Employers have relied on the expertise of their communications teams to help navigate the monumental events occurring around the world. Just as people were acclimatizing to the pandemic “new normal,” protests against racial injustice erupted in response to the senseless death of George Floyd. Because of this growing movement, corporate communicators had to quickly craft responses, acknowledging the continuing problem of racism and the global uprising it had spawned. Companies took action to show their commitment, making monetary contributions to worthy organizations and establishing new diversity initiatives.
Recognizing the pivotal role communicators continue to play throughout this period of uncertainty, the PRSA Silicon Valley Chapter invited four senior communicators specialized in internal and employee communications to #FridayForum on September 11, 2020. The panel was moderated by Board Member Caroline James, founder of PR consulting business Forever Speaks PR. Panelists included Carrie Goldstein, managing director at Cheers Partners; Larry Krutchik, executive vice president for Hill & Knowlton Strategies; Michelle Projekt, vice president and global head of internal communications at PepsiCo; and Nicole Kenyon, head of global corporate communications and employee communications for Logitech.
The event began with organizers recognizing the date’s significance, acknowledging the parallels between what happened in 2001 and what’s happening now. As the panel got underway, participants fielded a series of questions from the moderator and attendees, focusing on employee communications in a year defined by crisis. This post will summarize the panelists’ answers, highlighting relevant quotations or observations.
Michelle joined PepsiCo two weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States. She is now working from home, but noted that as a corporate “knowledge worker,” she is in the minority. The company has 280,000 global employees across several different brands, and about two-thirds of Michelle’s coworkers are on the frontline, moving and selling products.
Michelle said the company’s communications program was shaped through employees’ eyes. It was not “one-size fits all,” but tailored to address the needs of employees at any moment. Michelle said PepsiCo’s approach was to understand employees’ needs and find a way to get information and communications to them that would resonate anywhere.
Nicole noted her role is typically split 50/50 between employee communications and external corporate communications, but remarked, “these days it’s felt more like 80/20 – employee has certainly ramped up in the past year.” She added, “Historically, employee engagement was more of a means to promote culture and the dissemination of information, but today it’s absolutely strategic to business continuity, it’s so important to ensure that employees feel informed and they’re engaged and they feel valued with so much change that’s happening.”
Nicole overviewed some of the tactics Logitech has used during the lockdown such as weekly video messages with the CEO, which were received well by employees given the CEO’s authenticity and vulnerability. Logitech set up a CEO comment box on its intranet site to track the pulse of employees and address questions and concerns openly. She said Logitech does not generally use email for employee communications — “a big change in the last few years” — instead opting to host everything on the intranet which helps achieve the company’s goal to limit communication burnout while over-communicating at this time.
Carrie outlined the results of an informal survey with chief communications officers at a variety of companies that Cheers Partners conducted in January. The results found that only two to three percent of most businesses’ resources — regardless of company size — were used for internal communications and employee experience. Carrie said the events of this year have shown that companies need to increase the size of that investment. “They need to have as thoughtful planning of milestones, moments, pride points and potential contingency plans beyond 2020.”
All participants agreed that leading with empathy was crucial. Larry said the pandemic and racial injustice events were both deeply and fundamentally human events. “You could see, you could hear, you could feel even through screens and phone calls the impact it was having on colleagues and on clients. It was really quite palpable.” As part of the H&K Strategies U.S. leadership team, Larry made the conscious decision to “lean in and be my authentic self and really connect with colleagues and clients on that fundamentally human level.” He demonstrated this by dropping in on colleagues’ video meetings to inquire about their wellbeing and asked clients how they were and what they were going through to help be a better business partner.
Black Lives Matter movement
Nicole and Michelle overviewed in detail how their companies responded to the BLM movement. Michelle stated that BLM movement started a broad conversation within PepsiCo. She noted the Black and Brown communities are inextricably linked with the PepsiCo brands and their success. She said that many of these brands were already speaking out. PepsiCo has pledged a $500M commitment to address racial inequality. PepsiCo has also set aggressive goals around recruiting and retaining diverse talent. Michelle’s team started a series called “Black in America” which encouraged colleagues in the company to write or record a video about being Black in America. Michelle says the reception to the stories has been “amazing.”
An ongoing pandemic response and remote working scenario
Carrie said people’s holiday experiences and vacations are going to change as the pandemic drags on. Many employees will probably miss seeing family, for example. She suggested using employee surveys and focus groups to better understand and determine employee needs in light of these major changes. She cautioned employers to address the demotivation employees will likely feel as we move into 2021 and the situation carries on.
Larry pointed out that brands have had more challenges communicating internally than communicating externally. “It’s required more layers and more complexity.” In terms of what the future holds, Larry said remote working is “here to stay” and it’s going to change how organizations recruit and retain talent. He said If he had to reduce it to one watch word, it would be “flexibility” – to ensure that employees know and feel their company is doing all it can to support them through a very challenging time.
“How companies treat their employees today will absolutely impact the future of retention and hiring. We’re seeing those that are listening and caring really starting to front run and those that aren’t are going to be hamstrung in the years to come,” Nicole added.
As many employees enter their 6th month of remote work, the uncertainty of the pandemic, the lack of childcare, and the feelings of isolation can all take their toll. And since many people are skipping their summer vacation this year, they may be feeling extra frazzled.
As a mom of a toddler, I am watching as he tries and learns new things. And sometimes, I watch him get frustrated because he is too little or too new at a skill to do it correctly. The words I say each time are, “don’t get frustrated, do you need help?” and with that, I reach out my hand.
I wonder though, at what age or stage in life, does it become unacceptable to ask for help, to receive help or even awkward to offer help? The reason I wonder this is because it seems like no one does any of the above anymore. And, without asking and offering, we, as a society are collectively becoming more frustrated. Music is a great indicator of the underlying tones of our society, and not since the Beatles, has it been embraced and applauded to “get by with a little help from your friends” or just declare that you need “Help!”
As a team lead, I think about these 3 concepts a lot: ask, receive and offer. The general concept is circular; it seems there is an assumption that offering help will insult the recipient, asking for it will make you seem ill-prepared and accepting help will be perceived as a failure. Managers are frustrated that you didn’t ask for support, which demotivates employees into thinking they didn’t get it right the first time, even if it’s something they have never done before. No one wins in this scenario.
This cycle and the acceptability of asking for help can have a profound impact on your team culture.
ASK: Show your team that asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but instead a demonstration of their thirst for knowledge. It’s best to do this by modeling the behavior you want, by acknowledging and asking for help when you don’t know something. This may seem impossible, but you as the team leader should theoretically be more knowledgeable than your team in industry knowledge. However, you likely know less about current technology and the trends and needs of their generation. Ask questions, admit when you don’t know something and show them that the best way to stay relevant in any role is to always have a desire to learn and grow.
RECEIVE: Is the phrase, “Thanks, I’ve got it,” considered a badge of honor on your team? It’s hard to accept that sometimes you need help, even better if you don’t feel the need to justify why you don’t need help. People see receiving help as a sign that they did something wrong, so you can counteract that by setting up your team culture to encourage peer-to-peer coaching. Highlight the different strengths that each person brings to the team and encourage – both formal and informal – education and training sessions.
Unless you are looking to build a cut-throat, competitive team, it is better to lay out upfront – in interviews and communications about team behaviors – that unless each person on your team wants to be an island, and unless people see this as a sign of strength, they are not.
OFFER: Take a minute to look around and see what you can do for someone else. When they say they have it handled, dig a little deeper to see if they are just uncomfortable receiving help and offer again. Simply asking, “what can I do to support you,” offering yourself and other tangible resources. It’s important for you to convey the right tone in offering to help, make sure you are sincere and not judgmental or that will become deeply embedded in your culture as well.
Every leader wants to find the x-factor that makes their team the most productive, most efficient and most sought-after to work on. Developing the right language, tone and culture when it comes to asking for help will get you there.
We have all been working remotely now for two months, congratulations you're officially in the groove. There are many predictions for what the business world will look like on the other side of the current shelter in place orders. The biggest is what will come of the “work from home experiment” we have all now lived through. The interesting shift will rebound off the currently relaxed rules of engagement because of the pandemic. Currently, suit-wearing leaders are embracing baseball hats, the expectations for parents are relaxed when balancing educational needs, and all people and animals in the household are considered co-workers. These shifts are and should be more acceptable during this time than in the standard business setting.
But when the kids are back at school, and most people are back in an office setting, what should working remotely look like then?
As an experienced businesswoman and single mom of a toddler, who has worked for a remote-based company, I see both sides of this situation. There are benefits to both the company and the employee. And, even if companies cannot embrace it for all employees all the time, I hope that with the right guidance they are able to embrace it for key life moments, such as when you are a new parent, caregiver or patient. I hope companies embrace the opportunity for remote work where it will address a greater need for work-life integration.
To make this successful transition, companies need to consider what their guidance will be, and should consider the following:
Set Expectations: Companies that have successful employees who are able to work remotely are best served by a foundation that sets expectations for everyone.
Space: When you work from home, you no longer have to covet the corner office, you can create it. You can have a window office, the “breakroom” with your favorite foods and shelves with your most inspiring personal pieces. It is best to consider all of your needs, to be efficient and productive. Set yourself up for success with a printer/scanner, monitor, external camera, earbuds and a space to put your work aside at the end of the day.
There are many benefits that companies offer to help employees achieve work-life integration and navigate personal obstacles and milestones. The advent of a culture that can embrace remote work on a short-term basis for those in need, would be an added opportunity to support employees.
I am forever grateful to be closer to home, to snuggle on my lunch break and take a walk with my son at the end of the day instead of fighting commuter traffic to barely make it home to bedtime. Even if companies can not sustain a full-time, all remote employee base, allowing for more flexibility will surely benefit all in the end.
During this incredible time of self-isolation, the lines between your personal and professional life have blurred completely. You are likely without the support and natural breaks from both sides of your life, whether that’s through commuting, school drop-off, time with family members or lunch with colleagues. You need a break, we all do!
This is beyond just self-care 101, this is truly finding the moments in each day, as impossible as it might seem, to take a break. Here are some tips that might help you find the balance you need to care for your mental well-being during this stressful time.
As we all cope with the global outbreak, communicators and the professionals who manage the employee experience within their organizations have questions.
Dynamic Signal just held a webinar, “Maintaining the Employee Experience in the Time of the Coronavirus” with me and Becky Graebe, and we were overwhelmed by the number of attendees and the thoughtful questions they asked.
It can often feel like we have thankless roles, and our work goes unnoticed. But not now. The coronavirus (COVID-19) has highlighted the importance of what we do to help keep our colleagues informed and safe while also protecting business continuity during this unprecedented time.
There were so many great questions that Becky and I didn’t get to all of them. So, we’re answering them here. But I encourage you to listen to the webinar. Even though we’re all incredibly busy, it will be worth your time. It’s the virtual hug that we can all use right now.
What Do You Recommend for a Communication Cadence?
Becky: “It depends. If you’re a hospital, you’re probably delivering more than one communication a day. Other organizations? Two or three times a week might be good. I certainly wouldn’t go less than that. I would suggest once a day so that people know that we’re checking in. Whatever cadence you select, try to stick to it because employees will notice if there’s a long lag and could assume the worst.”
Carrie: “It can also be from different leaders. Maybe it’s a big corporate message twice a week, and breaking news as needed. There can be something from HR, too. And there probably should be something from front-line managers at least once a week that consists solely of, ‘How are you doing?’ I see it like Keanu Reeves in ‘The Matrix’ where he’s bending into those crazy shapes. You need that kind of agility to react in the moment.”
Becky: “I would add that if you do have the ability to segment your audience, create unique messages to different target groups.”
How Do You Strike a Balance Between “Fun” and Wellness?
Becky: “Fun is about creating emotional moments that are temporary breaks from everything we’re experiencing. In the long run, wellness is going to be much more important. It speaks to our physical and mental well-being. I would be pointing people to benefit, financial, and counseling resources. Also, create places where people can meet virtually with colleagues. It’s about really taking care of themselves and recognizing when they’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed with family pressures, personal pressures, and financial pressures while they’re still meeting the demands of their jobs.”
Carrie: “I would add that quick-hit reminders are important. Things like sharing with colleagues the supplies they might need to stockpile to help them get through this time. Some good novels. Coloring books for kids – and for adults. Stress balls. Reminders to step away from the desk, walk around, and stretch. Encourage your people to share their best tips. We have a client that has created a fitness resource group. Champion the idea of using the opportunity of working from home to stay healthy.”
How Should We Think about Communicating with WFH people and Those in the Usual Work Environment?
Becky: “You need to consider who can see your messages. Some will be able to see them on your intranet, but others won’t. You need to think through a day-in-the-life of the roles at your company. Who are your different audiences and where they can tune in to what you’re saying?”
Carrie: “It’s so important to ask your employees – especially those on the front lines – what they need. Ask them what they’re genuinely struggling with right now, and where the company can support them. It shows that the company is listening to them.”
Becky: “What Carrie said prompted another idea. Give talking points to the front-line managers every day. Maybe front-line workers at your organization don’t have access to digital tools. But most likely, their managers do. Equip them with easy-to-deliver information that they can pass on to their teams.”
Any Ideas to Keep Colleagues Connected When We’re Suddenly Far Apart?
Carrie: “Tap into your Employee Resource Group or create ones that support your employees in this new normal, such as working parents. Make sure they’re continuing to connect virtually and supporting each other with tips and tricks. Don’t lose that. You can also create a virtual water cooler channel that’s outside of your normal workflow where everyone can just talk. It can be about letting off steam and discussing what we’re all experiencing.”
Becky: “With that in mind, you could be organizing trivia contests. Sharing selfies. Pictures of your workspace. You can still celebrate birthdays and company anniversaries remotely. Virtual coffee breaks are good just to get everyone together, too.”
Carrie: “Honor your company’s traditions regardless of the current circumstances.”
What Are Your Thoughts about an Employee Advocacy Program?
Becky: “It’s definitely not business as usual. So, you probably wouldn’t want your people sharing messages around your product offering. But there are great opportunities to have employees amplify messages that have a real-world impact on the public. For instance, our customer Cumberland Farms is having employees share information about alternate store hours and how they’re keeping their stores extra sanitized. Employee advocacy can be essential to highlight the great things you’re doing during this time for our customers and our people. Employee advocacy also gives people a way to stay connected to the pride they have in their companies.”
Carrie: “We’re all dealing with the crisis and wrapping our heads around things like working remotely and working differently. Hopefully, all of that gets resolved soon. But eventually, business as usual will resume. There’s a way to focus your employee advocates to come together to benefit both everyone in the short term and the long term.”
Additional Resources to Learn More
This article was originally published on Dynamic Signal's Blog, co-written by Becky Graebe.
You are a leader, even if you only manage a team of one.
“People leave managers, not companies,” is truer today than ever before. And even if you manage one person in an organization of thousands, you are still the key influence on their employee experience.
You will play a large role in shaping their perception of the company as just a place to work, or a place where they understand the mission, believe in the purpose and feel good about being a part. As their manager, you are their conduit to the larger corporate messages and their link to the overarching culture of the company. More than anyone, your attitude and behaviors will influence their day, their work-life balance and their general feelings of positivity and productivity.
That sounds like a lot of responsibility, and it is. But you were given this role for a reason, and to succeed in it, you need to think about the experience you are giving your employee, whether that is 1, 100 or 1,000 people.
Most people start their role as a manager with a simple premise: avoid how their worst manager treated them and emulate their best. And that’s a great place to start. However, intentional leadership requires you to reflect and communicate the following:
Managers should also consider the two-way dialogue needed with each employee to understand their work and communications style. This can be done at the onset of a new relationship through a well-thought-out onboarding program that integrates employees into the company, your team and is the first step to your relationship; and this conversation should also be held at any point to course-correct where working styles may clash, but perhaps an open and transparent discussion has never taken place to set expectations.
Here at Cheer Partners, we value every employee’s voice and opinion. Our belief in sharing knowledge and helping each other grow has manifested itself in our regular blog series. Every member of the Cheer team has the opportunity to write their own pieces as frequently as possible and share them both internally and across our sites.
For the month of January, we have decided to create our own Cheer Panel with the leadership team. This is an opportunity to ask our Managing Partner and Directors the questions that are inspiring them as we enter a new month, new year and new decade! 2019 was a year of immense growth for our organization; now is the perfect time to reflect on what 2020 can bring!
What is your vision for Cheer Partners and the Employee Experience for 2020?
Cat: I think we will see three trends in Employee Experience in 2020: Deeper metrics and analytics, the role of purpose driven leaders will need to be crafted intentionally, and communicated clearly and regularly, and reinforcing employee experience and candidate experience through trust.
Carrie: We hope to help people understand that everything is a communication, in fact, we often counsel that no communication is actually the loudest communication. It is table stakes that you will join a company for their place in the industry and what you hope to contribute to their work. However, the intangible reason someone becomes an employee is the feeling they get when they walk through the door, the energy the feel as they walk the hallways and the desire they have to come back the next day.
Lisa: That we will continue to help bridge the gap in the onboarding experience and the day to day experience, as well as overall internal communications for employees. We are here to help foster that change and I believe that our creativity, our experience and our voice will continue to extend to companies who value and put value on each employee that makes a difference at their company.
What do you think makes Cheer Partners the best place to work?
Carrie: Cheer Partners values talent over geography, which means that by being a remote company, we are able to scoop up the best and the brightest talent and support clients from a local vantage point.
Cat: We are intentional in everything we do - our work styles, best practices, colleagueship and partnership with our clients. And it is intentional that we live the remote work experience.
Lisa: It is our extremely collaborative environment and our truly connected remote culture. It allows us freedoms – creativity, true partnership and time. Of course, what really makes all of this a best place to work is our colleagues.
What’s your favorite piece of advice for people trying to affect positive change to the Employee Experience?
Lisa: Listen to your employees. Create programs that help you keep your talent engaged and be daring enough to change the way they experience work.
Cat: It has to begin with measurement. Once you know where you are, then you can plan in accordance to what your employees are looking for. Focus groups, Cultural DNA assessments and the like all play a role in creating the foundation for a successful strategy.
Carrie: Take a step back and look at the experience from the other person’s point of view. For example, if you are developing an onboarding program for new employees, but have been with the company a decade, you need to consider what it is like to not know where anything is, how the organization is structured or what you need to succeed. You should survey recent hires and the departments that support onboarding to find the points they receive positive feedback on and the potential pain points of the process.
What’s your New Year’s resolution? Personal and/or professional
Cat: They align. To finish my book and be more reflective.
Lisa: Learning to make time for the things that make me happy- and learning to pause, breathe and move forward.
Carrie: My resolution straddles both the personal and professional, but as a “still new” working mom, I need to find a stronger integration of my professional and personal lives. Not a balance, as that means that one outshines the other for a portion of each day, but an integration.
What are you reading or listening to that keeps you motivated?
Cat: Arianna Huffington, Tim Ferris, Pat Mitchell, Ann Lamott, Derek Sivers.
Lisa: I always go back to Sonia Sotomayor’s book, My Beloved World. My childhood and teen years are very similar to her life story and as a fellow Latina, it’s important to be connected to those who understand the importance of never forgetting where you came from. Her offering of inspiration, her testimony to hard work and pursuing her dreams remind me every day to take those same measures in my every day infinite possibilities.
Carrie: Cheer Partners provides employees with access to LinkedIn Learning, and I love using that to learn things I wasn’t expecting to know I should learn, like right now, I am taking a class titled, Leveraging Neuroscience in the Workplace. What a fascinating spin on the employee experience! I’ve also been asked to create a curriculum for our team to enhance their learning, which is a creative exercise for me to increase our own learning and development.
What’s on your 2020 Book List?
Cat: Re-reading all the Jane Austen novels, again.
Lisa: In the Land of Men, by Adrienne Miller and Taína, by Ernesto Quiñonez.
Carrie: Measure What Matters by John Doerr, The Age of Agile by Stephen Denning, and Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell.
Cat: Tough one! So many I love but I have to say Girlboss overall.
Lisa: Creating Espacios – which is dedicated to elevating the voices and stories of trailblazing Latinas.
Carrie: I know this is different, but I don’t listen to podcasts.
What are you most looking forward to this year?
Cat: Reducing operational complexities and taking time off, really.
Lisa: My niece’s High School Graduation!
Carrie: I am looking forward to growing our capabilities with rich client experiences. For example, although we have done it organically for years, we just officially launched the Cheer Partners Cultural DNA Assessment to help leaders understand what makes their organization unique, helps their employees go above and beyond in their effort and what derails those efforts.
My first few weeks into my first corporate job at a Fortune 50 company and we are in small Workshop tables in a seminar. My bachelor’s degree and I are at a table with MDs, PharmDs, MBAs or other combinations of letters that made me feel inadequate. My insecurities may not have been noticeable, but someone said something that put me, and I am sure others at ease: “Well, we’re all at the same table now.”
That sentence signaled to me that my voice mattered, my opinion was relevant and my expertise in communications was represented by one person at that table... me. Therefore, if I didn’t speak my mind, then my discipline and years of experience would become less relevant to the conversation and potentially mar the importance of including communications in the minds of these colleagues.
When considering who you are as a leader, managing your team and setting them up for success with the right skills, tools and resources is paramount to their employee experience and your team’s collective success. However, it is also to your benefit to ensure they each feel empowered to have a seat at the table and a voice that will be respected.
A culture that encourages diversity of thought, of people with generational differences, perspectives, cultural experiences, pop culture references and educational backgrounds will make your team richer and your outputs more impactful.
I once had an opportunity to come up with a new campaign name for a client program. I had learned that the campaign name could signal something more provocative than this prospective Fortune 500 company was intending to insinuate. My lead client was so ingrained in consensus, he did not have an awareness of this language nuance. I had a chance to say something early enough that no one was embarrassed in the client meeting.
Time served is not the only relevant factor at a business meeting. In fact, those with fewer years of experience in the industry, but more experience with newer technology or understanding of what drives a sub-set of the population, may prove to be as valuable. So when asked to take your seat, find your voice.
Posted as part of a blog series for Cheer Partners
In my job description as Managing Director and Team Lead, Employee Communications of Cheer Partners it reads, “responsible for care and feeding of employee communications team.” This sentiment and responsibility were raised in my discussions about the role multiple times. In fact, it was made clear that this was equally – if not more – important to Cat Graham and the Cheer Partners Leadership Team than client relationships.
It made me think of these idioms that you hear frequently about self-care, but in truth serve as the foundation for employee relations.
"Charity Begins at Home” “You Can’t Pour from an Empty Cup” “Put Your Oxygen Mask on First”
You have a business marketing plan, a customer relationship management system and a sales strategy. As a leader, you know that your company would not be able to function without these core elements. This is one reason you are successful. But not the only reason, because without the care and feeding of your team, your success may come, but it will not come as easily as it could.
How do you do this:
It starts with you…
Think about who you are, what you need and what others need from you to be successful:
· Consider what type of manager you are and who you want to be
· What boundaries do you want to have – personally and professionally?
· How do you plan on connecting with them on a more intimate level?
· What are your skills and plans on providing a construct for feedback – both positive and negative?
Focus on the individual…
Book an hour with each team member 2-4 times a year to talk about the following. Prepare for that meeting as you would a client meeting and even consider preparing (confidentially, of course) with a trusted peer or coach, to help you see your team members from a different perspective.
· What brought them to their current role?
· What unique background, experiences and perspective do they bring to the table?
· What are their career aspirations, have you taken the time to review that, separate from the annual review discussion?
· What motivates them to be productive and go above and beyond?
· What areas of growth do they have in technical experience and soft skills?
· What resources do you have, or do you need to be able to support them in their career path, even if it veers them from their current direction or role?
Bring it together with your team…
Meet with your leadership team and/or your entire team to consider:
· The values, behaviors and attitude that your team brings to work each day
· Your expectations of their working relationships with each other – up, down and across the team
· How they want to build these constructs and live them every day
· How will you measure their satisfaction and the success of these constructs continuously?
Take the time to thoughtfully consider your team from a holistic point-of-view and define a plan to cultivate those relationships. It is guaranteed to result in a stronger team dynamic and more motivated, productive and engaged employees.
Posted as part of a blog series for Cheer Partners