Communication – The Secret Ingredient!

Communication: The secret ingredient 

We are occasionally approached by clients to help them define their company culture, refine their organization’s core values, or develop a set of service expectations. It’s some of our favorite work but we’re going to give away one of the biggest secrets. Each and every one of these exercises begins and ends with communication. Yes, communication, it’s the secret ingredient – but it’s not as simple as it sounds. Perhaps that is why the business lexicon has so much jargon that attempts to work around it.  We have a theory that sometimes the “culture conversation” might just be disguising our real challenge as leaders: talking to our teams. 

Before we lose you – we aren’t suggesting that a well-defined organizational culture isn’t a good thing – but we are telling you it isn’t going to work if communication doesn’t.   

After all, a company’s culture, brand, and values are largely created by the words and subsequent actions of its leaders. And, your employees’ ability to facilitate your desired experience, and share a consistent message with customers, is also predicated on communication. Clever catchphrases and culture materials like books, notecards and screensavers are great, but the spoken and written words of senior leaders will ultimately shape the definition of your culture in the minds of your team. 

Perusing Glassdoor you may be surprised at the employer reviews for well-regarded, even Fortune 100, companies. You feel like you know their brand and their culture – you can see it on the “Who We Are” page of their website or on clever displays in their storefronts. Their employees; however, may not feel the magic.  Poor reviews often feature common challenges like communication in silos, mixed messages, lack of contact with senior level leaders and other concerns that all come back to communication.

Ready for another secret? You may know this one already. Communication is hard. 

…and so is golf, but we think communication just may become the new official sport of executive leadership. If we were running a practice session, here are the drills we would run:

1. Start with who
We checked, Simon Sinek hasn’t yet used that line. We aren’t denying the importance of setting a vision or explaining why, but when crafting those critical messages, it is equally important to consider your who.  

  • Be relevant: Consider the size and demographics of your team, just as your marketers consider their prospects. What channels of communication work best to share information with them? What motivates them to listen, learn or modify behavior? How does your message impact their day, their week, or their role?
  • Be timely: Consider the cadence of your team’s work and how frequently they use shared communication channels and be timely with your delivery. This is easier to do when you establish consistent opportunities to talk to your whole team. 
  • Be real: Use an authentic voice. Even when using a more formal communication channel, approach it conversationally. An email from the CEO is not likely to get lost in the inbox and feels more personal and genuine than a memo from their assistant.  

2. Speak, write, repeat

Our most powerful tool doesn’t always work on the first try. Communications must be delivered consistently, repetitively and deliberately to maximize effectiveness. 

  • Rule of 7: The average person must hear a message 7 times before committing it to memory. If you are using communication to change behavior, create significant meaning, or reinforce your culture, a one and done communication plan will not serve you well.  If the Rule of 7 is overwhelming, start with the power of 3. For example, a senior leader communicates to the whole staff, the supervisor reinforces with individual conversations, a written note comes shortly after to reinforce the message.  
  • It’s called a “brief”: The number of times a person needs to hear a message shouldn’t be confused for the need of an abundance of detail. In fact, the more you can simplify your message, the more likely it is to resonate and be memorable. Consider this, if a person were only going to read the first 3 sentences of your email or memo, would they get the essential message? If a person only tuned in for your introductory slide or closing remarks, would they understand the essence of your communication? 
  • Get your FAQs straight:  Communication is not a one-way process, it requires a loop of feedback and questions. To prepare for feedback on your coming communication, brainstorm a list of questions you anticipate your staff will have and prepare your answers. Depending on the scale of your communication and the size of your audience, you could even publish a list of Frequently Asked Questions and Answers following your formal communication. 

3. Special sauce

It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it 

  • Be humbly incorrect: Committing to communication makes us vulnerable as leaders – especially when we commit our words to writing or answer challenging questions in a live meeting. Don’t stifle the conversation out of a fear of not having all the answers. It is okay to say you don’t know or to follow up and correct a misstep. See exercise 1 – be real.
  • Explain a change in heart: Leaders often make the mistake of holding on to a communication too long for fear something may change after they share it. While we don’t suggest making and breaking promises, we encourage timely communication coupled with a willingness to explain when you had to pivot.
  • Do as you said: We saved one of the most important points for last. We are talking about talk here, but with talking the talk should always come walking the walk. Follow up and follow through will establish trust and ensure your audience wants to hear what you have to say the next time around. 

Get on Board! Increasing Retention and ROI of New Hires.

Now Hiring

For the first time in a long time, the job market is as busy as the supermarket on Sunday. As of the 3rd Quarter of 2014, there were 4.8 million job openings in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics this was the highest level of job openings since January 2001. Even better yet, we saw a significant net increase in employment after accounting for turnover.

In the thick of budget season, there is no doubt you are counting and recounting your FTEs (full-time equivalents) and forecasting 2015 hiring needs. You’ll account for the basics like salary and benefits, but new hires come with an additional premium – the cost to get them on board. From external costs like job-board postings, screening fees and background checks, to internal costs like recruiting staff and learning and development, a new hire starts costing you money before they even start.

Now, don’t take this the wrong way, we love to see organizations growing and putting people back to work. We just think that your human capital should be looked at like any other investment you make. Maximizing your return on investment isn’t a mere monetary endeavor – it takes time and resources. But when you pay the higher price up front, your returns take a jump, too!

Off Boarding – It Happens

All too often, the best day of a new hire’s employment is the day after their interview. You know – when you celebrate, thinking you struck gold on LinkedIn and scored the perfect person for the job. Fast forward to
usually about two weeks later, and your onboarding efforts may already be starting to get off track:

• The new hire just doesn’t seem to fit in
• The new hire isn’t getting up to speed quickly enough
• There just isn’t enough time to hold his or her hand
• Your training program doesn’t fit the needs of the new hire
• The HR team is small and overworked; the hiring team is short-staffed

The next thing you know, the new hire is a termination time bomb. Maybe they even feel it more than you do. And maybe they move on to a company that doesn’t use terms like “proactive” and “self-directed” to cover up the fact that their new recruits are stranded on a desert island with a training binder and an emergency e-mail contact.

Hire Education

A holistic onboarding program starts with the first new hire contact and doesn’t end until your new recruit reports for work for the 91st day. Think of onboarding like a high-maintenance date. From providing the right job description and setting realistic performance expectations, to supplying them with the right tools (and we don’t just mean a stapler and chair), new relationships require nurturing. If you’ve done well, your new hire…

• Fits in with your culture
• Is committed and engaged
• Has gotten up to speed

Moreover, your organization experiences lower turnover rates, improved brand image and reduced recruiting costs.

Talent is not as easily found as it is squandered. Don’t lose good people by getting off on the wrong foot.

Orange Paper: Brand & Culture

The Classic Scenario: Your organization has diagnosed the need for major change. Whether it be driven by a new senior management team, alterations to your product line, or even consumer feedback, you have decided it’s time to give your company a face-lift. Powerful buzzwords like vision, mission, culture and branding start flying and the reality of the workload required to pull this off hits you full force. You know that change of this magnitude is multi-faceted and it will require an army of dedicated resources to make it happen.

The Classic Solution: Despite the fact that most organizational change movements are intended to increase team cohesiveness, the project manager in all of us still falls back on the divide and conquer approach. So, armed with a new vision established by your senior team, your marketing and HR managers get their marching orders to recreate a portion of the wheel. The marketing team is challenged with rebranding and overhauling the advertising plan while your human resources team is charged with improving employee morale and redefining your internal culture.

The Classic Problem: First, even the most well articulated vision leaves room for interpretation. Setting a common goal is no guarantee the same path will be followed by both teams. Second, the brand experience had by your customers is directly driven by the cultural experience of your employees. When two separate teams are leading branding and culture initiatives the best you can hope for is two similar concepts. Yes, even with your monthly check-in meetings and quarterly progress reports.  What you really want is one brand/culture that drives the internal and external experience through and through. You see, these buzzwords (though applied differently by professionals in varying disciplines) are simply synonymous.

A High-Brow View of Brand and Culture: At In-Fusion, we remind our clients that a brand is more than a logo. Scholars (researchers, geniuses, word-nerds) in the field support this notion, though they state it with a bit more eloquence. Take this view from the Journal of Advertising Research, “To create a brand ideal, a company must identify a higher calling than simply selling its product. This ideal drives innovation and inspiration, enhances recognition, and unifies the organization in delivering against it. It not only informs business strategy: in an essential way, it is the business strategy.”

Amplify the Message: A brand is an ideal that unifies the organization. It is the business strategy.

Organizational culture is typically studied based on its impact upon your internal organization. Most scholars define it as the system of shared values, beliefs, and assumptions that impacts employee choice and drives desired outcomes.

Amplify the Message: A culture is a set of values that unifies the organization. It is the business strategy.

The Academy of Marketing Science made this strong assertion regarding developing your brand ideal, “organizational culture has long been recognized as having an important impact on marketing-related decision making.” So, rather than putting the cart before the horse we must know what our actual organizational identity is before we seek to describe that to our customers. The Journal of European Marketing also reinforces these intertwined concepts, “Corporate service brands need to coordinate internal branding activity to enhance their employees’ identification with, commitment to, and loyalty to, the brand.” There is a strong, deterministic relationship between the concepts of identification, commitment and loyalty of employees.

Amplify the Message: Brand and culture are inseparable. They are simply synonymous.

In-Fuse Your Solution: Boiling it all down to the simplest terms, you cannot define brand without culture nor culture without brand. Rather than assigning separate initiatives to define and unify your organization, you must approach it as one initiative and then allow each team to be driven by the implications of the outcome. This; however, doesn’t mean it is an ambiguous, leaderless project. It just means you need the right leader. In-Fusion Group can bring more than 30 years experience of marketing and human resource leadership experience to your organization. In addition to facilitating your journey to brand/culture identification, we can also project manage the marketing and human resource projects that result from your outcomes.

Smart People We Quoted: 1) Punjaisri, K., & Wilson, A. (2011). Internal branding process: key mechanisms, outcomes and moderating factors. European Journal Of Marketing, 45(9/10), 1521-1537. 2) Simon, M. (2011). Brands In Context. Journal Of Advertising Research, 51189-194. 3) Yarbrough, L., Morgan, N., & Vorhies, D. (2011). The impact of product market strategy-organizational culture fit on business performance. Journal Of The Academy Of Marketing Science, 39(4), 555-573.