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Onboarding New Hires? Try These Tips to Boost Retention

In today’s challenging talent environment, retaining employees is a must. That’s why so many organizations consider onboarding new hires a top priority. When people feel genuinely welcomed at work from day one, retention increases dramatically.

If you could suggest one way to achieve better long-term results when onboarding new hires, what would you recommend? Recently, we asked business leaders to share their answers to this question. Their collective tips read like a playbook of best practices:

  • Assign an Onboarding Buddy
  • Challenge New Team Members to Take Initiative
  • Make Newcomers Feel at Home
  • Assess Each New Hire’s Personality and Work Style
  • Help New Employees Feel Connected With Others
  • Provide Extensive Product Training
  • Emphasize Company Mission and Values

To learn more about these ideas, read the responses below…

7 Ways to Drive Retention When Onboarding New Hires

1. Assign an Onboarding Buddy

Effective onboarding helps make new members of your workforce feel like they’re an integral part of the organization. It drives employee engagement and reduces time to proficiency. But it can be a tedious process to manage.

Assigning an “onboarding buddy” to every new team member is one way to ensure success. When facing an unfamiliar environment, many people hesitate to ask questions or communicate about their needs. Access to a dedicated resource can help people feel at ease, knowing someone is available to offer advice and answer questions when they arise.

This kind of support leads to multiple benefits — it provides helpful cultural context, improves productivity and elevates work satisfaction.

When our organization started a buddy system, we conducted surveys to evaluate the program’s impact. Results were impressive. After the first week on the job, people with buddies were 32% happier with their onboarding experience than those without buddies. And when we followed-up 90 days later, 42% of employees with buddies were more efficient in their roles than others.

Conclusion: These early relationships help people feel safer stepping into their roles. This encourages engagement and significantly improves talent retention at our company.

Jody Ordioni, Chief Brand Officer, Brandemix

2. Challenge New Team Members to Take Initiative

Although it’s essential to introduce new employees to key tasks, routines and procedures during the onboarding process, it’s also important to avoid too much hand-holding. You need to determine if people can be resourceful and work independently, rather than encouraging them to become overly dependent on guidance from others.

Of course, you can always be there to help as a manager. But the goal is to help people feel self-empowered and help them gain confidence and competence as quickly as possible.

Nick Shackelford, Managing Partner, Structured Agency

3. Make Newcomers Feel at Home

Many employers make the mistake of expecting new hires to adopt company culture by giving them all the instructions they need to fit right in. But bringing out the best in someone starts with recognizing their strengths and helping them see how those strengths can serve organizational goals.

Give employees time to familiarize themselves with your organization’s goals. And give them space to use trial and error when developing their own work strategies and tactics. This opens the door for people to bring new, authentic ideas to the table. It also shows you believe in their abilities, you’ve hired them based on their potential, and you’re willing to let them grow.

Zachary Weiner, CEO & Founder, Finance Hire

4. Assess Each New Hire’s Personality and Work Style

When onboarding new hires, one critical step is to assess their personality and work style. Every employee approaches tasks and communication differently, so it’s helpful to learn the best methods to guide each individual and provide feedback.

If you focus on this during the onboarding process, then you give every new hire the best opportunity to develop a lasting connection with you, your team and your organization.

Raegan Johnson, Office Manager, Argon Agency

5. Help New People Feel Connected With Others

A lack of connection is the strongest predictor of attrition among new hires. Research shows that employees who lose 2-3 peers within the first few months on the job are at least 2 times more likely to resign than others. Other data shows that resignations are significantly higher among new employees who are regularly late to work or absent, compared with those who are punctual.

Team support, connection and stability are the biggest retention drivers for new hires. This is why frequent interaction with managers, peers and skip-level managers is crucial.

Initially, managers should set the tone by scheduling frequent one-on-one meetings. Then gradually reduce the pace over time. Also, right from the start, encourage team members to welcome new employees and be available to support them on an ongoing basis.

Vahed Qazvinian, Co-Founder & CTO, Praisidio

6. Provide Extensive Product Training

A company’s products and services are its center of gravity. So, the sooner new hires are acquainted with these offerings, the sooner they can be successful in their roles. This is where extensive product training helps.

Knowledgeable team members are obviously beneficial for employers. But individuals benefit, as well. Knowing every nook and cranny of an organization’s products gives newcomers more clarity, confidence and excitement about what they’re doing each day. It also builds a stronger connection between new hires and your company, your customers and your mission.

Monika Dmochowska, Talent Acquisition Leader, Tidio

7. Emphasize Company Mission and Values

As someone who has been a new hire and has also hired staff members, I don’t think employers spend enough time focusing on mission and values. Leaders might mention the overall mission, but too often they give little attention to how a new hire’s role helps the organization fulfill its mission.

At our company, we spend time familiarizing people with our values and how these values set a foundation that makes it possible for our mission to thrive. Each person knows their job description, as well as how their role moves the company forward. This helps create a deeper connection and improves engagement.

Tamara Dias, Director of Culture and Client Partnerships, Perfeqta

 


EDITOR’S NOTE: These employee onboarding ideas were submitted via Terkel, a knowledge platform that shares community-driven content based on expert insights. To see questions and get published, sign up at terkel.io.

How to Level Up Employee Benefits Education With Video

As employee engagement continues to drift downward, organizations everywhere are looking for more efficient, effective ways to connect and communicate with their workforce. This is especially true for employee benefits education, where access to clear, complete and timely information is critical.

What better way to help employees understand their benefits than with video? In this article, we’ll explore why video is such an effective form of outreach, along with five ways you can use it to improve benefits education.

Why is Video Ideal for This Purpose?

As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. But what about video? In the business world, its popularity as a communication tool has skyrocketed over the past decade. And the pandemic only added fuel to the fire by forcing employers to shift toward video for internal communications.

Now, many organizations recognize just how powerful video can be in employee education. Why?

  • When people see and hear information within the context of a video, they’re more likely to understand and remember the message.
  • Video tutorials and walkthroughs are a great way to break down complex topics into manageable, memorable “bites.”
  • Video content is also highly shareable, so employees can easily pass information along and discuss it with others.

5 Ways to Enhance Benefits Education With Video

1. Offer Benefits Portal Tutorials and Walkthroughs

To ensure employees know how to navigate your benefits portal, it’s important to provide proper instruction. But with video, it’s no longer necessary to bombard people with lengthy written documentation.

Instead, brief tutorials are a great way to give employees a guided tour of your benefits site. Even a few quick, easy-to-follow videos can make all the difference in introducing employees to the portal so they become more comfortable conducting research and serving themselves.

2. Create Enrollment Screencasts

Enrolling in benefits can be daunting, especially when people are unfamiliar with the process. Rather than sending out lengthy written instructions or expecting employees to figure it out independently, you can use screencasting to walk them through the entire process, step-by-step. This helps people understand the open enrollment process, so they don’t become confused or frustrated by complexity.

Offering useful screencasts requires thoughtful upfront planning and production. But in the long run, it can save your benefits administrators significant time, by reducing the volume of routine questions and issues they must resolve.

3. Focus on Key Topics of Interest

Instructional videos are a terrific option if you want to provide more in-depth information about particular benefits topics. These videos can cover anything from an overview of your company’s health insurance plans, to guidance on how to use key portal features.

This is also a smart way to address common concerns or misconceptions employees may have about selecting or managing their benefits. By providing clear, concise information in a compelling visual format, you can help employees better understand every aspect of their benefits and how to use them.

4. Conduct Virtual Benefits Fairs

If your company offers a variety of benefits, staging a virtual benefits fair can be a useful way to consolidate information into a highly accessible “all-in-one” live online experience. Plus, you can record the sessions and make them available on-demand so employees can attend at their convenience.

Your programming could involve a series of short videos covering each benefit category. These sessions could be followed by an interactive Q&A session, where employees can ask questions of an expert at your company or from a related benefits vendor. This gives participants access to the information they need to make better-informed decisions.

5. Produce Video Testimonials

One of the most compelling ways to engage employees in benefits education is to illustrate how others are using these benefits. And what better way to do this than with video testimonials that let members of your workforce tell their story in their own words?

Featured employees can talk about why and how they selected specific benefits to improve their health, save for financial goals, or improve their quality of life. This not only helps others feel comfortable about their benefits decisions, even as it reinforces your organization’s commitment to workforce wellbeing.

Video Engagement Best Practices

Now that we’ve explored ways to use video to engage your employees in benefits education, let’s look at some best practices to keep in mind when creating any video content:

  • Be sure to put the audience’s interests first. What are their needs? What information do they want to see? How much time are they likely to invest in consuming this content? What should their next move be?
  • Strive to keep your videos short and to the point. Employees are busy and often can’t devote time or attention to long-form content.
  • Always test videos before you launch and promote them. Make sure they work correctly from end-to-end, and that employees can understand the concepts you’re trying to communicate. This will ensure a positive, productive enrollment experience for employees and support your broader organizational goals.
  • Don’t forget the marketing outreach needed to make employees aware of any education resources. Unseen video has little value, so be sure you invest in communication that will lead people to your educational content.

Closing Notes

Helping employees understand their benefits is crucial for employers and human resources departments. If you haven’t considered using video to communicate this information, you’re missing an opportunity to present complex benefits information in a way that is meaningful, quick and easy for employees to access. And in the long run, this self-service content can save your HR team significant time and money.

Keys to a Successful Open Enrollment Season

Open enrollment season is upon us again, and the world of work continues to shift at a head-spinning pace. This fluid environment poses benefits-related challenges that HR leaders can’t afford to ignore. For example, decision-makers are wondering:

  • How to address employees’ evolving needs. It’s essential now to meet individuals where they are and provide clear pathways to benefits that resonate.
  • How to communicate effectively in a “work anywhere” environment. Everyone deserves easy access to clear, relevant benefits information, regardless of whether they’ve returned to the office, they’re working remotely, or their schedule blends both work modes.

Why Benefits Education Counts

To illustrate how important education is for a successful open enrollment season, consider these U.S. health benefits research findings:

  • 72% of employees wish someone would tell them the best health insurance for their particular situation. (Justworks/Harris Poll)
  • Nearly 90% of employers think their benefits are clear and easy to understand. Yet only 65% of employees agree. (via MetLife)
  • 54% of employees don’t know the full scope of their health benefits. Yet nearly 65% say these offerings significantly influence their willingness to stay with an organization. (Justworks/Harris Poll)

This means education is vital—not just to help people choose relevant benefits. The truth is that, without effective benefits education, you’re putting employee retention at risk. But improving open enrollment communication doesn’t need to be overwhelming. Below are a few simple ways to help employees through the decision-making process and ensure better overall results:

5 Ways to Improve Open Enrollment Education

1) Host Multiple Information Sessions

Conducting a single all-hands open enrollment season meeting no longer covers all the bases. Even if 100% of your employees work on-site, you can’t expect full participation. Some people will be out ill or on vacation. Unavoidable business priorities will keep others from attending. It’s smart to plan ahead and assume conflicts will make it impossible for everyone to join a live session.

You can rise to this challenge by producing content in various formats (for example, an in-person meeting, a live webinar, a digital recording, and a series of podcast episodes). You’ll also want to share this content through multiple delivery channels (for example, sending email messages, sharing in Slack groups, and posting on your organization’s intranet platform).

The goal is to make information easily accessible and available whenever people can fit it into their schedules.

2) Plan Open Enrollment “Office Hours”

To augment your core benefits “broadcast” content, consider offering prescheduled office hours with an HR staff member. You can structure and promote this as an opportunity for individuals to drop by in person or online and discuss their specific circumstances with a benefits expert.

Often in public information sessions, employees hesitate to ask questions about what they don’t know. But office hours provide a private safe space for discussion. This frees employees to speak more openly about their specific concerns. At the same time, it helps the HR team provide more relevant information to ensure individuals understand the impact of their open enrollment choices.

You may also find it helpful to extend the value of these sessions by repurposing the content for broader use. In other words, you can select some of the most common questions from “office hours” visits and repost them anonymously as “frequently asked questions” on a wiki or web page.

3) Get Your Vendors Involved

Sometimes, information is best received directly from the source. Hosting virtual live and recorded benefits fairs gives vendors a platform for sharing details about their solutions and services. It also provides more time for providers to discuss specific questions in-depth with employees.

So, instead of conducting a standard 1-hour session where your HR team summarizes available health benefits, you could schedule a series of 30-45-minute sessions showcasing key vendors. (For example, you could feature each of your health insurance companies, along with sessions devoted to specialized vendors, such as onsite dental services, wellness consultants, or fertility benefits providers).

These sessions can focus on basic facts about each solution, as well as ancillary benefits that are underutilized. Then you could close each session by answering individual questions from the audience.

Also, if you’re scheduling topic-focused HR office hours, you may want to ask vendor consultants to join relevant sessions. Or you could invite key vendors to conduct their own 1:1 sessions. Sometimes, employees feel more comfortable talking to external benefits specialists. For these people, dedicated vendor sessions or 1:1 office hours are an ideal solution.

4) Integrate Micro-Learnings into the Process

Micro-learnings are brief educational events and materials targeting topics that tie in with key benefits, such as health and finance. This kind of knowledge sharing encourages more employee interaction and tends to generate deeper interest in relevant benefits.

To illustrate, here are a few micro-learning themes:

  • “Urgent Care vs ER: What’s the Difference?”
  • “The Link Between Mental Health and Overall Health”
  • “How to Balance Work Life with Family Caregiving

Top online learning providers (such as LinkedIn Learning and YouTube channels) already provide excellent educational content about these topics. This means you don’t have to create content from scratch. Instead, you can curate strong programming from several online sources and then easily deliver the content to interested employees.

Packaging and promoting this kind of useful information upfront is invaluable for employees. It saves them time because they don’t have to research these topics on their own. Plus, the convenience of “anytime” access to high-quality educational content about health and benefits enhances workforce well-being.

5) Customize Educational Materials for Various Interests

Every employee is unique. And the beauty of today’s workforce is in its diversity. So everything about open enrollment season should support this reality. In other words, it’s important to appeal to various interests within your workforce.

For instance, recent grads may not appreciate benefits that appeal to new parents and vice versa. Instead of offering a generic “one-size-fits-all” menu, think about how you can categorize benefits so they align with groups that will value them most. Then present these benefits collections on your open enrollment site as packages. (For example, you could specify “Benefits that support LGBTQIA+ employees.”)

Clearly, you’ll find overlap among groups, so you don’t need to recreate an entirely new package for each community. But structuring benefits options in this way helps people more quickly identify the benefits information they’re likely to want.

If you’ve already established dedicated employee resource groups, consider creating packages for each of those ERGs and sending a customized message to each group with a direct link to their accompanying package. This extra measure ensures that individuals can quickly and easily find materials that matter most to them.

Conclusion

As we continue to navigate today’s dynamic business and benefits landscape, this year’s open enrollment season is sure to present challenges. But continually reflecting on your communication process, seeking employee feedback, and making informed adjustments can help you move forward more smoothly.

Remember to distribute information in more than one format. Also, make it as easy to find as possible, in as many places as your budget and resources will allow. And above all, focus on personalizing communication when you can. Although this is a “broadcast” communication challenge, benefits decisions are highly personal for each employee. The more willing you are to meet people where they are, the more successful you’ll be.

Photo: Omar Flores

#WorkTrends: AI, VR, and the Internal Communication Revolution

We’re all suffering from both information overload and information under-load right now. As companies struggle to communicate with their employees and navigate a global health crisis, one thing is crystal clear: communication is rarely as clear and effective as we’d like it to be. In today’s workplace, it’s a challenge we need to overcome yesterday — even in the best of circumstances. But given what’s unfolding, it’s more critical than ever – and could even mean the difference between putting employees at-risk and keeping them safe. 

Meghan M. Biro brought internal communications expert Shel Holtz to #WorkTrends to talk about how to do it better. Shel has been involved in internal communications for decades — and recalled how he’d thought he’d invented the intranet for a moment back in the 90s. But fact is, he’s a pioneer who helps many organizations understand that communication is a whole new ball game now (one that’s not canceled). While countless organizations threw everything into their intranet, that was then. We don’t process or seek information the way we used to — and companies should take a lesson from media outlets.

As Shel said, “The intranet emerged during a day when people were surfing the web and it was new and interesting and fun. But these days people tend to be very task-oriented sitting down at a web page. Otherwise, they’re reading and engaging on their phones. You have to meet people where they are. If you think about the major media outlets… they have their website, but also the app, and a podcast, and they’re tweeting and letting people on Facebook know about the articles they’ve read. We have to adopt this kind of consumer-grade mentality around getting content out to people.”

That also means using technology to better communicate — AI helps drive talk-to-text and transcription apps, powers chatbots, and more. But it can also reveal trends and issues we may miss. Shel recalled a company diversity initiative involving internal referrals that wasn’t getting any traction among employees whatsoever. No one could figure out why. An AI tool was able to find the reason by sifting through all the discussions and emails — and the organization was able to course-correct, clarify, and make the program successful. 

Meghan pointed out that the key to assuring that AI doesn’t cause unease among employees is being upfront about it all. “If we’re being truthful, and transparent with our employees, they are going to appreciate this, and be more likely to adopt and adjust.” We all want a way to do our work better — and that includes how we communicate. But in the end, we can’t be operating behind a curtain, no matter what tools we use. It’s not just how we say it – or being “tool-centric,” as Shel added. It’s about what we say.

Listen to the full conversation and see our questions for the upcoming #WorkTrends Twitter Chat. And don’t forget to subscribe, so you don’t miss an episode. 

Twitter Chat Questions

Q1: Why do many brands struggle with internal communications?  #WorkTrends
Q2: What strategies can improve our strategic communication? #WorkTrends
Q3: What can leaders do to help organizations improve internal communication? #WorkTrends

Find Shel Holtz on Linkedin and Twitter

 

Let’s Make Internal Communications Exciting Again

The conversation went something like this:

Me: “Hi Sean! I’m writing a blog post for TalentCulture.com about the benefits of creating employee-focused communications that are compelling, persuasive, and fun — the opposite of those tedious internal memos nobody reads. Do you have any colorful, exciting examples of employee communications I can share with my readers?”

Sean: “Um … nope. Now that you mention it, we’re all about those tedious memos. In fact, the only time our internal communications are exciting is when our CEO publicly calls out a department and blames them for missed sales targets.”

Me: “Wow. Thanks for letting me know. Happy to send you a link to the blog when it’s published.”

I wish this interaction had been the exception to the rule, but alas, it was not. When I called a colleague in the higher education sector, her response was similarly unenthusiastic.

“Yeah, we don’t really do stuff like that here,” she said. “We send out lots of nice mailers for the students, but the faculty and administration? They just get whatever new policies we need them to follow.”

Too often, businesses both large and small fall into the easy and comfortable trap of treating their employees like a captive audience. Because the recipients of their internal messages are on the payroll, they assume their personnel are motivated to read, absorb, and act upon every ponderous Intranet update and boring e-mail that comes their way. The reality isn’t that simple.

“Employees are as important as any audience, if not the most important,” said Janet Miller of New Jersey-based Cox Stationers and Printers, which frequently sponsors employee contests and boasts a rooftop beehive at which it holds an annual company-wide honey harvest. “Finding new ways to keep employees interested and engaged is a constant challenge, but a rewarding one.”

An effective internal communications program can do more than keep employees engaged — it can also help them avoid a broken neck.

Sweetser, a behavioral-health nonprofit in Maine, was concerned about increased employee slip-and-fall incidents in icy conditions. They dutifully issued educational materials warning of the dangers of slippery sidewalks, and advising workers to use appropriate footwear … but the accidents continued.

The following winter, Sweetser went on the offensive. Their research revealed that a special type of walk — nicknamed the “Penguin Shuffle” — had been proven to reduce falls on icy surfaces. It involved taking short, shuffling steps with the arms held out, similar to the signature waddle of the South Pole’s most ubiquitous bird.

Penguin Shuffle

Sweetser, a Maine-based nonprofit, reduced employee slip-and-fall incidents 80 percent with clever employee-focused messages like this one.

Sweetser’s Penguin Shuffle campaign was disseminated to more than 735 employees at facilities throughout the state. It included the distribution of a humorous educational video
developed by Alberta Health Services of Canada, and posters at employee entrances reminding staff members to shuffle like a penguin when crossing icy paths.

“We even put decals shaped like penguin feet on the floors during winter weather,” said Stephanie Hanner, Sweetser’s Communications Manager. “Our colleagues found it cute and entertaining, but more importantly, the message resonated.”

Stephanie’s creativity paid off. “Since introducing the Penguin Shuffle, we’ve seen an 80 percent decrease in slips and falls,” said Jon Mistos, Senior Director of Facilities at Sweetser, who chairs the organization’s Health and Safety Committee.

Internal communications don’t have to be lackluster. Rather than regarding your workforce as a captive audience, afford them the same attention you would give your most valued customer. Be clever and creative. Use appealing colors and bold visuals in your internal e-mails. Plan your Town Hall meetings around interactive exercises and icebreakers. Conduct surveys to gauge employee satisfaction — and when the feedback rolls in, be prepared to take action.

And for heaven’s sake, don’t be like Sean’s CEO. Is it any wonder his team’s performance isn’t up to par?

Psst! Leaders, Are You Really Listening?

Listen: ˈlɪs(ə)n/

Verb: To give one’s attention to a sound.
Synonym: hear, pay attention, be attentive, concentrate on hearing, lend an ear to, and to be all ears.

We all understand the mechanics of listening. But too often today, when we have the opportunity to listen, we’re content with just passively letting sound waves travel through our ears. That’s called hearing. Listening is something entirely different. It’s essential for leaders to pay attention when others around us have something to say. Why? Because developing better listening skills is the key to developing a better company.

Lack of Listening Puts Organizations at Risk

Because leaders live in the ‘time is money’ zone, information gathering tends to focus on immediate requirements:

I need an answer! Give me a snapshot, infographic or sound-byte. GO, GO, GO!

However, when input actually arrives, how authentic are you about listening? Do you pretend to care, just for the sake of getting at what you think you need? Or are you receiving, absorbing and processing the entire message?

We’ve all had moments when we politely smile and nod throughout a dialogue. The speaker may feel heard and validated, but we miss out on potentially valuable information. Or how about those moments when we greet someone in passing with a quick, “Hi. How are you?” and continue moving forward without waiting for a response.

Occasionally, that may happen. But what if it’s a habit? What if others in your organization learn to expect that behavior from you? When people assume their ideas and opinions don’t matter, communication quickly breaks down. This kind of moment isn’t just a missed opportunity for meaningful interaction — it’s a legitimate business issue that puts your organization at risk.

Why Don’t We Listen?

When we’re part of a conversation, but we’re not paying attention, we send the message that we just don’t care. However, our intentions may be quite different. These are the most common reasons why we fail at listening:

  We’re developing a response. Instead of maintaining a clear, open mind when others speak, we quickly start composing our reply or rebuttal. Many smart people tend to jump into that response mode — usually less than 40 words into a dialogue.

  We’re preoccupied by external factors. In today’s multitasking environments, distractions abound. We’re bombarded with noise from things like open floor plans, and a constant barrage of texts, tabs, emails, calls, and calendar notifications.

•  It’s not a good time for the conversation. Have you ever been rushing to prepare for a meeting when someone stopped you in the hallway with a simple “Got a moment?” While it may be tempting to comply, it’s wise to simply schedule the discussion for another time. You’ll stay on track for the meeting, and can focus on the request as time permits.

Checked Out? Ideas For Stronger Communication

I ask my team questions and invest time in discussions because I’m interested in their answers. Actually, I need those answers. After all, employee feedback is critical for a more engaged, productive, fulfilled workforce.

To foster better understanding, try asking follow-up questions to verify what people intend to convey, and discover how they feel about what they’re saying. This simple gesture will cultivate a culture of openness and camaraderie. Also, we can use tools to streamline the communication process and help us ask smart questions that reveal more about employees.

However, there’s no point asking questions if we only respond with a nod and then move on. If your mind is too cluttered and your day too busy to engage fully, be honest with your team. Assure them that you’ll get back to them when you’re able. And of course, don’t forget to follow up.

How To Make Mindful Conversation a Habit

Still, many leaders struggle with the art of active listening. That’s why it’s important to learn useful techniques and make practice a part of your life.

Deepak Chopra, MD, observes that leaders and followers ideally form a symbiotic relationship. “The greatest leaders are visionaries, but no vision is created in a vacuum. It emerges from the situation at hand.” Effective leadership begins with observation — knowing your audience and understanding the landscape. Even the most eloquent, powerful speech will fall on deaf ears if the speaker doesn’t listen to the pulse of the audience.

It’s never too soon to start practicing this art. Here are 4 easy tips to improve your ability to listen and lead:

1) Repetition. Repeat anything you find interesting. This helps you recall key points after a conversation ends. It’s also a smart technique when you meet someone new. Repeat their name throughout the discussion. This not only solidifies the name in your memory, but also helps build rapport and trust.

2) Read Between the Lines. Pay special attention when a speaker changes tone and volume, pauses, or breaks eye contact. These subtle signals are clues that can reflect emotional highlights or pain points (anger, sadness, happiness). And body language often reveals what words don’t say.

3) Mouth/Eye Coordination. Looking a speaker in the eye establishes a connection and lets them know you’re listening. But don’t hold their gaze too long. Recent research suggests that eye contact is effective only if you already agree with a speaker’s message. Instead, try looking at the speaker’s mouth. That may feel awkward, but this keeps you focused on what they’re saying — and they’ll know it.

4) Reflection. Seal the deal by thinking back to extract meaning. You may be exhilarated by a great conversation — but without a mental debrief, much of it can be forgotten. Reflection is critical in developing the takeaways (and subsequent actions) that make the discussion valuable. Try mentally organizing important points by associating them with a relevant word or two. Then, in the future, you’ll more easily recall the details.

The art of listening is about much more than exchanging facts. Active listening helps those in your company feel validated and connected with you and your organization. Genuine conversations weave their own path. Give them your time and attention. Along the way, you’ll solve problems and generate new ideas that will have a lasting impact on you, your team and your business.

Also Note: To discuss World of Work topics like this with others in the TalentCulture community, join our online #TChat Events each Wednesday, from 6:30-8pm ET. Everyone is welcome to participate; or join our ongoing Twitter conversation anytime. Learn more…)

Image Credit: Stock.xchng

How Good People Can Deliver Bad News at Work

Written by Sarah Colomé

Something has gone terribly wrong at work. (It happens.) You’re terrified about telling your manager. (That also happens.) Breaking bad news to your boss can feel like you’re the designated driver on girls’ night out — while it’s not easy, someone has to take the hit.

However, if you take a closer look at this situation, you may find it’s a blessing in disguise for your career.

Employers are looking for contributors who know how to think on their feet, adapt quickly and  communicate effectively. If you reframe a work nightmare by offering timely, useful, well-researched solutions, you’ll demonstrate that you’re not only a smart thinker, but also a doer with management potential.

So, when that moment strikes and you have to break bad news to the person who decides your fate, consider these three strategies:

1) Bring the whole story to the table

Rushing to squeal that the keynote speaker for your annual conference just dissed your company on social media isn’t going to improve the situation.

Before you make a move, consider your source of information. Is this a credible individual or channel? Repeating uninformed, disruptive information only adds to the chaos. Research the facts (quickly!) so you can provide decision makers with relevant context. Your extra legwork can help them make an informed choice about how to proceed.

Knowing details helps frame the situation, allows for a better decision making process and makes you look like a mature, level-headed colleague rather than an reactive tattletale.

2) Think and speak objectively

Taking sides and passing blame does nothing to solve the problem. Instead, you’ll only paint yourself in a negative and self-serving manner — the complete opposite of what you want.

While this doesn’t mean you should hide pertinent information you have about the problem, you also don’t need to wrap a particular person up in a bow and pin them to a bull’s eye.

Pointing fingers isn’t necessary to solving the immediate problem. If necessary at all, it should be set aside until a solution has been found. Focusing on the fixing the problem helps you avoid looking like you’re stepping on another employee to make yourself look good. Plus, you’ll protect your working relationships with all parties involved — including the idiot who ordered 200 bottles of pineapple juice instead of Pinot Grigio for the donor banquet. Besides, if someone on the crew is truly inept, their actions will speak for themselves.

3) Offer problem-solving options

Showing up empty-handed to announce bad news accomplishes nothing. You need ammo. Prepare to suggest possible next-step ideas, so you’re less likely to become the target of a manager’s negative reaction.

Your goal is to avoid adding more stress to a difficult situation, by being ready to offer viable options. Research alternatives that save time or money, and assess the likely outcomes, so you can help determine a workable plan of action.

But keep in mind that offering effective solutions requires more than just a Google search and a few thrown-together spreadsheets. No solution can be implemented without investing employee energy, so assess the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for each path. This approach can help your manager avoid costly missteps — while simultaneously portraying you as a proactive, strategic thinker.

Delivering bad news is never easy, but reframing a negative work situation into a positive professional opportunity can be beneficial both for you and your company.

The next time someone accidentally sends detailed employee compensation data to everyone in your company, don’t fret. Get the whole story, be objective and come with a solution in hand.

Have you stepped up when there was a melt-down at work? How did you deliver the news — and did it help you grow in your career? Share your experiences in the comments area.

Sarah Colome (2)(About the Author: Sarah Colomé, M.S. is an educator, advocate and the SOARS Booking Director for A Long Walk Home, Inc. Based in Chicago, Sarah has traveled both nationally and internationally as a competitive collegiate public speaker. She teaches on topics related to social justice and diversity, health education, sexual violence and persuasive speaking. Connect with her on Twitter.)

(Editor’s Note: This post is adapted from Brazen Life, with permission. Brazen Life is a lifestyle and career blog for ambitious young professionals. Hosted by Brazen Careerist, it offers edgy and fun ideas for navigating the changing world of work. Be Brazen!)

(Also Note: To discuss World of Work topics like this with others in the TalentCulture community, join our online #TChat Events every Wednesday, from 6:30-8pm ET. Everyone is welcome at events, or join our ongoing Twitter conversation anytime. Learn more…)


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Anatomy Of A Leader: Not Just Skin Deep

(Editor’s Note: This week at #TChat Events, the TalentCulture community is looking at what it will take to prepare the next generation of leaders — regardless of current age or organizational rank. We think the following commentary by Dan Newman, author of “The Millennial CEO,” is an ideal backdrop for any discussion about what is at the core of an effective leader. What are your thoughts? We welcome your comments below.)

By definition, leadership is grounded in action and not in title. We may tend to associate leadership with professional titles — such as president or CEO. But of course, simply holding an executive title doesn’t make anyone leader. In reality, the only way to be a leader, is to lead.

Let me explain. During the past few years I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to meet and work with some fantastic business leaders. I’ve also met some individuals with great titles who couldn’t even lead a conversation about the weather, let alone a business organization. Yet somehow these people have risen to enviable professional positions. It’s impossible not to wonder — how can that happen?

Enter The “Extroleader”

One of the most interesting leadership trends I have noticed over the past several years is the emergence of the “extroleader.” What is an “extroleader,” you ask?

The term is one that I created. It applies to leaders that operate effectively as the face of an organization to the public — customers, investors and other stakeholders. The anomaly about the “extroleader” is that many of them have no internal leadership skills whatsoever.

So, while they are able to shape public opinion and they give the appearance of success to the outside world, they may not even be able to convince their assistant to schedule a lunch appointment.

Often this type of leader is driven by ego and excessive interest in personal branding, more than by interest in developing the organization and its brand.

This can be a subtle, but deadly nuance for growing organizations.

Here’s what is most interesting about this type of leader. Typically they find a way to the top because they are so capable at driving behavior outside the corporate walls. The world at-large may be enamored of an “extroleader” CEO that looks charismatic. But looks can be deceiving.

Leadership Inside Out

Great leaders are genuinely able to drive the best from everyone around them. Because they’re human, they have deficiencies, but that’s not what sets them apart. What makes them effective is their ability to make others want to be better.

For leaders in any organization, the biggest mistake is building a leadership facade that speaks to the outside world, while inside the corporate walls, your army will not fight for you. Because organizational culture is essential to achieving your business vision, you must have all hands on deck. This starts by demonstrating and reinforcing your vision, message and values within your organization.

It requires commitment to an inside-out approach — recognizing that you’ll be paid dividends by earning the respect of your team and closest stakeholders before focusing on external constituents.

A Higher Degree of Leadership Difficulty

Coming up with witty and charming content for the outside eye can be quite easy. Think about how we are often fooled or misled by politicians, athletes and media celebrities as we hang onto their every word, wanting to believe them. It’s much harder to prove yourself, day in and day out, to those with whom you work.

This is because the things you say can’t stand on their own. Others will look to see how closely your words actually match your behavior and your value system. That is critical as your team determines whether or not to follow you.

The more difficult path actually builds a more loyal following. When you prove your vision, mission and values to your team, they will fight to build and protect your organization and its brand. Ultimately, that brand will be built on a stable platform that is far sturdier than the glass house that “extroleadership” creates.

External Leadership IS OKAY!

Having said all of the above, let me clarify one important point. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a strong outside-facing leader. In fact, an effective public “face” is an important part of growing any organization.

But here’s the key: Outside leadership must match communication and behavior within the walls of the company. It’s all about consistency.

It isn’t egomaniacal to want to create an impressive organization, if the intent is good. However, when a leader paints a picture that the employees can’t see, trust or respect, the organization will struggle endlessly to reach to its potential.

So, if you’re a leader — or if you aspire to lead — I encourage you to take a close look at the source. Ask yourself honestly: Are you looking outside, first? Or are you starting within?

Image Credit: Stock.xchng

5 Social Skills Business Leaders Must Master

(Editor’s Note: This week, TalentCulture founder, Meghan M. Biro is speaking at the Peoplefluent WISDOM2013 Conference about a topic that is central to the world of work: “Leadership, Workplace Culture and Brand Influence.” In the spirit of her presentation, we’re sharing one of many articles Meghan has written about this topic. We hope it’s the next-best thing to being there!)

Recently, I consulted with a software company as it navigated through a treacherous sea change — the upheaval of its organizational culture. This shift was triggered when my client hired a Chief Technology Officer from another company – not exactly a competitor, but a company in an adjacent market space. However, technology market spaces aren’t entirely independent — and in this case, the overlap only added fuel to an already volatile clash of personalities. Needless to say, the change wasn’t graceful or happy. In fact, it was a nasty, stressful process. And for those of us who mopped up the mess, it was a sobering wake-up call.

Faceoff: Old Workplace Culture Meets New

The previous workplace culture was cut-throat and intensely political. However, the workforce knew and accepted those rules. The organization had been socialized.

When the new CTO arrived, he imposed his own culture – one that obscured motives and withheld explicit information from employees. Suddenly without warning, people were receiving email messages saying that their jobs had changed and their staffs had been reassigned. Plans and strategies were were not discussed. Details were not communicated. Nothing was socialized.

The company quickly began hemorrhaging top talent, much to the dismay of its puzzled CEO. This exodus was good news for industry recruiters (fresh job vacancies to fill), but it was clearly a bad scene for the company and its employer brand. Even worse, a few former employees started blogging about the drama. The message wasn’t pretty, and in today’s socially hyper-connected world, word traveled fast. That made recruiting high-caliber talent a far more challenging task. Even today, recovery remains a long, rough road.

Social Connection: The Missing Link

Of course, none of this had to happen. What could have prevented the chaos? In my opinion, if the organization’s senior executives had been socially adept, I would be telling an entirely different story. Perhaps to some people it sounds insignificant, but social leadership can make all the difference.

Socially savvy, engaged leaders share a set of skills that help protect their organizations from the havoc of sudden, devastating change. Don’t get me wrong. I recognize that change can be healthy — and often it’s necessary. But successful large-scale cultural change requires finesse and an understanding of the “human side” of business.

In this case, the company hired an outsider to change its technical direction. That part is normal and appropriate. But the CEO didn’t anticipate the painful change in culture that would follow, or the subsequent loss of valued employees. It’s not because the CEO is weak, but because he lacked critical social skills.

In my practice, I work with lots of leaders seeking to expand their teams and make their workplace culture attractive for both potential new employees and current ones. Some clients are very socially aware and engaged. Some are socially tone-deaf and isolated from what’s happening both within the walls of their own companies, and across the broader business landscape. Both types of leaders can be successful to a point – the point where trust, loyalty, values and expectations affect financial performance and company growth.

Being a socially engaged leader is not an innate skill. However, it’s increasingly necessary in today’s networked business environment, as today’s multi-generational workforce puts more strain on corporate cultures to “open up” communication, and social media creates direct channels that reveal what it’s really like to work at various companies.

No doubt about it — today’s brave new connected world of work requires brave new social leadership. Here are 5 must-have social skills that every business leader should develop:

5 Skills To Master As A Social Leader

1) Recognize non-verbal cues. A skilled social leader does not rely on only one form of communication, but is informed by all – verbal, written, non-verbal, viral and so on. Being sensitive to non-verbal cues is difficult because much of today’s communication is digital. However, to effectively interpret non-verbal cues in face-to-face interactions, you must be able to recognize how your personal perception filters input. You don’t have to be a paragon of mental health, but you do need to shut-off the noise in your head long enough to read other people and understand what’s going on with them.

2) Interact regularly. You don’t have to know everyone’s name or how many kids they have. However, you do need to be aware of how employees, peers, partners and customers are thinking, feeling and reacting. This means you must engage others proactively — even through digital forms of communication. How can you expect your organization to be cohesive internally, or build a coherent brand externally, unless everyone shows up to “represent”? You don’t need to tweet or send email round-the-clock, but you must be comfortable connecting in person and on social channels. By reaching out early and often, you’ll learn valuable insights that you’d never anticipate otherwise.

3) Openly discuss your values and purpose. People join companies for many reasons, but what’s more interesting is why they stay. They stay because they feel a sense of shared values, purpose, mission and vision. If you’re a leader and you don’t regularly reinforce the company’s value and purpose, be prepared to do a lot of remedial recruiting when you lose more talent than you’d like.

4) Encourage a community presence. Like it or not, social media is vital in the world of work. Paternalistic managers and top-down leaders sometimes have trouble with this skill, but it’s no longer an option. Companies don’t function in a bubble. They move in a social sphere, where business reputation and results can be shaped by online communities – even when they’re not your customers. Are you blogging on behalf of your company brand? Is anyone in your organization tweeting, blogging or developing a virtual community? Is that even encouraged?

5) Demonstrate authentic interest in your employees and others. You can learn some skills and fake others, but it’s tough to fake sincerity. Some might argue that this is a personality attribute, not a skill. But for me, sincerity makes the difference between a leader and a task manager. If you’re not sincere, you’ll do things that might make business sense, but eventually they’ll backfire. Think of the company snapshot at the start of this post. The CEO thought it made sense to hire new senior technology talent. But because neither he nor the CTO valued sincerity or honest communication, the company is paying a heavy price.

Social engagement is not a management overlay on a toxic culture. It’s not a Band-Aid, a work-around or a cure-all. It’s a way of thinking about business, and doing business. It’s about operating with awareness and engagement — using the power of social networks to demonstrate your brand promise in today’s dynamic marketplace. It’s how the world works. It’s how you need to work. So make your move. Your company’s future depends on it.

(Editor’s Note: Meghan M. Biro is an active contributor to Forbes.com. This article is adapted from Meghan’s Forbes.com blog, with permission.)

(Image Credit: Pixabay)

Employee Communication: 4 Ways to Engage

A Too-Familiar Story

Let’s say you’re trying to buy a jacket online. There’s a problem with your purchase, so you call customer service, and they put you on hold. (Waiting…) Finally you reach a robot voice informing you that the call center is closed. You really want the jacket, so you persist.

Hours (or perhaps even days) later, you connect with a live representative who is unable to offer the assistance you need to resolve the problem. What seemed like an easy problem to fix has become a headache, a time-suck, and a shadow over your relationship with the company. Not only is this jacket transaction in jeopardy, but the next time you’re in the market for clothes, you’re likely to shop somewhere else.

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

So, what really happened in this scenario? The company failed in a critical way — it did not provide clear pathways of communication and support to resolve your issue, at the moment of need. The brand has lost credibility with a “ready-t0-buy” customer, the company has damaged its relationship with you, and the outcome will translate into lost revenue now and perhaps in the future.

How does this customer experience story translate to the human resources side of business? The audience may be different, but the takeaway is identical: For both customer and employee engagement, communication is vital — especially when issues arise. Just like customers, employees want the ability to ask question, discuss problems, offer constructive feedback and propose suggestions. They want to feel that their concerns and ideas are heard and addressed.

These are the fundamentals of employee engagement. It is HR’s job to support engagement in the workplace, from end-to-end, and clear lines of communication are the most effective way to accomplish that.

4 Workplace Communication Strategies

When I think about my own experiences, both as a customer and as an employee, it’s easy to remember the times when I felt I was heard — or not. Based on those experiences, here are my top four communication strategies for boosting engagement:

1) Be Available:  To improve the way an organization works, employees need a champion — someone on the inside to share suggestions with. It doesn’t matter whether this ambassador is a manager, an HR representative, a colleague, or event a group of peers. What matters is that there is clearly a door through which individuals can bring questions, concerns and opinions.

2) Listen To My Needs:  Don’t be too quick to dismiss new ideas. Every employee has a unique perspective, and although every suggestion won’t be feasible, each one should be valued. Suggestions reflect your employees’ individual experiences, and therefore, represent part of your company’s culture. Validate ideas by acknowledging contributions, as well as the spirit behind them.

3) Be On My Side:  Every team needs a leader whom they can trust to represent their best interests. And every employee needs a champion who will be their advocate, even in their absence. When you demonstrate support for others, you reinforce their value within the organization. No one likes to feel unimportant — from there it’s a short step to disengagement.

4) Find A Solution:  Not all feedback can be put into action — sometimes for very good reasons. However, leaders and employees can work together to examine the root causes of a key issue, or to integrate appropriate elements of a suggestion, or to brainstorm and investigate other solutions. This follow-through shows employees that their voices matter.

Have you tried these or other communication techniques to improve employee engagement? What worked for you? Share your experiences in the comments area below.

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