Jennifer Zanfardino

Are Your Employee Communications Super Bowl Worthy?

Let’s pretend I’m Gary Kubiack, the coach of the Denver Broncos. It’s Sunday, February 7th, and I’m standing before my team, knowing that it’s probably Peyton’s last game in his storied career and that it’s Super Bowl 50 and my pre-game speech is this:

“Hey team! You’ve played hard all year. Play great for one more game and you can win. Now go get ‘em!”

No one is taking the field fired up and ready to defeat the Carolina Panthers because while what I said is true, it’s certainly not effective.

That’s because my pep talk could have been used for a peewee football team, my parents’ bocce team, or the Denver Broncos. The same messaging technically applies to all of them. But in order to make an impact with any of them, you have to account for the context. Who is your audience? What inspires them? What are they playing for? What do they need to hear that’s unique to them – and how do they need to hear it – so they’re empowered and inspired to take action?

Now think about how you communicate with your employees. Did Fidelity give you some brochures, maybe a powerpoint? Raise your hand. It’s okay. They do that for everyone. And your wellness provider sent some emails to your employees, right? Coincidentally your spouse/partner/friend who works for an entirely different company got THOSE SAME EMAILS. Don’t be embarrassed. I promise, it’s not that they’re cheating on you. They just don’t think you’re that special.

And they don’t have to. See, vendors like Fidelity and Staywell provide quality products. They manage 401ks and offer interactive dashboards where employees can track their steps. What they don’t do well is communicate with your employees about the stuff they offer. Or why they should participate. And they definitely do not do it in a way that is culturally aligned with your organization. When it comes to communications, they are the generic pep talk. And that’s okay. Because they’re good at other things.

But being good at other things, and not being good at communications isn’t good for you. It means your programs are underperforming. It means you’re missing opportunities to engage your employees. To get them excited about the wellness program so they participate. To invest more in their 401k so they can more comfortably retire. To not treat performance management like a toddler treats medicine and instead see it as an opportunity to get better.

Now let’s go back to my original metaphor. I’m still Gary Kubiak and it’s Super bowl Sunday and probably Peyton Manning’s last game. This time around I say something like,

“First, I want to congratulate us on making it to this point. It’s been a tough season. There were times when we didn’t think we were going to make it this far, but here we are. Our defense has continually stepped up. Brock, you gave the team hope in a moment of darkness. And Peyton, well, you’ve been a hell of a player, and we’re honored to have been part of your journey so I think I speak for everyone when I say we want to send you out with a W.

Now Carolina is fast. And they’re hungry. And they’re very, very good. But you guys are strong. And smart. And resilient. And I believe in this team and I believe in our defense and our quarterback. So let’s go out there, play our game, and kick some Carolina ass in Super bowl 50!”

Now we’re talking. There’s some passion. There’s some context. There’s something that’s unique and relevant to the audience. I’m no longer maybe talking to my parents’ bocce team. I’m talking to the Denver Broncos. And they’re in the Super bowl. And they can win.

That’s how you need to communicate with your employees. Employee communications should not be an afterthought. And they definitely should never, ever, ever be generic. In order for your communications to be effective they have to be culturally competent.

In order to do that you need to think about what makes the most sense for your team so you can tell your story in a way that’s most effective and relevant for your organization. Not in a generic way that’s convenient and easy for your vendor.

When you look at a vendor communications plan do you think about the following?

What are you out to achieve? Do you want more people to sign up for your wellness program? Do you want employees to invest more in their 401ks? Or maybe it’s that you want them to take a more active role in their development.

What drives your organization? Is your culture data driven? Do they like the numbers and statistics? Are they super collaborative and interested in what they can do together? Or are they passionate about being the underdog constantly fighting the man?

Where should they receive communications? Are they glued to their desks all day with easy access to intranets and portals? Or are they constantly on the move? Maybe they actually spend time around the water cooler.

How do they want to receive communications? Do they want to receive messaging at home or is that just one more thing to put through the shredder? Maybe scrolling through Twitter is more efficient? Or perhaps speaking to them one-on-one is most effective?

What do the communications look and sound like? Do they look and feel like my organization’s culture? (Yes, they should.) Do they look like something from outside my company that unless someone bothers to read the 10-point font could be for any company? (Ask for some of your money back…and work with us.)

If you want to stand a chance of beating Carolina in the Super bowl – or maybe get more of your employees to sign up for your wellness program – you have to think about them and find a way to engage them within your story and culture.