Familiarising ourselves with new things also requires effort.
In environments where time is at a premium, such as the modern workplace, this is an instant turn-off.
This presents a conundrum for internal communication professionals. We know it’s not an option to never refresh our platforms.
But we also know that changes such as relaunching a magazine, updating an app or altering a meeting schedule can create the kind of negative vibes that are toxic to engagement.
If you’re thinking of changing one of your main IC tools, take a moment to consider Elisabeth Kübler-Ross; the psychiatrist who created the eponymous model of grief management.
The Kübler-Ross change curve was originally intended to postulate the emotions of people who are experiencing genuine emotional trauma. Over the years however, it has also been applied to change management in the business world.
The popular perception of this model – that people move from emotion to the next in a timely sequence – isn’t quite right.
But what Kübler-Ross intended was to identify the key feelings associated with grief and how these affect people’s wellbeing. In the business world, we simply swap ‘wellbeing’ for ‘morale’ or ‘performance level’.
Strategies for change management: guiding people towards acceptance and integration
Shock = Alignment
Engage with audiences at the first opportunity to inform them about the change, discuss why it’s necessary. Tailor the tone, language and delivery method of your messages to employee preferences.
Denial = Inspiration
Explain what the positive outcomes will be. Align business benefits with personal benefits so people will want the change to succeed. Make it clear that the change is happening, but be careful not to sound too authoritarian.
Anger = Maximise communication
When people are angry or frustrated, they need to be listened to. Provide maximum opportunities for communication between employees and key stakeholders for the change (sponsors, decision-makers, deliverers, etc).
Depression = Motivate
Understanding the reasons why people might be uncomfortable with change. Why might they be wary of a new-look magazine, or reluctant to try an app’s new functionality? Share stories about colleagues (or employees from other businesses if necessary) who had similar feelings but now love the new version.
Above all, strike a positive ‘can do’ tone in your messaging. Let people know that this is a change for you too, and lead by example.
Sean and his colleagues from the US Institute for Public Relations Measurement Commission have just finished work on a study to identify a series of standards for IC measurement.
Their findings are due to be unveiled at the International Public Relations Research Conference in Orlando, Florida, in March.
Throughout their research, the group avoided looking at output measurements, such as circulation figures for internal publications and number of intranet stories published.
This kind of data is a staple in many IC audits and status reports, but Sean argues that it doesn’t reveal anything about how successful IC activity is.
For him, effective communication isn’t about the size of your audience, but about how that audience reacts to your message.
“We call it ‘look mommy’ communications,” said Sean. “But we have to be certain that we’re adding value to the business.”
Sean explained that during his research he and his group analysed three aspects of internal communication and how it feeds into measurable outcomes:
• IC activity (what we do)
• Outcome (what happened as a result)
• Business impact (how the outcome affects some aspect of the business)
For Sean, this goes to the heart of how we define ‘effective’ communication, and what needs to be measured.
He said: “The sophisticated IC measurer is going to make sure that whatever they’re doing – focus groups, interviews, whatever – they’re capturing information and trying new things to effect an impact.
“What is it that happened as a result of our communications, that changed the way people think or act? And did they take some sort of action in support of business results?
“When you can look at things and say, for example, ‘productivity is up but safety is down’, there might be a communication disconnect somewhere.
“That’s when you start to look at things like where you’re wasting time, where you’re losing productivity, where you can reduce your touchpoints, and so forth. That’s where we all need to be.”
To read more of Sean’s thoughts on the world of IC, check out his blog.
Your company narrative is the most fundamental building block when creating effective internal communications and a positive workplace culture. Here’s why.
There’s no denying that terms such as ‘storytelling’ and ‘narrative’ are industry buzzwords at the moment, and they are often misappropriated to label existing (and usually dull) communications in the hope of making them feel fresh and relevant.
But if you can get through the noise, the company narrative can be a game changer for your communications approach.
When developing your communications strategy, it is critical that the narrative is developed at the same time, because – if it is done properly – the narrative becomes the bedrock from which all other comms and key messages are developed.
What is a company narrative?
At it’s simplest – a two to three page document that covers aspects of your company’s history, values, ambitions and hopes for the future.
Mark Bonchek is founder and Chief Epiphany Officer of Shift Thinking. He helps organisations achieve growth and change by adopting new thinking to engage customers and empower employees.
He states that a narrative: “says who you are as a company; where you’ve been, where you are, and where you are going; how you believe value is created and what you value in relationships. It explains why you exist and what makes you unique.”
The key aspect to make clear in the narrative is what Mark calls the ‘shared purpose’ – the outcome that the organisation and the customer are working towards together. It is the foundation of the relationship that the company has with its customers and its employees.
Mark adds that: “Most people think of purpose as what your employees do FOR your customer. But in a social age, the real power is creating a shared purpose WITH your customer.”
This shared purpose creates the opportunity for a different kind of relationship with the customer. One that is more collaborative and reciprocal than the typical “producer/consumer” relationship to which we are accustomed.
Mark took us through some examples of companies with powerful narratives built around a shared purpose, an authentic Brand DNA, and a relationship beyond the transaction:
“With a shared purpose to ‘inspire the athlete in all of us,’ Nike’s relationship with its customers is not just a producer/consumer relationship, it’s more like coach/athlete, and it comes from the fact that Nike was co-founded by a coach, Bill Bowerman” says Mark.
Rather than the ‘airline-passenger’ model, Virgin America’s narrative (and therefore marketing and advertising) is, Mark argues: “more like they are the host of the party and we are the party guests.” It also connects back to the Brand DNA established by Richard Branson, known for throwing a great party.
“Typically, the relationship in the hospitality industry has been one of lodger/guest, based on the a transaction. What Airbnb has done is shift that relationship to neighbour/neighbour, based on a shared purpose of ‘Belong Anywhere.’” says Mark.
Shared purpose for employees
What is interesting about the Airbnb example is that the shared purpose of belonging and the neighbour/neighbour relationship is reflected in how the company engages with its own employees. Meeting rooms are inspired by active Airbnb listings, free lunches are themed around the 191 countries where it hosts, and there is a $2,000 (£1,360) annual travel budget given to each employee to use outside of work; all geared towards immersing their employees in the brand and making them effective ambassadors.
Airbnb is just one example of how a strong narrative can help to take employees on the journey with you, and this is particularly important when dealing with subjects that – at least on the surface – are not what employees will take a huge interest in.
Using narrative for specific campaigns
Kate Shaw, Internal Communications Manager at Nationwide, recently won a raft of awards for her work on a campaign to get colleagues more interested in, and signing up to, additional contributions to their pensions.
Not the most engaging subject, you might argue, but one that nonetheless is very important to Nationwide’s colleagues, as Kate explains: “The organisation was very keen to engage people on the importance of pensions. There were important changes happening so if we had communicated these in the wrong way, all they would have heard was ‘you’re taking more of my salary every month, and I don’t get why’. So getting our narrative right up front was really important”.
The resulting campaign, one of the highlights of which is a witty and accessible pensions video, has seen the number of employees signed up to make additional contributions rise from 10 per cent to 83 per cent.
A huge achievement, and one that Kate puts down to planning, and having their narrative established from the beginning.
She said: “We had a story written down about how we wanted employees to feel and what we wanted that end experience to be. We wanted to articulate from the employee point of view how it feels to work for Nationwide, how the organisation cares and looks after them, and then go into the pension details.
“The narrative itself is the most unglamorous document! But that’s on purpose so stakeholders don’t get distracted from the story. Having it signed off along with the strategy then meant sign off on subsequent materials was dramatically easier because you have agreed the narrative content upfront, everything you write reflects that original document.”
And Kate is clear that the narrative must come early in the comms planning process, saying: “Before we even went near the video or any of the methods for delivering the campaign, we sat with Ian Baines, Head of Pensions, and went through with him what we were trying to achieve from a business perspective, and how we could achieve this through narrative and storytelling. We had to understand where we were going first and agree that with Ian, so we made sure we could deliver what the business wanted.”
Humans + stories = communication
Kate’s success proves that knowing where you want to get to and having your narrative straight from the beginning gives you a huge advantage in creating a successful communications campaign. Whether you are writing a narrative for your whole business or a specific time-fixed campaign, the benefits cannot be underestimated.
A good story is the most powerful way to communicate an idea, a concept or important information. So it makes absolute sense that, when planning our communications, the narrative or story elements are not an afterthought or something bolted on to make our messages easier to digest, but instead at the very heart of everything we do.
Narrative versus story
It is important to make the distinction between narrative and story because they are not the same thing, especially in the context of a company narrative.
Story is a structured narrative; it has a beginning, middle and an end (although not necessarily in that order) and, most importantly, has some sort of conclusion. Story is something that we witness or experience, but we do not play a part in.
Narrative, on the other hand, is open. More like an unfinished story that doesn’t need to have a distinct beginning or end. The narrative creates a story world in which we can get involved, a place for us to create our own stories.
A good parallel is the difference between movies and a video game like Minecraft. In a movie, we witness the linear progression of the story, hopefully enjoy it, and then the plot is all wrapped up at the end. In Minecraft, all of the elements of a story are there — the world, characters, the stakes — but it is left to the player to then take part, to build, to make the world their own, to create their own stories. And, crucially, the world of Minecraft never really ends either.
In the context of IC, the company narrative should usually contain at least the beginning of the story – the history of the company, their values, what they are trying to achieve (shared purpose) and then leave it open so that employees can play their own part in the success of the business and create their own stories within the world that the narrative has created.
If you had been offered $4,000 to leave your company at the end of your fourth week, would you have gone?
Las Vegas-based shoe and clothing retailer Zappos makes ‘The Offer’ to all employees at the end of its robust, four-week new hire training programme.
Designed to be enough money that leavers could cope financially until they find something more suitable, it ensures that those who aren’t a good culture fit don’t stay with the company for the wrong reasons.
“The wrong fit negatively affects the team, department, and ultimately, the company – not to mention that it’s a waste of time and money training someone who isn’t going to move the company forward,” says Megan Petrini, Head New Hire Trainer at Zappos.
“This is why we use new hire as an extension of the interview process, to make sure that everyone in class is the right fit for the company. We also ask the trainees to use this time to make sure Zappos is the right fit for them.
“You’ve heard the expression ‘you never get a second chance to make a first impression’? It’s true, and amazingly important to start off on the right foot. Setting the right expectations from the very beginning sets the tone for their entire experience.”
The continually updated new starter training programme introduces colleagues to Zappos’ history, conflict resolution, self-management, holacracy, culture, core values, teambuilding, backend systems, the Zappos Experience, a final exam and phones time.
Zappos – famous for its culture books – says that culture fit is so high up on its list of priorities that it hires, fires and makes all business decisions based on itscore values.
“For this reason, it’s important to us that the right people are coming in and have a great foundation in understanding the culture, core values, history of the company and why we do what we do,” adds Megan.
New starters begin their training programme on their first day. But when this isn’t possible, they complete a two-day ‘quickstart’ programme and jump into their new role with the promise that they’ll be on the next available new hire training programme.
“New hires come out of training with a greater understanding of emotional intelligence, time management, a cursory knowledge of both self-organisation and holacracy as it applies to them and the company, conflict resolution, history and the importance of team building,” Megan explains.
“Plus, they have met almost every other department in the company, and have had a Q&A session with our CEO, Tony Hsieh.
“Part of the expectation of everyone who works here is to provide the Zappos Experience with every interaction, make business decisions using the core values, and to move the company forward.
“New hire training provides the foundation for these expectations to all new hires.”
And – after all this – less than one per cent of new hires take up ‘The Offer’ and the company has an employee retention rate of around 20 per cent, including department transfers.
“We get feedback from all new hires regarding the entire onboarding experience. The feedback is consistently positive,” Megan says.
Congratulations, Zappos, on getting it mutually spot on for new employees and your business.