Cascade information to improve communication and engagement

You conduct an Employee Engagement Survey. The results are clear. Your organization needs to improve communications. So what does that mean? Anyone knows that communication is important. You know that you cascade information through your quarterly town hall meetings and your monthly meetings with your leadership team. So where does communications fail? And what is the remedy?

Conduct a Communications Audit

Often, companies conduct a communications audit. The audit reveals how information is currently shared, what types of information are shared, who delivers the information, who receives the information, and the frequency. By understanding the current state of information flow, you can ask employees what works and get their suggestions on what can be done to improve it. Be sure to evaluate information flow not only top down but also bottom up and laterally.

Improve Meetings and Cascade Information

cascade information

Typically, after conducting a communications audit, one of the action items is to improve the flow of information from meetings. This entails improving the management of the meeting and the cascading of information from the meeting. These improvements can be applied to information flow both top/down and bottom/up.

Take a few moments to evaluate your meetings.

  • Is there an agenda for each meeting?
  • Are objectives for each element of the meeting listed?
  • Are meeting minutes posted on flip charts–in real time–documenting all decisions made and action items?
  • Is a document developed at the conclusion of the meeting that lists the decisions and action items in a way that everyone who reads it can understand it?
  • Is there an expectation that the cascade document is distributed to the next level–either up or down–within a set period of time?
  • Does someone who had attended the meeting have the responsibility to discuss the cascaded information and answer questions?

Improve how you structure your meetings and your processes for sharing information after meetings. Don’t leave communication up to chance. Communication is often a key driver of employee engagement. And when information gets bottled up, the organization suffers. Employees expect companies to share information with its employees. Keep employees informed, so they feel like owners and are an integral part of the organization.

Saying thanks for a job well done

Show appreciation for a job well done

An article by Julie Watson of the Associated Press talks about the desire of many Americans to offer their gratitude for the heroic work of the Navy SEAL team. People are seeking a variety of ways ranging from expressing thanks through social media to making donations to military foundations to show their pride and gratitude for what was achieved. It is frustrating for many who would  prefer to give a more direct and personal expression of thanks, but that does not work when it comes to these “quiet professionals.”

A job well done is not isolated to those who exhibit bravery and the ultimate of accomplishments. Employees in their careers accomplish much in their daily tasks, although the results may not appear as monumental. Showing thanks for a job well done is an important aspect of work life, but all too often, managers only document and discuss employees’ flaws rather than their accomplishments. When did you say a genuine thank you to someone for a specific job well done?

Many benefits if you show appreciation

Show appreciation. It can make employees feel their work is worthwhile and can create a positive mood that spills over to home life, as well. Working in a setting that nurtures workers through sincere, kind words of thanks can lead to positive emotions that impact health, conscientiousness, and creativity. Words that are shared in the workplace are valuable opportunities because they can have a tremendous impact on the receiver.

The benefits of positive emotion are many. As stated in the article, “Work as a Source of Positive Emotional Experiences and the Discourses Informing Positive Assessment” in Western Journal of Communication, January-February 2011:

Research suggests that positive affect improves efficiency, broadens attention, increases intuition, enhances problem-solving, improves information recall, leads to more cooperative approaches, expands cognitive processes and improves physical and mental performance. These benefits also appear to be durable. Other work has found associations between positive emotions and helpfulness, generosity, cooperativeness, graciousness, and increased trust.

Work should be intrinsically motivating. The job itself should be a source of meaning. In the case of the Navy SEALS, they accomplished a task demonstrating excellence in execution, and the outcome of their work was a contribution appreciated not only by their leaders but also by millions of Americans and others, as well. This work was truly meaningful work.

People want to feel good about themselves. And they also want to be valued by others.

The workplace is a social setting where words shared have a greater impact than a manager or supervisor may realize. Showing that you care can make a difference. Thanking workers when they do good work can make a difference. Communicating how a person’s work makes a contribution can make a difference. Nurturing positive emotion in others can make a difference.

Isn’t it time you make a difference in the lives of others at work? Show appreciation and say thank you for a job well done. Encourage and appreciate others’ efforts. Take the time to nurture positive emotions. It helps others, and it might just help you, too.

Where is the soul of Dell?

The soul of Dell should be the focus

After reading the WSJ article “Michael Dell Looks Beyond PC Business,” you may wonder where is the soul of Dell. In the excerpts of the WSJ interview with Michael Dell, no clear company Purpose or set of defining principles–a Philosophy–stand out. Where is the soul of Dell?

Leadership is the dominant driver of culture and strategy; therefore, in all communications, the CEO must share the Purpose of the company and its defining Philosophy. These core attributes must be at the heart of each conversation. These defining principles serve the company internally as a glue to unite and a compass to guide. But they also must be consistently communicated to the public so that everyone has a sense of the heart and soul of the company and its distinctive contribution. The energy of the company’s essence can be a powerful tool–when it is genuine and shared.

But in the interview with Michael Dell–the founder–the conversation centered more on the company’s move from consumer to enterprise, the importance of acquisitions and the push to supporting cloud computing. These are conversations that are important but not distinguishing.

If Dell wants to stand out and achieve, the company must look inside and unite again around a Purpose and Philosophy that every employee connects to and that the public understands. To be a leader, a company must know itself and its distinguishing attributes and then build on that internal strength and devoted mindset. Understanding your markets and strategy is essential, but you must also understand and communicate your Core Culture–the essence of who you are–so that you stand out and succeed because of your distinctive ability to make a contribution.

How effective is communications in your company?

Conduct a communications audit

Is communications a problem in your company? Does information flow top/down, bottom/up and laterally? Do employees get the information they need to be effective in their jobs? Are employees informed on the culture and strategy of the company? Are employees clear on their job and goals? Are decisions communicated? Is progress shared? Are employees up-to-date on what’s happening with others in their organization?

Periodically, you should conduct an internal communications audit to evaluate the practices that are in place to share information within the organization. The process involves first compiling a picture of the current communications practices that are being used, their effectiveness, and recommendations to improve the flow of information.

Gather information on current practices

To begin the communications audit, first ask a few people on varying levels of the organization, through interviews and focus groups, general questions like:

  • How would you describe the effectiveness of communications in this organization? Please explain.
  • What do employees need to know? What additional things do employees want to know?
  • What practices exist (vehicles) for sharing information? For each ask, how effective it is and what changes would improve communications.

communications audit

Create a complete picture of the communications system

To build a comprehensive picture, gather information on the following:

  • CHANNEL and MEDIA: What written forms of communication are used such as memos, letters, email, webpages, blogs wikis, text messaging and instant messaging? What spoken forms of communications are used such as phone, conference calls, voicemail, and podcasts? What blended forms of communication are used such as face-to-face discussions, meetings, presentations, webconferences, and webchats? Be sure to compile all traditional and electronic forms of communication. Are the best media being used to share that information or would a different channel choice be more effective?
  • AUDIENCE and MESSENGER: For each channel and medium, determine what audiences receive that communication and who is the messenger. Code each as being top/down, bottom/up, or lateral communications.
  • CONTENT: Then indicate the content of the message. Categorize content. Is the focus of the communications things like company goals, culture, job duties, decisions, employee updates, customer updates, progress and metrics, etc.?
  • TIME/FREQUENCY: For each, indicate the frequency that information is shared. Have a clear picture of what information is shared, daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annually.

More specifically, when talking about the flow of information, ask questions such as:

  • Does information flow effectively down throughout the organization–from leaders to managers and from managers to employees (or whatever levels exist)? What changes would improve communications? Is there sufficient sharing of information or is information lacking?
  • Does information flow effectively upward from employees to managers and from managers to leaders? What changes would improve communications? Is there sufficient sharing of information or is information lacking?
  • Does information flow effectively laterally–with others in your group or department and on a similar level in other departments? What changes would improve communications? Is there sufficient sharing of information or is information lacking?

With a clear picture of all the ways information is shared, be sure to uncover:

  • How effective is it?
  • What can be done to improve it? Is information lacking? Is there information overload?

Before you can improve communication, you must get this baseline data of what communications are in place and compile recommendations for making communications more effective. In addition to gathering the data through interviews and focus groups, observe communications activities like meetings, and review samples of communications like agendas, meeting minutes, emails, memos, and letters. From your data gathering compile a chart of the communications system used by the organization and list recommendations to improve communications.

Survey all employees to get their views

Then, using a survey, have all employees evaluate current communications and give their opinions on a list of recommendations that might improve communications.

Develop a communications plan and share it

Analyze the input from everyone and develop a plan for improving communications. Present the plan to the leadership team and finalize the recommendations. Then, communicate the communications plan to everyone in the organization and start implementing it.

Make communications an ongoing focus

Periodically, evaluate communications in your organization. When possible, use outside consulting support in this process to ensure that employees feel free to share their views. Communication drives employee satisfaction. And you cannot have an engaged employee if that employee is not satisfied.

If you have conducted an internal Communications Audit, please comment on the practices that worked for you and anything to avoid. Thanks!

What is the optimal group size for decision-making?

Much of work today is done in teams. Even in MBA programs, the team is the structure used to meet class goals. So what is the optimal size for effective decision-making? It appears that a recent Harvard Business Review stat published that research by Marcia W. Blenko, Michael C. Mankins, and Paul Rogers indicates that seven (7) is the optimal size. Yet much of the research I’ve found says that number is a bit too high.

First, many studies target an “odd” number as the first criteria for group size. According to one resource:

This (an odd number) prevents ties and improves the odds of making a correct decision when using majority rules.

Even-numbered groups can make decisions, but the decision-making can take more time.

Getting back to the actual number, think about the benefits of a large group. The more people you have, theoretically, the better chance you have of getting the best information to make the best decision. Research has shown that collective intelligence does exist. But, according to research reported in Science, the October 2010 issue  by authors Anita Williams Woolley, Christopher F. Chabris, Alex Pentland, Nada Hashmi and Thomas W. Malone:

This “c factor” (the group’s collective intelligence) is not strongly correlated with the average or maximum individual intelligence of group members but is correlated with the average social sensitivity of group members, the equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking, and the proportion of females in the group.

So it looks like social sensitivity–possibly a more common attribute to females–facilitates group decision-making. Emotional intelligence and what some consider the soft stuff is important to the functioning of teams. So getting back to the optimal group size–what’s the best number? In what size, can you have the equality in distribution of conversation turn-taking as the research indicates is an important feature of an effective group?

If you measure the number of possible social interactions with varying group sizes, the optimal group size appears to be five (5). According to a resource on applications of probability and statistics:

As can be seen by the figure below, the number of possible social interactions begins to explode in groups with more than 5 people.

Research by Hackman and Vidmar (1970) on optimum group size for member satisfaction showed a similar outcome. They composed groups that ranged in size from 2-7 members to assess the impact of size on group process and performance for various kinds of tasks. After the groups had finished their work, they asked participants independently to indicate the extent of their agreement with the following two questions: Question #1- This group was too small for best results on the task it was trying to do. Question #2- This group was too large for best results on the task it was trying to do. The chart below indicates the average answers to these two questions on the same graph. Not surprisingly, few people in the dyad thought it was too large and few in the 7-person group thought it was too small. What is noteworthy is where the two lines crossed. They dropped a perpendicular line from that point to the horizontal axis and discovered that the optimum group size was 4.6 members.

optimal group size

So if you’re looking for the best size for a team, consider an odd number close to five. But remember the number is just one factor. Social sensitivity and being able to read emotions are attributes of successful team decision making. Consider the number and consider the members. Maybe they’ll need a little training in empathy and being sensitive to others as well as having a culture that allows all to fully participate. Sounds like the right-sized team that practices many of the principles of employee engagement can be the most effective.

Mergers and acquisitions increasing in 2011–Are you considering the human factor?

According to a Forbes article published December 28, 2010, merger activity will increase in 2011:

A recent study from Thomson Reuters and Freeman Consulting Services concludes that the global market for M&A will surge 36% in 2011 to over $3 trillion.

Sadly, most mergers do not achieve their objectives. Failed mergers that otherwise have a sound strategic and financial fit are typically the result of the loss of intangible, hard-to-measure, human factors on which the company’s tangible assets ultimately rest. M&As have the power to shake up an organization and ignite feelings of loss and uncertainty that can be devastating to a company and the people in it. Employees with years of knowledge and a depth of commitment to a company don’t just turn off the switch and feel dedication to something new. These transactions are fraught with challenges:

  • People who previously may have been competitors are thrown together.
  • Employees fear being earmarked redundant.
  • Competitors capitalize on the uncertainty.
  • Existing cultures change.

So what is the remedy? How can you manage in this climate of continuous change? How can you learn how to not only survive but also thrive in a constantly changing work environment? The solution begins with understanding culture.

  • Analyze the culture of both organizations prior to the deal and decide the culture of the organization that emerges after the deal.
  • Share with everyone the Purpose of the new organization, its distinctive Philosophy that directs employee actions, and the strategic Priorities that must guide workers so they are strategic in their work activities.
  • Access the fit of employees with this new culture and give employees the opportunity to evaluate their fit or lack of fit with the new culture. A merger or acquisition represents a new opportunity to create a compelling, ambitious vision to capture value not present prior to the transaction. Individuals must determine if they buy in and want to be a part of that vision and strategy. Is the future of the company a future you want to share?
  • Communicate–actually over-communicate. There is a lot of uncertainty and any and all communication will be appreciated by employees. Know that individuals want to know how the change will affect them so be sure to address the organization-wide changes and the changes that will impact each individual. Questions employees will have include: Do I have a job? Who will be my boss? What type of company will I be working for?

And a few months after things have settled, give employees an opportunity to voice their feelings and perspectives through a survey that is anonymous. Take the time to share survey results and any changes that will be made.

As companies choose to use mergers and acquisitions to grow and expand their reach and their offerings, they should take the time to clarify the cultural issues and focus on the people issues so that the deal is a financial, strategic and human success.

Make 2011 the year of great relationships–how that applies to the work setting

Healthy work relationships matter

In the Wall Street Journal article “Making 2011 the Year of Great Relationships,” Elizabeth Bernstein states:

Made any New Year’s resolutions yet? Here’s an idea: Focus on the state of your relationships instead of the state of your abs.

Increasingly, experts have been telling us how important social bonds are to well-being, affecting everything from how our brains process information to how our bodies respond to stress. People with strong connections to others may live longer. The quality of our relationships is the single biggest predictor of our happiness.

Research also shows that relationships–the social aspect of work–is a key component of building employee engagement. Employees are more connected to their workplace when they work with people who they genuinely care about as individuals. Sincere interest, caring and support by senior management, supervisors, and colleagues nurtures a sense of belonging and community. Work relationships can be a powerful motivator.

Is your workplace one where people feel that sense of community? Do you sometimes describe your workplace as a family? As one employee stated: “It feels like family. It’s just a closeness. Here I feel like I am somebody. People know me. We take care of each other. We don’t just discuss work; we talk about life. We have a very caring environment.”

Having positive social connections helps people perform better on the job because they listen to each other and are more open.

As David Rock explains: “When you connect people together, you reduce social threat.” Individuals can be a friend or a foe. Collaboration hits walls when others are seen as foes rather than friends.

Building work relationships can reduce silos and contribute to a more collaborative and productive workplace.

Relationships must be strengthened between leaders, managers and supervisors and the employees they lead and manage. The emotional connection between employees and company leaders impacts how employees feel about the company and their job. As people often state: “Engagement flows downhill or it does not flow at all.”

In the Towers Watson 2010 Global Workforce Study, 67% of employees want senior leaders to care about the well-being of others, but only 38% feel their senior leaders are caring.

Do leaders and managers know their employees? Are leaders genuinely interested in their employees’ well being? Having empathetic, caring managers who take the time to get to know employees—their strengths, aspirations, how they work best, how they learn, what inspires them and their challenges–promotes a more engaged employee.

As one employee described his work relationship with his supervisor: “There’s always somebody you can talk to if you have a problem, whether it be personal or company-related. There’s nothing he won’t help.”

Engaged workers have supervisors who genuinely care about them. Think about the supervisors at your workplace:

  • Do they take time to guide employees?
  • Do they remove obstacles to optimize worker performance?
  • Do they provide tools, resources and equipment necessary to do the job?
  • Do they match workers’ individual preferences and strengths with tasks? Do they figure out what everyone does best and find ways for them to shine?
  • Do they inspire workers to do their best work every day?

And work relationships must exist between employees. Engaged workers have friends at work. Collaborative relationships—working with people who care about each other and help each other succeed– are the key to business success. Relationships and caring about each other promotes a sense of community and nurtures enjoyment.

Do employees work in teams? Having evolved from hunter-gatherer bands, our orientation is to the smaller, more immediate group. In teams, relationships can be nurtured. People are more motivated in highly cohesive teams. Each member’s desire to be a member of the team is much stronger than their desire to leave. The members of a cohesive team each have a personal desire to see the continued existence and success of the team. Because they care about each other, they are willing to put forth extra effort.The younger Gen Y worker is typically comfortable being a team player.

Social connections where people feel others are friends at work creates positive feelings among workers which nurtures dedication and brings out the best in people.

Constructing a thriving workplace culture where employees are connected to their workplace requires understanding that employee engagement is a human endeavor. When employees have relationships and a genuine caring for each other, a company and its employees prosper. So let 2011 be the year of great relationships–not only in your personal life but also in your work-life. Quality relationships at work are key to business success.

Do your hiring practices screen for culture fit? — Part 4

To ensure that you are selecting people who are a fit with your culture, evaluate your hiring practices. You want to hire people who will be a fit with the Core Culture—who find the work meaningful and are in harmony with the values of the culture.

To screen for culture fit, consider these five questions about your recruitment and selection practices:

  1. Do recruitment materials reflect the Core Culture?
  2. Do recruitment practices—before and after the candidate interview– support the Core Culture?
  3. When meeting with job applicants, do you talk about the organization’s culture?
  4. Do you model the Core Culture when meeting with candidates?
  5. Do you interview for culture fit?

Evaluate your recruitment materials to support culture fit

Do recruitment materials reflect the Core Culture?

The way to get the right employees is to start out with a lot of good choices. Having well-constructed recruitment messages providing details that illuminate the culture of the workplace can affect job seekers’ perceptions of fit and thus influence their intentions to apply for positions (Roberson, Collins, & Oreg; Journal of Business and Psychology, 2005).

Think about the print materials you produce for job applicants as well as your internet communications. Because the internet is a commonly used resource for finding jobs, evaluate how you communicate online with potential applicants. Examine your website and the job applicant portal, in particular, as well as your pages on Facebook, Linked In, blogs or your communications through Twitter and others. Are you communicating your Core Culture beliefs at the first step of the recruitment process? Do those materials and communications align with your Core Culture? Do they share the Purpose, Philosophy and Priorities of your organization? Do they make it clear what’s important to your company, its contribution and character?

One example of aligning a recruitment message with the culture is the following information taken from the Disney website for job applicants. Disney is a company known for its Purpose—to make people happy—and they do it through the distinctive Philosophy of imagination. Disney is a place where they make dreams come true. On their website for job applicants it stated,

Welcome to The Walt Disney Company! Yes, there really are dream jobs. Here, the bottom line is imagination, our culture is magic and wonder, and required previous work experience: childhood dreams. Think of all the laughter, astonishment, joy and thrills that have come from this one place. Movies, Animation, News and Sports, Music, Television, Books, Theme Parks and Resorts. After all, a company built on imagination and wonder means the work will be interesting. And always will be. There’s room for talented people. It’s a dream job.

Their website for job candidates already begins the screening process to bring in people who are the right fit for their culture.

Communicating the company’s Purpose and values upfront helps filter out candidates who are not a fit. Your recruitment materials are a valuable resource for sharing your Core Culture in the first step of the hiring process.

[For continuation of Hiring for Culture Fit discussion, read the next post on topic: Part 5]

Is higher pay the best way to retain employees at Google?

Things to consider to retain employees

Google has been losing talent to Facebook and other competitors so to retain talent, they’ve decided to give everyone–executives and staff–a 10% raise, effective January 1, 2011.

An internal memo published by Business Insider that was sent by Google CEO Eric Schmidt to employees states:

We’ve heard from your feedback on Googlegeist and other surveys that salary is more important to you than any other component of pay (i.e., bonus and equity). To address that, we’re moving a portion of your bonus into your base salary, so now it’s income you can count on, every time you get your paycheck. And one last thing…today we’re announcing that everyone will get a holiday cash bonus, too.

The memo also says:

Googlers, you are what makes this company great, and our goal here is to recognize you for your contribution, in a way that’s meaningful to you.

Retaining talent is essential for companies and as Eric Schmidt confirms–the actions that a leader takes to promote retention must be ones that are meaningful to the employee. The solution of throwing money at people is not a bad problem for employees. But research shows that if pay meets two qualities, it no longer serves as a retention tool:

  1. Pay must be fair. Pay must be fair relative to what others in similar positions in the organization and outside the organization are receiving. If the pay is fair, a higher pay does not tend to be what most people are looking for to be happy at work.
  2. Pay must be adequate. If an employee is able to live as he or she wants to live with the pay received, then an increase in pay will not typically be a meaningful retention tool.

When pay is both fair and adequate, leaders and managers must look to other areas to retain employees. For example:

  • FIT: Is the organization a fit for the employee? Is the organization’s contribution meaningful to the employee? And are the values of the workplace in harmony with the employee’s values?
  • TRUST: Does the employee have a trusting workplace that exhibits fairness, respect, integrity and competence?
  • CARING: Is the work setting a caring workplace where the employee has meaningful relationships, a sense of belonging and camaraderie?
  • COMMUNICATION: Does the employee feel the workplace is transparent, with open, two-way communication?
  • DEVELOPMENT: Is the work challenging giving the employee a feeling that he or she is developing skills and building mastery?
  • OWNERSHIP: Does the employee feel like an owner–involved and participating in decision making and having flexibility and autonomy?

Retaining employees requires more work than handing out an across-the-board pay raise. Pay is just the initial filter–and once pay has passed the test of being fair and adequate, then the solution to retention is much more complicated. Retention requires ensuring that each employee has an engaging workplace–it’s an individual thing that may require new Priorities that impact the culture of the organization.

Mergers and acquisitions can leave CEOs at a loss–and employees, too!

Mergers and acquisitions have a human impact

An article in the Wall Street Journal today states:

Many CEOs stand to come out losers if they sell their companies, even when shareholders would reap a substantial premium.

Mergers and acquisitions are a source of growth and an opportunity to enhance competitiveness. But what about the human issues? Are the employees of the companies receiving the attention they need through such a change?

Mergers and acquisitions bring tremendous change to an organization, causing issues of job security and identity to move into central focus for its employees. M&As can shake up emotions and produce feelings of loss and uncertainty that can cripple people emotionally, not only during the change but into the future.

M&A activity can be considered a trigger event because of its potential for erupting organizational change and altering people’s mindsets. Often, as soon as CEOs of acquired companies are able to leave, they do, and with that departure is an added loss for those employees who are loyal to that leader.

The complexities of blending cultures or changing cultures is monumental. Making the decision of what the “new” culture will be is a major concern that is rarely addressed upfront for employees. The result is lots of rumors and resistance that can deter the company from achieving expected synergies.

Mergers demand change and adaptation, yet too often the companies neglect to communicate effectively to guide employees through the process. Communication reduces uncertainty and diminishes resistance. It answers questions like: What’s happening? Who is in charge? What will happen to me? The purpose of the M&A must be communicated clearly, the vision for the new organization must be shared and the schedule for implementing change must be provided. The culture of the merged or acquired company must be understood so employees can evaluate if the new culture is a fit for them. Information must come from all levels, but particularly the top-levels must see this as one of their major roles. Any information that reduces ambiguity is essential for employees. Even to communicate that there is nothing new or bits of information can be helpful.

If your organization is anticipating M&A activity, be sure there are plans for defining the new culture and creating a plan for culture change as well as creating a communication plan; these discussions should be at the top of the list with the financial discussions.

The future of organizations depends on the people who live their lives there each day. M&A leadership must be concerned about the CEO and also the employees.