Tag Archives: employee communication
Harris Interactive came out recently with its annual Reputation Quotient Survey and there are some interesting developments.
The top spot in 2010 went to Berkshire Hathaway but not so this year after the Sokol fiasco, which we’ve previously written about here in Return on Reputation. Now Berkshire Hathaway is down to No. 4 – not bad, all things considered, but still a precipitous drop from a previous, largely untarnished image. Who dropped off the top 10 list entirely? Coke and Microsoft…replaced by Disney and Apple. Google moved up two spots to rank No. 1.
What does all this mean for companies who care about their reputation? That it’s a fickle thing and as Warren Buffett famously said, takes an instant to evaporate. Not only that, but everyone has a say these days in what kind of company you are. Google came in first for its financial performance and workplace environment…proof positive that all stakeholders weigh in when it comes to reputation.
Investors and employees clearly gave Google a boost on the ladder in today’s 24/7 interconnected world, and that matters. Every company spends a lot of time thinking about how they communicate with Wall Street – conference calls, press releases, one-on-ones with big institutional investors. But probably not as much time focusing on the way they talk to employees and how they empower their employees to talk about the company, too. Smart companies have “ambassador” employees blogging and participating on Facebook, Twitter, etc., after implementing forward-looking social media policies that lay out the ground rules. Google it and you’ll see.
Last weekend, I had the privilege of guest lecturing on the new realities of crisis communications at Farleigh Dickinson University as part of their Executive Lecture series. And while I was invited there to share my experiences and talk about crisis communications in our wired, networked world, I was the one who walked away learning a lot. The students were smart, insightful and particularly intuitive about the use of social media in a crisis…something so many clients are wrestling with today. We debated some of the textbook crisis case studies, and whether those responses would have been as effective today. All in all, a pretty engaging and rewarding way to spend a Saturday morning.
But for me, the greatest perk was staying for the lecture that followed mine….Driving Alignment Through Employee Engagement, which was the topic by Johnson & Johnson’s VP of Corporate Communications, Craig Rothenberg. Unless this is your first time reading this blog, you know that employee engagement is a particular passion of mine…and Craig gave me some real food for thought. He was candid about the recalls at J&J, and the challenges recent events have created from an employee engagement standpoint, particularly as it relates to the famous J&J credo as an authentic culture driver. He talked about the downsides of decades of success, and a workforce with long tenure, when you hit bumps in the road. And he talked about engagement as a means to an end, not the end itself.
My takeaways from his advice, not just to students, but to all of us:
• Employees are talking about your company, with or without you. If you don’t participate in THEIR CONVERSATIONS, they will wonder why, and make judgments about that.
• Engaging employees isn’t about what you say; it is about what employees hear. Messaging cascades are what you say….but did employees hear your intended message?
• When you talk to employees, consider it a public statement, referencing the J&J communication to bonus eligible employees that the Company would not pay full bonuses this year. If you don’t want to read about a policy or program you are implementing at your Company in the NYT or WSJ, then you aren’t comfortable with that program…re-think it.
• Employees don’t respond to messaging. They respond to listening.
• If employees see your reputation as declining, that is a canary in the coal mine…it foreshadows reputation damage to come. Pay attention to it.
February 1, 2010
This weekend JetBlue successfully migrated over to the SABRE system in what can only be described as a magnificent feat of great planning and operations. For those of you who are industry buffs, you will recall that WestJet recently experienced difficulties in this migration, causing all kinds of airport delays and hassles for customers.
In the interest of full disclosure, MWW Group is JetBlue’s crisis communications agency…and in my opinion, this is an airline that continues to be unfairly burdened with the events of a certain winter snowstorm, despite pulling off major operational feats – like the opening of T5 at JFK and the migration to SABRE – without a hitch.
After some time working with them and observing them, it is clear that JetBlue practices some important things that so many other organizations seem to miss:
They operate under a common sense philosophy that empowers their “crew” (that’s employees to you and me) to use their own judgment to DO WHAT THEY THINK IS RIGHT FOR THE CUSTOMER. Not just in special situations, but every day.
They plan for the worst case scenario, pretty much all the time, and they are willing to sacrifice short term dollars for long term success. For the Sabre switch, that meant sacrificing ticket revenue to ensure a good customer experience – by reducing the schedule and the load factors on all of their flights this weekend.
JetBlue gives their people permission to make mistakes, and learn from them.
At JetBlue, knowledge is power –and not in the “keep it a secret so you have an edge over your colleague” kind of way. They talk about the good, the bad and the ugly. They acknowledge challenges, and provide guidance on how to manage through those challenges.
JetBlue entrusts their people with meaningful substantive information – not just what to expect, but what is expected of them. They don’t expect those solutions to be perfect, so when someone comes up with a better one, they share the knowledge.
So when they got through the airline version of an SAP conversion – something that sends shivers down the spines of corporate types everywhere – they got through it without a hitch.
For anyone that knows JetBlue or flies them regularly, this is no surprise.
Congratulations JetBlue! Looking forward to the next time you don’t need my services!
Carreen Winters can be reached at email@example.com.
December 4, 2009
Risk-taking is an undervalued asset in today’s business environment. Even as shattered investor confidence, reduced consumer spending and ever-declining employee morale have all forced executives to take pause and reassess their approach to business, innovation remains a hallmark of a strong reputation.
But, has the fragile environment created “helicopter” managers, in the vein of helicopter parents? Leaders who will swoop in to protect a team from its own potential failure before letting risk turn to innovation? It’s true. Innovation often does come with some risk but the greater risk to an organization is having its staff bubble-wrapped to the point where creativity is stifled. A significant part of fostering a culture of innovation is to develop a method for enabling calculated risk. Just as you wouldn’t allow a child to cross a street for the first time on their own, you can partner employees on projects with those who have taken risks before and know how to look both ways before crossing.
Similarly, an employee who embarks on a project without knowing the potential scenarios that could lead to failure, are as ill-prepared as a teenager who drives without ever having a driving lesson. A helicopter parent will save the child from harm by never letting them behind the wheel of the car – but the child will never learn to drive. A helicopter manager will protect the company from harm, but by never letting a risky project get off the ground may impede the company’s growth.
Following are a few tips to foster an environment that grows through calculated risk:
- Reward smart failure. So maybe a project failed but, it failed because it was stopped before it could do irreparable harm OR it did no harm but it was the right project at the wrong time. Celebrate the inspiration and hard work while using the failure as a teaching moment for the organization, all the while praising the project leader for taking the risk for what they hoped would be the benefit of the company.
- Communicate success. When a risk was taken and success achieved, celebrate. But don’t just pop the champagne cork, talk about why it succeeded, the research that led to its success and the efforts taken to ensure success…again, a teachable moment.
- Create an innovation lab…an environment in which Ideas can be floated and nurtured. Sometimes ideas can’t take root because the owner of the idea doesn’t know how to bring it to fruition. Creating a place where seeds can be planted and sown will help to bring ideas to life. This can be an actual innovation lab OR a place to idea jam on a corporate intranet site.
- Avoid the inclination to helicopter in to protect. Instead, be a parachute, a means to a soft-landing through guidance, reality checking and resource sharing.
Ame Wadler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
When Good Companies Make Bad Decisions
October 19, 2009
I’ve had a lot of opportunity this fall to talk to friends and colleagues about life, the economy and work these days as I stand at various fields and courts to watch my children’s sports. Regardless of industry or company size, I hear a lot about employee morale as an issue facing leaders at all levels. Workplaces are difficult. The economy is challenging. And employees are feeling the pressure. And I frequently hear comments about the need for “better communications” to combat employee morale.
Indeed, employee engagement – the buzz phrase of choice for employee communications these days – is a hot topic. On any given week, articles are written in various trade journals, in the PR industry and in the industries of many of my clients. What they all overlook is one simple fact:
Communications – no matter how artfully designed and executed – will not remedy bad decisions.
And every company, even the best company, will sometimes make a bad decision. The best way to fix a problem like that is to actually fix the problem. Employees are much more interested in our actions than our words…and in the face of enormous anxiety and skepticism, words alone can be downright suspect.
This is not to say that an unpopular decision is a bad one. Sometimes, a good decision can be unpopular, disruptive and difficult. And in those cases, effective communications can make that information more palatable, easier to understand or even understandable. In these cases great communications can make a world of difference.
Employee communications is one of my passions. Nothing makes me happier than hearing a company say they want to do a better job at employee engagement. But it isn’t pixie dust.
Carreen Winters can be reached at email@example.com