Archive for the 'Internal communication' Category

3 ways to improve your employee newsletter

May 11, 2010

It seems many individuals responsible for the employee newsletter struggle with the task. I say this because, by far, the post on this blog that gets the most views is the one I wrote on creating a great internal newsletter. If you’ve never created an employee newsletter, your initial hurdles include figuring out the publication’s general structure, format, distribution and how you will evaluate its effectiveness. Once you’ve made these decisions, your next challenge will be to engage employees with your content so they look forward to each issue.

Here are my top three tips:

1. Take it beyond a memo with photos – Too many employee newsletters mirror the style and content of the latest memo that came out of head office. Throw in a couple of canned quotes and a photo of the production floor, new manager, departing employee etc. and it’s a good article, right? Well, actually, it’s not. The newsletter is an opportunity to delve  deeper and to reflect the concerns, questions and commentary of the staff members who are directly affected. Remember to always write with an employee perspective in mind (what’s in it for me?). Interview employees for the story as well as middle managers and don’t limit yourself to the walls of your company. Maybe a comment or two from other companies who have gone through or done similar things might be useful in terms of providing a broader context.

You’ll need support from executive management for this to work as well as a corporate atmosphere of trust and respect. Employees are not always going to agree with changes, or they may have valid fears or concerns about company decisions. By including these comments, you strengthen the article and make it a more credible, engaging read. Employees don’t want to read articles that simply regurgitate the party line. They want to see their own thoughts and questions reflected in the content as well as responses to their concerns from the executive desk.

2. Use photos and captions wisely – Good photos are critical to the appeal of a newsletter. They serve two functions. One is to illustrate the story and the other is to entice the audience to read the article and/or caption. That means you should avoid photos of a group of employees lined up against a blank wall, ‘grip and grin’ handshake photos and shots of poor technical quality. For some great tips on making newsletter photos more enticing, see this article by Lindsay Miller on the Ragan.com website.

As for captions, avoid the old “From left: John Smith and Jane White” identifiers. The caption is your opportunity to add information to the article. Space is always at a premium so don’t waste it.  Maybe John and Jane have some provocative thoughts about the topic in your story. Why not add them to the caption? For example, “John Smith and Jane White have differing opinions about coming program changes.” This kind of caption is more likely to engage the reader, prompting him/her to want to know just what they disagree about.

3. Provide opportunities for employees to be involved – Make sure that employees have some ownership of the newsletter. You can accomplish this by providing ways for them to contribute. Newsletter polls or surveys can work well–particularly if your newsletter is on your company’s intranet. This is also a way for the organization to stay on top of employee opinion and attitudes. You can also provide employees with a way to suggest newsletter articles. Give the employee credit for the suggestion as part of the article to encourage others to make suggestions. Anything you can think of that increases input from employees will help with readership because the publication truly becomes a reflection of the kind of information employees want.

Now, over to you. What makes your employee newsletter successful? What are your newsletter struggles?

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5 tips for better communication with volunteers

January 4, 2010

Volunteers play a key role at many nonprofit organizations but they sometimes get short shrift when it comes to internal communication. I think this is because they are often given less organizational status than employees because they are unpaid, often have higher turnover and put in fewer hours. At smaller nonprofits without a budget for a volunteer coordinator, volunteers can get overlooked. However, when it comes to volunteer retention and level of engagement, how and how much you communicate plays a role. Here are my five tips for better volunteer communication.

  1. A good beginning – Volunteers often approach an organization because something about its mission is appealing to them. Take the time to find out exactly what the appeal is and how much the potential volunteer knows about the organization. This helps in terms of finding out where he/she can fit in. Use your introduction as a way to start orienting the volunteer. Discuss not only on your mandate but also the culture of the organization and where volunteers fit.
  2. Volunteer manual – A handbook specifically tailored to volunteers is a great way to ensure that volunteers have the information they need about your organization, and their role in it, at their fingertips. Include task-related info as well as practical info such as bathroom and fire alarm locations. Whether online or in hard copy format, make sure that the content is well-organized and indexed. Although the volunteer may read the handbook cover to cover, it is more likely to be used as a reference so being able to quickly and easily find information is important.
  3. Regular check-in – Just as you would for employees, have a regular check-in with volunteers. Find out how they are managing their role, whether they are having any difficulties, or if they would like to expand/deepen their involvement. Perhaps they have certain goals for themselves you can help them to acheive.
  4. Keep them in the loop – Many times, organizations forget to communicate key structural changes, challenges or developments to their volunteer contingent. Often, management’s focus is on keeping employees informed and volunteers are an afterthought. But to maintain the level of engagement and to make sure that everyone involved in the nonprofit remains informed of critical developments, make sure you consider volunteer communication. In some cases, it’s appropriate to invite volunteers to staff meetings or to include them in routine staff memos or e-mail correspondence.
  5. Customized communication – Depending on the number of volunteers and what type of unique roles they fill, it might make sense to develop tailored communication for volunteers such as an electronic newsletter, intranet space or even a social media platform such a Facebook page. You can use this tool not just for sharing information but also for developing a volunteer community with special recognition and unique stories that demonstrate the value of volunteer contributions.

Do these five tips seem basic? Common sense? They are, but it’s amazing how often volunteers get overlooked when it comes to internal communication. Having an organized program for volunteer communication will help to  ensure that volunteers act and respond in ways that are appropriate to your nonprofit. It will also enhance their level of engagement and commitment.

Many times, volunteers drift away because they don’t feel they are really part of a team or sufficiently appreciated. When you formalize communication including volunteers it delivers the message that they are important and indeed part of the organization.

Now it’s your turn. How do you communicate with volunteers? Can you add some additional tips?

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Blocking social media sites at work

December 23, 2008

About five years ago, a human resources manager I know was railing against her employer who was rejecting her plea to assign email addresses to every employee in the organization. At the time, only middle and executive management, as well as admin support, had personal email accounts. Others who did not require email to do their jobs  could only access email using generic accounts assigned to their unit or office. The HR manager argued that she often wanted to send private messages to specific employees and could not do so using the generic accounts. Managers of these employers resisted, fearing that if employees had their own accounts they would use it for personal, non-work related activities. This scenario seemed bizarre to me at the time but the same argument is now being made by employers with respect to social networking sites such as Facebook or Myspace. I think this is wrong-headed.

Social networking sites versus the telephone

Imagine the same argument being made about the telephone (which I’m sure was when this technology first appeared in the phoneworkplace).  Employees shouldn’t have access to private  phone conversations because they might waste time, use it to make personal appointments or to check on their kids over the lunch hour.

Clearly the issue is one of time management. If you had an employee spending endless hours on the phone during office hours and it was compromising her work, you’d deal with that issue. You probably wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that employees shouldn’t have access to telephones during work hours.

Digital generation expectations

Those entering the workforce today have grown up online—text messaging and using social networking sites. Workplaces that block these tools are sure to face a backlash from young employees. Indeed, I’ve heard some younger employees say they would choose not to work for an employer who blocked access to online social networking tools.  These digital natives are bewildered by the notion that employee work time should exclude contact with social networks. Theirs is a much more fluid environment. They may have to respond to work demands on their own time (via BlackBerry, for example) so to engage with friends and family while in the physical workspace seems equally fair. This attitude is something employers should consider—especially in sectors scrambling to compete for employees.

Missed opportunities

Social networking sites are proving to be an invaluable tool for connecting with donors, customers and other stakeholders. Just ask Barack Obama. Further, involving your employees in social networking campaigns can not only increase their engagement but it can also make your Web 2.0 efforts all the more effective. You can find good case evidence of this in a post on Beth Kanter’s blog where she interviews Wendy Harmon of the American Red Cross. That organization is involved in virtually every kind of Web 2.0 tactic and recently unblocked social networking sites in its offices with great results.

So, does your workplace block social networking sites or have guidelines about their use in place? I’d love to hear about it as well as your thoughts. Please leave a comment.