This is an interview with Mossy O'Mahony, VP of Product at internal communications software company Newsweaver. Mossy hosted a webinar on 'Overcoming the barriers to measurement' which is now available for you to view online. In the webinar, Mossy shows you how to avoid the pitfalls of measuring in silos and how to overcome the barriers to effective measurement.
Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: What is your definition of employee engagement?
Mossy O'Mahony, VP of Product, Newsweaver: It is the willingness of employees to act like owners and invest their discretionary effort and talent for the benefit of the business.
Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: What mistakes do organisations make when trying to engage staff?
Mossy O'Mahony, VP of Product, Newsweaver: I will highlight two.
Firstly, the “illusion of inclusion“ which destroys engagement. This is when organisations or leaders ask for input and ideas but never get back with what they’ve done with it. Will they respond to the employee survey and take action? Were they just consulting?
Last month, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) decided to launch a campaign to let the public decide what its latest polar research ship should be called. Boaty McBoatFace received thousands of votes and NERC on 18 April 2016 issued a Press Release saying it would "review all of the suggested names and the final decision for the name will be announced in due course".
Like many other companies, NERC probably wanted to promote its extraordinary polar research work. However, it ended up ignoring all the input because it didn’t like the answer. How many leaders do the same when they ask for feedback?
If the conversation about pay is unclear and perceived as unfair, this can also destroy engagement.
Secondly, not communicating openly and honestly, for example around pay.
Pay is actually remarkably low as an engagement driver (see Willis Towers Watson research), however, if the conversation about pay is unclear and perceived as unfair, this can also destroy engagement. Recent research by PayScale showed that two-thirds of fairly compensated employees incorrectly believed they were underpaid.
Companies need to equip and help their leaders to have informed conversations about pay.
Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: What place does internal comms play in an effective engagement strategy?
Mossy O'Mahony, VP of Product, Newsweaver: IC plays a central role in any engagement strategy or effort to bring about a change inside an organization.
Where IC is a trusted adviser to the executive leadership, it will have a very broad definition and remit covering all the Willis Towers Watson change drivers:
- Culture, systems and structures
- Project management
Strategic communications will address all of these. Tactical communications will develop a plan focused on communications.
Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: Is 'good' communication changing, for example in response to the perception of changing millennial needs/a greater number of generations in the workplace? Or do the rules of good communication never change?
Mossy O'Mahony, VP of Product, Newsweaver: The eternal rules are helpful but collaboration, crowdsourcing, globalisation, attention spans, expectations of transparency, free information and content, the speed of change, Twitter, Vloggers and many others have changed communication beyond recognition.
500 emails are sent for every one tweet.
I still find some long-standing communication principles helpful (what, why, when, who, where and message, media, audience) but IC is very different today than it was in the 80s and 90s.
I can think of four new principles that have changed my approach to IC:
- Be authentic – for IC this means truly understanding and being open and honest about your brand, purpose and performance. You can’t always control the conversation. You can start it, join in or remove yourself. People respond to authentic leaders and communication.
- Get the wisdom of the crowd – technology has made it easier than ever to gather input and feedback. Intelligent measurement systems can also show what sort of content is most and least engaging for employees.
- Expect higher quality – again technology has raised expectations about the quality of communication. One consultant I know recently visited a client with a poor quality monthly, printed newspaper which went to their 10,000 remote volunteers. Their website was dated and unfriendly. Most people, especially younger generations, simply won’t engage with low quality communication and, not surprisingly, this client has a huge problem attracting volunteers between the ages of 16 and 40.
- Challenge sacred cows – The evidence still suggests that face-to-face communication is the most effective - see the study by UCLA professor Albert Mehrabian - but those entering the workforce and increasingly remote workforces are challenging some some perceived wisdom. Alpine Access, a US company where managers have no face time at all with their 7,500 remote workers, do everything electronically and over the phone. They make great use of skype, the intranet and other electronic channels and have great governance and standards around when to use email and or the phone. All emails have to offer a chance to ask questions of the sender and be acknowledged by the receiver.
Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: What's the role of technology in shifting the role of employee comms? We can communicate much faster, much easier and more directly nowadays. How are best-performing companies responding to these changes?
Mossy O'Mahony, VP of Product, Newsweaver: The best companies are quick to embrace new technology but also continue to invest in traditional channels.
Here are five ways that technology is changing the role of employee comms:
- File sharing and collaboration – in the last few years Google Docs or other similar products have allowed concurrent editing and sharing of documents.
- Knowledge sharing - a McKinsey Global Institute study found that high-skill knowledge workers spend 19% of their average workweek searching for information. That’s an incredible amount of lost productivity time. Enterprise Social Networks and intranets integrated with email systems can make this process much more efficient.
- Better data and measurement – Too much measurement data sits in intranet, social or email silos. Newsweaver’s cross-channel analytics provides one place where IC can measure the engagement of employees with any communication across every electronic channel (intranet, video and email). This engagement and readership can be dissected by role, function and location as well as topic and channel. For example, it might show very low engagement in IT vs the rest of the business for a business announcement or higher readership of email over intranet articles, perhaps because it embedded a video. Ultimately, this helps IC show the business impact and effectiveness of particular campaigns across channels and different audiences and then use that data to inform planning for future business comms.
- More regular feedback via social channels is making leaders more accessible and reducing hierarchy.
- More flexible working and remote working as employees can work 24/7, anytime and anyplace.
All these opportunities place a greater demand on IC to stay at the cutting edge of technology, try new things and train leaders in their use.
However, organisations know that traditional channels like email have become even more important as other channels have multiplied, fragmented and specialised.
The graphic below shows that 500 emails are sent for every one tweet. Email dominates communications and is still growing year on year. So in our experience, the best companies are also investing in traditional channels like email and video.
Aon prepares questions and sends candidates a video link. The candidate records him- or herself responding to the questions – either for a specific job or for general consideration. When finished, Aon can review, rate and share the interview and determine whether to invite the candidate to continue the recruitment process.
Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: People talk of comms 'coming from the organisation' and often this is from HR but HR has a reputation for sending out stiff, boring comms. Is there an ideal place for comms to come from to increase read rates and does this change depending on the types of comms being sent out?
Mossy O'Mahony, VP of Product, Newsweaver: Newsweaver’s research shows that readership increases when messages come from the CEO vs HR or a Corporate account.
It also increases when it comes from your line manager or local leader as opposed to a national or global leader.
HR or organisational comms does not have to be stiff and boring.
Richard Branson at Virgin has personally pioneered an exciting, open communications voice and given permission for others in the organisation to copy him. Video, humour and branding can add interest to any communication.
Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: Comms are often criticised for either being overrun with details e.g. way too much content that isn't just 'what the employee needs to know' but at the same time companies are criticised for not keeping staff in the loop. Is there a 'just right' option? How should companies go about finding a balance?
Mossy O'Mahony, VP of Product, Newsweaver: I’ve never come across an organisation that has got this balance just right. If your organisation has more than one employee, they will feel out of the loop and criticise comms! As it gets bigger the problem will get bigger. There is no perfect solution but:
You need to measure your comms effectiveness in order to understand how you are doing.
Is your level of overload better or worse than other organisations of your size and geographic footprint?
Readership increases when messages come from the CEO vs HR or a Corporate account.
Do your employees feel more out of the loop than those at other similar organisations? These are typical questions for employee engagement surveys and comms audits with norms against which you can compare yourself.
A Regan study in 2014 revealed that only 16% of communicators were satisfied with their measurement of IC.
Have some communication standards, governance and disciplines that prevent overload and inconsistency.
Schneider Electric, GSK and Unilever have all put in place global governance structures for internal communication to create one employee experience.
This can be as simple as coordinating and consolidating corporate messages in one weekly newsletter customized to the recipient’s location and role.
The latest State of the Nation research from Gatehouse showed that less than 40% of IC functions had written IC strategies and dashboards reporting impact and effectiveness.
Distinguish between communication that is “for information only“ or that requires action.
Don’t allow senior leaders to blur the lines! If a communication requires some action by the recipient, call that out very clearly.
American companies have established some very good practices around their annual healthcare benefits enrolment. These communications focus on a deadline and have strong calls to action each day as that deadline approaches.
Customise and target your messages by role, location and individual preference.
In the early days of annual benefits and flex enrolments, companies sent reminders to everyone as the deadline approached.
Can you coordinate and consolidate corporate messages in one weekly newsletter customized to the recipient’s location and role?
Research showed that this annoyed those who had enrolled early and led to people ignoring communications. So communicators began to track those who had responded and excluded them from ‘last chance’ messages.
Now communicators can customise any communication according to the recipient’s grade, role, location/geography and department.
This type of customisation means that Unilever’s Essentials newsletter might contain 100 articles but the average employee would only receive six (as told by Unilever at one of our client days).
About Mossy O'Mahony
Mossy O'Mahony is Newsweaver's chief product strategist, and manages the company's product direction and roadmap. He has worked for over ten years helping organizations use technology to better engage with their audiences.