least have a stated position about the importance of healthy employees. At Mercer, we also have a business that promotes health affordability, accessibility and quality outcomes, and being able to show through our #MercerActive hashtag that we have a culture that values healthy employees is in sync.
  3. Presenting an attractive culture: We could fulfill the above by having employees just post their active pursuits on the intranet. However, by making it a hashtag to be used in external social media, we are projecting an attractive culture to potential recruits who value exercise, health and even competition. They can also see how we encourage, support and congratulate each other when we post about our MercerActive accomplishments. It allows us to show our supportive culture rather than just say we have one, which is much more powerful.

As a colleague, I am proud of the traffic on our #MercerActive. As a communicator, I am thankful for it.

#SilverLinings: How the new Twitter Rules will force you to rethink your Employee Advocacy Program

Just because we can all agree that the wild west needed to end at some point, doesn’t mean we can’t miss it a bit.

As many of you already know by now, Twitter has changed its policies to counter, as Yoel Roth, API Policy and Product Trust at Twitter, wrote on the Developer’s Blog, any “attempt to artificially amplify or inflate the prominence of certain Tweets.” These new rules stem from the now well-publicized social media shenanigans from the U.S. 2016 elections. I encourage you to read that blog to get context and details around these changes, which go into effect March 23, 2018.

However, boiling this down for Internal Communicators, this is definitely a bump in the employee advocacy road — especially for those who use third party vendor software that help you provide tweets that employees can push out on their social media network with one or two clicks. Actually, any internal communications or social marketing group that delivers ready-to-send tweets for employees can to use (even if they have to cut and paste those tweets) will have to stop doing that on March 23 or put your employees at risk of losing their Twitter accounts.

While I find it hard to argue with the thinking behind implementing these new Twitter rules, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a bummer for those of us trying to implement Advocacy programs. Converting even your most engaged employees into advocates is no different from any other change program. To paraphrase from the Heath brothers’ great book Switch, it is sometimes not enough to win head and heart; you need to make the pathway clear and easy. Providing ready-made tweets and posts that are editable, goes a long way towards making it easy to become advocates. After March 23, you are basically saying to employees, “here is a link and a hastag, write your own tweet.” While that doesn’t seem like much, those of us who work with busy employees know that it can make a HUGE difference in adoption.

In preparing for a Post-March 23 world, I have to admit, I felt a bit negative about the prospects of our Employee Advocacy program. But after conferring with more intelligent and less emotional communications professionals (like Mercer’s global head of Social Media, the great Danielle Guzman) and our third-party software vendor, Dynamic Signal, I feel much more hopeful for the future; in fact, we may be on an even better pathway than before the rule. It is true that the idea of hundreds of employees lazily sending out the exact same tweet, while reaching a larger social audience, did seem a bit lame.

Three Pathways Forward

  1. Champion Retweets: Instead of providing editable posts through your Employee Advocacy system, you can simply point employees to retweet posts from the company’s handle or from leadership. In my mind, this is just as attractive in terms of ease. Further, you can appoint certain SME’s and people already engaged on twitter, as “champions” on certain topics, having them create the original tweets that get retweeted. This will help grow those “champions” as influencers, and will still allow individuals to build their personal brand and drive messaging for the company.
  2. The Harpoon instead of the Net. Launching software that allows you to provide employees one-click tweets and posts is akin to dragging the net on the bottom of the ocean floor. You don’t know what you will pick up, but you’ll pick up a lot of it. One-click editable posts make it so easy that you are bound to get some good percentage of your employees to sign on and start posting. But how engaged will they be? Their lack of effort means they can always take or leave the advocacy. The new Twitter policy forces us to spend more time trying to harpoon the bigger fish, by convincing them to put some “skin in the game” in writing their own tweets. There won’t be as many of these advocates, but their greater activity will mean they are more engaged and see a benefit that makes them want to put in the effort. You can entice them further by offering them social media training, and perhaps even give them some “swag” to make them feel like they are part of an exclusive group. So while losing the greater numbers is not what I would have freely chosen, the alternative is a smaller group of pro-active participants that will give you a richer employee advocacy program.
  3. LinkedIn, anyone? Finally, this is a policy that affects ONLY Twitter for now. You can still provide posts for LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook and other platforms. And frankly, most of your employees may feel better about posting company and industry-related messaging and information to their LinkedIn network.

So while you may have an initial shock and sense of dismay over the new Twitter rules, a silver lining or two can be found if you change your perspective. #GoodbyeWildWest

Steps Internal Communications Can Take To Embed Change

I recently read an excellent article by Kristy Hull in last May’s strategy + business (I’m a bit behind) on Getting to the Critical Few Behaviors that Can Drive Cultural Change. In it, she provides a strategic framework around change that centers around zeroing in on those impactful and actionable new behaviors by employees that are key to getting to a particular business outcome. To brainstorm those behaviors, Hull invites us to ask the question, “In a future state in which we’ve achieved the goals, what would people actually do (or do differently)?”

As communicators and change professionals, we know that we are rarely lucky enough to answer that question with a behavior that employees only have to exhibit once or twice. It’s almost never “employees need to click their heels three times and say there is no place like home,” or the princess or prince is kissed and everybody lives happily ever after (and by the way, Hull does not at all imply that this is the case). Usually change behavior needs to be exhibited multiple times, often daily and often for the long-term. In other words, the behavior ideally turns into habit.

As Hull says, behavior change needs to be built on a foundation of the right incentives, focused performance management, and sometimes organizational design and leadership change. However, a good communication strategy needs to be overlaid on top of these other actions. Internal Communications can help embed the behaviors and turn them into habits with tried and true tactics.

Gathering Virtual Dust and Real Cynicism

This may be controversial (or maybe not with veteran Communicators), but I go into planning these change strategies and tactics with the belief that unless you are a brand new organization, every company has a credibility problem with their employees — especially their more veteran employees – when it comes to change. Every company, with the best of intentions, has started a corporate change “program” or “campaign” that has died on the vine because it wasn’t well thought through, just didn’t have the commitment by leadership that it needed, or circumstances changed and the need for the change was no longer appropriate. Whether it ended for good reasons or bad, employees are left with yet another water bottle on their desk, poster on their wall, or digital card on their screen saver with program logos or slogans like “Imagine the Possibilities” or “Innovate to Create,” that are gathering real or virtual dust.

Look, it happens. You try something; you put a lot of work into it. You do as many right things as you can. And you still fail. Trying and failing should not be a crime when it comes to cultural change programs (or innovation of any kind). This is how you learn. However, employees may start to lose faith in these programs. Maybe not after one failure, but after two or three, employees may be naturally skeptical. If failures keep happening, skepticism turns into cynicism, and then you have to recalibrate how you approach new programs.

It’s a problem, but not an insurmountable one, because through experience, I have also come to the conclusion that most employees want to believe. They want plans to improve the culture of the company to create growth to succeed. Why not? Growth means more money to do more interesting things (and better bonuses). Improved culture often means a better environment to work in, streamlined processes and less focus on unimportant things.

Stacking the Deck in Your Favor

The bigger elephant in any room when it comes to change is layoffs. Employees may be concerned that change could put their job in jeopardy. And let’s face it, with some change programs there may be some job loss. If layoffs are part of any change program, the earlier in the plan that can happen, the better off you will be. As upsetting as layoffs are for employees, if they can see that they are part of a broader change plan (and not just cost cutting) and that they are now “safe,” they are more willing to move forward even if still feeling badly for their laid off colleagues. Again, they want the company to succeed; they just need to know there is a plan.

When they see that they are safe, a few precautions can be put into place that will reinforce that desire, start embedding change behavior into habits, and give them some confidence that it will succeed.

  1. Start with Leadership: This is table stakes. Simply put, if employees don’t see their leadership exhibiting the behaviors they are asking from employees, then it won’t be long before they begin to wonder how committed the company is to the change. If there is training involved, start with the top leadership, and then have that trained leadership be part of the programs for the next level of leadership and so on down the line. It is important to remember that in a large corporations, while the C-Suite and the next level of division/business presidents are important for setting the tone, it is usually the CEO-2 and -3 leaders that employees see and hear on a more regular basis.

    Making sure to engage that, what I call, “upper-middle” level is so crucial. I was once part of a research effort to find out how certain changes were being embedded into the company by conducting hour-long interviews with non-leadership employees. What we found out was shocking: not only were change concepts not being passed down from this upper-middle layer of leadership, but because the changes were seen as a threat in terms of where certain teams reported, some of that leadership layer were actively engaged in turning their people against the changes. We had done a poor job of engaging that level and helping them own the changes, and in return they stopped the change program in its tracks. Other research has shown that it is not always so nefarious; some leaders just don’t know the “where or when” of how to communicate the change.

    A few business leaders I have worked with schedule calls with those next two levels of leadership on a regular basis to help them feel engaged with what is going on. The calls are followed with tool kits or “message maps” so that it is easy for the next layer to know what and how (and sometimes when) they can communicate with their teams. You can see how Internal Communications can play a huge role in this crucial piece.

  2. Paint a visionary picture with measurable milestones. As they say, it’s hard to get where you are going if you don’t know where that is. If employees are presented with a vision of the future as a result of the changed behavior that is both sunnier and feels realistic, they are more likely to want to get on board for the long haul. And if they are presented, in a transparent way, measurable progress, that will further boost your chances of changing behavior into habits. It’s the old charity thermometer trick. Some charities set campaign goals and show their progress by using the visual metaphor of a thermometer, and as the donation rise, you can see the mercury rising in the thermometer (never mind that in real life, this would mean you were getting sicker). While people may start a new behavior to get to a sunnier future, having shorter term milestones and a visual reference created by Internal Communications for employees to see the progress will drive them to continue to exhibit that behavior.
  3. Find your bright spots. Nothing motivates more than success. Related to showing progress is demonstrating quick wins and recognizing “heroes” of the new changes. Employees may sometimes have credibility issues with leadership, but they are apt to trust their colleagues. If you can show how fellow colleagues are prospering or how clients are happier with the new changes, you have done much to validate the changes. It is not foolproof, but it is incredibly effective.
  4. Make it easy. This is related to the Heath brothers’ idea of “shrinking the change,” which refers to helping people boil down a big change into specific actions. Many of us love using numbers for something like this. So if you want to boost prospecting, you create a “20 + 20” program where you ask everyone to spend 20 minutes a day researching new prospects, and make 20 calls a day to new leads. You can even make this into a challenge to heighten the fun. So if you are trying to embed learning in your culture, you can do “15 for 15” challenge, where you ask people to pick a topic and spend 15 scheduled minutes a day learning about this topic for 15 days straight, and then share what they have learned with others.
  5. Creating a change-adaptable culture. I listed this as one of the 5 greatest Internal Communications opportunities for 2018. It comes down to this: some changes are going to succeed and some will fail, but employees are going to need to get used to the idea that they are going to continue to happen at a faster rate. In fact, if you feel like your company is not in the midst of change, you should be concerned. And the change is not just about companies and what they do and how they do it, but it is about employees. In the last two years, I have seen a number of great articles on and speeches on the concept that they old pattern of education-then-career-then-retirement is over. Lifelong learning and career shifts will become the norm. That’s why a culture of learning is so important as a key building block to change adaptability. Training for leadership and managers on how to manage through change is going to become more important as well.


All this to say that Internal Communications can play a huge role in embedding change. However, it requires Communications to be in on the planning stages of the change and not brought in only when an announcement needs to be made. Also, it requires leadership to have a picture of not just the longer term vision, but the new behaviors and skills from employees it will require.

And with all of that, some changes will still fail, but if you have the right culture, employees will be with you when you brush yourself off and try again.

Rebuilding Babel: 7 ways Internal Communications can break down silos

One of the more well-known stories from the Bible is the Tower of Babel. In short, generations after Noah and the flood, a united humanity in the land of Shinar decided to build a tower to reach the heavens. God didn’t appreciate the arrogance of this effort, but instead of destroying the tower or killing all the builders, God makes it so that everybody speaks a different language. Unable to understand one another (it sounded like “babble”), they stopped building and went on their separate ways to form different nations.

I have always heard that the purpose of this story was twofold: (1) to show that there is a limit to the arrogance of man that God will tolerate; and (2) to explain how humans separated into different languages and nations. However, as a communicator, I see another lesson: the most effective way to stop humanity from achieving the creation of something so monumental that it was offensive to God was to cut off their means to communicate with one another. It is a story about the power of communication. The bricklayer didn’t lose his ability to lay bricks; he just lost his ability to coordinate and communicate with other builders.

Fast forward to the modern company; particularly the modern global company, which may contain world over the same amount of people who were building the Tower. Either from a lack of a strong central culture creating what I have heard called “functional or cultural fiefdoms” or poor hygiene in integrating acquisitions, many companies have evolved into silo’d entities that have strong identities that are separate from the global culture of the company.

And this is a problem because?

Do I even need to convince you that silos are damaging to business outcomes? That from an efficiency and productivity pov, they create redundancy and poor collaboration? That from a broader perspective, they can create a state of unaligned priorities across the organization that may actually conflict?

In an era of increasing market, geopolitical, environmental, and competitive disruptive forces, it means that while parts of your company may be agile, silos make it very hard to turn the tanker of your entire company to stay ahead of these disruptors. Thinking about it less reactively, and especially with the advent of employee advocacy, you are not punching at the weight of your entire corporation and instead function as a loose partnership of smaller businesses and brands.

Time to bust the silos

Communication can do so much to help to break down the silos, especially cultural ones. Of course, let’s acknowledge that changing structure and incentives are often needed to create a more unified organization. Also it doesn’t hurt to have a leadership team that acts like a true operating committee when they get together and not as a meeting of the five families from The Godfather movie. Also, technology is making collaboration easier, including forming cross-company communities on your intranet, or on specialized collaboration tools such as Yammer or Slack. However, even with those changes, Internal Communication is needed to bring the culture along with the structure and the leadership.

There are countless tools and ways of creating a more common culture and bust through silos, but I have seven favorites. You’ll notice the first four are focused on breaking through the silos using common interests as the hook.

  1.  Doubling down on business resource groups. To those who may not know, business or employee resource groups (sometimes called affinity or diversity groups) are collections of employees that are organized around a common identity: for example, gender, race, sexual orientation or where you are in your career. They are created to empower these groups within companies, giving them a voice and early opportunities to lead. With the disbanding of these groups at Deloitte, there is some debate over whether they are a good strategy to achieve those means. Without getting into that, I can say confidently that they are an internal communicator’s best friend when it comes to communicating across silos. Because they are formed on commonalities outside of what business or geography employees are in, they can help you reach across organizational boundaries. So for instance, I recently wrote about multi-office internal campaigns; in one of the more successful ones I was part of, we worked closely with the rising professionals BRG to help find volunteers across offices. Because these mostly young professionals were not only scattered across offices, but were also, within an office, scattered among the sub-businesses, they were able to cast a much wider net in getting people to participate in that campaign.
  2. Getting well together. Wellbeing or Wellness initiatives also cut across geographies and businesses. For example, we had (as many companies have had) a step challenge where teams were formed and competed against other teams across the company on average weekly steps. While it was a competition, there was no prize and the step counts themselves were mostly on the honor system, so it was meant to be, and taken to be, a fun competition that didn’t create a serious “us and them” atmosphere that would work against breaking down silos, generating more fun taunting than anything else. But it did bring people into contact with one another that would never have crossed paths. We could have taken the added silo-busting step of forming the teams centrally to put strangers across offices and countries on the same teams, which I believe other companies have done. (We didn’t opt for it because we thought that people choosing their own teams would be part of the draw in participating). Also we launched a wellbeing site on our intranet, where you could find other people interested in things like yoga, or running, or eating healthy.
  3. Forming a community to take care of a community. It is typical workers from the same company will work in that same location, possibly seeing each other day after day for years, nodding hello in awkward familiarity, and have absolutely nothing else to do with one another. In terms of silo-breaking, this would be what I would call low-hanging fruit. Now you can get those colleagues together for events or even mixers, but if you really want them to bond, then there is nothing like a group volunteer event. Participating together in an activity for a worthy cause will bring people together, get them to learn each other’s names, and just chat. The event can then live on through pictures on your Intranet, shared stories, communal pride, and hopefully some new friendships. It is a powerful silo-buster. The one restriction is that corporate social responsibility events tend to be local in nature, so it is difficult to use them to bring together people across larger geographies that cannot possibly spend a day together (unless you fly them there).
  4. Jamming and hacking. Whether they are called idea jams, innovation challenges, or hackathons, the crux is to get disparate groups of employees together for the purpose of crowdsourcing a solution to an issue. The issue needs to be specific enough that it elicits specific solutions. The problem may require certain technical expertise to solve it (e.g., solving a particular product design weakness) or be general enough that everybody can participate (e.g., coming up with the best ideas to celebrate International Women’s Day across the company). They can be competitions where ideas are voted upon to find the “best” solutions or group exercises where people can build off of others’ ideas to come to a specific solution. Since you can find great articles on how to run one of these, I won’t go into more specifics, other than to say that to me, this is the best kind of silo-buster. It allows people to interact across a platform, such as your employee social network (although they have, for a price often, specialized platforms and agencies created for these efforts) to solve a problem. I tend to like Hackathons and other more technical problem-solving events, because it gets people together who have specialized skill sets and often common interests, and that interaction is more likely to lead to further interactions after the event is over.
  5. Sharing the same experience. Working closely with your HR team, internal communications can help ensure that whether an employee sits in a 10 person office in Indiana or a 3000 person office in Brazil that they are having common employee experiences unique to your company. This starts with a common onboarding experience, but includes similar experiences in those touchpoints where employees interact with the company as an employee (e.g., performance management, learning & development, etc.). This is where having a strong employer brand is helpful to tie all these experiences together and give them a similar feel even if they are not exactly the same country to country. I have already written about the ways I screwed up implementing an employer brand, so will leave it at that. Suffice it to say that sharing a common experience doesn’t necessarily create moments of collaboration and interaction across silos, but it does set the stage for it because employees feel like they are a citizen of the larger company and not just a member of a specific team or office. It is easier to find commonalities when you see yourselves as common citizens.
  6. Illuminating goals horizontally. This is another one that needs a strong partnership with HR. When we set goals at the beginning of the year, you may hear a lot about vertical goal alignment, which is making sure that my goals are aligned with my boss’s goals, and my reports’ goals are aligned with mine. However, you rarely hear about horizontal alignment. It starts with the CEO; her goals should reflect the company’s strategy to fulfill its business objectives. Her executive team’s goals should be aligned with her goals, which is again vertical alignment. However, what you don’t see often is the executive team sharing their goals with each other and the rest of the company. Now all employees can see how different parts of the business are contributing to the company’s priorities and how they may (or may not) be aligned with each other. Depending on the size of the company, you can even share horizontally the goals of the next level down from the executive team; although, you may not want to go too far down the chain because then it becomes an overwhelming amount of goals. However, illuminating the top goals, helps everybody see how their leaderships goals and ultimately their own goals fit in with the larger priorities of the company. It makes the employee appreciate that even if they are all doing different things, they are all rowing in the same direction. Again, feeling like you are all on the same team working towards the same priorities can weaken the silos between you and your colleagues. Which brings me to the last and most important method to break down the silos . . .
  7. Working towards a common purpose. When your company has a strong common purpose, and you communicate it loudly and embed it throughout your communications, you are integrating a shared mission in your culture that is, I believe, a necessary pre-cursor to really uniting your employees in a positive way. It is not just a tactic; it is table stakes. Tactically, one of the great ways of reminding your colleagues of your purpose in a visceral way is bringing your customers voice into your communications. Having all employees hear from customers about what the company is doing for them and how it is solving their problems can be a powerful way to unite people in the most important common cause.

These are far from the only ways of breaking down the silos in your company, but they are ones I have used and can recommend. I’d love to hear what you have done. As internal communicators, we have to bring the Tower back, and help our employees reach the sky together.


A Guiding Principle for Employee Communications in 2018 (OK, three of them)

Among our internal team, and my follow travelers in employee communications, I have had more than a few discussions about new guiding philosophies to create better employee experiences in 2018. These “resetting” conversations should be happening all the time (and they do), but the beginning of a new year is an optimal time to turn these conversations into something that actually shapes our plans. These conversations are difficult at times because they challenge our fundamental beliefs as communicators.

In the past, these guiding principle conversations shifted us from trying to “control” information flow to favoring transparency. They moved us from one-way communications, to two-way conversations, and ultimately to a multi-directional flow of information. These conversations drove us towards images and videos, as well as from a centralized writing-only mindset to one of broad curation.

Before I reveal what I believe is the core guiding principle for 2018, let me acknowledge that if I allowed myself three guiding principles for 2018 (which I could because there are no rules to this game), it would be an easier exercise since I am not convinced that the one I chose is so much more important than the ones I did not. So I will half weasel out of choosing one, by briefly describing the other two “runner ups:”

  • Internal is external and external is internal. We have always assumed within internal communications that anything we communicate to employees is likely to go external since large corporations are leaky. However, today we have accepted the increasingly blurry line between external and internal as not just a precautionary assumption, but as an engagement strategy. As such, for my team, our partnership with our social strategy group is stronger than it ever has been, with both of us sharing common goals around employee advocacy. In fact, our work in preparing for our firm’s efforts at the World Economic Forum, has been a hand-in-hand campaign in recruiting an employee group of advocates we call the #DavosSquad. In addition, as I have mentioned in this blog, we have created an entire role, the People Marketer, around this blurring line.
  • Every great decision should have analytics behind it. We have been talking about importance of data for a long time, so it feels evolutionary that the idea of People Analytics, which has also been discussed for years, seems like it is coming in for a real landing in2018. According to Josh Bersin, 69% of companies are integrating their data to build a People Analytics database. And much of the same data analytics that will change HR will also change internal communications. Conducting what was once traditional customer analysis (e.g., conjoint analysis) on employees to find out what makes them more engaged, happy and/or productive in their job can only improve our decision-making ability on how, when, why and what to communicate.

Arguably, both of these guiding principles will impact the future of employee experience and communications, and frankly, the future of work. However, the one principle that I chose was more of a philosophical shift than these other two. Like any principle, it is something that has been evolving for a while, but at least for me, it was going into this year when it (finally) fundamentally changed my planning. For those of you who have been living this principle for many years, I salute you.

  • It’s time to go where employees already are. I came to this principal partly because I finally acknowledged that employees now control their channels, not us. I also came to it out of exhaustion; I got tired of working so hard with so little return to get employees to come to the channels we created for them. I do remember that when I finally adopted this principle, I felt the relief of a person who had finally stopped swimming upstream.

    Driving people to the channels we chose used to be so much easier. It used to be (back in the early days of 4 or 5 years ago) that our technology at work was more advanced than many our employees had back home. Also, people at work weren’t inundated with information, so their attention was easier to attract. Most people were tied to a particular desk in a particular office making them truly captive audiences. I won’t say that they read whatever we wanted them to read, but we were able to limit where they could read information (which sounds sort of authoritarian, and maybe it was).

    All of that has changed dramatically, and the degree of difficulty in getting employees to focus on the channels (let alone the messages) you want them to focus on seems to jump a level every few months. And it is not that smart engagement efforts to get people to come to your channels today have stopped working; it is just . . . well, why bother? If they are already all on WeChat in China, why are we trying so hard to get them to use Slack? If they are all trying to build their brands on LinkedIn, then why are they forcing them to read articles only on our Intranet?

    Of course, there are good answers to those questions. Having everybody on the same communications system allows for enterprise-wide collaboration and easier alignment in a much more efficient way. And frankly there is still plenty of information that is not appropriate for external social channels, especially if you are a publicly traded company.

    However, what we can do is to present better channels that are more mobile and cloud-based to acknowledge that people are mostly checking their smart mobile devices every few minutes. We can replicate the features of popular external social platforms within firewalls (FaceBook Workplace, anyone?). And we can, while we build a more sophisticated cloud-based system, find ways to use channels in the interim like WeChat, Slack, Dropbox, etc., that employees are already using.

    Of course that means Communications has to develop a more sophisticated content engine and distribution process to go along with the use of multiple channels. Feeding everybody through one door didn’t need as sophisticated a distribution system as a strategy that involves multiple doorways. We also need to work closely with our technology group to understand the usage, integration and security limitations and risks of using such channels. Finally we need to define what channels are fulfilling what needs the best: which are being used for collaborative working, for information sharing, or to read the latest company news?

For those of you who are new to internal communications, the idea of going to where employees already are may not seem like a shift at all. In fact, it must seem almost embarrassingly obvious. However, it really is a fundamental philosophical shift as many veterans know. It goes along with the other shifts happening in the workplace that allow employees to have a more personalized experience and creates choice where there was none.

The future of work contains many elements that can make some nervous: AI, robotics, and the implications of longer lifespans. However, one that is more universally exciting is the increasing autonomic power of choice that digital tools offer. And we in employee communications must embrace and enable it or continue to swim upstream until the current over takes us.


10 Steps to Pulling Off a Multi-Office, Immersive Internal Communications Campaign

I remember lying in bed at 3 a.m., staring at the ceiling, heart racing while I tortured myself – as you do at 3 a.m. — by retracing over and over again how I’d gotten myself into this mess. One stupid act of bravado. One “I’ll do it” in the middle of a meeting, not really understanding what “it” was, took me down in hindsight a very predictable pathway to where I found myself now, which I assumed was a humiliating end to a long career at my company.

We’ve all been there for different reasons. These particular thoughts of doom originated when I agreed to lead the first-ever multi-office immersive campaign in my company. By “immersive,” I mean that activities would be happening face-to-face in each office. Also raising the difficulty level, all of this activity was supposed to happen in a single, galvanizing day.

Why on earth does a company something like this? Well, in this case, the idea was to have leaders all over the world speak about our new strategy to our employees, saying generally the same thing with some customization for their region and business. Also, the act of all employees “pausing” on the same day to take in the same information projected two other important ideas: (1) the company is saying clearly that the learning the new strategy is a priority, and (2) we are one company. For the many companies out there that are trying to become less silo’d, a galvanizing day like this can really act as a catalyst to a more unified culture.

Why on earth volunteer for this? At 3 a.m. I could think of no rational reason, but now in hindsight, it was the best decision I ever made because I learned so much (and it didn’t hurt that it turned out so successful that the company has repeated it every year since then). I know many of you may have created campaigns like this, but if you are planning to do it for the first time this year, I have 10 hard won lessons I can share; some of which came from an amazing team I worked with, and some . . . well, we got lucky.

  1. Find your People. Of course, for any multi-office campaign, you need to build a top notch project team. That may go without saying. We also hired a fantastic agency, Instinctif, to help us, and thank goodness. They not only came in with experience, which we lacked, but they brought in fresh engagement ideas, and another source of project management to keep us in line. It is worth the budget, if you have it.

    You also have to find your people on the ground. Every office has that person (and in bigger offices, it is often several people) who plans the team lunches, makes sure the birthday cards are bought and passed around for signatures, and sits at the front row at every work event.  They can be the site office leader, the local communicator, or an administrative assistant. These are your ground champions. You need to recruit at least one in every office to be your “champion” to set up and run the local festivities. Usually the site leader can identify that person (or people) fairly quickly.

  1. Make it easy for the ground team. Any student of change knows that a key piece of the puzzle is to make it as easy as possible for the people who you are asking to enact or live the changes. “Shrink the change,” as the Heath brothers say in their wonderful book Switch. So even if you recruit the most engaged people in every office to be your champions, you have to remember that you are asking them to throw a site-wide event, and promote it. So among other things, you should . . .
    1. Give them time: Unfortunately, when we planned the global event the first time, we simply didn’t give the champions enough time. To be fair, we had no idea how long things would take. How much time you give them should depend on what you are asking them to do, and if this is their first time, or have they thrown an event like this before.
    2. Give them instructions: This we did get right. We created a PDF booklet that gave the Champions step-by-step instructions of what to do when. For example, they knew exactly when they would get images for the posters and exactly when to start displaying them. No guessing.
    3. Give them cover: Because we had the site leaders handpick the Champions, the Champions knew that their time spent on the preparations for this event was fully sanctioned. Very few people have slack in their schedules, so when you ask them to do something like this, it means they are not spending time doing something else – usually the job they were hired to do. You have to make sure that they know that their time spent on your event is totally blessed from the top.
  2. Get your leaders to commit early. This was something that we could have done better. As we got closer to the day, one of the things that kept me up at 3 a.m. was wondering if the CEO was even going to participate in the day. He had not committed to any one activity either on the Intranet or in person. However, about two weeks before, something changed (can’t say it was anything I did) and he committed to participate in several activities. Once he committed, the rest of the executive team also came on board, and so it went down the line.Actually one of the great wins of that day was having so many leaders participate. They showed alignment in a way that I had never seen before, and their participation energized them. After the event, my Chief Communication Officer noted that as great as the day was for our employees, it may have done even more good for our leadership.
  3. The cake should be global, but the icing should be local. I regretted writing that phrase as soon as I had finished, but I can’t think of another way to say it (and I love cake). At the center, we supplied the scripts and the decks for the leaders to deliver, as well as an entertaining video from our Chief Strategy Officer, promotional materials, and some gifts to hand out. Not to mention the step-by-step instructions. Then we asked them to do whatever they thought would make the day fun.With that, the reason we were able to attract over half of our 50,000-person population to live events from Australia west to California was the amazing work the local champions did in adding a local flavor to the event. Whether it was pot luck meals, games, or cupcakes with our logo on it, the Champions did far more than we ever thought we could even ask them to do. We at the center made the day informative; they made the day memorable.
  1. Create a bit of a competitive atmosphere. This tactic of course helps spur that local activity. We encouraged the Champions to “show off” by posting pictures on the Intranet of the cool things they developed for the day, creating a bit of competitive atmosphere among the different offices. But I really recommend only a “bit” of competition, especially if your goals are similar to ours. While site competitions can be effective and fun, in an exercise where the goal is for people to feel like they are part of one company, too much competition can work against that goal.
  2. Have activities that lead up to the day and have something that follows it. We had a lot of promotion prior to the day, and also some activities which included a buzzfeed-type quiz on our intranet about our new Strategy that assigned people “personas,” depending on their answers. People then posted their personas on their profile pages. The second year, we had employees opt in to be randomly paired with another employee from another country and business. The two employees had to find things in common and post them on the intranet to be in a drawing for a prize. These and other activities started to present the themes of the day, acted as another source of promotion, and created good buzz that led to a more successful day.

    The bigger question is what to do after the day is over. Certainly, you can just go back to business, but that felt like we were leaving all this momentum on the table. So we tried 21-day challenges. The idea was to get people managers and their teams involved with the strategy by having them commit on our intranet to do something for 21 days after the event that would advance the strategy. It felt like a good idea, but the reality is that we had low participation. I have some theories about why, but the main one is that even though the day is fun, once people get back to their jobs, they just want to get back to their jobs. After I left the company, they moved away from the 21-day challenge (which was smart) and were going to try a “mini” day later in the year as a reminder and reinforcement of the ideas that were part of the original event day. I have to admit that I have not heard whether that worked better, but it did make logical sense as a tactic.

  1. Measure! In terms of measuring outcomes, in our case, we were trying to increase people’s knowledge about the strategy and change attitudes about a one-company culture. So we did before-and-after surveys to measure knowledge and attitudes, and were happy to see improvement, especially with knowledge. Attitudes always take longer to change.

    In terms of measuring activity, we wanted to find out how many people “participated” in the day. If you are dealing with three offices, that may not be so difficult, but when you are trying to figure it out for more offices (in our case, over 100), it is trickier. For the first two years, we begged the exhausted Champions to report back to us after the event about how many people attended the meet-ups. This was an inexact science, to say the least. It also took a long time, which was not appreciated by our executives who were anxious to get a sense on the success of the day.

    After the second year of frustration with the metrics, I checked in with a Marketing Analytics specialist on staff. When I told him we were manually counting, he looked at me like I had two heads. He asked why we didn’t just send out a two question survey right after the day on whether people participated in an activity during the event and which activity, and then extrapolate a number from the sample we got. He said it would not be that much less accurate than the way we were doing it with manual counting. I left the company before getting a chance to try it, but it makes sense. He said we could even continue to ask for the manual counting to validate the sample results, but at least would get a sample number to provide to executives earlier.

  1. Don’t forget your work-at-home folks. This is an often growing part of the employee population and includes many very critical people to the success of the business (including field sales). For them, we had a 24-hour intranet chat during the event day where every hour a new set of executives would answer questions. (Of course, we had different leaders in different time zones, so no one was up at 1 in the morning answering employee questions). We also held a few virtual meet-ups with leaders who gave the same presentation as the in-person meetups.I am not convinced that we replicated the experience for them because so much of the day was about local activities with colleagues. The second year we had a “Work from Home” Champion who helped us make the day a bit more interactive for them.
  1. Social advocacy!! Like measurement, this can be filed under “yeah, of course.” However, to show how times have changed, in my first year doing the event (which was about 4 years ago), we were pleasantly surprised that many employees posted pictures of the day on their social feed, even though we had not encouraged them. The second year, we encouraged them to do that and got more postings. Today, in my new company, we are planning a multi-office internal communications campaign, and we are starting with social media as part of the promotion leading up to the event.
  2. Encourage regional organized events. If you are doing a multi-office internal event to create a greater sense of unity, and you are in several countries, I recommend having offices within a region or country organize a few activities together. In our second year of the event, our offices in the Middle East held a regional photography contest as part of the day’s activities. This type of activity creates an even stronger feeling for employees that their company extends beyond the four walls of their office or the people on their team.


I highly recommend these types of events, particularly for larger companies. Even with these tips, you still may have some sleepless nights, but I can guarantee you, it’s worth it!

I would love to hear your experiences with these types of events and tips that you may have. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out through my blog or @adschair on Twitter.



Mistakes Were Made: 5 Ways I have Screwed Up Employer Branding

Why do your employees choose to work at your company? As the search for the best talent becomes more competitive, this question — your employer brand question — is more important than ever.

I am a great believer in the power of a strong employer brand as part of internal communications and employee engagement, and have been fortunate enough to be involved with the launch of a few of them over my career. A good brand should illustrate the reason why your best employees were attracted to you and stay with you.

The best lessons come from mistakes and failures, so the cliché goes. And while I have made many many mistakes when it comes to employer brands, I have chosen to share five of them that I would have never discovered without the hands on experience of making them personally.

Before I open those old, proudly-earned wounds, I do want to say we got a few things right with the brand:

  • We based the brand on a lot of leader and employee input and validated it with focus groups in every region we had offices.
  • We translated and transliterated it (when a translation wasn’t possible) in 7 different languages.
  • We created visual and written guides, and built an automated template builder to make it easy to use.
  • We mapped out the significant touchpoints the company had with employees throughout their career lifecycle (e.g., performance management) and created special “banks” of brand language for each area
  • We created training videos on how to use the brand, and a newsletter that reported on its roll out and usage

Ok, so our hearts and often our efforts were in the right place. But mistakes were made, and I want to share five of them with you:

  1. We didn’t help employees “fit” the employer brand in with everything else. Before we launched the employer brand, we had recently launched a new company purpose and values. We also had a corporate brand that was in the middle of being refreshed (more on that below), and a relatively new enterprise strategy from our relatively new CSO. While we had a wonderful slide that showed how the employer brand fit in with all these other things, we didn’t take the time to really explain it to employees; at least not enough to help them answer the perennial question, “why should I care?”

    So we got a lot of employees with questions about when they should use each component, and very likely, a lot more employees who saw the corporate lingo stew, threw up their hands, and didn’t see enough relevancy to their jobs to even ask the question. My takeaways were (1) you need to make it crystal clear how the employer brand relates to and fits in with your purpose, your values, your mission, your strategy and whatever else you have launched that offers a roadmap to employees, as well as how all of these things relate to their employee experience and job; and (2) unless you can launch them all together as a very tight package, space out the launch of these various things, because when they come out in close succession, employees start to feel overwhelmed. Alternatively give employees a roadmap of the launches so they know when things are coming and how they will fit together from the outset.

  2. We didn’t bring in talent acquisition early enough. This was just silly. Most employer brand efforts start with recruiting. Somehow, we got fixated on how the employer brand would improve the employee experience for current employees by tying together their employee experiences and relating it back to the unique proposition of the company. Which wasn’t a wrong thing to focus on, but somehow it distracted us from how it might relate to sourcing external talent. Because of that, we didn’t bring in talent acquisition until after we had decided on the brand and started to put together launch plans. Not surprisingly, Talent Acquisition felt little ownership of the brand. As a result, their efforts to launch the brand in our recruiting materials were delayed and half-hearted. It was hard to blame them.

    Although most of you won’t make this particularly egregious mistake, it does point to the fact that you need to be as inclusive as possible when creating a brand. Just like Marketing forgetting to include Sales and Service in the creation of an external brand, it is easy to miss key groups internally. Although including more teams earlier on in the process may increase the difficulty in coming to a consensus, it will be worth the early pain for later success in execution.

  3. We decided against a Big Bang launch. This was the classic case of cold feet. We had put a lot of work into developing the brand and chose a launch date. However, as we got closer, some in our senior leadership started to express concerns that it would interfere with other launches going on, and that managers already had enough on their mind. So I agreed to a “soft launch,” which in this case meant an e-mail to all employees and a post on the intranet. I had convinced myself that if we did a good enough job of embedding the brand into those employee lifecycle moments, and of training those who would most use the brand (e.g., communicators, HR, and recruiters) that the brand would become integrated into the fabric of our culture without a Big Bang launch.

    Good theory, sort of. Without a Big Bang launch that made the new brand seem important and exciting, however, people got the message that it was not that big of a deal. It was bad optics.

    The truth is that there will always be other launches going on and managers will always have too much on their plate. If you are launching a way of defining the unique experience of working at your company, it is a big deal and needs to be treated that way no matter what else is going on. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be strategic in the timing of your launch, but when you do it, it should be BIG. It goes without saying that today, employees don’t need to just be engaged in the brand; they need to be turned into social advocates for it. That will take attention-getting tactics, and it can’t be done with a respectful hush that you saved for trips to the library.

  4. We didn’t create a troop of brand advocates, ambassadors or champions. I have no good explanation or excuse for this, but especially with the growth of employee advocacy, this would have been an even bigger mistake today than when I made it a few years ago. So at least I have that thin shred of dignity to cling to.
  5. Our employer brand didn’t mesh with our corporate brand. About six months after we “launched” the employer brand, the Brand team launched a refreshed expression of our external brand. There were several issues with this. (1) Referring back to Mistake #1 above, we again had competition for employee attention. Since the newly refreshed external brand was the shiny new object and did have a Big Bang launch, guess which brand won that competition? (2) The two brands had no connective tissue: the employer brand focused on the unique culture and how we worked together (i.e., without going into details, it centered around how the company demanded diversity instead of homogeneity), and the external brand spoke about why we existed as a company. No matter what we tried, the two felt separate and unrelated. (3) In the battle between the how and the why, the why is always going to be more resonant. (see Simon Sinek, Start with Why).

It was Mistake #5 that really undid us. No matter how culturally true our employer brand was, it was unconnected to what we did and why we did it. So this is my final thought: I don’t believe an employer brand works unless it is connect to the company’s purpose. Some part of the brand must relate to what good your company puts out into the world. We had focused on our culture and values as why we were a uniquely great place to work, which is fine, but that did not feel connected to what we did or the impact we were making in the world.

What is your experience with employer brands? Do you think I am wrong that an employer brand needs to be focused more on purpose than on culture and values? I would love to hear what you think.