The Advantages of Hiring a Professional for Your Employee Survey

The advent of low-cost, easy-to-use measurement tools such as Zoomerang, Survey Monkey and Hosted Survey has opened the door to communicators eager to assess their employee communications efforts.  These tools offer templates, sample questions and instant reporting features, along with the ability to customize the look and feel of the survey to match the company’s branding.

I encourage my clients to take advantage of these types of online survey tools, and work with them to set up post-event surveys, as well as ongoing employee polls to gather information on employee issues and morale concerns.

But when it comes to a more complex survey, such as an annual employee opinion survey, I advise them to bring in the big guns and hire a professional research firm to conduct the assessment.

A professional survey provider brings to the table a number of advantages that communications generalists can’t offer, such as:

  • Knowledge of best practices – how to drive responses, how to report results effectively, and how your company stacks up against others of similar size and type
  • Understanding of the latest survey technology and knowledge of the best product for your circumstances
  • Survey design expertise – not just the look and feel of the survey, but also the development of the questions themselves
  • Assessment and analysis – advice on how to interpret the data and how to report it to senior management and back to the employees

Probably the biggest advantage that a professional survey provider offers is that of being an outsider.  They come to the table free of any internal bias that might slant the survey questions or even color the results.  That “outsider” status often results in more candid responses from employees, since they know their comments can’t be traced back to their user ID.  Plus, senior management will likely take less offense at critical verbatim comments when delivered by “the survey guys” instead of the employee communications manager.

Employee surveys are a valuable tool, and in the hands of an expert, can help identify the company’s core strengths, as well as areas of concern.

Susan C. Rink is principal of Rink Strategic Communications, which helps clients take their employee communications to the next level.  Email her at rinkcomms@verizon.net.

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What Communicators Can Learn from the 2010 Census

U.S. Census LogoI received my 2010 U.S. Census form yesterday, right on schedule.  I knew it was “on schedule” due to a well-planned, well-coordinated communication campaign which launched in early February.

First it was a series of rather weird TV and radio spots, then an advance notice mailed to all U.S. households to let them know when to expect the form.  Last week, news outlets all over the country ran stories about the Census:  when it would arrive, how long it would be, how to fill it out, and how to spot a Census scam.

In addition, over the past few days, a number of local news stations have aired interviews with county and municipal officers.  These segments provided local officials with an opportunity to tell their constituents why it was important to participate in the census.

But here’s where it got interesting:  instead of falling back on appeals to our civic duty (after all, we’ve seen how well that has worked with elections and jury duty), their talking points centered on how the collected data is used to determine Congressional representation and voting districts, as well as how Federal funds are allocated to local governments. 

As parents deal with cutbacks in school funding in the aftermath of the economic meltdown, as the national debate over health care and other legislation becomes more and more polarized, the decision to drive participation by focusing on these hot button issues is nothing short of brilliant.

Employee communicators generate lots of surveys and polls.  And with rare exceptions, we are frustrated by low response rates, falling back on gimmicks such as contests and rewards to drive participation.

The danger with stuffing the survey box, so to speak, is that responses rarely reflect the views of the overall employee population, so we end up working from misleading data.  And a program based on faulty data is doomed to fail.

We should take a page from the U.S. Census’s book and stress to our employees how the data will be used to implement changes (or even, improvements!) in the way the business operates.  Perhaps if we can identify the appropriate hot button, we’ll see much higher participation and gather more meaningful data in our assessments.

Susan C. Rink is principal of Rink Strategic Communications, which helps clients take their employee communications to the next level.  Email her at rinkcomms@verizon.net.

Communicators, It’s Time to Board the Twitter Train

Twitter LogoOne of the most frequently asked questions at PRSA and other professional networking events these days is, “Do you use Twitter?”

Granted, social media is a hot topic.  Companies are using social media to market products, manage their public image, and build customer loyalty via YouTube channels and Facebook pages. 

Local TV newsrooms urge viewers to become fans on Facebook and upload images of breaking news and current events to the station’s Flickr page. 

Celebrities and politicians alike have embraced Twitter as a way to manage their visibility and raise awareness of their activities.

But not everyone is on board.

In fact, when I answer that yes, I do use Twitter on a daily basis, most PR and HR professionals alike are quick to dismiss it as a fad and something that has little relevance to the “business” of communications.

I disagree.

Look, I know all the arguments against using Twitter as an employee communications tool:  

  • “It’s a time-waster.”
  • “My employees are on the shop floor/at the service counter and don’t sit at a computer all day.”
  • “What if someone Tweets a profanity?”
  • “Who cares what Ashton Kutcher is doing?”  (OK, that one is mine.)
  • “Where is the ROI?”

All of these are valid arguments against adopting Twitter as an employee communications tool.  Sure, I can cite you companies that are using Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Yammer and a myriad of other social media tools as part of their comprehensive employee communications tool kit.  But you’ve heard those arguments before and you still aren’t convinced.

So let me tell you how I use Twitter:  as a professional development and research tool. 

There are some great resources out there that Tweet the latest workplace statistics and communication research findings.  I follow them and scan their Tweets to see if there is anything I can use to help one of my clients or even prepare me for a pitch to a new client.

There are professional and educational organizations, as well as industry experts, who offer free training, either via informational blogs or webinars and live chats.  I participate in as many as I can and apply that knowledge to the projects I’m supporting.

And there are recruiters and professional organizations that Tweet job openings and tips for effective resume development and interviewing.  I share those leads with friends and clients who are actively (or passively!) looking for work.

Communicators, it’s time to stop dithering and board the Twitter Express, if for no other reason than to prepare you for the day when you are out on the job market again.  After all, when was the last time you saw a PR or communications job posting that didn’t require expertise in social media?

Susan C. Rink is principal of Rink Strategic Communications, which helps clients take their employee communications to the next level.  Email her at rinkcomms@verizon.net or follow her on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RinkComms

How to Use Social Media for Employee Communications

Employee communications strategist Susan Rink explains how to use six social media innovations for employee communications in this informative video.

Her company, Rink Strategic Communications (www.RinkComms.com), specializes in taking employee communications to the next level for their clients.

Susan touches on
1. Blogs
2. Yammer
3. Microsoft SharePoint
4. Online chats
5. Online comments
6. Wikis

Communicators, Get Ready for Healthcare Reform

Image of U.S. flag with stethescope

All signs indicate that Congress will pass healthcare reform legislation before the end of this year.

While there have been vast differences of opinion about the reform legislation, I think we can all agree that — once the bill is signed into law – employers will need to inform their employees about the changes that will impact them and their benefits.

The good news is that most organizations are either in the process of, or have just completed, annual benefits enrollment.  So there should be some processes already in place for communicating benefits changes.

The bad news — we don’t know exactly what the law will mandate, and exactly how the law will change our company’s benefit offerings.  Unfortunately, our employees will expect to hear that information as soon as the media reports passage of the bill.  And they will get frustrated by our inability to provide specific details.

In this scenario, the best course of action is to start communicating now, start setting the expectation that the HR team is tracking the healthcare reform debate and working proactively with current benefits providers to ensure that information is communicated as soon as details are available.

I’d recommend equipping managers and executives with a holding statement, similar to the ones used in the early phases of a crisis, which reinforces both the organization’s preparations and the plans for ongoing information updates.

You should also be working now on FAQs.  It shouldn’t be hard to determine which questions should be addressed if you’ve been following the healthcare debate:

  • How will I (and my family) be impacted?
  • Will I need to switch my coverage?
  • How much more with this cost me?
  • What are my options for getting insurance?

You might also want to prepare a presentation deck that can be used either by a department manager, or by the HR leader during an all-hands meeting or webinar.  You won’t have enough details to release it until after the bill becomes law, but at least you’ll have a head start.

Don’t delay.  Pull your communications team together and start working now on your plans for communicating what has the potential to be the biggest change facing your employees in the past few decades.

Susan C. Rink is principal of Rink Strategic Communications, which helps clients take their employee communications to the next level.  Email her at rinkcomms@verizon.net.

Think About the “Whys”

whyYesterday’s retrospectives on the life and legacy of Sen. Edward Kennedy reinforced his reputation as a passionate, eloquent speaker. 

Throughout the day, news stories showed clips of interviews with and platform speeches delivered by an articulate, charismatic champion of civil rights and equality.

Yet one clip from his failed Presidential campaign in 1980 stood apart from the others.

In this clip, a reporter asked the late Senator why he wanted to be President.  A fairly straightforward question for any candidate seeking that office, right?

The Senator’s response?  “Ummm……ahhhh….”

No wonder Kennedy failed to gather support for his campaign.  It’s hard to rally around a candidate who cannot tell you why you should vote for him.

Managing people is a lot like managing a political campaign – managers try to build support for their ideas and rally groups of people to accomplish a common goal.  And like politicians, managers often find themselves having to support or defend a decision or action made by someone else.

Their employees expect them to know the answers, to be able to provide context for the action or decision.  Unfortunately, in most cases managers are briefed on the “what”, but they don’t have the information they need to answer the “whys”.

So often when developing change communications plans, communications professionals overlook the role of the manager in reinforcing our messaging.  We fail to equip our managers with anything beyond the most superficial talking points.  As a result, we set our managers up for failure.

As any parent knows, “Because I said so” isn’t an effective answer.  Likewise, “Because the CEO says we should” won’t motivate employees to embrace change.

Managers must be able to articulate, in plain terms, why the decision or change is a good one, what the consequences of inaction are, and what benefits the employees will see as a result.  If they are unable to do so, your elaborate change management communications campaign has little chance of succeeding.

My advice to communicators:  Don’t let your managers twist in the wind.  Give them the information they need to address those tricky “whys” and win the support of their employees.  In the end, everyone wins.

Time to Dust off That Communication Strategy

It’s the same scenario every year. You return to the office after a relaxing Labor Day weekend and what is waiting for you? A memo from the boss informing you that the first drafts of budgets are due on Friday.

That’s right, in four days. So you scramble to pull together something that reflects your goals for the coming year, and in doing so at warp speed, you neglect to build in funding for new programs or expansion of current ones.

And let’s not forget that this year will be even more challenging; with drastic cuts in program and personnel budgets, many communicators will be hard-pressed to justify maintaining current programs, let alone introducing any new expenditures.

You know it’s coming. So why not take advantage of these next two weeks to start thinking about your communications strategy and do some preliminary work on your budget projections for the coming year?

My advice: pull out that dusty file with your communications strategy and take a hard, unbiased look at the strategic direction – does it still support the company’s business strategy and goals? Are you reaching all audiences? Are your programs effective?

Don’t forget to review any metrics that you have been collecting over the past year. This is the time to cut programs that don’t bring a solid return on investment (and return on effort!) and re-direct those funds to more effective deliverables.

Next, gather your team for a working lunch. Challenge your team to do some online benchmarking and come prepared with ideas to “steal shamelessly” and implement in your own organization. Tap your team’s creativity and brainstorm ways to improve and expand your current deliverables in the coming year. Discuss no cost/low cost ways to re-energize a tired vehicle, to make programs more cost-effective, to drive participation in events and meetings.

Once you’ve got your updated plan, along with budget projections, print it out and leave it on your boss’s desk when you head out the door on the Friday before Labor Day.

Then go off and enjoy your three-day weekend, secure in the knowledge that you will be well ahead of the curve when you return to the office on Tuesday morning.

Susan C. Rink is principal of Rink Strategic Communications, which helps clients take their employee communications to the next level.  Email her at rinkcomms@verizon.net.