Sunday, 30 August 2015

The ABC for successful business performance

"Employee engagement bombards me at workshops, conferences, seminars, social media forums, in journal articles, survey reports and conference room presentations. Everybody’s talking about it. Most don’t know what they’re talking about."

Jim Shaffer (pictured right) has spent the past 35 years helping global companies improve business performance through strong leaders and high performing people. His clients have included FedEx, IBM, Kellogg’s, Marriott, Verizon and Visa. He is also author of The Leadership Solution, a classic treatise on leadership, change management and communication, which has been frequently listed as one of the top “must have” business books.

I wanted to speak with Shaffer to explore the link between communication and business performance. In this interview he shares his view on what employee engagement is and is not and how communication can add value to the business. Plus, what he thinks great leadership should do.

Gloria Lombardi: Different definitions of the term employee engagement have been used over time, and you argue that lately, some of the core ideas have been lost in translation. In fact, you talk about 'the overselling of engagement'. 

Jim Shaffer: Many people use the term 'engagement' arbitrarily and in a very informal way; what they really mean is that they have involved their people. You will hear them saying: ‘We engaged our people at that meeting’. But, having engaged employees doesn’t mean that they attended your events; it doesn't mean that they showed up; and it doesn’t mean that they went through all your training programs.

Employee engagement is a condition inside an organisation that causes the business performance to improve.

GL: What is required for this 'condition of employee engagement' to form?

JS: Two things need to happen. One is cognitive identity, which is what happens when people identify with an organisation’s values. There is a great affinity between the employee’s values and the values of the business. Take the Mayo Clinic, whom I’ve advised. Their people are very caring people. There’s a huge sense of purpose among them and throughout the organisation. They go home at night feeling good about what they did at work. That’s cognitive identity.

The second element is discretionary effort. When employees have to choose between different options, they will be inclined to pick the one that will help improve the company. They understand the organisation’s goals well enough to know that if they do X as opposed to Y, it will cause the business to improve.

GL: What types of activities lead an employee to improve business performance?

JS: Four different things need to occur. First, people need a line of sight between what they do every day and the results they can influence. For example, if I’m working in a manufacturing operation and I’m making a part that is going to be sold to a specific customer, I need to know and understand that customer’s requirements so I can make sure that those requirements are met.

Second, people need to be involved in the decision-making process. They need the autonomy that’s required to make the right decisions so the customer’s requirements are met or, when appropriate, exceeded.

Third, employees need the right information at the right time so they can make the right decisions and take the right actions to meet the customer’s requirements and improve the business.

Finally, people need to understand why it’s in their best interests to help the business succeed. That’s the “what’s in it for me?” factor that is delivered through both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. Intrinsic rewards include working environment and that sense of purpose I mentioned. Extrinsic rewards include pay and benefits. If those four conditions exist, you are very likely to have an employee who is engaged.

GL: Despite the many methodologies and studies around measurement, it is still hard for some organisations to measure employee engagement effectively in a way that produces concrete business results. What's your advice?

JS: Various diagnostic tools that we use can tell us whether employees are engaged. Some questions we use in our assessments measure drivers of engagement. Others measure the degree of engagement. But, the real issue isn’t whether people are engaged or not. It’s whether people are engaged in doing those things that meet customer requirements which, in turn, improve business results.

Engaged people can do good things and bad things. They can help an organisation succeed. They can sabotage the organisation in order to get even with a lousy supervisor. Some of the really horrible things that are going on in the world today are being led by highly engaged people. Likewise, some of the really wonderful things that are going in the world are being led by equally engaged people.
What we should care about is not whether our organisation’s engagement scores are a 65 percent positive or an 85 percent positive. We should care about creating the condition that helps our organisation win.

A lot of people also lose sight of the fact that creating an engaged workforce requires resources - strong leaders, intense communication, the right pay plans, skills, knowledge, tools, superior work processes and a culture of excellence and continuous improvement.

That investment in resources needs to pay off. If it doesn’t, you’ve likely drained value. A primary goal of engagement has to be to add value. This is something that often gets lost on people who are passionate about engaging people but forget that engagement is a means to a better result. It’s not an end unto itself.

GL: Could you give me some concrete examples of organisations that are approaching employee engagement that way?

JS: There are a lot of them, but not nearly enough. I worked with the communication team at ConAgra Foods’ to reduce damage in its supply chain. In one large distribution center, people were getting mixed messages about what was important - quality or productivity. Leaders said quality and productivity were important but when push came to shove, too often productivity - getting product out the door to customers - won out. They also pointed out that their incentive plan was weighted more toward productivity than quality, which was perpetuating a productivity focus.

Employees they said they would gladly improve quality if there was an equal emphasis on quality and productivity.

Over a period of five months, we worked with the leaders and their people to better align the systems and processes so they communicated that both quality and productivity were important. The systems and processes included leadership communication, rewards, recognition, work processes, measurement, recruiting and training. The place shifted from being a productivity-first culture to a quality-and-productivity culture.

By getting everyone involved in the improvement effort, by eliminating mixed messages and aligning the organisation to the customer, we were able to improve quality by 65 percent and productivity by 16 percent.

Using similar performance improvement efforts we helped FedEx Express increase export sales by 23 per cent with a 1,447 percent return on investment. We transported the approach to five more FedEx Express locations and $6 million in revenues and a 1,667 percent ROI.

I could tell you similar stories that took place at Owens Corning, ITT Corporation, Honeywell, and other companies. Focus on customer requirements, bring leaders and the people together, remove root causes to performance gaps and celebrate success.

In each case people were excited, turned on and passionate about taking their organisations to heights they’d never thought they could achieve.

GL: This is a clear example, and yet another confirmation, of how communication can dramatically influence the performance of a business, both badly and positively depending on how it is managed. 

JS: There’s huge opportunity here. I spoke recently with the head of commercial operations for a large pharmaceutical. He was complaining about his communication people always “addressing business problems backwards,” as he explained it. He said they start with the activity they plan to employ - a poster, video or meeting - instead of identifying and removing root causes the problem.

Every department, every function must be seen as adding measurable value. The communication function is no exception. Where communication people are acting like business people first, communication people second, they’re in huge demand. And they’re making some pretty big bucks. Those big bucks, remember, are investments that are generating acceptable returns.

GL: You also make a distinction between communicating to change as opposed to communicating about change. The former is what we need today, you say. Could you tell me more? 

JS: Historically, the communication profession and in particular internal communication, has been formal channel oriented. People manage social media, newsletters, videos and PowerPoint presentations at all employee meetings. That’s a pretty narrow niche given the enormous communication environment that exists in most organisations.

Their job has been to communicate about what is changing or about to change. But what contemporary communication at companies like I’ve discussed earlier do is manage communication to remove communication breakdowns that cause under performance. Communication breakdowns include mixed messages that I discussed earlier. They include inaccurate information, missing information and slow moving information. When you eliminate these breakdowns, you can cause performance to rise. That’s managing communication to change versus about change.

Both are important. But typically, managing communication to improve results adds more value.

That’s a fundamental shift that has to be made if people want to add value. People need to ask themselves: Do I add value or not? Did that newsletter, tweet, video, all employee meeting, poster or whatever add measurable value to the organization? Would the customer be willing to pay for the cost of that activity? That’s the lean definition of value. Is the customer willing to pay for it? If not, don’t do it. If so, keep it up. Do more.

The advice I give to communication people who attend our workshops is: Starting today, start shifting your work today to things shareholders and customers care about.

I’ve worked with many communication people to help them make this shift. I know it can be done. Is it easy? No. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. So differentiate yourself by adding value - perhaps a little today, some more tomorrow and even more next week.

GL: How should leaders themselves approach communication? 

JS: They should start with inspecting what they do and asking themselves if their actions communicate what they want to be communicated about vision, strategy and execution. They should perform a calendar review. What does it say about their priorities?

They should ask if what they’re championing is what is critical to them. What’s first and last on their agendas? What questions do they ask? Who do they recognise and celebrate? All these things signal to people what’s important to a leader.

Leaders need to make sure their communication people are getting the skills and knowledge needed to perform a more value-added role. These include consulting skills, change management skills and increased understanding of the business and financial sides of business.

Many leaders also need to shift from too much dependency on communication people to “do the communicating” for them. Instead they need to build the organisation’s capability to communicate better. Superior communication should be a strategic capability. It’s the difference between fishing for someone and teaching them to fish.

This article originally appeared on simply-communicate

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Collaboration – from ‘nice to have’ to business priority

"After an initial stage where organisations looked more at number of users, communities and posts, the market is now experiencing a new focus on the business value of social collaboration – What’s the impact on the future of work?"

Emanuele Quintarelli (pictured right) is EY's Director of Social Business and Future of Work within the EMEIA Advisory Centre of Excellence. His hybrid background in both computer science and multi-channel user experience has become a great fit for his role: "I facilitate change inside global enterprises, which is targeted to business goals while having human beings in mind. I help with adoption of both new technologies and behaviours."

I wanted to talk with Quintarelli to explore the current state of collaboration. In this interview he shares his top tips in driving digital transformation, which ultimately impacts on effective business results as well as better ways of working.

Gloria Lombardi: What are the major drivers that push an organisation to increase its collaboration efforts today? 

Emanuele Quintarelli: In this economic age, most organisations are trying to do more with less. Not surprisingly the first driver is then to cut costs – it is clear that our current way of working, management and leadership models are not fit with the expectations of employees, but also of customers. There is a lot of waste of resources that has to be identified and reduced both for the benefits of the organisation and the benefits of its people. Trying to deal with 300-500 emails each day – this is what we hear from executives – isn’t at all engaging and isn’t at all effective.

While the first driver is the business, ultimately collaboration has large implications to the quality of life of employees. It is not just about getting your job done. People are looking for something bigger than themselves and the only way to see this bigger mission coming to life is by working in a fulfilling environment, one that centres on human and societal needs.

GL: The debate about who is typically championing these new ways of working is an old one. Indeed, the answer(s) keeps changing over time, and it has not been clearly defined yet. What is your view? 

EQ: In the past, the answer(s) tended to be either IT, as those in charge of introducing the new collaboration platform; or Internal Communications responsible for the way the top management spoke with the rest of the organisation; or it could have been HR.

What we have seen over the years is that none of these owners can play a very effective role alone. Best practice is to make social business a multi stakeholder project – IT, HR, IC, Legal but also the rest of the business, from Customer Service, to Sales, Marketing and Innovation.

It is a transition that should be owned by the entire organisation. The organisational culture and processes have to be championed by the top management together with the senior stakeholders representing core areas.

GL: While digital transformation has started to impact almost every sector, each industry has been approaching collaboration differently. Have you seen any distinct characteristics?

EQ: There are different maturity levels in each industry. The financial services and telecoms are clearly ahead of the pack; they have been doing collaboration for a long time – we have many clients that started back in 2007.

With some exceptions, pharmaceutical companies have begun to consider collaboration only recently for the simple reason that the pressure coming from the market has been quite low so far. Today, there is a bigger urgency to serve patients and institutions better - hence the organisation has to think about being more agile and innovative.

There are other less obvious industries - such as manufacturing, chemical and energy - where collaboration is high. Even if their culture is not necessarily the most mature, their needs of efficiency, productivity and cost saving are big. Similar goals make collaborating across geographical boundaries and organisational silos a priority.

Ultimately, any large change process comes together when there is both a bottom-up and a top-down commitment. The latter mostly depends on the individual maturity of executive sponsors. Even in advanced industries, the transformational impact can be somewhat suboptimal, without the right level of buy-in.

GL: I would like to explore cultural diversity and the differences in behaviours and attitude towards collaboration in different parts of the world.
EQ: This is a key topic for global corporations. One of the goals of collaboration is to build bridges across countries, branches and offices regardless of the time zone. After all, collaboration is about sharing, being open, and being transparent. While there are definitely very strong cultural barriers at play, it is clearly an opportunity for bringing employee together and let them know each other. Unfortunately, doing these across cultures can take years.

Even in Europe we have different takes on collaboration – generally speaking, in the Nordics and even in the UK people feel quite compelled to openly share information, solutions and ideas. In countries such as Italy, Spain and Portugal, knowledge is sometimes a political matter. In Germany, councils play a very visible role both in the traditional and in the digital workplace.

The distance is even higher when comparing Europe to Asia. As an example, Japan usually shows a very strong top-down leadership where contradicting your boss is not easily accepted.

Cultural traits are crucial in facilitating or restricting global adoption. The right values, an aligned rewarding system, the ability to work with other teams, the freedom to innovate, the relationship with your manager all represent an important baseline for collaboration. At the end, it is a matter of understanding your own corporate history, working around it and being aware that, of course, some types of cultures can achieve quicker results, while others will tend to slow the transition down.

GL: The freedom of sharing and the easy access to knowledge are among the most powerful aspects of our work and relationships today. But, can we collaborate ‘too much’ and end up with feeling overwhelmed by information overload?

EQ: Email is the proof that we can collaborate too much, and especially in the wrong way.

We definitely have too much information today with often too many tools for doing the same things. It can be confusing for employees to understand where to go to get their job done. Tools are often siloed – you need different log-ins, and you may end up replicating the same information in different systems. Without mentioning that many of us bring their own technology to the workplace (e.g. Dropbox). While that may look as a good solution in terms of personal productivity and comfort, social software fragmentation easily increases risks, redundancy and costs for the company.

On the other side, ‘feeling alive' while working and being able to engage with your peers without too many suffocating policies is a lever both for efficiency and motivation.

It is an organisation responsibility to explicitly link collaboration to both business goals and personal benefits. Choosing the right technology becomes much easier, once clear purpose and agreement around the digital workplace have been reached.

Collaborating for collaboration sake is just a waste of time; it is not particularly appealing to employees as not everybody likes to spend his time writing wiki pages or posting to a blog. Being able to reach your targets with less time and effort looks like a much better motivation for change.

GL: Often I hear organisations expressing concerns on which social collaboration tool they should adopt. There are many enterprise-software vendors, and as you mentioned, companies may end up with implementing tools (too many, and sometimes the wrong ones for their organisation) that are not effective. What's your key advice?

EQ: My first piece of advice is to not start from technology. I have seen many projects where the client rolled out a tool - maybe the vendor gave it to him for free - and then they decided what to do with it. That is not an effective strategy.

A good starting point is to spend the right amount of time and effort in clarifying how a social tool can support the strategy you already have in place. It could be about reducing costs, or increasing flexibility and agility, improving morale, facilitating a merger and acquisition, building more effective communication, etc. Engaging the relevant stakeholders from multiple departments to collect and prioritize those goals is the first step toward change.

It is about understanding what collaboration can do from a business perspective, as well as what it cannot do – a social tool is not the solution for all the issues we have in the workplace. Trying to articulate this connection, if possible in a measurable way, is an often forgotten priority.

Secondly, it is about evaluating the proficiency and the readiness of the employee base. There are always different pockets and levels of maturity within large enterprises. Collaboration needs depend on such readiness. Tools should act as an answer to the needs.

The caveat is that needs, behaviours and expectations are a target in constant flux. That’s why a large-scale roll-out requires a process for constantly collecting relevant use cases and leveraging them as the propellant for your transformation engine. The chosen collaboration platform will have to be flexible and comprehensive enough to address both current and future scenarios.

GL: Which types of techniques can an organisation adopt to understand effectively the readiness of their employees?
EQ: We use a lot of co-design techniques. We apply them not only to listen, but also to transfer ownership and let key stakeholders steer the change inside their organisation.

Initially, we do some physical work – it is about bringing people from different chunks of the company in the same room and to let a shared vision of the future emerge. We let them design the workflow, identify their gaps, give priorities and understand how work will change as a consequence of collaboration.

People are social animals and at the very beginning of any collaboration project, they need to ‘feel’ each other, and to shake hands. The chance to meet with peers from different countries and offices unlocks huge amounts of positive energy. That’s the energy that comes from building something together and feeling ownership for the future of your organisation.

GL: Leadership buy-in. Research shows that working with executives to integrate social has grown in priority over the last two years. What's your experience on that?

EQ: For quite a long time, CEOs have been quite completely disconnected from collaboration, which was seen just as a 'nice to have'.

Nonetheless in the last two to three years we have experienced a very visible improvement. Due to increased complexity, competition and pressure from the market, many CEOs or senior stakeholders have started to look for new levers to react. In many cases, they are now knocking the door of IC asking for answers.

This is not the future - this is happening already. In a sense there is no longer a choice. The awareness of collaboration at a strategic level has gained importance. Many leaders are now able to understand that engaging employee, building better internal and external channels to sense and re-act to the market, and distributing the decision-making process down to the ranks, are all crucial components for achieving their business goals.

GL: Any final piece of advice for those organisations that haven't their CEO on board yet?

EQ: Frame collaboration in business terms, in a quantifiable way. Try to show both the investment and the returns. Also, show research and case studies to make the leaders more aware of the implications and value of collaboration.

If you build the business case with both tangible and intangible outcomes, the CEO will be more likely to be keen on spending money and giving the buy-in.

This article originally appeared on simply-communicate

Sunday, 16 August 2015

FRHI Talk – when sharing experiences brings connectedness

After the merger and re-organisation of three leading hotel brands, Fairmont, Raffles and SwissĂ´tel, the parent company FRHI Hotels & Resorts (FRHI), was facing a challenge: building the vision of 'one' for 45,000 employees in 120 properties around the world.

In theory, from an employee engagement perspective, the re-organisation required "creating the feeling of one family across the three brands," as Executive Director of Communications and Strategy, Andrada Paraschiv (pictured left) puts it.

In practice, together with Internal Communications Projects Manager, Alexandra Zeifman (pictured right), they helped to launch FRHI Talk - the Beekeeper-based mobile communications platform was rolled out across the entire organisation in April 2014.

One year later, FRHI Talk is the central hub for over 16,000 employees who interact with each other on a daily basis while "feeling part of the same international group," claims Zeifman. And because of it, they have recently received the Internal Communications Award at the Employee Engagement Awards in NYC.

Why Beekeeper

Back in 2013, Paraschiv met the Beekeeper team who had worked on a small project with a few SwissĂ´tel hotels in Switzerland. In her view, they just satisfied all of the requirements for the success of a wide-company platform. "The Beekeeper team was very dynamic. They had lots of ideas. They were able to adapt the tool to what we wanted specifically."

Unsurprisingly, in her research, Paraschiv saw other products too. But, by analysing those technologies over time, she discovered some peculiar patterns: they "were too complicated." Plus, she felt uneasy with the thought that "the flexibility from the vendors to adapt the tool to what we were looking for was not going to be there for us as much as we wanted."

Communicating the launch 

How should the organisation communicate the existence of FRHI Talk to everyone? The answer was crucial for Paraschiv and Zeifman. It was also of pivotal importance to leadership who was very keen on getting this right.

They started from the intranet portal and emails. Yet, it is easy to see the problem that results, as the majority of employees in hotels do not necessarily stay in front of a computer or even have an email address. It is much harder to understand how best to react to this condition.

The debate about online versus offline is an old one. But, using the two means of communication together helped FRHI to solve its problem.

Hotel staff without email or PC can use the platform in two ways. First and foremost, through the mobile app, which has all the same functionalities of the web version. This mobile formula is remarkably good also for managers who travel frequently.

Moreover, the cafeteria of every hotel can run a continuous stream of FRHI Talk through monitors. "Our people always have lunch or other meals in the cafeteria; all the internal communications are displayed there through big screens. So, they can see what is happening across the company all the time."

Using the platform 

One thing that Zeifman has noticed is the frequency of how much staff like posting. "At all times of the day people all over the world share new content and there are always new colleagues who want to join the conversation."

Posts can range from team outings, to important guests who visited the hotel and celebrations. Employees get creative too: "There are lots of different contests that hotels run among themselves – they create their own hashtags and tags and post pictures to ‘compete’ with each other. Many times colleagues take a picture of what they did for a guest such as making a very nice room for them. They feel empowered to share what they did at work and want 
other colleagues to see it."

Turning moments into memories

Sometimes FRHI Talk becomes a source of inspiration. A good example comes from a hotel in Boston where a family had to spend several weeks while their son was undergoing hospital treatments.

The child was feeling down and sad most of the time, but his parents realised that when he was with the hotel’s canine ambassador dogs - very friendly dogs that greet guests and live at the hotel - he was in a much better mood.

The dog caretaker (also a hotel employee) made a secret plan with the boy’s parents - to buy him his own puppy that looked like the hotel’s canine ambassador. When the staffer asked the child how he would like to name his new friend he replied that he wanted to name him ‘Copley’, which was also the name of the hotel, The Fairmont Copley Plaza in Boston.

The PR and Marketing Manager at the Fairmont Copley Plaza posted the story on FRHI Talk. Not surprisingly, it sparked a huge number of interactions. "Hotels from all over the world started to comment on how important the story was; they also started to share similar stories of their guests being assisted and feeling at home," says Zeifman.

Another positive outcome from the Boston Hotel narrative is that it helped staff feel good about working for the company.

As Paraschiv puts it, "The Fairmont brand promise is to turn moments into memories. This story definitely shows that this is what our hotels are actually doing."

A community of one 

As any other enterprise social network, FRHI Talk can allow users to create groups tailored to their specific purposes. But, "we do not have groups that way," says Paraschiv.

In fact, they do not have groups at all. "We just have one general stream – the whole idea is to create a community of one."

"It is not possible to keep up to date with everything," explains Zeifman. "But, when staff go on FRHI Talk, they probably scroll down to see the last 20 to 30 posts. Then, they would comment, like or post something new themselves."

The monthly video

The curation job of Zeifman and Paraschiv has an important role to play. They deliver monthly highlights through ‘ONE Connect’, a video that embeds around 40 popular posts from FRHI Talk.

"We try to get a very good selection of posts from all the three brands and all the regions. Then, we insert them into a video with music," explains Zeifman.

All the posts are organised into categories such as colleagues' activities, rewards and recognitions, work with the communities like participating in charity runs, and general hotels news and highlights.
"The goal of ONE Connect is to illustrate the connectedness among all our colleagues globally. But it is also effective in prompting new employees to join the platform."

Pinning important news 

FRHI Talk offers more opportunities: to some extent the platform can serve as a publishing tool for important news, although in a very limited way. For example, "when a new hotel opens we do the ‘Welcome to the family’ – we make an announcement on the forum and 'pin it' so that it stays at the top of the newsfeed for a few days for everyone to see," says Zeifman.

This activity supports the awareness of the important changes inside the company. Plus, it stimulates peer-to-peer interactions and feedback from everyone. "We don't want just the CEO to say something. We are trying to avoid the traditional top-down communication – we want to open up the discussion."

Saving resources

Zeifman and Paraschiv believe that FRHI Talk is meeting the challenge of creating connectedness, which is the main reason why they will continue to champion the tool.

In the same way, they appreciate the saving of resources such as time and money that comes from using the platform. "In the past we used to make quarterly videos to highlight the exciting news taking place at each property. This was at a cost of $15,000 per video. Now we are able to leverage content from FRHI Talk to create videos at a cost of $1,000. This savings allows us to produce ONE Connect monthly instead of quarterly, ensuring that that the information we give to employees is timely," says Zeifman.

Additionally, since the content is employee generated, the internal communications team have significantly reduced the time involved in coordinating photos, music and video footage.

FRHI Talk around the globe

It may seem obvious to think that the social tool would be most popular in America and Europe. Yet, as for many assumptions in business and life, the presumption turns out to be incorrect. "FRHI Talk is used more widely in the Middle East, Africa and India region," says Zeifman.

In terms of the type of content, Paraschiv recalls how at the beginning there used to be many more differences as people were not sure about what to post. "In North America, PR and Marketing would take the lead sharing stories about their hotels (e.g. the opening of a new restaurant, or some volunteering work in the community); in Asia, HR was more visible (e.g. celebrating colleagues' birthday with pictures of beautiful cakes); in the Middle East staff would constantly share pictures of their hotels."

Today, there is more homogeneity across all the regions. "They get inspirations from each other on what they can post. They mostly like to celebrate their achievements, congratulate their teams for a job well done and share good customer service stories."

Yet, specific posts are surging during national holidays or celebrations such as the Chinese New Year, or Ramadan in the Middle East, or Christmas in the western countries.

So, the beauty of every culture remains intact and shows itself proudly. After all, diversity in experiences and perspectives seats at the core of FRHI’s business.

This article originally appeared on simply-communicate

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Nurturing engagement through a system of 'thank you'

"We are a 70 year-old plus financial institution. If we want to be around for other 70 years, the most resilient way is by engaging all our employees and nurturing a flexible, adaptable and highly performing culture," so says Lorne Rubis, the Chief People Officer at ATB Financial in Canada.

Reporting directly to the CEO Dave Mowat, Rubis' mandate is to make the over 5,000-employee company "a really great place to work, in a measurable way."

Not an easy task for many. Happily, ATB's culture is naturally collaborative, which makes the job less arduous. "Our belief is that the engagement and performance of our people are absolutely fundamental to our business model and key strategic initiatives."

Among his key responsibilities, Rubis oversees Achievers, an employee recognition platform, which is the foundation for rewarding staff within the organisation. "We think that ATB needs to be a technology company as much as it is a bank. We recognise that we not only need a great system for banking, but we also need a great system for people."

Alongside the pre-existing Human Capital platform, the SharePoint portal, and the enterprise social network called ‘Jam’, Rubis launched Achievers through a soft launch in 2012. Today, over 98% of staff use the tool on a daily basis. They post about their peers' achievements, comment and allocate points through a system of likes and boosting. Points can be accumulated and used to make purchases.

When technology and rewards meet storytelling

Two features of Achievers mean that Rubis has helpful data to work with. First is the storytelling element. "Every time people recognise their peers, they are telling a story that is important to them. Over time, those narratives describe the behaviours that people like and want to reinforce."

He encourages staff to be as specific as possible as to why they are recognising someone. "We would not make the statement such as 'X individual is such a great person to work with. Congratulations, here are a bunch of points!'

Instead, he wants people to highlight behaviours, attitudes as well as why they think someone deserves to be recognised. Ultimately, this is what gives credibility to the whole exercise.

A good example comes from a colleague who recently did an exceptional job of reviewing the Human capital platform. For Rubis, she deserved recognition. "She described what was good, what was less good and lessons learned from the tool. She would also do a great financial review of the platform. She shared the document in a very frank and direct way with the IT group, the financial group and my team. On top of that, she took our core principles ‘Doing the right thing’ and ‘Getting things done’ and she applied them with absolute completion. So, I wrote a 'thank you' saying how much I appreciated that she took our values and applied them to that particular project."

Another simple, yet powerful story involves a colleague with a vast knowledge in technology. He was recognised by a peer for humbleness in translating his highly technical expertise into an accessible language that others could easily grasp. "I read that story on the newsfeed, and I gave him 1,000 points – as Chief People Officer, I wanted to recognise this idea of accessibility from experts in technical positions."


Perhaps the beauty of the tool is that most people are recommended by their peers. "It is your colleagues who are voting you; the people who really know what is happening at work. Sometimes even the best executives can be far away."

In fact, the platform becomes an incredible way for leaders to be aware of what staff are doing from every business unit and without geographic boundaries to support the organisation.

The CEO himself takes an active role on Achievers. He typically goes to the newsfeed to read the stories. "He comments, boosts, and likes." Not surprisingly, this has a great impact on people’s feelings and motivation. "Can you imagine, you wake up in the morning and find out that you have been acknowledge by your CEO because he saw a recognition between you and your peers?"

Additionally, a boost from the CEO sends an important message to everyone in the company, which is, "I would like to see more of such behaviour inside the organisation."

Most probably, the same result could not be achieved by sending an email.


In addition to be a storytelling platform, Rubis likes to emphasise the analytics capability. "From the data, we can see the linkages between employees who receive many recognitions and customer advocacy, as well as linkages to financial performance."

This reporting feature is so useful that he now wants to explore predictive analytics to start building new conversations and initiatives. "We have started to think about IBM Watson and how it could help us to move the needle."

In fact, based on that data, he can create tailored recognition programs, which are more likely to be relevant to the specific audience. "For example, we have 600 leaders inside the company who expect great results by working through highly collaborative relationships. When we get to the individual profile of any particular leader, we can see their engagement, their financial results, as well as the amount of recognition that they give and receive. From there, we can start to shift how we target leadership development for those particular individuals."

Supporting campaigns 

Other uses of the platform are tightly beneficial, such as supporting internal campaigns. This is what happened two years ago with Project Enable. This was a major initiative around engagement. At the time, the banking system for customers faced some challenges. The team behind it was struggling and the level of staff engagement dropped. Hence, there was a need to take action. "We took three top executives to lead three projects on a full-time basis. One of them was Project Enable. We brought together over 200 people to fix all the issues with customers. It lasted for over a year."

For the duration of the initiative, Rubis used Achievers to encourage and recognise people when improvements and progress were made on the system.

"We used the tool to help those individuals focus on what they were achieving over time.

"It was very important for them to be supported and feel appreciated in that demanding situation."

Engagement results

On the grand scheme of ATB's people strategy, Achievers is a very small ribbon, but it is a ribbon of gold.

Since the launch in 2012, Rubis has seen engagement levels skyrocket; the company has been recognised as a Great Place to Work and has a score of 4.2 on Glassdoor.

"The recognition platform is vital to who we are and how we think. Whenever we believe someone needs to be recognised, we just jump on it."

As he puts it, "As a financial institution, we appreciate that people need a ‘Thank you!’"

This article originally appeared on simply-communicate

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Measurement with impact

Gauging the exact benefits of internal communications might be tricky, not least because there is not one single best methodology to gather data.

Even when key information is collected and the details are known, it can still be hard to take the right actions and assess their impact.

However, "in the past years there have been more guidelines provided to communicators on how and what to measure," says Angela Sinickas (pictured right), a pioneer in the field of organisational communication measurement. A good example she likes to give is the Barcelona Declaration of Measurement Principles, an authoritative document published by worldwide communication associations in 2010, which sets clear standards and approaches to PR measurement.

Other frameworks are useful too. Sinickas notes that the CIPR Inside Measurement Matrix focuses entirely on internal communications, and she concludes that it is one of the most appropriate guides for the profession. "It is a great guideline; not only does it say what you should measure, but how you can measure it - either with a survey or through many other forms of research."


People familiar with new technology appreciate the fact that data can be counted more easily today. "Through web metrics you can see how many employees click on different pages, or “like” a piece of news or share a blog post."

Trying to pin down the exact figures of clicks misses the point, though. The problem is that those numbers don't necessarily mean that what has been measured is useful. "For example, when you count how many people are clicking on a certain page, all you are really measuring is the piece of communication immediately before that was very effective at making people go to that link. It tells you nothing about whether they have found the actual page useful or not."

In those cases some interventions are required. Firstly, Sinickas suggests asking readers if they have found the content useful or not at the bottom of the page.

“Action” pages could also be helpful. "Those are pages where individuals can take some types of action, from donating money to signing up for a benefit option - any kind of behaviour-related action."

Another crucial piece of information would be to track down how people went to any particular page. "Did they get there because they received a link through the employee newsletter? Or did they get to that page via a social media discussion? Or through an article on the intranet?" The answers to those questions would tell communicators what the most useful communication was to have staff access that specific content.

But, for this type of evaluation to really make a mark, it has to be thought-through beforehand so unique links or “parameters” can be created in each of the different communications that lead to the same action page.

Focus on changing behaviours

For Sinickas, among the top measurement mistakes is "forgetting to evaluate until after the communication is finished."

Benefits could be bigger if the before baseline was taken carefully into consideration. One of the best ways to prove the value of any communication is to show that it has led to some kind of behavioural change. "Try to connect the communication you are doing with how many employees are changing behaviours by improving the knowledge and attitudes your research has identified as leading to those behaviour changes." From there, Sinickas believes communicators can prove that their activity has brought money back to the organisation either by increasing revenue or decreasing the cost of work.

Asking the right questions

All of this adds up to the importance of asking the questions that will lead to actionable answers. But, despite a communicator's best intentions, this can easily be done wrongly.

"For example, let’s say you ask people to agree or disagree with the following statement: 'The newsletter should continue to be published weekly.' If they disagree, you don’t know whether to increase or decrease the frequency, or to eliminate it altogether. It would be better to ask people to select their ideal frequency from a list of options such as monthly, quarterly, never, etc."

There are a lot of such voids. Another example is asking people “Are you getting too much, too little or the right amount of information on X subject?” Although this question looks good, the reality is that it is limited and does not give enough information. Sinickas suggests instead formulating two questions:

"I would ask, 'How interested are you on X subject?' as well as 'How well informed are you on X subject?'"

Ultimately, the benefits of asking both questions is that communicators will learn right away how many employees are currently interested on X subject - if they want more or less on that topic - as well as how well informed they feel. "If they just ask about wanting more information, it’s very possible that the percentage of people who want more might not change at all, even though both the interest level and the information may have both improved by the same percentage."

Another misleading question would also be, 'Where would you like to get all your company-related information?' Sinickas likes to emphasise that depending on the subject, staff want to access content in different ways. Hence, "if you force them to choose just one option for all topics, you end up with useful data for choosing the right mix of channels by subject."

Reading the data

One thing is to gather the data; another thing is to understand what the best actions to take are based on that information. Reading the data correctly is crucial. Sometimes this mean recognising that there might be a bias in the results.

"It’s very easy to post a survey question on the intranet home page and get replies almost instantaneously. It’s more difficult to interpret what those results really mean."

That is partly because the results apply only to the segment of the audience with easy online access, which means that some groups may end up being under- or over-represented.

Hence, Sinickas advises to "ensure that you are getting the data from the people who have a legitimate answer to the questions. Otherwise you will end up with the wrong assessment on what is happening. For example, if you ask people how useful a communication channel is without first excluding those who have not seen it, you may have a high percentage of people saying it’s not useful when really they just haven’t seen it but were forced to choose only among the available options."

That may sound straightforward. Yet, reality is more complex and Sinickas has seen many companies falling into that trap.

Measure regularly

Not surprisingly, the organisations that are considered to be good at measurement are also the ones with a proven track record of evaluation activity. "They measure regularly to see how things are changing over time as well as to understand what works and what does not work."

Do survey questionnaires still have a role to play when company have real-time big data at their fingertips? For Sinickas, the answer is “yes”. Strange to say, but for her the quarterly, twice per year, and even once per year surveys do still play a role in an always-on and connected digital world. She likes to bring back her initial observation: "With real-time tools, you can see what and when people are clicking on, but that does not tell you what they are thinking about what they read. And, you don't know what they are thinking unless you ask them though a survey question."

She might have a point. The analytics industry has been consolidating since early 2000. Even as powerful technology such as machine learning is rapidly sprouting up, a good internal communicator would always ask colleagues for their ideas and needs.

But, what does measuring 'regularly' mean then? It depends on the context. "Observational metrics that do not rely on surveys could be measured monthly. For example, you can track the reading grade level of your writing to see if it matches the educational level of your audience every month. You can track the volume of content you are sending to employees each month on a list of key topics. Both of these factors will eventually impact how well employees understand the key topics you’re writing about—which you might only be able to measure once a year. Large organisations can also do random samples more frequently than once a year with different clusters of employees."

The future of measurement - finding the balance

The future is bright for the measurement industry because "more management wants to know if they are spending their money wisely." Indeed, practitioners are moving toward new data and analytics.

Yet, Sinickas repeats for clarity, "There is always a balance between what you can learn and what you should learn."

She refers specifically to crossing the line of invading personal privacy: "For example, IBM regularly monitors the level of involvement of their employees on internal social media. If the level of participation of a department drops, their experience shows it likely happened because the group has a new manager who may not be working out well in that role. Then HR does an intervention to either help that manager or move him or her into a different role before the lowered level of employee engagement leads to dissatisfied employees looking for jobs elsewhere. While the information is useful because it allows the company to make its management better, it is also invading the private space of individuals. It is a delicate balance."

Not everyone would necessarily agree with that statement. But nonetheless Sinickas’s views are a good reminder of the privacy dilemma in our digital age - How are our data used? Perhaps as well as measurement we should be considering with equal gravity just how ethical our corporate policies and practices are when it comes to evaluating the views and actions of our colleagues.

This article originally appeared on simply-communicate