All posts by Stacey Smith

MEASURING EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT — WHAT TO MEASURE & WHY

“Engagement” is, as we like to say, the “flavor of the month” 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 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 to 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 order to understand what are the driving factors of employee relations, and what truly contributes toward building a workforce that is committed to and fully productive for the organization. Lead by Sean Williams of TruDigital Communications, Ohio, Julie O’Neil, Ph.D. of Texas Christian University, Michele Ewing, Ph.D. of Kent State and myself, along with 13 other international professionals and scholars, we sought to fully define Measurement Standards for the profession around employee relations.

A glimpse into the soon to be published paper, shows 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, what is generated as a result of a program or campaign, and now 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 is 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!

We expect the paper to be published soon, but if you are interested in a bootlegged copy of the 22 standards and their definitions, contact me at ssmith@jjwpr.com.

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

 

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

How Improving Employee Communication Skills Can Make The Difference

Overall success in a matrix organizational structure depends largely on the presence of constant, clear communication.  From the very beginning, all aspects of the matrix process — from roles & responsibilities to the evaluation process need to be clearly defined and managed with open communication and unambiguous accountability.  But what if they aren’t established or working properly?
Many organizations assume the effectiveness of operating a matrix structure lies with the human resources department. In most organizations, communication professionals do not set up the matrix structure – that is usually the purview of human resources.

However, it is the skill set of the communication professional that can help the matrix structure function effectively and ensure its success.
Those who have lived in a matrix structure easily can point out pros and cons:

Click Here for Full Article

Stacey Smith/ssmith@jjwpr.com

“The new CEO does not know our culture” Union Leader, July 28, 2014, pg. 1

There is likely not a business school nor a communications program out there that is not following the developments of the Demoulas/Market Basket crisis as it is unfolding.  To JJ&W, it is yet another illustration of how powerful corporate culture can be when it comes to the success or failure of an organization.

For those not yet aware of the events, the upper and middle management of the chain, headquartered in Tewksbury, Mass, walked out in protest of the ousting of their leader by the Board of Director’s, Arthur T. Demoulas, the long-term CEO and leader of one segment (slightly less than half) of the family of investors.  The management team, many who were fired but continue to protest, have taken the brunt of the punishment, encouraging hourly employees who need their jobs to pay weekly bills to stay at their post and not risk their jobs — a very different approach from typical strikes where the average employee is out on the street and middle management is working to keep things going!  

For many years, the Market Basket stores had been known as only one place to shop among many but nothing special; some perceived the family as tough to work for and a bit unfriendly.  There were always rumors of how the family was divided and internal fighting would go on from time to time but the stores just plodded along. About five years ago, the quality of the stores began to turn around.  Click Here for Full Article

Stacey Smith/ssmith@jjwpr.com