Build workplace engagement with 3-way communication

Organizations should encourage employees to create content for intranets and blogs to boost staff morale, while helping recruiting efforts.

Editor’s note: This story is taken from Ragan’s new distance-learning portal, RaganTraining.com. The site contains more than 200 hours of case studies, video presentations, and interactive courses. Learn more about this session.

Engagement. Collaboration. Celebration.

If your organization embraces those workplace activities—encouraging employees to get involved, work together, and enjoy a party now and then—it stands a better chance of inspiring workers and attracting top talent, two internal communication specialists said in this Ragan Training session, Creating a connected culture.

“One of the foundational elements in building a connected culture is to give employees a chance to engage,” said Kelli Clark, of the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority in North Carolina. “As corporate communicators, we get wrapped up a lot in, ‘Let me tell you what you need to know; let me tell you what’s going on.’ That’s really important, but that’s one-way communication.”

To create three-way communication—employer to employee, employee to employer, and employee to employee—the organization must provide platforms and forums for the exchange of information and ideas, she said.

Creating an inviting culture

Kim Jokisch, director of employment branding and media at Red Hat, a multinational open-source software company, said leaders there focus on “creating a culture that everyone wants to work in.” That’s a challenge in an organization with 5,900 employees spread across 80 offices and 38 countries.

One communication tool developed to reach Red Hat’s internal audience is “The Show,” a 20- to 30-minute video produced quarterly. Jokisch said the motto of the program is “Show us your stuff.” Employees are encouraged to send in their photos, videos, and ideas. She said the content is heavily curated to ensure that a strong story is being told in each episode.

“It is really a way for people to connect to the company and for us to spotlight our culture and our people, which are differentiators for us,” she said. “The idea came to us at a time when we were growing rapidly, because in any fast-paced company, you are very heads down, very focused on what you are doing.

“We decided to give everybody across the company a chance to pick their heads up and look at all the great work going on around them—and equally important, meet some really cool people that are doing that work.”

A source of pride you can wear

Employees whose submission makes “The Show” receive a commemorative T-shirt, “a coveted thing in our culture,” Jokisch said. The shirt design changes, so people take pride in collecting them.

She said Red Hat office managers around the world also are encouraged to host quarterly events that tie into the program and “celebrate what makes us unique.” The offices compete for best show party and the winning team receives a trophy and is featured on the next episode of “The Show.”

“We are excited that people want to watch “The Show” in a fun environment,” Jokisch said. “But really it is a win for the entire office, because it is a great moment in their quarter that they look forward to, where they get to pick their head up and celebrate what makes us different from everyone else.”

Creating a blog to stimulate dialogue

When Clark joined the airport authority as its internal communications specialist, there was a traditional intranet in place, but it did not provide employees a way to interact with their managers and each other. So she launched a blog for the airport director called “From the Flight Deck.”

“This was a way to give the airport director a chance to have an ongoing conversation with staff,” she said. “It was also the very first opportunity airport authority employees had to communicate back to the director and communications team.”

Though some folks said they weren’t reading the blog and it wasn’t all that important to them, Clark said her analytics told a different story. She said she knew exactly who was looking at it and how often, and the numbers were good.

An April Fools’ Day blog post from the director proved the point. His item said that the 300-employee authority was going to generate new revenue streams by starting a pancake sale and car wash—with some workers assigned to cook hotcakes, others assigned to scrub fenders.

“The blog blew up,” Clark said, as many readers missed the “teeny tiny disclaimer” that said, “Just kidding. Have a happy April Fools’ Day.” From that day on, employees viewed the blog differently.

Having fun, working hard

“People really started to get it that it isn’t always serious all the time,” she said. “It is OK to joke. We can have fun and still work hard.” First the director, then departments such as human resources and marketing were given authority to post items. Now all employees have that privilege.

“Employees are now not only getting information, they are giving information and sharing a little bit about who they are,” she said. “We’re starting to get three-way communication between our staff even though we don’t have a social intranet.”

Both Clark and Jokisch stressed that an organization that is authentic in its internal and external communications will make a stronger connection with its audience.

At Red Hat, content from “The Show” will be used on social media sites to engage current and potential employees. The viewers will share the segment with their family and friends, which helps spread the Red Hat vibe far and wide, Jokisch said.

“We want to market Red Hat as a great place to work,” she said. “These authentic stories help us do just that.”

Diverted flight delivers compelling story

When an international flight from Cancun, Mexico, to Toronto, Canada, was diverted to the Raleigh-Durham airport because of a medical emergency, 160 passengers were stuck in the customs area for six hours while a new plane and crew were brought in. The response from airport workers was tremendous, Clark said. They provided assistance and necessities such as chairs and wheelchairs make the passengers comfortable. A police officer even took orders for baby formula and diapers and made a run to a Target store.

When Clark heard about the airport’s response, “I got goose bumps, and I wanted the goose bumps to go on.”

So she decided to do “60 Minutes”-style interviews with employees representing all departments involved and was wowed by the final product.

“Telling their story from their perspective was the most emotional 6½-minute clip that I’ve worked on in my career. We put it on our intranet, showed it at a town hall meeting, and talked about it internally.”

It was also posted on the airport’s external blog, where a new item usually gets between 200 and 300 hits on its first day and zero the next, she said. The clip drew 10,000 hits in its first 48 hours “because we let them tell the story in their own authentic voices.”

“It’s really cool what happens when you open up the opportunity for people to participate,” Clark said. “Then when the chance for them to collaborate and work together comes up, they do it better because they know each other.”

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