Our communication experts joined the podcast party! Episode 1 of the Employee Buzz podcast series kicks off with CEO Alison Davis and podcast host, Alyssa Zeff. Tune in to hear insights on engaging employees, staying up-to-date on key employee communication topics and applying best practices to your messaging.

We want to keep you informed on employee communication best practices, but also want you to have fun. Employee Buzz shares the latest on employee communication, but also gives listeners a sneak peek of what it’s like to work at Davis & Company, by giving you a taste of our playfully competitive culture. Spoiler alert! Each podcast ends with a game. So tune in to see what hot topic we’ll cover in the world of employee communication, play along with our employees and join the competition!

Episode transcript: 

Alyssa:
Hi everybody. I am Alyssa Zeff, your Star Wars aficionado, sports junkie, golfer, with 20-something years of communication experience. I am here with Alison Davis, our fearless leader, Davis & Company's CEO and Founder. Tell us something we don't know about you, Alison?

Alison:
I'm a foodie. I'm a home improvement junkie, and a voracious reader.

Alyssa:
Today, we are going to talk about the state of internal communication, where we were, where we are today, where we think we're headed next. You, Alison, were one of the pioneers in the field of internal communication. What made you realize there was a need for a focus on this?

Alison:
First of all, I'm sort of picturing myself in my Little House on the Prairie outfit.

Alyssa:
With the Davy Crockett hat?

Alison:
Yeah, me and Michael Landon. But back in the days when we started in internal communication, which was 30-something years ago, organizations were growing fast. And, it was really the era when companies were becoming more global. The problem was communication wasn't keeping pace, so at that time there was a real need to figure out how to share information with employees. Of course, today, there's too much information. So, it's interesting because we as internal communicators need to figure out a way to curate content so that employees concentrate on what matters most.

Alyssa:
You and I both have PR backgrounds, or as we often like to joke around, we are reformed PR people.

Alison:
Absolutely.

Alyssa:
How do you think that's helped you in internal communication?

Alison:
It's such an interesting question, because one of my first clients was The National Kraut Packers Association, which of course is the group that promotes sauerkraut. It still exists today.

Alyssa:
Wow.

Alison:
Our mission was to persuade people that sauerkraut was more than just a topping for hot dogs.  So, what I learned at that time was you had to really be creative. You had to think differently about a product that people had kind of a preconceived notion about. Sauerkraut chocolate cake, for example.

Alyssa:
Wow.

Alison:
So, it really made you think outside the box.

Alyssa:
It's funny because I did a lot of media relations, and this was before all the online tools to help you find journalists and stuff like that, so going through those big books looking for reporters, a lot of what we called "Smile and Dial." It was so much about learning somebody else's style and really getting in the head of someone else to tell the story, to find the story, and to share what would be interesting for them.

Alison:
Like what's the right angle?

Alyssa:
And how would “The New York Times” cover something versus “The Albany Times-Picayune.” So, I think that has been very helpful for me with some nuances, because while it's great to start to think about things from the perspective of an employee, an employee is not a journalist.

Alison:
Right, quite different.

Alyssa:
So, if I'm looking for a story, it's not a news hook as much as it is, why would an employee care about it?

Alison:
Yeah, and I think that in PR you tend to concentrate on things that are novel and attention getting, and kind of take it with that approach. But really, the best internal communication has a different focus, at least in my view. It's helping employees get something done, solve a problem, make their work-life better. And so, that's a big difference from PR and employee communication.

Alyssa:
A big adjustment for me was even writing articles. I was so used to writing press releases, but I think that an article for a company intranet or newsletter, in fact shouldn't be a press release.

Alison:
Right.

Alyssa:
It shouldn't be organized that way. So, that was an adjustment as well.

Alison:
In fact, one of my pet peeves is, and we'll get to mistakes in a moment I hope. I hope we'll do that. Is, sharing press releases with employees, or posting press releases on an Internet because a press release has such a different... Everything is different about it than what employees are really interested in.

Alyssa:
Well, and I mean and it goes to the theme of what we're talking about today. Years ago, employees didn't see the press release unless their company handed it out to them. Now, they've probably seen the press release before the company even issued it.

Alison:
Exactly.

Alyssa:
And people have already talked about it on social media. So, if you're going to post it, they've seen it, they know what's in it. Instead, I think you just need to tell them why it matters to them.

Alison:
Absolutely.

Alyssa:
You did a great segue for us. We know that companies occasionally make some mistakes.

Alison:
Maybe. Possibly.

Alyssa:
Let's go. Let's have a list. We could probably come up with a thousand, but let's say 10. 10 things companies get wrong when it comes to employee communication. You start.

Alison:
All right, you want me to start?

Alyssa:
You start.

Alison:
Okay, so I think number one would be acting like all employees are the same as headquarters employees. So, sort of everybody can read an email. It's really easy for everybody to access information, so companies forget about their workers in factories, people in trucks, people in retail stores who have a completely different access to the information.

Alyssa:
What could they do about that?

Alison:
Oh wait, I didn't know we were going to solve any problems.

Alyssa:
Oh, surprise.

Alison:
I think that just the start would be to really identify all those different groups, and really think carefully about how they do receive information. An example would be, for many people in a manufacturing setting, the manager is everything to them. Then it's a matter of thinking, "How do we equip managers with the information they need to share?"

Alyssa:
One of my pet peeves is jargon. As you know, before I joined Davis & Company, I was in-house at a big company and jargon was fluent there. I think we did some great work with one of our clients on headlines, which I thought was really fun to break up that jargon. And you were very involved in this. We looked at articles that they had posted, and all we did was change the headlines and they saw dramatic increases in click-throughs, and open rates, and reading of those articles. So, I think just getting away from that corporate speak, and speaking to employees the way they speak to each other, in a way they're spoken to in their personal lives can have a huge impact.

Alison:
Yeah, I have the third one.

Alyssa:
Go.

Alison:
Too long. That's all I have to say.

Alyssa:
Fair enough. I have another one. When companies look at communication as push only.

Alison:
Yep.

Alyssa:
And they don't create opportunities for conversation, or dialogue, or even for giving employees a chance to ask questions.

Alison:
Yeah, that's good. Bad Town Halls. Now, of course there could be lots of subset aspects of this, but I think the biggest mistake that companies make about Town Halls is there are too many topics. There is not a focus area. What happens is there's all these different things being covered: The finance report, what's going on with new products, on and on, and on, and on. As a result, employees leave the Town Hall without having retained anything. It's just been shots of information coming at them, and it goes in short term memory, goes out again. And so, there's kind of no retention.

Alyssa:
Another one of mine is­–and I think this should speak to itself–when the employee communication function, or the internal communications team members don't think of themselves as a strategic partner.

Alison:
Oh, interesting.

Alyssa:
Just order takers.

Alison:
Yep, so it's kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Alyssa:
Yes.

Alison:
That means as if they're standing there with a pad saying, "Do you want fries with that?"

Alyssa:
Yes.

Alison:
Yep. A couple more?

Alyssa:
Yes.

Alison:
You want to do a couple more? One is creating for employees what is known in psychology terms as paradox of choice. There have been lots of studies showing that if you give people 15 different things to choose from, they become overwhelmed. They can't even make a decision. Employee communicators do this all the time in things like email. Like, "Here's an email with all this stuff in it." What happens is your mind begins to... It can't absorb it. I think several of the things we've talked about have been about focus and prioritization, what are the real topics that you want employees to concentrate on?

Alyssa:
I might have lost count, but I think it's seven.

Alison:
I think it's... Seven?

Alyssa:
Yes, somewhere around there.

Alison:
Seven, eight.

Alyssa:
One of mine, another that I run into a lot with clients is over-complication. We like to call this "The Curse of Expertise."

Alison:
Mm-hmm.

Alyssa:
You wrote a blog a while ago that stuck with me so much. When I'm looking for a recipe on how to make waffles, if I go to a website to find this recipe and the first four paragraphs are about the history of waffles, I'm going to abandon that website very quickly, and may even abandon the idea of making waffles altogether.

Alison:
That's too complicated.

Alyssa:
It's great that there's this awesome knowledge out there, but if I want to know how to make waffles, that's where it should stop. I'm proud of some of the stuff that we've done in that area in really helping very complex stuff become very simple.

Alison:
Let's say we're on nine. Let's go to 10, how about that?

Alyssa:
Done.

Alison:
Okay.

Alyssa:
You keep count.

Alison:
Bad timing, getting timing wrong. That can be either way: communicating too early or communicating too last minute. Timing is really tough to get right, and a lot of times when we talk to employees in focus groups they say, "Oh man, you sent that information so early that I couldn't even find it when I had to do something," or, "Oh wait a minute, it's the 11th hour and I have to do something." So, timing would be my number nine. What's your number 10, Alyssa?

Alyssa:
Not being objective-based, not thinking about what they're trying to get employees to know, believe or do differently, and not thinking about what they're hoping the outcomes are.

Alison:
Yep, okay. Good, we got 10-ish.

Alyssa:
Woo-hoo.

Alyssa:
Okay, let's say this. Complete this sentence.

Alison:
Oh gosh.

Alyssa:
I wish all of my clients ____.

Alison:
That's interesting, because you've already referred to my wish. My wish is, I wish that my clients had more confidence in themselves and what they know. I think that maybe communicators have spent too much time being order takers in their career and they've sort of gotten used to it. But the reality is, we know–we, all of us communicators–know so much more about communication than anyone else in the organization. We're the experts. We have this great ability to be strategic advisors and to not be in an order-taker situation, but really to be coaches, and counselors, and strategists and all that. I wish people knew how good they were, how awesome they really are.

Alyssa:
You know, the big existential question, where are we going next? Where is internal communications headed in the future, in your opinion?

Alison:
Well, I've been doing this a long time. One of the reasons I still love doing internal communication is because I just think that the possibilities are expanding all the time. I think that we have an opportunity to really be a key driver of employee engagement , employee satisfaction. The good news is I think leaders are increasingly understanding the role that communication plays. As you said, I think we need to up our game in order to do that. We need to be advocates for employees. We need to really develop strategies and systems for communicating. We need to keep up with the latest technologies, and we really need to think about the best way that we can meet employees' needs, not just overwhelm them with information. It's a lot of work to kind of be all we can be, but I think the potential is incredible.

Alyssa:
Well, thank you so much for spending time today. It certainly gave us a lot to think about. For our audience, you may not know that we are going to end every episode of Employee Buzz with a game. To choose it, we are going to spin The Wheel of Games.

Alyssa:
This was a lot of fun. Thank you for being on Employee Buzz.

Alyssa:
Thanks for listening to Employee Buzz, where practical advice meets fun.

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