March 30, 2006

The Internal Communications Challenge Communicating with employees is the bane of corporate life.Whether you have 50,000 employees or 5 insuring that the message sent is the message received is the toughest marketing challenge. Why? Because the workplace is so highly charged emotionally that clarity is almost impossible. Everyone filters each message through attitudes and emotions which change day-to-day and minute-by-minute. Because employers generally don’t level with the people who work for them. Because there are too many internal messages and little ability to frame, prioritize or target them. And because most internal messages are controlled by HR weenies who are usually clueless and officious. The ability to clearly and forcefully transmit messages to the workforce is a critical factor in global competitiveness and employee satisfaction or retention. But go into any firm and you’ll find that the grapevine is a much faster and more credible network than official media that range from posters in the lunchroom to desktop flyers to elaborate e-mail chains and jam-packed intranets. Employers chronically underestimate the amount and intensity of goodwill among employees. Most people want to make a difference, earn a living, enjoy their work and contribute to something bigger than themselves. There are very few real secrets inside any company. Employees know what’s going on in every dimension and consistently make the same competitive assessments and judgments that employers do. As the social contract changes, the best employees will vote with their feet when they feel unloved, unfulfilled or oppressed by management. Employees constantly handicap the performance of their own companies. What they know about management plans, intentions and employee benefits are key data points that drive engagement, morale and performance. Too many employers treat their work force like children by talking down to them, assuming they don’t understand global marketplace realities or by masking problems and intentions in the gobbledy-gook of corporate speak. The top-down command system of management has been broadly discredited, yet it seems to be the residual model for internal communications. In a world where baby boomers leave the system, where retirement and healthcare benefits are severely reduced and where competition for fewer all-star performers is significantly more intense, poor internal communication will doom a company. The challenge for internal communications is to build a contact strategy that limits the number and quantity of internal messages sent and to install filters to insure that messages are clear and not subject to widespread or diverse interpretation. Employees need clear, personal messages that are honest, straightforward, relevant to them and short. These messages have to be framed in friendly, savvy language that acknowledges what insiders’ know and feel. And they have to be targeted so that they go only to those who need to know or care about the contents. Internal messages cannot be buried in an intranet or part of a relentless e-mail stream. Instead employers need to treat employee communications like prospect or client communications and ask the audience to set preferences for content, frequency and, channels. Only then will employers have a shot a truly mobilizing or motivating their workers.
WaMu's Sins of Omission Washington Mutual – “WaMu” – a Seattle based regional bank recently started a war for new depositors that swept me up in its maelstrom. And now I know why people hate banks – all banks. And now I know why banks spend so much money on ineffective efforts to try to convince us that they aren’t thieves, usurers and double-talking sleezeballs. Ninety-seven percent of American adults use a checking account at a bank. I’d guess 96.9 percent are perpetually pissed off about it. I had both “push” and “pull” motivation for switching banks. My old rotten bank –Bank of America –got into the habit of routinely holding my checks for 10-12 days long enough to bounce all my monthly payments and leave me without any ready cash. When I aggressively and persistently inquired about this practice, I got excuses that ranged from the Patriot Act to Banking Regulation CCC to mindless claptrap from a customer service rep with an impenetrable accent probably in Manila or Mumbai. Everyone knows that checks clear electronically in seconds in extremely secure IT environments. Banks batch process cash transfers and do all kinds of sophisticated trafficking, reconciliation, reporting and accounting paperwork every evening. The practice of holding a valid check has nothing really to do with collecting the money. Surely with all the data and technology banks employ they can figure out I’m not funding al Queda and not laundering cash for Columbian drug lords. And while BofA needs to make its monthly nut its hard to imagine that playing the float on my paycheck for 10 days would be a significant contribution. The bottom line is that banks fuck with you because they can. My new rotten bank --WaMu – got a story in the Wall Street Journal on a day after I enjoyed a lively interactive interaction with a human robot. The promise of free checking with free checks and no ATM fees at competitors’ ATMs caught my attention. The hope of a different act momentarily clouded my judgment Evidently I was an easy mark. According to the 2006 Market Pulse Survey released by IBT Enterprises and MCA Works 41% of Americans say that “no amount of money or promotion” would get them to switch banks. They must be the “fire and forget” crowd. Another20 percent would switch for a one percent interest deal, 5% would defect for an iPod and one percent would actually bolt for a toaster; obviously my grandmother’s crowd. They got me for a few free checks and 20 dollars worth of fees. From the moment I crossed the threshold of my branch at West 96th Street and Broadway, I was subject to WaMu’s three sins of omission 1. They Didn’t Grease the Pipeline. WaMu planned a promotion, created and shipped collateral and signage to the branches, pitched the Journal and got free media. They didn’t cue the greeter to expect new customers to walk thru the door. They didn’t train her on the product. They didn’t staff the branch to handle a blip in volume. They didn’t streamline the enrollment process. The net result – I wander in full of hope and promise. In nanoseconds I am brought up short by a clueless greeter who either doesn’t speak the language or is focused exclusively on a demonic image on my forehead. After a healthy amount of pantomime and posturing she fobs me off onto an over wrought clerk who can’t find the sign up kits, isn’t sure which forms to use and doesn’t understand that if I don’t take off my coat and don’t sit down it means I’m in a hurry. She is apologetic but slow. It takes 45 minutes to fill out two forms and process my cash deposit. 2. They Didn’t Disclose Critical Information. As I later learned to my chagrin, WaMu routinely holds the initial deposits of new customers for 11 business days and holds every new deposit during the first month of the new banking relationship. This is supposedly disclosed in the booklet they toss at you, though I can’t find it after searching carefully through the fine print. No live person said anything about it when I was handing over my ID, calling off important numbers or signing in the box. Bingo! I got from the frying pan into the fire in record time. But the kicker is I don’t find out till a week later when they mail me a postcard announcing that they’ve held a 2900 dollar check and then...

Danny Flamberg

I am a veteran marketing consultant working with leading and emerging brands

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