Measuring Employee Engagement — So Then What?

"Engagement" is, as we like to say, the buzzword of the month (decade?) amongst organization leadership, employee communication and human resource professionals.

Getting an engagement score helps an organization know how they compare with other organizations like theirs as well as to win headlines for "best places to work" in magazines and newspapers.  What it doesn't do is tell leadership anything about what might be wrong and what they can do about it.  Does the score reflect a problem with trust? transparency? empowerment? teamwork? satisfaction? something else?

A team of public relations academics and professionals set out a few years ago to dissect employee engagement in an effort to understand what are the driving factors of employee relations, and what truly contributes to building a workforce that is committed to and fully productive for the organization.  A team lead by Sean Williams of True Digital Communications, Ohio, Julie O'Neil, Ph.D. of Texas Christian University, Michele Ewing, APR Kent State University and me, along with 13 other international professionals and scholars, sought to fully define Measurement Standards for the profession around employee relations.

The research identifies 22 Standards, broken down into three key categories: 

  • Outtakes — Whether employees received, paid attention to, comprehended or retained particular messages
  • Outcomes — evidence of changes to or reinforcement of opinions, attitudes or behaviors
  • Organizational Impact — Whether and how internal communication has influence organizational performance

What is NOT a category is outputs, or what is generated as a result of a program or campaigns, and is typically measured by the number of releases, brochure, posters, meetings held, etc. or the number of column inches generated.  Outputs were discarded by our group because they show no impact, only production.  Using these data points for measurement would be like rating your dentist's effectiveness on the number of x-rays he took of your mouth to cure a toothache!

Next steps for the committee are to identify methods for measuring each of the 22 Standards — both by self-reporting (surveys) and observation (behavioral indicators already available in an organization).  The committee hopes to work with three different organizations to test these standards and their measurement methods — Southwest Airlines is already on-board!

If you are interested in a copy of the 22 standards and their definitions, contact me at ssmith@jjwpr.com.

Changing Behaviors On Concussion Treatment Through “Chalk Talk”

The "4 Steps To Public Behavior Change"  by Jim Grunig, Harold Mendelsohn, Brenda Darvin,  Max McCombs and other behavior change specialists laid out a path of action that has been used with great success by such efforts as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), smoking cessation programs and others.  Now it has been applied to the problem of concussions and learning. 

The Brain Injury Association of NH (BIANH), in cooperation with the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College and the Bureau of Developmental Services (BDS), has developed a pilot program called “Chalk Talk” for returning students with concussions to the classroom with the same care taken that they would use to return them to the playing field.

For the past 3 years, BIANH representatives have worked with Concussion Management Teams at 9 high schools and two middle schools to establish a protocol that involves baseline testing before a concussion occurs, and careful monitoring to ease them back into their academic schedule to allow the brain time to recover.

“Instead of sending the student home for 2 weeks, where the temptation to watch TV and use electronics is high, the student recovers under the careful guidance of a team of school professionals.  This may include time out of the classroom in a specially designed location to address issues of fatigue or sensitivities to light or sound,” says Lynne Fleming, Program Coordinator. “It’s a team approach, and the school nurse, athletic trainer, teachers, parents, guidance counselors and Dartmouth Hitchcock’s pediatric neuropsychologists are all evaluating the student’s progress.  They are monitored and given a reduced work load, so they are only sent back to a full schedule of classes when they are ready.”

In addition to comparing post-concussion data with baseline data, parents, teachers and nurses are asked to complete forms to evaluate the student’s progress on a daily basis.  “Having the expertise of a trained pediatric neuropsychologist is key,” says Steve Wade, Executive Director.  “We were fortunate to receive a 5-year ACL (Administrators for Community Living) grant, much of which is used to pay the pediatric neuropsychologists for consulting to the education team.”

In 2012, NH Governor John Lynch signed SB402, otherwise known as “return to play” legislation.  This bill gave schools clear guidelines on returning a student to the playing field after they had sustained a concussion.  Now the BIANH is considering legislation for RLT or “return to learn” to take the protocols developed in Chalk Talk one step further.  “There are 7 states out there with Return to Learn legislation,” says Executive Director Steve Wade, “and we are in the process of studying how it has been implemented elsewhere.  We plan to talk with opinion leaders on the topic of brain injury here in NH about the merits of similar legislation here.”

So the 4 steps to public behavior change,  was ideal for successfully asking for Return to Learn legislation.

The 4 Steps In Action:

Step 1 developed a coalition campaign to educate the public that a concussion is a brain injury and it is critical not to overtax the brain while it is in recovery mode.  This involves identifying opinion leaders on the topic, getting them to recognize the problem and how they could be affected, and giving them opportunities to address the problem (by serving on concussion team task forces, advocating the proper treatment of concussed students, advocating legislation etc.).

Step 2, enforcement, or establishing laws or guidelines that would mandate the behavior change –is where Return to Learn legislation would come in .

Step 3, engineering, or enacting a structural change to work around the situation is what  BIANH has done with the creation of the Chalk Talk program and system for evaluating progress.

Step 4,  social reinforcement –is where the behavior becomes a socially-acceptable norm, and social rewards and punishment take over the job of enforcing it.  Ideally, in the future, every school will have a protocol for returning a student to the classroom after a concussion.   Just as we have learned we need to protect the developing brain from re-injury on the playing field, we now know we need to reduce cognitive demands in the classroom in order to give the brain time to heal.

The “So What” Factor: Migrating From Outputs to Outcomes in PR Research

For years, PR practitioners measured effectiveness by “counting clips” and calculated the dollar value of press coverage they obtained for their organizations. Some PR people are still doing this — mostly, we hope, only when their bosses are demanding it. We have made progress, but we know we have much more work to do to educate management on what Public Relations and Communications professionals can …and should … be measuring.

The good news is, more and more public relations professionals are thinking about what JJ&W calls the “so what” factor – we measured it, but so what? What are the behavioral results? It’s nice that we know how many people recalled seeing our hospital's advertising …but what really matters is, how many people chose our hospital for their healthcare needs?

I’m happy to report that the subject of how PR professionals measure the impact of what we do is being presented on, discussed and debated a lot more frequently than when I started my career 30 years ago. In 2010, the Institute of PR Research formed the Barcelona Principles. There are 7 principles, which are continually discussed and refined, and they reflect the direction PR research is moving in our field. Principle #2, for example, states unequivocally that “measuring the effect on outcomes is recommended vs. only measuring outputs.”

JJ&W has been talking about the importance of measuring behavior for years; Pat Jackson, JJ&W’s founder, together with leading academic professional Jim Grunig, created the Public Relations Behavioral Model and implored practitioners to define the “ultimate desired behavior(s)” they were seeking — in order to have a clear behavioral goal against which to measure success. It’s nice to see the scales in our field tipping in the behavioral direction.

At the International PR Research Conference in Miami this past March, practitioners from all over the world shared ideas on measuring ROI (return on investment) relative to PR activity. Visit www.instituteforpr.org to download and listen to some of those conversations.

Both keynote and breakout session speakers at the PRSA District Conference held on April 28th in Corning, NY focused their remarks on delivering measurable results.

• Ross Levi from the NYS Division of Tourism talked about the impact of the “I Love NY” campaign and its efforts to broaden tourism beyond NYC to all parts of NY – generating a staggering $102 billion in tourism dollars for the state.

• Katie Paine of KD Paine & Partners urged PR practitioners to “measure behavior, not activities”. Instead of doing research to measure our performance, she said, PR should be conducting research that will produce better results for our organizations

• I added to the District conference research conversations by presenting with my colleague Dane Wiseman on the topic, “Your PR Data Has A Story”. Part of dissecting the behaviors we want to reinforce or change is finding out what motivates our audiences, and what’s blocking the behaviors we want from our audiences. We need to make sure our research is asking the right behavioral questions so we have the information we can use to develop the right PR strategies.

For a copy of my Powerpoint on “PR Storytelling with Behavior-Based Data”, email me at rschell@jjwpr.com. For more information on Jackson Jackson & Wagner, visit our website at www.jjwpr.com.

Robin Schell, APR, Fellow PRSA, Senior Counsel & Partner,       Jackson Jackson & Wagner

 

Just Because We Can, Should We? Why Organizations Should Not Rollback Policies, Just Because Washington Now Says We Can

The Trump Administration is busy reversing a myriad of policies that had been put in place by the previous administration.  They say these policies "hinder productive business growth and job creation".  I am not arguing that one way or the other. I do want to remind us, though, of the impact these decisions could have on the bottom line of many organizations. 

It is evident, despite the pendulum swing to the right, that the majority of society does care about — and hold accountable — organizations who conduct themselves in ways that damage the environment, discriminate against employees, cheat customers, etc.  Even if the court of law says these actions are technically legal, the court of public opinion will prevail in the form of fallen reputations, loss of profits and in some cases, businesses that are forced to close their doors.

Consider just a few examples from the past and today — Philip Morris and cigarettes, Hooker Chemical and Love Canal, W.R. Grace famously retold in "A Civil Action", and more recently, Volkswagen and BP Oil.  Sometimes these actions were legal — but eventually, these companies suffered for those actions and were deemed “unethical” if not “immoral”.  As society evolves and becomes more and more sensitive to "bad actors", it is even more critical that public relations have a seat at the management table to weigh in on business decisions, anticipate the issues that could take our organizations down and help to build the bank of goodwill that will keep reputations intact during a crisis situation.

Public relations practitioners today have the great responsibility of building and protecting organizational reputations over time.  We should be impacting decisions before they are made and warning leadership about actions that could hurt the organization in the future. It is our job to warn leadership of the long-term effects of bad decision-making.  Whether these actions are legal or not, the question is:  are they ethical? responsible? in the best interests of our organization in the long run? 

 Here are a couple of examples of businesses seeking regulatory rollback:

http://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/329664-chemical-companies-ask-epa-to-kill-pesticide-risk-study

https://thinkprogress.org/mats-delay-pruitt-trump-5c9ad958b44f

And some examples of companies trying to do the right thing:

https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2017/jan/10/donald-trump-climate-change-letter-businesses-investors

https://www.bna.com/industry-scrambles-save-n57982085162/

 

Stacey Smith, APR, Fellow PRSA
Senior Counsel & Partner, JJ&W

 

CLEAN OUT YOUR COMMUNICATIONS JUNK DRAWER WITH A COMMUNICATION AUDIT

It is a time for new beginnings, fresh thinking, purging files and finding different ways of doing things.  If you’ve been managing your communications function for a while — or, if you’ve recently inherited the position and found yourself asking, “why are we doing what we’re doing?” – it is a good time for an audit.

The word “audit” is a bit daunting, but really what we’re talking about is an evaluation of what you’re doing now to see if it is:

  • in line with your organization’s goals… your communication department’s goals should be directly aligned with those of your organization
  • meeting the needs of your stakeholders, because if it isn’t, then why are you doing it?
  • driving knowledge and behaviors so that stakeholders act on what has been communicated

A communications audit examines what you are doing now to assess what’s working and not working for your critical audiences.  It helps focus on communications vehicles and messaging that has the greatest impact.

JJ&W asks the following questions when conducting a communication audit:

  1. What does your organization’s communication system look like?  We look at how communication is flowing from the top down, the bottom up and across the organization (laterally).  Do you have a good balance of one-way and two-way communication tools?
  2. What audiences are you reaching with each communication tool? Have you asked these audiences how they would like to be communicated with, or are you just bombarding them from all directions and hoping something sticks?
  3. Have you accounted for the changing demographics of your target audiences? If you’re a utility who is geared toward communication with the senior generation, have you thought about how you might change things up to reach the millennials who are becoming your customers – and will be with you for a long time to come?  Are you communicating in the right languages (not actual languages but idioms of that generation)?
  4. Are the key messages resonating with your audiences? Are those messages driving understanding and behavior?
  5. How effective are your digital communication tools, including social media? Are your target audiences using and responding? Are they clear on where to get their “need to know” vs. their “nice to know” communication?
  6. Do all your communications look like they come from the same organization? Do they have an easily-recognizable family look & feel that immediately lets audiences know where to find information?
  7. Have you gotten the perspectives of more than the senior management team? Have you talked to the front-liners who may not be sitting at desks with computers to find out how, and if, they’re getting the communication they need to do their job?

And if you want to leverage the real power of communications… how about some questions to probe the culture at your organization?  Do people perceive they can “fail forward” or are they fearful of taking risks that might result in punishment?  Do they feel communication is transparent, or does leadership hold things “close to the vest?”

This is an excellent time to clean out your “communications junk drawer” – get rid of anything that’s not working and fill in the gaps with effective methods and messages that are right for the stakeholders you are trying to reach.

Robin Schell/rschell@jjwpr.com /603/770-3607.

Schools in Crisis : Why Schools Administrators Should Continue To Be Afraid … Very Afraid

School predatory sexual abuse scandals continue to be a “hot” issue for decades for educational institutions. Schools can be a Petri dish of opportunity for those who seek to abuse or exploit young people, much like youth sports, summer camps, church groups, etc. How it is handled — whether it happened last week or many years ago — is critical to an institution’s reputation and relationships for decades to come.

It can feel unfair to have a school condemned for something that happened decades ago, when no one currently on staff, the board, or others were present. It can be frustrating to have a pristine institution painted with in broad-brush strokes, blemished just because something happened elsewhere. It can be horrifying to watch an institution’s reputation implode because of the actions of one individual.

There many examples of how not to handle these situations. Many administrations have chosen to keep their heads down, praying that nothing happens on their watch. But it is their responsibility to reduce the risk to their organization now and in the future — not just while in positions of responsibility.

It takes guts and a real concern for the future to scrub the institution for current or historical missteps, misdeeds or outright crimes. To face them, own them and do the right thing now. Tearing off the band-aid, acknowledging what went wrong, addressing the pain and then making things right is the only way to assure that an organization now and in the future will be understood as one that truly cares about its students and doing the right thing.

There will be those on the Board, as well as alums and staff who will react in horror: “why are you bringing this to light? Why would you voluntarily acknowledge something like this? This was decades ago and no one cares?” Ah, but they do. Somewhere, someone is dealing with the consequences of the decisions made by educational institution and their leaders.

If you educational leaders care about their school, then they need to stand up for the right thing now: Do a cleanse that goes back to the beginning and examine anything that can be found; Talk to those who were involved, document what happened and why, and start talking about it in ways that show an enlightenment that proves that your school will never again allow, never tolerate, never cover up, never sweep under the rug something so hideous.

Will it be bumpy? Yes. Will it raise questions? Of course. Will these schools be setting the best example for their students, their faculty – their community and other schools? No question. But, will the school that does the right thing be better off for it in the long run? Absolutely. And should you have a plan of action for how to handle, who and when to inform, how to talk about things? No Brainer!

 

Stacey Smith/ssmith@jjwpr.com

Internal Communication Is King: Kelly Ripa/Michael Strahan Controversy Is Case In Point

For years, JJ&W has counseled its clients, often anxious to rush out the door of external communication with whatever news they have, that their first stop needs to be communication to any internal audiences affected by that news.  It’s the priority.  And it’s common courtesy.  Period.

And we don’t stop with asking them to communicate with their employees – all of their employees, including the part-time flight attendants in the airlines, the cafeteria workers in the schools and the receptionists (especially the receptionists) at the desks of the Fortune 50 companies, who are likely going to be fielding the calls about the news when it gets out.  Go deeper than that.  In the case of the schools, think of your Board members, your parents, your alumni, your volunteers, your coaches of sports teams…even the vendors who are considered your business partners.  There is an easy way to determine who should be told before the rest of the world hears the news.  Think to yourself, if you were that employee, that volunteer, or that coach, wouldn’t you want to hear this from the organization you’re connected to before everyone else does?

Given that as criteria, it’s truly bizarre why Disney and ABC executives did not figure out that Kelly Ripa – the co-host of “Live” – would not deserve the courtesy of finding out that her co-host Michael Strahan was going to be leaving the show to go full-time at Good Morning America, where he is currently working part-time, in advance of everyone else.  Their rationale?  “She’s going to be upset no matter when she finds out.”  Perhaps, but what they forgot to think about was how they would feel if they were in her shoes and how much more upset she would be about the lack of communication and common courtesy extended to her in a place she has worked for over 2 decades.  So she gave them some time to think about what they had done while she took a few unplanned days off, as they scrambled for substitute co-hosts and flew their highest-level executives in to deliver a personal apology.

Kelly’s re-entry to the show today (on April 26th) was beautifully executed and appeared very genuine, and she delivered it to an audience that showed her the love and support she deserved with a standing ovation that went on until she finally shut it down to make her statement.

After acknowledging in a very honest way that she had taken some time off to process the news and really think about what she wanted to say in response (with some humorous comments about ABC likely having snipers with tranquilizer darts if she went “off message”), she talked about the fact that this situation had started “a much greater conversation about communication and consideration and most importantly, respect in the workplace.”  Amen to that!  She went on to talk about her longevity with the show and that it was a place that felt like family to her.  And all of us could imagine what it would feel like if family kept such an important piece of information from us.  It wouldn’t feel good.

She ended by acknowledging the personal apology by the parent company and the happiness she felt about the new opportunity for Michael – and he reciprocated with a heartfelt response.  If there was tension there, it didn’t show, and they went diving into the entertainment portion of the show with their usual carefree back-and-forth banter.  So it ended happily, at least for now.   The proof will be in the pudding when her contract comes up for renewal.

The lesson for the leaders of any organization – be it of a national television show, a corporation or a school – is really as simple as the Golden Rule.  Treat others the way you would like to be treated.  Period.  Internal communication will always be, and should be, your priority for news that impacts members of your internal family.

Robin Schell/rschell@jjwpr.com

The Power of Triggering Events

When we talk about motivating behavior change, we tell people that simply making them aware of something rarely drives them to that behavior.

They usually need a triggering event – whether it is naturally occurring, like a time of year or an anniversary – or “manufactured” – something the organization does – to gently push stakeholders toward a behavior. The possible exception to this is advertising during the holidays, when people are already poised and ready to deliver the ultimate desired behavior in a retailer’s
eyes…buying merchandise!

Even with the naturally occurring triggering event of the holidays, though, companies are creating “manufactured triggering events” to drive behavior in the form of sales, coupons, emails, apps that entitle the shopper to discounts etc. Once they get you into the store to purchase what you came for, of course, their ultimate desired behavior is that you make some spontaneous additional purchases of cool stuff that catches your eye.

New Years as a triggering event? Everyone in the personal training/fitness facility world knows that New Years is the perfect triggering event for signing people up for health and fitness programs…since they have probably just made a New Year’s resolution to lose weight, train for a specific event or just lead a
healthier lifestyle.   (Personally, I try to avoid going to the gym at peak hours during January  because it is packed! I wait until February to resume my normal routine,  knowing that even the best-intentioned folks will have trouble sticking to their newly-adopted behavior without some positive reinforcement to keep them
going).

In our business, the New Year is a triggering event for our clients to finalize budgets, conduct strategic planning and re-evaluate their activities from the past year … what’s been working and what hasn’t?

This is the time of year that we like to remind them how JJ&W can be helpful in many areas beyond our crisis communication work…including (but not limited to) research, strategic planning and employee communications. The intermediate behavior we want is for them to think of us when they have a need for public relations or management consulting services…the ultimate desired behavior is that they call us to help them on  whatever problem or issue
they are about to tackle.

The question for you is: As we enter the New Year, what are the triggering events to get YOU to move YOUR key stakeholders toward specific desired behaviors?

Robin Schell/rschell@jjwpr.com

Helmetless Practices: How Behavior Change Strategy Is Paying Off For The UNH Football Team

Because JJ&W has counseled the Brain Injury Association of NH for a number of years, we’ve gotten very familiar with the concussion issue – it has certainly been in the spotlight with triggering events like the death of Junior Seau of the San Diego Chargers and more recently, the movie “Concussion”.

Of course, any social problem involving behavior change is of interest to us…but I was particularly fascinated by the approach UNH Kinesiology Professor Erik Swartz took with “Helmetless Tackling Training” or HUTT, pilot-tested on the UNH football team.  Swartz, using the “Head Health Challenge II” research grant funded by the NFL, Under Armour and General Electric, worked with the UNH football coaching staff to incorporate a tackling drill, with half of the players wearing helmet… the other half, not.

Head impact sensors worn by all the players collected data on the impacts.  The question:  would removing helmets cause players to adjust their tackling technique and build muscle memory that would result in a safer tackling technique and fewer head injuries going forward?

The results from the 2014 football season:  a decrease in head impacts of almost 30% among those who participated in the helmetless drills – in practices and games where helmets are worn. In the words of Schwartz:  “this is the first study out there to really focus on changing behavior to mitigate risk rather than finding ways to accommodate it.”

Breakthrough thinking, and the next steps will be developing appropriate training for players at the high school level and below – those audiences, and their behaviors, need to be studied and carefully considered first.

Many lessons to be learned for public relations practitioners as they design behavior-change programs for their clients!

Robin Schell/rschell@jjwpr.com

Issues Anticipation for Healthcare Institutions

There are a wide variety of issues that can cause organizations significant heartburn — if not outright damage — and occasionally, destruction.

It is the role of the public relations practitioner to conduct an ongoing scan of the environment (from both an internal and external perspective) to predict and prepare for these issues before they develop into crisis situations.

It is essential to know how to identify different types of issues,  find “triggering events” that could  spotlight these issues and have action plans in place for dealing with them.

JJ&W has prepared this piece from the perspective of our clients in the healthcare industry – though the issue categories and preparation tips are applicable to all industries. It is based on lessons learned firm’s long history of preparing for and dealing with issues (and crisis situations) and it integrates our behavioral approach to public relations. Click here for article

Your feedback is welcomed!

Robin Schell/rschell@jjwpr.com