With the development of easy-to-use, free communication tools it has become easier than ever to send a message to your audience at the drop of a hat. We’ve read varying reports that say the average American sees anywhere from 3,000 to 20,000 media impressions per day. We aren’t sure which end of that wildly varying spectrum is right, but we are clear on one thing —regardless of the actual number, it is clear that your audience’s attention is hard won these days. Which is why it’s so important to be able to gauge the response your communication efforts are garnering.
“How do we know if they read the newsletter?”
“How will we know if anyone is even going to come to these health screenings?”
“Could we get away with sending just one email instead of four?”
These are the things that keep you awake at night if you’re in charge of a communications budget. You feel hard pressed to prove that your communications are being read and making a measurable impact. But you can’t quite seem to wrap your head around how to track that desired outcome back to any specific piece of communication.
If you haven’t been strategic about goal setting and incorporating tracking mechanisms into your communications, you’ve probably been ‘proving’ your value anecdotally through qualitative data that’s easy to refute.
That’s a miserable place to find yourself when you’re trying to prove the value of what you do. So, let us address the juiciest of our Seven Secrets of Strategic Communications:
Secret #4: Measure Everything
Communicating strategically requires that you set goals and measure outcomes for your communications.
Gone are the days of canvassing all employees with the same messages via the same channels and hoping that they’ll engage. From QR codes to Google Analytics, we can now track every move our audience makes online. We can assign our communications unique codes at various stages of outreach to gauge precisely how many impressions it takes before someone finally clicks the call to action and follows through on our desired behavior.
But metrics aren’t exclusive to the online or multimedia realm. Employees don’t have to have smart phones or work at computers for you to track their responses to your communications. Simple calls to action can be linked to pieces in the physical world to measure their response rate just as effectively.
We recently helped a client boost enrollment in their new health coach program by offering a free gift for employees who brought our promotional coupon with them when they signed up.
We promoted the program through a variety of channels (coupon, tent cards, posters, employee newsletter and break room plasma screen ads) but we only tracked the response rate to the coupon because we wanted to measure how incentives drove participation. We made no mention of the incentives in any of our other communications.
HR managers were able to collect data simply by counting the coupons they received in exchange for the free gifts. Thus, we were able to measure the role of the incentive by comparing total number of sign-ups to total number of coupons redeemed.
At the end of our communication cycle we were able to look at the quantitative data and conclude that twenty-four percent of the employees who enrolled did so in direct response to the coupon promotion.
Gathering data on your communications’ response rate can seem tricky if you’ve never done it before. But a little creative thinking can go a long way towards answering the question of “what’s working and what’s not?” If you don’t know what’s working, then it’s time to get clear about your communications goals and build response-tracking strategies into your next project.
Don’t know where to start? Don’t fret. We’re hard at work compiling a list our favorite tools and tips to help you incorporate better metrics to measure your communications’ response rates. Be the first to receive The Magic of Metrics Jumpstart and other helpful communication tips and tools throughout the year by signing up for our monthly newsletter.
One reason we don’t take the time to slow down and think strategically is because it scares the crap out of us.
We all seem to live in a state of fear that our boss might walk by our desks and catch us reading an article online instead of replying to another pesky email. We’ve bought into this myth that anything that’s not active production is somehow listless daydreaming or squandering of company resources.
I once had a boss whose face you could literally see twitching when she came by my desk and saw me brazenly reading a design magazine or following along with an online tutorial. It brought me great pleasure to make her twitch—who wants to work for someone that doesn’t want you to think?!?!? Not me!
So let me be clear about something—thinking is working.
You officially have my permission to think on the clock—although, I can’t vouch for your boss’s reaction. #thinkatyourownrisk
If you want measurable results; if you want engaged employees; if you want a demonstrable return on your communications investment—you have to starting thinking about what you’re doing!
Unfortunately, we often hesitate to dream too big at work for fear that we’re just making more work for ourselves. If you’re trying to develop a strategic communications plan, you have to start thinking BIGGER and you have to stop worrying about how it’s all going to get done.
Which brings us to the third secret in our series on communicating strategically…
Secret #3 – You Can’t Do It All.
You have to learn to prioritize.
Last week we looked back at your Turnaround Report and asked three simple questions: what worked, what didn’t, and knowing what you know now—what would you do differently?
Now it’s time to prioritize. Start with your previous year’s projects and determine which are worth repeating, which ones need to be modified, and which ones need to go away completely.
Next, fill in any blanks or missing pieces. Here are a few suggestions we share with our clients when we’re mapping out a long-range communications plan together:
- look for areas where employees are going to be challenged in the coming year;
- consider which audiences might need additional support or have been underserved in the past;
- think about communications channels that might reduce costs or allow you to reach employees in more effective and timely ways;
- ask where you might make the most significant impact in your employees’ habits, values or skillsets; and
- list key messages that you’re legally required to communicate.
As you respond to the prompts above and your priorities begin to surface, you must make a choice about what will get done and what will be set aside. You may choose to revisit other projects that are not a current priority at a later date, but for now just focus on those key messages that must be communicated next.
If you’re new to all of this and you find it a bit daunting, try breaking it down into smaller periods of time. Instead of mapping out an entire year of communications focus only on next quarter. Then as the next quarter approaches, set aside some time to prepare by repeating the steps in this series.
Strategic planning can be an overwhelming challenge if you’re used to taking orders based on someone else’s goals for your department. A lot of corporations default to what we sarcastically call a trickle down communications plan. A plan in name only, this reactive approach to communicating is void of priorities and completely incapable of delivering any return on investment.
A little time spent thinking about your priorities will help you unleash the secrets to communicating strategically and finally create the business results that have been eluding your organization.
So what’s stopping you from slowing down and thinking about your communications priorities for the year ahead?
If you’re not getting the results you expect from your communications, we’re here to help.
Tell us in the comments below what’s tripping you up as you try to infuse deeper thinking in the work you do.
Last week we laid out the steps for looking back at your previous 365 days of communications in the communications planning phase that we like to call The Turnaround.
If you completed your assignment and mapped out your Turnaround Report then you’re probably getting eager to clean up that pile of paper down the hall before one more co-worker whines about the block you’ve placed on that conference room.
So grab your report and get ready to dig a little deeper as we reveal Secret #2 in our series—The 7 Secrets of Strategic Communications. This is where things get fun.
Secret #2 – Answer Three Simple Questions…
The real benefit of documenting past communications is in what it can tell you as you prepare your future communications. In The Turnaround phase, we sidelined any evaluation or judgment, focusing instead on mining for content and compiling the most comprehensive collection of information possible.
Now it’s time to review your past communications by asking three simple questions:
- what worked;
- what didn’t; and
- knowing what you know now, what would you do differently next time?
When we apply this filter to our clients’ work we often discover things like overlooked audiences, failure to incorporate tracking tools to measure a campaign’s response rate, or missed opportunities to follow up on key initiatives with meaningful ongoing communications.
This process works because of the 20/20 nature of hindsight. Often we are forced to operate from a place of reaction rather than strategy, making it easy to gloss over best practices that can make or break the success of your communications.
Looking back at what did and didn’t work can shed light on areas or processes in need of improvement before you find yourself in the throes of panicked production. And identifying what you would do differently prepares you to implement better strategies for producing communications that yield measurable results.
Next week, we’ll help you map out your next strategic steps so that your communications plan doesn’t become a repeat offense of last year. Until then, we encourage you to go group by group through your Turnaround Report asking: what worked, what didn’t, and what would you do differently next time?
Secret #1: Turn Around
What comes to mind when you think, “communications strategy?”
Sounds good, but I really don’t have the time.
I know what I’m doing, we’ll get the results we want or at least move the ball forward a little. So why slow down to map out what’s in my head?
Thanks for the plan, but who’s going to actually DO the work?
We feel your pain. There’s nothing worse than slowing down before you ramp up. You feel it in your bones—this frenzy to just plow forward and get stuff done. It seems counter-intuitive and even a little un-American to slow down!
It’s just plain hard to stop DOING. In the corporate world, we get caught up in this feeling that our value is somehow directly linked to our output. As if cranking out enough widgets will eventually culminate in a pile so big that the world will HAVE to pat us on the back and say, “well done.”
Well, what if that pile of widgets is really just a pile of… well… you know?
The companies and teams that are really making strides in their industry are lead by creative ideas. These ideas aren’t born in cubicle farms where teams just churn out products all day long. They’re created outside of the do-or-die paradigm by leaders who set aside time to THINK—which brings us to the first of the seven secrets of strategic communications.
It’s Time for a Communications Turnaround
Communicating without a plan is kind of like walking and texting. You’re going somewhere, but when you get there you can’t really recall any details from your journey. And if you’re not careful you could end up like these folks.
So before you walk headlong into a fountain or get mauled by a bear, take some time to assess the lay of the land. This part of the process is only about past communications. We’re looking simply at what has been done. There are NO value judgements here. It’s an objective assessment of the state of your communications at this particular point in time.
This phase of communications planning is quite grossly referred to as “the communications audit.” But who wants to do an audit?!?!?
At Lab Monkey Communications, we call it The Turnaround—not just because we’re looking back, but because this practice of looking back leads to turnarounds in the way our clients communicate going forward.
Start by printing it all out—all PDFs, all email or text campaigns, all online ads, and all of the other communications from the past 365 days. Then, catalogue them by categories—such as key messages, audiences, internal departments, etc. Spread these pieces out somewhere that you can continue adding to the piles over the span of about a week. You’ll find that as you move through this process you’ll recall various campaigns or pieces that need to be filled in or hunted down and added to your stacks.
Dedicating a week to cataloguing an entire year’s worth of communications may seem like overkill but it’s usually the right amount of time for our clients. It’s just enough time to make real progress without losing focus or getting frustrated from an unsettling pause in production.
When you think you’re done printing out and reorganizing your past year’s worth of communications, take some time to write down the main categories you’ve created and list the pieces you’ve assigned to each section. We’re sort of anal about these things at Lab Monkey Communications, so you’ll find our Turnaround Reports in Excel (though beautifully formatted, we must say). But if you’re doing this at your own pace, do whatever works for you. The point is to easily identify what has been done in the past 365 days.
Next week we’ll begin making sense of this big mess you just made. For now, just making the mess is all you have to worry about!
So load up on toner, and reserve that big conference room down the hall. This week, you’re about to make The Turnaround!
8:08 p.m. a year ago:
Our client calls us frantically needing a presentation uploaded to their web site before their meeting at 9:00 a.m. the next morning.
They go to voicemail.
The next morning, we make our coffee. We meditate. We share our “new and good” in our morning huddle and we shuffle off to our desks to start our day. We check our email and voicemails and then the scrambling begins!
First we call the client and let them know we’re pessimistic about this, but we’ll see if we can rally. The web developer’s at a meeting this morning but we watched over his shoulder once when he uploaded a file and we think we can wing it.
We manage to get the presentation loaded (with a typo in the link) just before the meeting, and our client is able to email a link to their employees with about five minutes to spare.
It’s a little clumsy but we’re thinking they should be grateful it happened at all.
And they’re thinking “those idiots misspelled ‘communications?!?!?’ It’s in their freaking name for Pete’s sake!”
Poor Planning On Your Part Does Not Constitute an Emergency on My Part
My Dad used to have a plaque on his desk that said this. And I’ve always hated it because it’s just not true. It’s like telling your clients (or your child) “talk to the hand, ’cause the face ain’t listening.” Could you imagine how great that would be for client relations?
Instead of telling our client to “talk to the hand,” we agreed to engage in their emergency one more time. But we didn’t stop there. We decided to explore the root of the problem and propose a solution.
Eventually, we realized we had dropped the ball on our client after launching their web site. In a very short-sighted move, we had taken our client’s request for a web site quite literally as just that – designing and launching a web site. Done and done. We had zero conversations about long-range objectives, which resulted in confusion over how to keep the site functioning as a dynamic tool to keep employees engaged.
Essentially, we had treated the entire project merely as a transaction.
“We would like a web site,” said the client.
“Okay, here’s one,” said the monkeys. “Have a good day.”
When emergencies began to emerge, we realized the impetus was on us to lead our clients to work differently. Without a structure in place, however, the best our client could do was to reach out to us on an as-needed (and sometimes a quite-urgently-needed) basis.
When we stepped into our leadership role and helped our client develop a strategic communications plan, the situation changed almost immediately.
10:00 a.m. last week
Five “lab monkeys” hop on a call with the same client to discuss next month’s updates for their employee benefits site. We review the metrics to assess what employees are engaging with and what they’re ignoring. Then we recommend a few tweaks to the site to help us get the right messages in front of employees for the month ahead. We identify next steps for our writer, designer, web developer and project managers and we assign a timeline to reconvene with a test version of the site for our client to review.
The difference is night and day—all thanks to our strategic communications plan.
In the coming weeks on our blog, we’ll be focusing our attention on the Seven Secrets of Strategic Communications. We hope you’ll follow along as we map out simple steps that put you in a proactive position to deliver communications efficiently, effectively, and typo-free.
January is my favorite time of the year. It is the time of lofty promises, visionary ideas, and sweeping changes. The new year teems with a unique energy that promises to change all of our lives for the better. Add to that, the fact that Open Enrollment season has come to a close and we can all collapse and drink a bottle of wine (or something stronger if necessary) and it’s practically the perfect time of year (minus the occasional polar vortex, of course).
This year, when all went quiet on the client-front over the holidays, I took advantage of the brief respite to reconnect with our vision here at Lab Monkey.
At first, I got all hopped up on mandates and new initiatives…
We will tell them, “you MUST enter your time into your timesheets by close of business Friday—no exceptions will be made.”
Beginning in March we will have mandatory company-wide strategy meetings!
It got really unfun (yes, unfun), REALLY fast.
So boom! I wiped the slate clean and said, “What if I just listened?”
As communicators and managers we get so caught up in accomplishing our departmental objectives and shaping behaviors that it’s easy to forget that our employees will often tell us exactly how to do those things with ease if we just open up and listen to them.
This revelation reminded me of an encounter I once had with a homeless person who asked me, “Tell me son, do you have fifteen seconds?” I replied “No,” hoping to end the discussion and go about my way without being hassled for change or a meal. As I hurried on my way to who knows where, she said, “Of course you do. We all have fifteen seconds.” I didn’t turn around. I didn’t engage. But her words were nearly prophetic. Of course we do. We all have fifteen seconds. We all have time for the things that matter to us.
So if communicating with your team really matters to you, take the proverbial fifteen seconds and just listen to them. You’ll be amazed at what they have to say.
As a creative agency dedicated to making peoples’ work lives better we strive to make work work for us. Sometimes that means we work off-site, or on the patio overlooking the creek at the back of the office. Usually it just means you’ll find us running around with no shoes on, hopped up on Starbucks, and jamming out to Miley while we work.
In an effort to keep things fresh last week we installed a mindfulness browser plug-in from the Plum Village monastery. Every hour it chimes to remind us to breathe in and breathe out three times. It took us a while to stop giggling when we’d stop mid-conversation to breath, but we quickly came to love this minor adjustment in our workdays.
Yesterday, the chime went off during a client call and rather than ignore it, I explained to our client what he was hearing and asked if he’d like to take advantage of the reminder to stop and take three deep breaths in and out. Much to my delight, he did! So there I sat in my sock feet meditating with a senior human resources manager halfway across the country. The meeting reconvened with laughter and gratitude. We wrapped up the remainder of our call having covered all of our agenda items with fifteen minutes to spare!
Who’s to say that the chimes were responsible for getting us off of our call earlier? I don’t know that they can take full credit. It’s certainly not the first time a client call took less time than we had planned.
But I can say that the rest of the call was effortless. We both found ourselves agreeably divvying up our tasks and responsibilities and eager to move on to the next agenda item.
This week I’m meeting with all of our team members to talk about their intentions for 2014. This is NOT a performance review. This is NOT a goal-setting session. It is NOT a “check-in” or a “touch-base.” It’s a sacred time that we’ve set aside just to envision what each member of our team wants in the year ahead.
It’s our way of taking a deep breath and getting in touch with what makes work work for us.
What will you do to get in touch with what makes work work for you? If mindfulness is at the top of your list (or if you just want to giggle at how silly it makes you feel to close your eyes and focus on breathing every hour), you can download the Plum Village Mindfulness Bell here.
I was pumping gas and reading the news on my phone this morning when I almost dropped my phone – “UPS Drops 15,000 Spouses from Insurance.”
My mind was reeling at the news. The first article I read sensationally left out the word “spouses” to make it even more salacious—as if 15,000 employees were losing individual benefits. However, as I read through various other news sources, the picture got a LOT clearer.
So let’s back up and regroup now that the initial fit of hysteria is settling.
Yes. UPS IS planning to eliminate coverage for 15,000 spouses. But only those spouses who are eligible for coverage through their own employers. No one is getting left completely in the lurches or sent packing without healthcare coverage! That’s just media hype and sensationalist journalism.
Many large employers already tack on an increase in fees for employees whose spouses are covered by their plan instead of one provided by their spouse’s own employer.
UPS has taken a difficult stance to help cover increasing costs for providing healthcare to their employees. With a significant part-time workforce the company will be faced with an increase in costs to either provide coverage to those employees or pay the fees for failing to do so—all new provisions that go into effect with the ACA in 2014.
It’s a controversial decision, but UPS is not alone in this trend.
This year 4% of large employers surveyed by consultants Towers Watson excluded spouses if they had similar coverage where they work. Another 8% planned such a change for 2014, according to the survey. (source USA Today)
It’s never easy to tell your employees that benefits costs are rising, or worse yet—that benefits are going away. Proper timing, planning, and communications are key to helping employees weather these storms. Reportedly, a memo was issued to the 15,000 employees who will be impacted by this decision.
We don’t know what other forms of communication were distributed, but here’s what we would advise:
- Create a comprehensive communications plan to help guide employees and their spouses through this transition.
- Know HOW you’re going to deliver those details—email, meetings, online, print, or a combination of all of these.
- Issue an Employee Memo to those affected by the change (good move UPS). Explain why the company is making this decision. Don’t JUST blame external factors like the ACA. Map out a clear support strategy that employees can follow. When will they get more details? How? Where?
- Issue a Managers Memo with best practices, talking points, and a schedule of upcoming opportunities for managers and employees to learn more about the pending changes.
- Set up an Employee Hotline/Inbox dedicated exclusively to this topic. 15,000 people are bound to have tons of questions. The sooner you answer them, the sooner they can get back to work.
- Schedule employee town halls/webinars – sharing information about the pending changes in a group forum allows employees an opportunity to voice their concerns directly to managers. It also allows them a chance to see who else is affected by these changes and lean on one another for additional support.
- Mail a postcard home – yes, it’s a little odd to still receive snail mail from your employer – but that’s precisely why it still works. And since spouses bear the brunt of this bad news, we have to advise that at least ONE mail piece be sent directly to the homes of your employees with a link to online resources or a hotline they can call about the pending changes.
The cost of a communications campaign like the one above far outweighs the damage done by isolating and confusing employees who will be hit hard by the pending changes in their benefits. Engaging employees with support resources and key information about next steps helps alleviate the stress of uncertainty so they can focus on priority number one – their work.
Ultimately UPS is just like any other business right now. We’re all being forced to make some tough decisions about the future of our companies’ healthcare benefits. But are we making hard-lined business decisions based on dollars, or are we doing what’s right for our employees and their families? We think it’s important to remember that ultimately its your PEOPLE who drive your company’s success.
UPS may have found themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place—covering all of their part-time employees or covering spouses who have alternative options. Regardless of the decision they’ve made and what we think about what a business should do, we hope that UPS is working closely with their employees (and their spouses) to make the next steps clear.
And if they’re having any trouble staying ahead of the message, we’re sure they’ll give us a call. Lab Monkeys are standing by…
This year, we started a practice at Lab Monkey Communications that had our team scratching their heads a bit at first.
We kick off our weekly production meetings by going around the room and sharing “what’s new and good.” On Tuesday mornings, we share everything from getting engaged, to the discovery of keyboard shortcuts that have revolutionized our lives. Whatever’s new and good just comes up and gets us laughing before we dive into the hiccups, problems and pitfalls we need to resolve during the week ahead.
Some days it’s like shock therapy for us when we stop and force ourselves to dream up something new and good about our day. Which is precisely why it’s a mandatory part of our team meeting. We spend countless hours troubleshooting and looking at the challenges in our work lives, but precious few are spent appreciating the good.
This weekend while holed up and hiding out from Atlanta’s unusually dreary summer weather, I discovered a TEDx Talk by Shawn Achor all about zeroing in on happiness.
We know that happy employees are more productive at work. But we struggle with just HOW to make people happy. External factors only account for a shocking 10% of what contributes to our happiness. In this TEDx Talk, Shawn Achor races through some mind-blowing insights that could transform your workforce. He also shares some interesting best practices that could re-wire your employees’ brains and help them reconnect with happiness.
Lab Monkeys be warned—we’ll be discussing this at our next meeting! Are you ready for a 21-Day Happiness Challenge?
Take twelve minutes to watch this. I guarantee you’ll feel happier when you’re finished.
Is it just us or does it seem like everyone has a few extra questions about their healthcare plans this year? We’re in the early stages of drafting open enrollment communications for our clients and we’re beginning to notice a few trends.
One, in particular, is taking the lead as the number one problem for 2013. It’s the epic saga you’re trying to call a FAQ Flyer.
And it’s not really doing anyone any favors.
We get that you’re anxious to provide some sort of answers to employees this year. We get that a lot is changing as you onboard more employees, move towards consumer driven health plans, and focus on leading employees to become their own best healthcare advocates. There’s a lot of ground to cover.
But we think you’ll get further by taking a step back, regrouping and committing to these basic communications principles as you prepare to lead your employees through some of the biggest changes our healthcare system has ever seen.
Keep this year’s FAQ’s from becoming useless information graveyards by following these 4 Fundamental Principles of Fabulous FAQ’s:
- Divide and conquer – rather than having one FAQ document to address all things benefits related, we’ve seen better results by lumping your questions and answers together by topic. So if you have a question about your medical plan, head over to the Medical Plan FAQ’s. And if you have a question about your prescription plan? Start with the Prescription Plan FAQ’s. Naturally, there will be some overlap between documents. You wouldn’t want to ignore prescriptions under medical, but you may not need to go into as much detail there.
- Re-organize as you go – this is the biggest mistake we see. It’s tempting to dump every question you get from an employee into your FAQ’s. But it’s a huge mistake. We advise that you wait until you’ve heard the same question at least three times before you weave it into your FAQ’s. As the content expands, you must be mindful of where you’re adding new questions. They may flow more logically in the middle, near a question addressing similar concerns. Do not just tack every random question onto the end of your FAQs! No one will read through every question in a desperate attempt to glean a tiny nugget of wisdom from your 32-page FAQ’s. They will bail on you and they will ultimately bail on your next communications piece – no matter how beautiful, well-written, or high-priority it may be.
- K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid) – It’s tempting to go into great detail in an effort to answer a question as fully as possible. But you need to bear in mind the purpose of a FAQ document — simple Q and A’s, that’s it. Inevitably, any question related to healthcare plans or benefits will entail a lengthy and complex answer. Whenever it’s possible, you should use links to other resources that more fully answer your employee’s question. This keeps your FAQ’s more succinct and helps employees scan the content quickly to discover the resources they need to resolve their issues and get back to work.
- Format it!!! – We’re not saying that you need to have photos, charts and adorable little infographics to make your FAQ’s legible. But we are saying, use that little “B” in the toolbar (you know, the one that makes things “bold”)! Increase the point size of your “question” and group your questions under logical headlines. Don’t just throw 23 questions into a word document and think someone’s going to read it. With a few simple tweaks, you can make a drab word document into a very user-friendly guide that actually delivers information and helps employees solve many of their own problems—without making a call to HR!
Keep these basic principles in mind as you’re drafting communications to guide your employees through the complex changes headed their way this year. A little forethought up front always makes it easier in the end. Your employees will be able to grab the bits of information they need and get back to work without interrupting your day with the same old questions again and again.