In case you haven’t been reading the Star Tribune business section lately, there’s been a rash of CEO turnover in town.
General Mills has a new CEO.
US Bank has a new CEO.
Patterson Dental (client) just ousted its CEO.
And, just this past weekend, Buffalo Wild Wings’ CEO, Sally Smith, abruptly retired.
That’s a lot of CEO transition in one market.
And, it got me thinking: Introducing a new CEO to the rank-and-file employees is a big job. And typically it rests of the shoulders of corporate communications and PR teams.
However, one recent study may mean this job is even tougher than it normally is. APPrise Mobile recently conducted a study that found “nearly a quarter (23 percent) of Americans who work at companies with more than 500 employees are unsure of the name of their CEO.”
What’s more, “a third of workers surveyed (32 percent) were not sure they could identify their CEO if asked to from a lineup.”
Essentially, between 25-35 percent of your workforce may have no earthly idea who your CEO is.
And that’s a problem–specifically for us, as communicators–for three big reasons:
1–Employees want to be led. That’s the conclusion Shel Holtz draws in this post from the same survey–and I tend to agree. Your CEO needs to be recognizable and known because employees need a leader (whether they want to admit it or not).
2–Employee alignment=transformational business value. This quote from the APPrise news release says a lot: “The survey found that only 55 percent of employees at larger businesses feel like they fully understand the company’s mission statement. At the same time, nearly a quarter of respondents (23 percent) stated that they believe they would better understand their company’s objectives if they received more regular and meaningful communications from their CEO.”
3–Job security for communicators. As communicators, you could argue the CEO of our companies is our most important “customer” or stakeholder. Keeping these folks happy and aware of the value we’re providing to the organization is paramount.
OK, so this is a big problem. And, we have a rash of CEO transitions. What steps can and should communicators be taking to ensure these new CEOs are as visible as possible in the first year?
1–Don’t over-rely on electronic communications. Sure, you want to use tools like email and your intranet to get your CEO in front of employees electronically. It’s easier. It’s less time-consuming. And, it’s measurable. But, nothing can replace face-to-face communication–and it’s particularly important when introducing a new CEO. Personality and non-verbal communication just can’t be conveyed electronically very well (or at all, in the case of non-verbal). And, if you have a gregarious, warm, friendly CEO, this is absolutely paramount because employees WILL gravitate toward him/her. They will love him/her. They will follow him/her.
2–Target your internal influencers–just like you would your external influencers. Take a page out of your external PR playbook by using an influencer strategy to introduce your new CEO. Think about it. How do most employees get information about anything–from a friend or coworker, right? Then, why wouldn’t you employee an influencer strategy that targets these people across your organization that influence hundreds (or thousands in some cases) of employees? You may do this already–it’s called “manager communications”. But, what I’m suggesting takes it to another level. Find ways for the CEO to meet-up and talk to these influencers regularly. Communicate with them effectively and make them feel like your CEO is aligned with them, and they’ll (hopefully) pass that message right down the line to rank-and-file employees.
3–Social can be a game-changer. Just ask John Foraker, president of Annie’s. He’s been “blogging” (i.e., posting using LinkedIn Publisher) on LinkedIn for the last few years. In fact, as far as I can tell, he’s one of very few CEOs who use this communications tool (I’ve researched this a bit and haven’t found all that much). Just look at his post on March 29 about how Annie’s went public five years ago–and take a peek at the comments.
You start to see comments from employees like Amy and Bob.
John is engaging directly with employees on this platform–and it’s not the first time.
LinkedIn provides a huge opportunity for new CEOs to tell their story directly to employees–but also vendors, partners and other critical stakeholders early on.
Make no mistake about it: Edelman’s Trust Barometer is a fantastic resource each year. I love it. It’s usually full of great content many people use in blogs, e-newsletters, and client recommendations throughout the year.
But, don’t forget, it is a sales tool. And, this year in particular, it’s a fear-based sales tool.
It’s actually designed to scare the bejesus out of you. At least, that’s always been my take (Note: I am not an Edelman employee nor have I ever worked for or with Edelman).
And, this year’s report is no different. If you read the report, you might actually think the world is coming to an end.
But here’s the thing: It isn’t. In fact, I could make a pretty good case that not only should the report not scare the pants off you–it should make you feel pretty darn good about your work.
In a few spots, at least:
Trust in execs is at al all-time low, but trust in “people like me” is at an all-time high
Sure, it’s not great news that our exec partners are no longer trusted by the masses. But, let’s be honest–that’s been a long time coming. What’s more the fact that “people like me” ARE trusted is pretty good news for corporate communicators. Think about it–what is one audience that corporate communicators frequently use to reach the employee masses? MANAGERS! And managers are, you guessed it, “a person like me.” We’ve been communicating via mid-level managers for YEARS. And, frequently, it’s one of the more effective communications channels we use.
Media are trusted less and less–that’s OK, we have owned media channels, right?
So the media is trusted by fewer people than anytime in recorded history, apparently (actually, it’s only down three percentage points since 2012, so let’s not get nuts here). That’s not so great on multiple levels. But, it’s not the worst news in the world for brands because this isn’t 1984. Brands have had access to all sorts of publishing tools for years that allow them to tell their stories directly to consumers without going through the media. And, according to the Trust Barometer, trust in “owned media channels” is actually up 2 points from 2012 to 2017. So, for those who have been investing in corporate blogs, podcasts and other owned media for the last few years, worry not, you are just fine.
Employees are clearly the most trusted people to deliver messages–time to start educating the heck out of them
When it comes to financial performance and operational performance, 38 percent of survey participants said they’d trust an employee–while just 20 percent said they’d trust the CEO. That’s absolutely shocking, considering many employees have no idea how to read a financial statement. But yet–there it is. What about in times of crisis? 37 percent of participants trust an employee, while just 21 percent trust the chief exec. These stats are alarming–but they also provide an opportunity for us communicators: To educate our rank-and-file employees on issues from financial performance to business goals to crisis situations. Again–something we’ve been doing for quite a while. It’s just time to up our game.
What about you–thoughts on the relatively recent Edelman Trust Barometer?
In case you haven’t noticed, there’s an interesting trend going on in the employee communications world.
More brands are shifting to a mobile-first, newsfeed-like approach.
Take Nissan, for example. It’s VP of Communications in Europe, Stuart Jackson, recently shared results from his team’s move away from the corporate intranet to an employee app: Nissan Insider Mobile. The early results? Not too shabby. 10% of employees have downloaded the app and used it in the first four weeks. And, a third of the audience visits the app over the weekend!
Or, take Target. It’s new “Skimm-like” daily email is essentially a mobile-first, newsfeed-like experience. In employee’s email inboxes by 6:30 a.m., this scannable email is (most likely–I’m guessing here) designed to be a mobile-first experience given the wide swath of Target employees across the country.
Those are just two examples of stories I’ve heard about lately. The trick with employee comms is it’s all behind the firewall, so “case studies” are hard to come by (unless you know someone). So, if it’s bubbling up in media circles, chances are it’s a bigger trend than we might think.
Yet, many companies still lag behind.
Many companies are still operating on 1998 internet principles. That is–over-relying on web sites and desktop views to drive employee awareness and understanding of key company priorities and issues.
However, it is the year 2016, and mobile devices are increasingly the way people (and, of course, employees) are getting their information.
Yet employee comms teams haven’t adapted.
Why not? A myriad of reasons: lack of budget, lack of vision, lack of leadership. It’s a pretty long list.
But make no mistake about it–this IS a trend. And, I see it advancing even further in the years ahead. Here’s why:
Employee communications experience should mirror personal communications experience
This is what drove Target with its “Briefly” daily email. They loved the Skimm–MANY people love the Skimm. So, why not replicate their model for employee comms purposes? The Skimm is just one example of the way people consume news differently now–predominantly in short bursts and increasingly on mobile devices. How many employees at your company have mobile devices? 80 percent? 90 percent? 100 percent? How many are checking those phones multiple times throughout the day? Why wouldn’t you try to reach those employees on a tool/device they’re using ALL THE TIME?
Reach employees without computer access
This is what drove Nissan to develop its mobile employee app. It was trying to better reach the thousands of employees on the production floor. Those employees without desktop access. Think of all the companies and industries this impacts–health care, manufacturing, retail. Again, it’s a pretty long list.
Don’t make employees hunt for news–make it easy
One of the major challenges with corporate intranets is that they are the definitive dumping ground for information. Which means employees have to search hard for relevant and timely news (usually–outside the home page, for example). A mobile-first newsfeed approach removes that challenge. You’re getting the most relevant and timely information in front of employees with minimal work on their part. All they need to do is check their device the thumb down.
Reach employees on weeknights and weekends
If you work on the corporate side, how much time do you have during the day to check traditional employee comms channels? If you’re like many, not much. Chances are you’re in meetings. Doing work. Managing people. All of which takes you away from your computer to read employee comms messages. Or, in industries like health care, manufacturing and retail, employees don’t have desktop access during their jobs–you actually NEED to reach them when they’re not working. A mobile newsfeed (specifically, an app) gets at this need. Just look at the early results from the Nissan folks above.
When you hear the name “Glassdoor“, what comes to mind?
Unfiltered opinions on a particular employer.
Where you go to research a job before you accept it.
But, truth be told, the 2016 version of Glassdoor is a whole lot more.
It’s one of the primary places where companies craft “employer brands” online.
It’s a place to showcase your company culture to the world with real-life language from your existing and former employees.
And it has 30 million users. And, it’s still growing.
Up until recently, Glassdoor was a channel most likely managed by HR. Essentially, it’s an employer brand platform.
Except here’s the thing: I think there are huge benefits for communicators as well.
I’m not saying communicators need to get involved in managing the platform (although, in some cases, I believe that would help). What I AM saying is I think there a handful of powerful benefits to communicators paying close attention to Glassdoor on a regular basis.
Want a true look at your culture? Look no further than Glassdoor
On the employee communications front, culture is a big piece of the puzzle. We’re constantly seeking to define it. We’re always looking for ways to capture it. And, we’re writing about it in an attempt to align and motivate employees. And sure, we have ideas on what the corporate culture *should* be–what we *want* it to be. But, is that true? Is it accurate? Glassdoor gives you an unfiltered look at how your employees talk about what it’s like to work at your company. In effect, much (all?) of what they say is truly, your company culture. Spend half an hour on your “Reviews” tab and you’ll get a pretty good idea of what employees think of your company culture.
Do you have a CEO issue?
All employee comms team have one big client: The CEO. And, for employee communicators, the CEO is often-times our primary internal spokesperson. We write executives messages from the CEO. We organize Town Halls featuring the CEO. We lead smaller discussion groups with employees and the CEO. But, we’re always wondering if he/she is doing a good job. If they are *effective* at communicating and leading the organization. Now, we do have some inputs here–employee surveys, feedback forms and the like. But, unfiltered employee feedback on Glassdoor should be another input. Your CEO has a “rating” right on your Glassdoor home page. Take a peek at that every quarter and see if it fluctuates based on what’s going on internally. And, look at the specific feedback employees have on your CEO. Is it hitting the mark? And, more importantly, can you do something with that feedback to improve your executive communications efforts?
Identify issues employees are afraid to share in an employee survey
Sometimes, employees don’t share every piece of feedback in an employee survey. Leary of technology, I think some employees believe they’ll be “discovered” or “identified” if they share negative feedback. But, on Glassdoor? Not so much. I think Glassdoor provides communicators with a tremendous opportunity to hear, first-hand the challenges within your organization. Now, you can choose to ignore that feedback. Or, you can choose to act on it. Up to you, but it’s there for the taking.
Now, many people will tell you Glassdoor is only a place for disgruntled former employees to vent their frustrations. While that may be true in spots, it’s definitely not true across the board. How else do you account for all the positive reviews companies receive on Glassdoor? How do you account for 90%+ CEO ratings on Glassdoor? No, current AND former employees are chiming in on Glassdoor every day.
You can choose to listen to their feedback and act on it.
Or, you can ignore it.
Up to you–but like I said, the information is there for your taking.
A story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune over the weekend highlighted for me a trend I’ve been thinking a lot about lately:
The chasm between senior leaders and employees has never been wider–thanks (in a larger way than you might think) to social media.
The Strib story was about a incoming freshman at Concordia University here in Minneapolis and how she received a letter from the dean of diversity, Cheryl Chatman, inviting her to a diversity session in Aug. The student posted a portion of the letter on Facebook, highlighting the section that had caused her concern.
The post “went viral”–so much so, that the Strib picked up on it.
A couple days later, Concordia responded with a post of its own on Facebook and the Concordia web site from Chatman.
How does this illustrate my point?
A single quote from the dean in the Star Tribune piece:
“I’m not on social media,” Chatman said. “This is unbelievable to me.” (referring to the virality of the student’s initial Facebook post).
Chatman is not unusual. Like most executives at midsized to large companies, she is not active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat or LinkedIn. I’ve written about this before (most of the executives with Medtronic, a HUGE med tech org here in the Twin Cities have no LinkedIn or social media presence at all).
And, take a peek at the retort from Chatman. Again, indicative of how executives respond to situations like this on social media. Sure, she responded, but it was in a long-form letter format (dated–especially when the initial “attack” came on a Facebook post); it came more than 48 hours after the initial post by Flowers (too slow in today’s news cycle); and the response felt a little stilted (very corporate-like).
I’m not looking to take shots at Chatman or Concordia (actually, I thought the Concordia PR team handled this pretty well from a comms perspective). But again, it’s indicative of a larger trend.
Executives have long been far-removed from the employee experience at large companies. I don’t think I’m breaking news there. And, as executive salaries have risen dramatically over the last 10-15 years, that disconnect has grown even larger.
Sure, execs work with corporate communicators to get in front of employees and communicate. But, those messages are often stilted and forced. If you’ve ever worked for a big company, you know exactly what I mean.
And now, social media is making it all the more obvious that execs are out-of-touch with today’s front-line worker. Not only do they live in different worlds (physically and environmentally speaking), they also don’t use anywhere near the same forms of communication (employees=text apps, social media come first most likely; execs=in person and phone probably the two main ways they communicate). Chatman’s quote above sums up a recurring theme–“I’m not on social media. I have no idea what people are talking about there.”
In today’s day and age, I believe it’s borderline dangerous for execs to be this oblivious. They can no longer afford to hide behind such claims. Sure, they can rely on their corp comms teams to keep them up to speed (which is clearly what happened here with Concordia), but since Chatman had no profile online, she had no platform to retort and open up a meaningful conversation.
Look, I’m not saying CEOs need to start being active on Facebook. Hardly the case. But, what I am saying is C-level execs need to start getting a clue. The bulk of your employees are active on at least one social media channel. How can you afford to not even have a single account if this is one of the key ways your employees are communicating now?
I’ll wait patiently for an answer.