Any work-life program is only as good as the number of employees who know about it. At the Working Mother Work-Life Congress this October, Dell’s Rolando Balli shared his team’s innovative approach (you can see his presentation here) to creating and communicating work-life programs that engage employees. Balli regularly surveys Dell employees to find out what they want from WL, but also how they want to be kept connected. For example, he noted, while his team thought that putting program information online was the best way to engage employees, it turned out Dell employees really wanted to learn about WL programs via email. Balli also has a staff person from Corporate Communications who helps Bailli’s team communicate with employees and build internal visibility for WL efforts.
Jennifer Brown is the founder of Jennifer Brown Consulting, which specializes in diversity and work-life consulting. I met Jennifer when she led a panel on employee resource groups (ERGs) at the Working Mother Work Life Congress, and was struck by Jennifer’s effective use of marketing to communicate what she does. She sent a follow up email to everyone who attended the session, asked us questions, and provided great collateral. I wanted to get her thoughts on how WL professionals can better use communication and marketing strategies to make programs stick. I asked Jennifer and her colleague David Megathlin, “How do we communicate what we’re doing to employees so they know what we’re doing and take advantage of it, and how do we get leaders enthused”? Brown echoed many of Dell’s and other companies best practices for listening and learning about what works in work-life.
Jennifer noted that launching and embedding a successful WL program into company culture “is really brand-building: both the personal brands of work-life professionals and also the brands of their department or their initiatives.” So I asked her, “If you were running a WL program and you were determining how to build the brand internally, where would you start?”
Jennifer said, “I would start with a survey- using something like Survey Monkey or an internal tool, to understand the awareness [of work-life programming] among your internal client base. And for work-life, the base is everybody. Start with the client in mind: Are they aware of the programs existing? What is their usage of those programs? What is their perception of the efficacy of those programs?
“If you don’t yet have initiatives going on, then the survey focuses on the clients’ needs. The challenge of serving your clientele is to find out where the pain points are in terms of what they need and want you to build first.
“Then, you need to go to conferences to figure out what’s out there, to ask yourself, ‘what are other companies of my size doing….?’ If you start with nothing and you are charged with building something you start with listening to the internal stakeholders but you also put a stake in the ground and say, ‘well this is what the other companies of our size are doing, this is what’s working.” And it would be really neat– the icing on the cake– if you can then say: ‘How are we going to do it differently?’ If you pick one or two unique WL programs, and do it differently, and that’s where professionals can really put their mark on their role.”
What are some internal communications tools that are helpful in building that kind of engagement and awareness that WL professionals can use?
“Intranets are static information sites. People go to them for information but they don’t go to them to interact–and that’s the opportunity [with social media]. So as a work-life professional you also have to become a social media professional. It kind of requires going to IT (or communications) and saying, ‘what can we build or use? How can we spread the word?’ That is a very different goal than the traditional use of an intranet, which is: ‘here is our plan, here is information, here is our vision, mission and values.’
“Companies are asking, ‘how can we use social media tools to keep the conversation going, create something new?’ And it’s a more continued conversation- if you have an event for employees, you can ask questions before the event using a social media platform, you can Twitter from the event, and get information beyond who is attending by seeing who is on Twitter and who is getting quick bursts of updates every 20 minutes, and then on Facebook, by asking ‘what did you think of the event?’ You can keep people engaged.”
In work-life, it helps to sometimes think like a communicator. Jennifer notes, “You can make a lot out of a few stories. Even in a big company: you have to put your marketing hat on, and find champions and tell your stories. These days it’s such a challenge to put other people in the driver’s seat to talk about how great a program is. You have to figure out a way to do that, using multiple platforms to share with each other. Whether they are out at a community partner event and they want to share about it internally, or they are at a parenting event sponsored by an employee resource group, the goal of every professional who owns a function like that these days has got to be how to know how to create the conversation online. Its hard, it’s a competency a lot of us find hard. And you have to have lots of different contacts in a company. You’ve got to get together with IT, and start an investigative journey in your company- what groups are doing a really good job with it?
“Or, you can go outside and look to your work-life or HR peers and see who is doing a really good job. How did they get it built, how much did they have to spend?
“And this takes us back to the survey: surveys can drive so much energy and input back to your intranet or online communications tool. Your goal is to increase awareness about what you are doing. A lot of people don’t even know what the company offers- it’s just a failure of marketing.
“Maybe set a goal to have even a part of a person in communications. And maybe it’s not 2010 goal, maybe it’s a 2011 goal! This is a communication challenge as much as it is an HR challenge. What’s the point of building all this great stuff? And, again, that’s where your survey comes in. You can ask: are we offering the right programs and are people even aware of what we’re offering?
“It’s also about delegating the work and finding champions for your work across the business. This can help prevent burnout [for your team]. These WL champions can be your eyes and ears on the ground. They can be your feedback mechanisms- your unofficial board. It’s developmental as well: everyone wants an opportunity to step outside their day job. So you can ask, ‘Would you be willing to be an ambassador for a work life or ERG effort?’ We need to think about how we leverage and use the energy out there among our stakeholders.
“Nobody starts as a work-life professional at age 22- who knows where volunteering to help with a program will take your career? We need to find the next leaders in the field. It’s about our succession planning and our investment in the future.”