employee communication


It can be nice to find out you were ahead of the times. Of course, many of the people who were ahead of their own times were only recognized posthumously. However, if finding out you were ahead of your time means that now that everyone’s caught up, more people have a voice even if they didn’t find it through me, so be it.

With the transition of the new President-elect comes many changes, but one of the best changes in approaches I have seen is how the Transition team is modeling good communication. There is always a time and place for top down communication — if you are the President, the people look for that kind of leadership from time to time. But one of the basic tenets of good communication is good listening. And President-elect Obama’s team have the right idea. They even have a great name for the tool they are using to listen to constituents — “Open for Questions“. Imagine if the Bush Administration had offered such a tool?

Of course, it’s one thing to put up a tool for people to provide feedback, it’s another to act on those ideas and questions in a meaningful way. Chatter Mill (the feedback engine I developed) is just one of the many suggestion-box style of tools that are popping up as social media becomes the norm. Uservoice and Google Moderator are others. I have been working with employee audiences using these types of feedback tools since 2002 and it’s great to see the importance of giving feedback gaining traction.

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It’s not often that one has the opportunity to say they were inspired by the government in Iraq. But I guess I finally get my chance after taking the summer off from blog postings. Now I imagine some of you were saying, “I am out here doing all this work to keep the communication industry in business and there’s Nova Newcomer taking the summer off from blogging as if we aren’t relying on her for her genius!” Or something like that. And I said “imagine” and “some,” so I am off the hook for those who didn’t notice my absence!

The good news is that when I take time off, I come back with a vengeance. The kind folks at Ragan have again provided me a chance to impart my theories on the intranet to unsuspecting communicators. So, if you have some continuing education budget left, sign up for the Communications Roundup hosted by Southwest Airlines and Ragan.

My session is titled, “Remake your corporate intranet to match the power of the Web.” In the session, you will:

  • Learn how today’s Internet advances can transform your intranet into a critical business tool
  • Discover creative uses of web technology that deliver the information and experience your employees need
  • Find how to bridge the gap between your intranet today and what Generation Y employees will expect tomorrow
  • Get a glimpse into the future of intranets
  • Apply online tools to real communication challenges
  • Make the case internally for the intranet of the future

Hope to see you there!

I just moved into a new house over the weekend. About the only thing that went our way during the two days of heavy labor and maneuvering very large objects out of tight spaces (yeah, I’m talking about you awkward, heavy washing machine!) was the cable guy transferring our cable to the new digs! Have you ever moved before? If so, what are the chances that the cable is the only thing that goes right? It was that kind of weekend.

Our POD gets picked up at 7:30 am sharp on Saturday before we have had a chance to secure the items inside it or fill it up for that matter. I cut my finger on the serrated edge of the tape gun. We decide to move the heaviest item (tv cabinet) we own to the den on the second floor and risk the lives of my brother and brother-in-law in the process, just so we can hook up the tv and play the Nintendo Wii — only to find that we were all too tired to play. And as the 2 hour window for the cable guy to appear winds down, I think, of course! There’s no way the cable guy shows up on time. So, at 2:30 (half hour late), I am starting to wonder if I got the appointment wrong. Then, enters Rudy. In no more than 45 minutes, he seamlessly had the cable hooked up, the internet running and gave me a $20.00 discount for the installation because he was late — all adding up to me being able to watch this very funny Hillary ‘08 spoof video this morning on the series of tubes we call the internet!

In the video, a faux campaign manager, Sean shakes up the staff a bit with some new ideas and perspectives on the candidate. I couldn’t help but think back to the Corporate Communicators Conference I was at last week. The unofficial mantra of the event seemed to be, “Give ‘em what they want!” If campaigns actually gave voters what they wanted, we might actually be able to get this country moving behind a united vision again. But instead, these campaigns consistently take the safe route — just like our executives do. And we let them! We let them get away with corporate-speak. We let them tell us that employees can’t be given the freedom to use social networking tools because it will be a time-waster. We let them tell us that employees can’t be trusted to blog about critical business issues, because of the risk of breaking confidentiality. All the while, employees are dying for a richer exchange about the business with their leaders and colleagues.

Now, I was never a John McCain fan, but remember when he used to be the engineer of the “Straight Talk Express”? Who got to that guy — the campaign gurus of the Republican party? Don’t give in to the party operative when it comes to coaching your executives on how to engage employees. Give ‘em the “Straight Talk Express.” Give ‘em what they want!

The wrong KISSNo, I am not referring to the silver-panted, platform-shoed tongue waggers that want to “Rock and Roll All Night.” Instead, I am referring to that oft-abused, but ever-relevant adage: Keep It Simple Stupid! Or Keep it Simple Silly as I have often seen corporate trainers use in trembling fear of offending someone. I always found that when someone used the word “stupid” and directed it at me, I listened, but maybe that has more to do with self-deprecation than the validity of the word itself. And”silly” just sounds condescending — offend me, but please never be condescending.

Peat and I just closed up shop today at the Corporate Communicator’s Conference. Yesterday morning, I had been panicked. The conference started at 8:00 and it was 8:15 and no one had approached our booth yet. I started telling Peat how I wasn’t cut out for this and asking him if he would edit my resume right there at the booth! Peat, of course, being far more cool and collected simply pretended he didn’t hear me. Of course, it never occurred to me that I don’t like talking to people at 8:00 in the morning, so why would it surprise me that other people would want to get their chocolate filled croissant, collect their thoughts and hear Steve Crescenzo sing before coming over to our booth? I know that’s a lot more like what I like to do in the mornings, except my preference is that all days would start after 9:00 am and end by 12:00 in time to go to a day game at Wrigley. (Today was close to that except it started with a 7:00 mimosa brunch…you can get me up early for champagne drinks any day of the week…too bad the Cubbies couldn’t pull it off in the 9th.)

So, people did finally start coming over to chat with us once they got the bearings and we had great conversations about what their challenges are in their different industries — health care, banking, automotive, airlines, etc. And I got to share with them what I was able to accomplish at adidas and now what I am trying to do with Chatter Mill — give employees a voice to management in a safe way. One of the core values of our platform is to keep it simple. Communicators have a ton of different channels to provide information to employees, so we don’t want to reinvent the wheel. Chatter Mill is a question and answer tool with a rating system that provides simple reports. Nothing more, nothing less.

The best gift from this conference was learning that we were right when we KISSed Chatter Mill. When it’s simpler to understand, it’s more likely people will get on-board — and this is true for any communication tool.

Pimpin' Chatter MillPeat and I have landed, if only a bit woozy from a red-eye flight from Portland. The Chatter Mill booth is ready to go and looking good. For people looking for more information about implementing Chatter Mill, we have our sexy Chatter Mill Toolkits in Blue Hill colors to hand out. Also, we are raffling off an iPod Shuffle to anyone who drops off a business card and tells us a bit about their company and communication challenges. We are excited to meet as many of the over 400 people who are here at the conference to learn new ways to rock Corporate Communications. Thanks to the folks at Ragan for putting this 3-day communication extravaganza together. Pictures soon!

On Friday, I received an invite from Eileen Burmeister (Ragan Report writer extraordinaire) to join MyRagan.com — a “facebook for the PR and Communications industry” started by the genius folks at Ragan. If you have tried any of the social networking sites like Friendster, MySpace or even the professional networking site, Linkedin, you will find MyRagan easy to use. What I like about it is that it provides a place for communicators to go to find other communicators and share great ideas, ask for advice/help or get a restaurant recommendation while attending a conference in a different city. Polish restaurant in Chicago, anyone?

What I also like, though, is that it reinforces what I have been thinking lately. Large corporations are like small countries — often their sales eclipse the GDPs of small countries, but that’s another story. Inside these small countries are many different provinces (locations around the world, departments, business units) — there are so many different ways to slice large corporate structures, they are a pain to navigate. In doing focus groups with my former company, the number one expressed communication need was, “How do I find the right person to direct an issue to?” Many employees thought organization charts were the answer, but it was not company policy to post organization charts on the intranet and so we settled on a “beefed-up” searchable employee database, which only partly addressed the problem.

Which gets me back to social networking. Many large companies have offices in over 30 countries and employees who are team members on projects working across multiple time zones and regions. Many of these people will never meet each other in person, but they are expected to work with each other to success on these cross-ocean and cross-continent projects. I think social networking could be the answer to creating close, effective employee communities around topics that help people problem-solve inside these large organizations.

If MyRagan can do it for dispersed communicators in many different companies, why can’t companies do this for their 10, 20, 30, 100 thousand plus employee populations? If the next generation of employees are the “me” generation — why not embrace this mindset and give them tools that start with “My” and help them own solutions to business issues? Maybe this is the way to employee engagement in the 21st century?