May 6, 2017

What a village in India taught me about effective communication

Having spent nearly two decades working in communication, I find it very hard to “turn off” the desire to analyze and deconstruct communications I encounter throughout the day. Whether it’s looking at the flyer posted in the gym, reading the email I receive from my church, or scanning the bulletin board at my apartment complex, I’m always doing a rhetorical analysis of what I encounter:

  • What’s the purpose of this communication?
  • How well does it speak to the audience?
  • How well are environment/context of use considered for the communication?

In August 2016, I had the privilege of taking that mindset with me to India as part of a visit to the India Country Office for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to work with some of our colleagues there. As part of the visit, I traveled to Bihar – a state in East India (the third largest by population, with around 100 million people).

The foundation has partnered with the Government of Bihar to improve infant and maternal mortality rates by addressing healthcare challenges linked to infrastructure, staffing, transportation and more. One way we are partnering is by helping improve the quality and quantity of front-line worker (FLW) interactions with mothers, from the community level to individual households.

FLWs are Auxiliary Nurse Midwives (ANM), Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) workers, and Angan Wadi Workers (AWW) who, along with community volunteers, provide life-saving services, advice, referrals, linkages, diagnoses and information in locations that are hard for traditional medical providers to reach. The women receiving information rely on them because they are from the community, know the community, and have received special training that will help them improve the quality of their pregnancies and births.

While this work was inspiring work to see in action, what was also interesting to me was to see the role communication played and how the FLWs used communications principles to do their inspiring work. So while there, I performed an extremely rudimentary rhetorical analysis in my head.

The trainings and conversations I observed took place in a multi-purpose, community gathering space where the women from the village gathered in one half of the room, seated on the floor for the discussion. In the other half of the room, many of the village children gathered; this is important to note because it speaks to the potential for distractions in a noisy and high traffic environment.

The FLWs managed the training session and conversation by using a multi-media approach that addressed multiple learning styles.

 The approaches I observed included:
  • Facilitated dialogue – Prepared lessons were delivered by the FLW, with completion tracked manually on printed sheets of paper.
  • Print – Laminated, numbered lesson guides were used by the FLW to guide the conversation. The women also had printed cards that corresponded with the numbered guides and covered topics such as breast feeding, treating a fever, how to administer medicine, hand washing, etc. It is worth noting that because literacy rates are low in the villages, the guides relied heavily on graphics and low on text.
  • Digital – A mobile phone was used by the FLW to access a recording of a female physician who, as a credible and trusted source, reinforced the messages shared by the FLW. The recording corresponded with the numbered lesson in the laminated guide.

The women appeared to respond well to the materials, were very engaged, and some shared stories about how the conversations had helped them manage their lives.

My crude rhetorical analysis hardly does justice to the complexity of the work being done, and the difficulty it takes to construct a user-focused conversation that is mindful of environmental constraints. However, it serves as a reminder for communicators about the kinds of questions we should ask ourselves when we are creating messages and communications materials:

  1. Who is the audience and how much do we know about them?
  2. What is the real reason for sharing the information?
  3. Where and when will the audience consume the information?
  4. What do we know about the environment where the information will be consumed? What assumptions are we making?
  5. How do we intend for messengers to use the materials? Specifically for managers and leaders, how well are we considering the environment where they will share the information? How confident are we that it will be easy to use?

Sometimes, you have to go far away from home to get the best inspiration. I had the fortunate opportunity to travel to India and was inspired without expecting it. However, leaving “home” doesn’t have to mean getting on a plane. In whatever organization you work, it means getting away from the desk, interacting with the audience, and seeing first-hand what it’s like to receive and use the communications and materials you are creating.

In 2017, I plan to do more work away from the desk…what about you?

Jun 29, 2015

How Communications Can Help Ensure Successful Adoption of a New Internal Brand

I’ve been in the communications profession for about 15 years, and it’s humbling when you get to a point where people start asking you to come speak about what it is you do and how you’ve done it, and to share that knowledge with their organization. On one hand, it’s validating, but it’s also extremely humbling because there are so many talented people who do so many great things. That being said, I thought it would make sense to share a few highlights from some of the presentations I’ve done:

If you would like to hear more about some of these discussions, please feel free to reach out to me.

Now, on to internal branding…a topic that many people are interested in hearing more about. At Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE), we were fortunate enough to do some award-winning work in this space. In 2012, we received recognition from the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) at the Europe/Middle East/Africa level as well as at the international level for multi-audience communication, brand communication, and employee/member communication. Specifically, it was for the work we did to launch our employee value proposition (EVP), Connect Grow Win.

Our EVP journey actually began in 2010 when we completed the transaction with The Coca-Cola Company where they purchased CCE’s North American business, and we purchased Coke’s Norwegian and Swedish bottlers. This allowed us to create a much smaller organization that was focused strictly on Western Europe.

One of the challenges we faced was to make sure we were engaged with employees and giving them a sense of how what they do connects with the overall strategy of the organization. We had to be clear about our commitment to the deal that we offer employees as part of the benefit of working at CCE. That’s what the EVP is…a “contract” with an employer that says if you come to work with this organization, here’s what you can expect to get in exchange for all the great work you do. There’s actually research from Towers Watson that says companies with an employee value proposition have higher shareholder value and they are better at adapting to change.

Our Total Rewards team did some work to articulate how they set up benefits offerings that really do connect to what matters most to employees. As part of that, the team learned what people value – what was important to them. We then partnered with the Total Rewards team to position those findings as a broader EVP and use it as an internal brand that stretched across the entire employee experience…from recruitment to on-boarding to working at the company to leaving the organization.

Our EVP, Connect Grow Win, says that if you come to work at CCE, you’ll have the chance to: connect with fellow employees, with your manager, and with the world’s most powerful brand; grow personally and professionally; and win when the company wins. To make sure this wasn’t just a stand-alone brand, we integrated it across the entire experience so that everything we communicated about (benefits, performance, learning and development, values, etc.) had a linkage to the Connect Grown Win branding, messaging, and framework; but equally, when we introduced it into the organization, we aligned it with our employee engagement strategy.

Our employee engagement strategy is part of the overall framework that shows how, at that point, our global strategic framework had a strategic priority on people, which was about us attracting, developing, and retaining a highly talented and diverse workforce. For us, the commitment that we made to the employees we hired is the Connect Grow Win experience. We then used our employee engagement summary to measure our progress and how well we held up our end of the bargain on that commitment. The outcome of that was our employee engagement rating.

We introduced the Connect Grow Win framework as part of our engagement strategy, giving people lots of materials like videos and brochures that walked them through what the brand meant and what they could expect to see within CCE as a result of that commitment. To ensure a long life for the brand, we inextricably linked engagement and our employee value proposition. We did some other creative things to really give power and endurance to the brand as well – things like developing a brand guide, making sure our third-party vendors and providers used the brand for everything they were doing to support us (benefits, learning and development, pension, etc.), and creating stamps for local sites to use so things they were doing related to engagement could be “approved” as being linked to the Connect Grow Win experience. This is how we really helped to embed the brand and breathe life into our employee engagement strategy.

If you’re looking to embed an internal brand within your organization, below are the keys to success that helped us at CCE:

  • Appreciate the challenge
  • Make it about the business
  • Have a clear process
  • Communicate…communicate…communicate

If you’d like to take a look at the full presentation, click here.

May 1, 2015

Leadership, Communication, and Engagement: How Connected Are They?

Last year, I was interviewed for a paper the Hay Group prepared regarding mega trends and engagement, which if you haven’t read it, I definitely recommend you do because it’s really insightful and well done.

For my part in the paper, I addressed the role of organizational change, how employee engagement gives you insight into the agility of your organization, and how receptive people are to change. As I’ve mentioned before, we made a lot of changes while I was with Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE), and we started to see how people were responding to the changes based on how positive they were feeling about the organization.

Through this work, I connected with Ben Whitter, who leads the people and organizational development department at the University of Nottingham in Ningbo, China (UNNC). He reached out to me so we could talk about my experiences as well as the work he was doing at UNNC. Our goal…to go on a culture change journey.

Using those initial discussions as a baseline, we learned we had similar thinking in the organizational development space, particularly around how connected leadership, engagement, and communications are to organizational effectiveness. Ben suggested that there’s a lot of opportunity for fresh thinking and thought leadership in these areas in the Asian markets, and that’s a space that UNNC wants to investigate.

That said, the university graciously flew me to China to talk about some of these things. The result is something very interesting that we think will be a new way of approaching organizational development. First up is a three-in-one assessment that we jointly developed which will explore, integrate, and evaluate the intersection of leadership, engagement, and internal communication within organizations — all through one survey.

UNNC wants to pilot the survey in early June to gather benchmark data and validate the assessment, so they’ve partnered with the ICLC (Internal Communications Leadership Consortium) to offer a few organizations the opportunity to participate in the pilot free of charge. If you’re interested, please attend our upcoming webinar on May 6 to learn more.

In advance of that, I’m interested in hearing from you about the connection you are seeing between leadership, engagement, and communication. How strong do you think the linkage is among these three areas? What is the role of the communications team in forging the right connections to manage across these linkages in organizations? Do you know of any good models that describe this connection?

Below are some pictures from my time in China:

image1     image3     image2

Feb 26, 2015

Three Keys to a Successful Intranet User Experience

Over the course of 2014, I was asked on several occasions to speak about user experience and the work we did at Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE) to build a customer-approved HR portal. The reason this is interesting to people is because it’s a great example of how we applied external best practices internally.

When developing the CCE HR portal, we thought about the employee experience as a customer experience, which is something I talked about in a recent blog. I spoke about digital body language and what that means in terms of applying customer experience concepts to the employee experience.

During the presentation, Saskia Hoppe and I covered how we at CCE took a step back in looking at our HR portal to determine how we could make it employee-approved. The way we did that is we built a user experience framework that covered four different areas – physical space and access, time, content, and functionality. Below is a breakdown of what each area means and the role we played as a communications team.

  • Physical space and access: Understanding the context of use – where do people actually touch the technology that you use for your HR portal.
  • Time: Understanding how people interact with your system and how efficiently they can get their work done.
  • Content: Streamlining the information you have on the portal so people can find what they’re looking for.
  • Functionality: A broader piece that really involves how you partner with IT to make sure the transactions that people do when they’re on your intranet are seamless, easy, and efficient.

Also covered during the presentation are the three keys we think you need to ensure a successful HR portal:

  1. Study the environment where people are touching the technology (physical space and access). In our case, one of our key groups – Supply Chain employees – touched the technology in a noisy environment where they don’t really use computers on a daily basis. Our challenge was to make sure that environment worked (e.g., the computers were functional, the space was well-branded and engaging to actually look in) because if the environment isn’t inviting, people won’t go inside the house (a metaphor for people clicking on the intranet links and going deeper into the site to look around).
  2. Determine how easy it is for people to get to and use the technology and tools (time). We found that it took people in the physical plants longer to actually walk to where the technology was than it did for them to do what they needed to do on the site, so we added more access points in partnership with the business.
  3. Take inventory of what is on the site (content). We had a lot of information “inside the house” that no one really used, so we took stock of everything that was on the site, deleted items that people didn’t use, rewrote some things, changed buckets for how people did things, and we did that in a systematic way. We followed the usability testing approach, where we did:
      • Scenario testing: You have something going on in your life (for example, you’re having a baby). Go find the information you need that will support you through the process. Over time, you observe users to see what they do.
      • Card sorting: There is a lot of information on the site. Bucket it in terms of what you think is connected, then name it.
      • Information architecture: Design information based on what users told you.

The more that we can think of employees as customers and apply customer-centric principles the better we’ll be at engaging our employees.

For more details about ensuring a success user experience, click here for the full presentation.

Now that I’ve started working at The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the workforce is much different and so are the challenges. The team recently rolled out a new intranet with content that is largely user-driven and does a great job of reinforcing organizational values. We have more to do, but in many respects, it’s a best practice for using digital channels to drive employee engagement. Stay tuned for more learnings, and feel free to share what you are doing in your world.