Overcoming Top Comms Challenges in 2020
Click here to access the full recording of our webinar featuring Ann Melinger, Marissa Green, and Sherrell Watson. And stay tuned for our next episode of ICTV featuring Sherrell from BNSF Logistics about their mobile journey.
Host: 2020 has been a whirlwind of a year, putting comms pros to the test. So we surveyed IC pros to learn what they are struggling with and what strategies have been successful. On this episode of ICTV, Ann Melinger, CEO of Brilliant Ink, and Marissa Green, Director of Engagement, Diversity, and Inclusion at Jazz Pharmaceuticals, tackle the top challenges facing internal comms pros in 2020.
On screen: We asked: Did you have a crisis comms plan already in place? Results: 36% said “Somewhat,” 36% said “Yes,” and 28% said “No.”
Ann: What’s interesting about so many people saying ‘somewhat’ is that I think a lot of people are realizing that what they defined as a crisis communication plan is not sufficient in a situation like this. No one could have anticipated this situation happening, at least it shows that we should have employees as a core component of a crisis plan because very often they’re focused on media and leadership statements and things like that. But focusing on keeping employees connected and productive and informed is something that hopefully will come out as a positive from this.
On screen: We asked: What is the biggest comms challenge you’ve faced so far? Results: We found that one of the top challenges was a lack of leadership empathy. How can IC pros address this?
Ann: Even though the question says pandemic, this survey went out sort of in the midst of a lot of other things happening in the world and so that it is possible that when people were answering this, they maybe answering in terms of how leadership’s interest in communicating right now around things like racial equity.
Marissa: We’ve been really fortunate that our CEO did step up. He’s definitely one of those people in our company that’s been leading the charge and he always is. What I found interesting though, is that some of the new communication channels, other leaders were really hesitant to try. Our CEO was a big proponent of leaning into things. He was off and to the races, and the reason was because he received a lot of direct feedback from employees. For some of you, if you might be dealing with leaders who maybe are a little apprehensive or they aren’t quite leaning all the way in, find some ways to get employees to ask for it.
On screen: Since COVID-19 began, some companies are cutting staff and budget for IC. How would you convince leadership not to cut comms resources?
Ann: We talk with lots of different organizations and communications teams and not a single one isn’t struggling with this. Let’s face it, the reality of working in this area as we probably always have a need for more resources, but especially now, and it has just been an all hands on deck situation. And I think it’s unfortunate to hear about organizations cutting back because as we’re all learning, this is not going anywhere. When it comes to trying to convince leadership of something, I often point to best practices and showing that the organizations that are getting attention in the media or from consumers of doing a really good job at this, are the ones that are walking the talk and investing in their people and really providing the things that their people need to be successful.
On screen: We asked: What are the top strategies that have been most effective so far? Results: 50% said “Helping managers have conversations with direct reports,” 63.6% said “Creating feedback opportunities and surveying employees,” 59% said “Adopting multichannel strategies to reach dispersed employees,” and 50% said “collaborating with other functions.”
Ann: I think it’s really important focusing on managers. This is completely unprecedented, and this is very difficult for managers to reach through the computer screen and say, “How are you doing? How are you feeling?” And that’s a hard skill for anyone. I think that’s something that’s really important is focusing on helping those managers do things that they’ve never had to do before. And of course, all of this conversation around measuring feedback and surveying employees is fantastic. This is a really good time to be talking to your people and finding out how your communications cadence has been landing with them and making those improvements along the way.
On screen: What are your top tips for reopening or for creating a “new normal” at work?
Marissa: We’re still learning so much, and we will continue to learn as this progresses and not losing sight of that and understanding that what we go back to will be different. We’re reshaping what work will look like, what our environment will look like, what our culture will be like for the future. And we get to take all these great things that have been embedded into the way that we work, the empathy, the understanding of people’s personal environments and bring that with us.
Ann: I really like this point about working closely with HR business partners, because I think that is really key, both from a location perspective because things are very different. I’m in New York now, we were previously like a hotspot center now we’re like, “Everybody stay away. We have it all under control here.” You know? So I think really understanding what’s happening in your unique locations, but then also the HR BP is somebody who your people are going to go to, to say, “I can’t come back yet.” And they need to be ready to also have those conversations with employees at a local level. So I think that piece is really important.
On screen: Our survey showed that 75% of comms pros say their value has increased at the organization. How can we continue to prove our value going forward?
Ann: This is the great challenge of communicators everywhere, right? It’s like, how do we link our work to actual business results? This is where having a lot of those measurement channels in place in advance becomes really important and being able to tie how many times have we been able to communicate around our company strategy and what impact has that had?
Marissa: I usually look to our leaders to be some of our early adopters on some innovative pieces. So look for that too. Like what are some cost effective ways that you can bring in something new that has value for employees that your leader can help lead so that they immediately see the value?
Ann: And I think also really just emphasizing what you’re hearing from your people. Sharing those stories, sharing that feedback can go a really long way.
On screen: What have been your biggest learnings in 2020?
Marissa: I think the biggest learning for me personally has been the agility and just how quickly we have needed to pivot. As communicators, we’re used to pivoting, we’re used to taking feedback, and I think that we can really be good educators and coaches for businesses as our companies are going through this time and helping people to become more comfortable in that agility.
Ann: Being empathetic. I think as communicators, we are some of the most empathetic people. Our entire jobs are all about putting ourselves in the shoes of our employees. But I don’t want to overlook the fact that that also includes being empathetic to ourselves and recognizing that we have been through the ringer. These last few months have been really difficult. This is going to be a long journey, and we have to make sure that we’re taking time to take care of ourselves and recharge so that we can continue to innovate, enthusiastically cheer our team on, and you just have to recharge to do that.
Host: For more best practices, you can access our full recording of the State of Internal Comms Webinar at theemployeeapp.com/CommsTips