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Getting the Most from Pulse Surveys: Tips from Expert Communicators

By Danielle Foley, Senior Communication Consultant

Pulse surveys are a great tool for gaining insight into employee satisfaction and the employee experience. Typically just 5 to 20 questions, they tend to focus on a near-term objective or change management initiative and, unlike larger engagement surveys, are distributed multiple times per year.

Pulse surveys have many benefits:

• Their brevity increases employee response rates.
• Results can be analyzed quickly so feedback can be swiftly acted upon.
• They can surface minor issues before they become bigger problems.
• It’s easy to see trends over time to determine if actions are having an impact.
• Regular pulse checks show employees you care about what they have to say.

During the pandemic, pulse surveys became indispensable for helping companies quickly capture employee sentiment on a rapidly changing workplace. We spoke with  several HR and communications experts to explore how they’re using pulse surveys now, and get tips and insights on how to get the most out of this valuable tool. Here are the highlights.

Angela Sinickas, CEO – Sinickas Communications, Inc.

Q: When is it best to use a pulse survey versus a larger survey?
Pulse surveys are a great way for employers to touch base in between larger engagement surveys that are usually conducted every other year. They’re also really helpful when you are rolling out a new initiative – like a return-to-office approach or a new communication channel – because you can get a baseline on how employee sentiment has changed by doing one before the change and another after implementation.

Q. What is your one tip for getting a good completion rate on a pulse survey?
A. I always caution my clients that it’s critical to not bury a pulse survey in an existing channel, for example, the intranet or a newsletter. Not only will it be harder for employees to find, but if you do this, you’ll essentially be over-surveying the heavy users of that particular channel. We have much better success rates – and more reliable results – when we send one-off emails with a direct link to the survey.

Q. Many employers have “non-desk” populations, for example, those in healthcare or manufacturing. What’s the best way to reach those populations with a pulse survey?
A. I find that print is a successful approach with this population. Most non-desk employees have a common meeting space like a breakroom where they can fill out a paper survey and place it in a sealed box. We’ve also made surveys accessible on work-provided mobile phones. QR codes that go directly to the survey are also great.

Q. If you don’t want to send out a formal pulse survey, what are some creative ways to get a quick pulse check?
A. Giving users the ability to click a thumbs up or down emoji after reading something is good. Also, I like putting bins near the door at in-person events like town halls. As people leave, I ask them to put a ping pong ball in one bin if they felt the event was useful, or in another if they felt it was a waste of time.

Another idea to gauge awareness or understanding at an event is to ask for a show of hands on a particular question both before and after the material is presented to show how it made an impact.

Andrea Herron, Head of People – WebMD Health Services

Q. How are you using pulse surveys at WebMD Health Services?
A. Before each employee town hall, I send out a quick pulse survey about a few relevant topics. The feedback I get helps me focus in on the issues that are most important to our people in a particular moment. This strategy was hugely helpful as we navigated through all the different phases of the pandemic. I personally find pulse surveys to be really useful and a lot more effective than larger cultural surveys.

Q. As a corporate well-being provider, how do pulse surveys help your clients get a read on what employees need when it comes to well-being?
A. Our clients often include pulse surveys on their well-being portals about a number of important topics like employee sentiment on flexible work arrangements, returning to the office, mental health, manager support, feelings of belonging and inclusion, and even how well people are sleeping! They’re a great way to zero in on a particular aspect of well-being you want to know more about in real time.

Oonagh Power – Director, Associate Communications, TIAA

Q. TIAA has an ingrained practice of seeking employee feedback. How is the company using pulse surveys this year to deepen understanding of how employees are feeling?
A. Pulse surveys have been a helpful tool for us, and we increased usage during the pandemic to get feedback on new ways of working and other company-wide changes. We’ve been lucky to get good responses rates on our surveys—around 80% to be exact. Our Associate Experience team is continuing this approach and supplementing it with an in-person listening tour and focus groups at regional offices.

Q. What do you find is the best mix of pulse and long-form engagement surveys?
Last year we sent three surveys – two pulse and one full engagement survey – which worked well. This year we’ll send a full survey in the first quarter and one additional pulse survey, but that could change depending on the needs of the business. That’s the great thing about pulse surveys – you can be more nimble and add them quickly since they’re just a few questions.

We also have surveys on our intranet home page that pop up once every three weeks. These are perfect for getting general employee experience or technology feedback.

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Our experts agree – pulse surveys remain a valuable, effective tool for gauging worker sentiment. In today’s tight labor market, it’s one you’ll want to keep in your toolbox. Need help crafting and executing an effective employee listening strategy? Contact us today.

Don’t Let Progress Blockers Block Your Progress

How to keep difficult colleagues from derailing your communication project

By Margo Hackel, Senior Communication Consultant

You’re working on a benefits enrollment guide, an annual report, a new program rollout – or any communications project that needs input from multiple stakeholders. How do you manage recalcitrant reviewers? Whether it’s Negative Nellie, Harry the Hippo, Literary Lucy, the Legal Eagles, or Polly Perfectionist, each has their own, uh, “special” way of sending the review process spiraling into yet another round. Who are these people, how do they impede progress, and – more importantly – what can you do about them?

Negative Nellie doesn’t like anything the team produces and pooh-poohs everything from initial concept to final copy. She rarely has a positive thing to say, and her naysaying ways are starting to disrupt the team’s momentum. Her hole-poking habits may be an attempt to show she’s smarter than everyone else – or maybe she’s just naturally argumentative and thrives on debate.

How do you deal with Nellie? Seek her input and try to gain her buy-in from the very beginning. Make sure you understand her objections and fairly evaluate whether they have merit. Don’t let Nellie’s reputation prevent you from accepting her constructive criticism. But if you feel some suggestions are gratuitous, you may need to engage other reviewers with more clout to overrule her.

Who is Harry the Hippo? He’s the guy in the room (or on Zoom) offering the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion. Often the most senior stakeholder, Harry feels it’s his job to influence outcomes and add value. Whether his questions and comments are genuinely useful or more ego-driven doesn’t matter. This one’s important, yet tricky, to manage.

How do you handle Harry? First, accept that he will have an opinion and it matters. And if he doesn’t know you well, or you’re not in his inner circle, he may be wary of your ideas. He needs to feel confident, though, so the key is to build a strong relationship, cultivating rapport and trust. As with Nellie, you should seek Harry’s buy-in well in advance of any formal decision-making session, to ensure he’s aligned with your plan. And if he’s questioning content in a document, be prepared to defend what it says and why.

Literary Lucy tends to overload documents with flowery language and convoluted turns of phrase. Maybe she aspires to be a best-selling novelist, but the team’s goal is a business deliverable, not a literary manuscript. Lucy’s copy may be eloquent, but it’s not effective in a business context.

How can you persuade Lucy to save the fancy prose for her novel-in-the-making? This can require a delicate touch. Gently remind her of the audience: They’re busy businesspeople who need clear, concise, actionable information. Encourage Lucy to self-edit so she has some agency in this effort. Remind her that in business, word salad should not be on the menu, and she should simplify her word choices. On the other hand, well-placed metaphors and images (her forte) can help readers better understand complex messages. And for communication that lends itself to storytelling – a highly engaging technique – Lucy may be your go-to person.

Who’s likely to eliminate creativity and lively copy in the name of protecting the company? Meet the Legal Eagles! With their vested interest in preventing lawsuits and avoiding bad looks, these folks have their red pens ready for markup. Whether they cut copy they consider risky, rewrite it to make it feel cold and choppy, or destroy readability with tedious legalese, their input can seem harsh. However, it’s feedback you just can’t ignore.

How can you manage the Legal Eagles’ input without sacrificing the upbeat tone you’ve worked hard to achieve? Try getting ahead of it by consulting with them early in the project. Ask questions. Get context. Understand and plan to address potential legal concerns before you start writing. When it’s time to send for review, frame theirs as purely legal: “Please let us know if you have any changes from a legal perspective – requirements, dealbreakers, or roadblocks.” If they offer more subjective suggestions or personal opinions, don’t feel compelled to incorporate them. Instead, stick to what’s strictly legal.

Finally, let’s consider Polly Perfectionist. She’s a compulsive editor and proofreader who can’t help but spot every error, no matter how small or insignificant (Full disclosure: This is totally me!) She tends to focus on the minutiae and lose sight of the bigger picture – sometimes slowing progress to a crawl as she points out every misplaced modifier and pesky punctuation problem.

How can you prod Polly along? Remind her that while perfection is certainly something to strive for, it can also be the “enemy of good.” With her eagle eye, she may be the only one who notices the fine details that will escape most stakeholders, and audience members won’t give them a second thought. High profile content, print communications, or anything with a long shelf life may merit Polly’s approach. In these cases, show your appreciation for her perfectionism – as long as her edits don’t slow down the production schedule.

Every project has it challenges – tight deadlines, changing priorities, limited resources. When the challenges come from fellow team members, it pays to be patient, flexible, open-minded, and diplomatic. Make sure your colleagues don’t think of you as Difficult Dan.

The Evolution of DE&I: An Insider’s Look

Meet veteran DE&I leader and disability advocate Jim Sinocchi

By now, the business case for workforce diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) is clear, and DE&I is increasingly critical for recruiting and retaining workers.

  • A 2020 McKinsey study shows that companies ranking highest in workforce diversity were 36% more profitable in 2019 than those with the least diverse workforces.
  • Seventy-six percent of millennials responding to the 2022 EY US Generation Survey said they’d leave an employer who did not offer DE&I initiatives.

But what does DE&I look like from the inside?

We asked Jim Sinocchi, who has spent more than 40 years communicating about and advocating for DE&I, with a particular focus on the disability community.

How have DE&I issues changed over the years? What’s remained constant?

In many ways, DE&I is still trying to find itself. The world is more aware of DE&I issues and benefits, and people are becoming more inclusive in their thinking, but we continue to face challenges, which differ depending on the constituency. Blacks, Women, Hispanics, and Veterans – the traditional DE&I constituencies – have made major steps forward. But we have more work to do for other groups, including the disability and LGBTQ communities.

Leaders also think about what DE&I means from their personal perspectives – how to engage in discussions, the appropriate vocabulary, the right protocols – as well as trying to define what equity and inclusion mean today.

So, the picture is blurry. DE&I isn’t just one thing – it never has been – and it’s not as easy a journey as we sometimes think it is. There’s a lot going on, and we’re not at a steady state just yet.

You’ve worked for two major corporations – IBM and JPMorgan Chase. In your experience, how do senior leaders think about DE&I?

Senior leaders have been very good at embracing DE&I issues and challenges, but not all of them are comfortable with the journey that still needs to be taken. That’s where advocates and education will always be needed – to help leaders better understand what their employees need to perform at their very best, on a level playing field with their peers.

How you recruit, define business outcomes, and meet regulatory compliance needs – all of these contribute to hiring the best candidates for a job, regardless of race, color, orientation, gender, or disability.

I’m part of the disability community, and I can tell you that while we are acknowledged as part of DE&I, we are trailing when it comes to hiring, leadership, and access to capital. When we set out to change that at IBM and JPMorgan Chase, we made it clear – with a superior communications and media plan, and leadership at the top of the business – that we were looking for talent, including talent from the disability community.

We shared our strategy with anyone who asked. We wanted to help change the marketplace for people who are perceived as different. We focused on four areas:

  • Attitude – Embracing a variety of people who are different – across the organization.
  • Accommodations – Ensuring that people with different disabilities have the tools they need to perform their jobs – for example, captioning, screen readers, and ramps.
  • Accessibility – Providing access to both physical and technology infrastructures, including real estate modifications.
  • Assimilation – Fostering a culture of inclusion in an organization where people share values, in pursuit of a common goal.

During my tenure at JPMC, we saw increased interest in job applications from people with disabilities – and we hired many of them based on their qualifications. Of course, our affirmative action policies were already in play, but the firm promoted its new Office of Disability Inclusion and its interest in hiring qualified people with disabilities. And guess what, it worked!

So, progress and success are possible, but it takes resources, talent, leadership support, and collaboration across an organization – including communications, technology, real estate, and legal – to embrace inclusion and put it into practice. I’m optimistic, but I also know that some people remain biased or uncomfortable about working with people who are different. That bias may never go away, but that doesn’t mean we stop trying.

What advice do you have for those of us who communicate about DE&I issues?

Begin with fundamental communication principles: Know your audience. Communicate in a way that engages them. Encourage dialog – without preaching or forcing ideas on people. If you are representing a particular group, say, “Let me tell you a story about this community.”

If you’re communicating one-on-one with a person from a marginalized group, start by being cordial – say, “Hello, how are you?” Ask about their work, their interests, and their point of view. When I talk about disability inclusion, I try to make it clear that the people in this community aren’t just disabled – they’re parents, wives, husbands, and children. Yes, there are things they can’t do, but they also have something to contribute; their lives and values didn’t stop when they became disabled.

And it’s important to recognize where people are in their DE&I journey. We’re living in a time of increased controversy, evolving values, new gender identity dynamics, and hyper-charged social media. Some people don’t understand what’s changing because things are moving quickly. So, we need to listen and try to meet people where they are. Communicate in an authentic, thoughtful, balanced way. All of us are learning, and progress takes time.

What can communicators do to be more effective DE&I partners and advocates?

Understand the issues. Educate ourselves.

  • Talk with DE&I leaders within companies, find out what’s working and not working.
  • Go to communications seminars and events that feature DE&I topics.
  • Seek out experts – reporters, researchers, and educators who study and cover DE&I issues. Where are they getting their information? How do they get a good story?
  • Speak to professionals in each constituency, understand their common goals and unique challenges.
  • Read widely and with a critical eye. In today’s media environment, it’s important to recognize when a reporter or publication – even an academic researcher – has an agenda or a bias. If you’re only looking at one media outlet or talking to one expert, you may not be getting the full story.

As communicators, it’s our job to get the facts, be accurate and be ready to accept a new perspective or paradigm. We can also draw distinctions and make connections. I’ve done this with my DE&I colleagues, challenging them to recognize the disabled people in their own constituencies. In every DE&I group – Blacks, Women, LGBTQ, Asians, you name it – somewhere around 20 percent are disabled, something most of my colleagues didn’t realize. So, communicators can help get people out of their comfort zone and learn to think more broadly.

Any final thoughts?

I’m extremely grateful to have been able to do the work I’ve done. My DE&I strategy came from lived experience, as an able-bodied person who became totally paralyzed early in my IBM career. I was fortunate to work for two major companies that were committed to diversity and inclusion. I knew people were watching what we did, and I had the opportunity to make a difference.

Over the years, I’ve come to think of myself as a champion for humanity. Getting diverse groups of people hired and promoted into leadership positions is important, but it’s bigger than that. It’s about lifting a “global disability community” that’s been disenfranchised for many years and making the world a better place for everyone.

Communications Crystal Ball: 3 Trends to Watch in 2023

By Margo Hackel, Senior Communication Consultant

‘Tis the season for forecasting workplace trends, so we thought we’d weigh in. These three trends, in particular, could have a big impact for communicators as they manage employee attraction and retention in the coming year:

  1. The “paper ceiling” is getting torn down

There’s a perfect storm of factors coming together around dismantling college degree requirements for employment, and it bodes well for those who are taking alternate paths:

First, despite major layoffs in recent days, it’s still a tight labor market, so companies need to get creative in who they hire, and why.

Second, the business world is simply moving faster than ever before, and nearly everything (everywhere, all at once) is shifting. As role descriptions and career paths become more fluid and technical upskilling becomes a regular requirement, companies are placing less emphasis on formal education and instead are looking at softer skills to predict potential. For example, creativity, communication, and a growth mindset are being touted as some of the most important skills for today’s workers.

Third, employers have a mandate to get real about diversity and inclusion. People without a college degree don’t have alumni networks and can run up against biased algorithms, stereotypes, and misconceptions. Companies screening only for candidates with college degrees are disproportionately excluding Black, Hispanic, rural and veteran workers. This approach doesn’t help anyone get ahead.

Finally, the cost of college tuition is soaring, setting more employees on less traditional paths.

What this means for communicators: Communicators will have to work closely with their DEI and HR teams to position the organization as a truly inclusive employer – one who values the whole individual, not just the piece of paper they walk in with. They will also have to help HR folks create a marketing strategy that seeks out nontraditional talent to fill open roles.

  1. Shhhhh… people and employers are going “quiet”

In 2022, we heard an endless dialogue in the media about the state of “quiet quitting.” This is when employees do their jobs but don’t regularly put in the effort to go the extra mile. They aren’t leaving their organizations, but they aren’t centering their lives around work, either. This trend continues into 2023 as employees seek better boundaries and balance between their work and personal lives.

A new buzz phrase describes another form of passive-aggression in the workplace: “quiet firing.” This involves managers pushing employees out by withholding coaching, support, and opportunities for growth and career development. Signs of quiet firing include shifting key tasks to others, preventing participation in special projects, denying promotions or raises, or establishing unreasonable performance goals.

As if this weren’t enough, there’s also a new trend of “quiet hiring” (or at least there’s a newly coined phrase for a longstanding practice that occurs during economic downturns). Quiet hiring has employers downsizing their workforce, then turning to freelancers and contract workers. This way employers can gain new capabilities without gaining new FTEs. A recent ResumeBuilder.com survey revealed:

  • 6 in 10 companies will likely lay off employees in 2023;
  • 7 in 10 companies are likely to implement a hiring freeze in 2023;
  • 1 in 4 of companies have reduced current employees’ salaries.

Nearly 40% of the companies that had recent layoffs said they plan to hire contract workers to replace departing talent and more than half have asked some full-time employees to transition to contract work.

What this means for communicators: To maintain employee engagement and culture, communicators will have to work extra hard to reach all their stakeholders, including current employees, potential employees, and even their contract workers, whose social media voices could go a long way toward making or breaking employer reputation.

  1. Pay is getting clearer, but not everywhere – yet

Across the United States, we’re seeing pay transparency laws proliferate as workers and lawmakers push for greater workplace equality. Some places (i.e., Colorado, Washington, and New York City) mandate salary ranges in published job postings. Others (Rhode Island, Maryland, Nevada and more) require employers to disclose salary ranges to applicants at a specified point in the hiring process, or to employees upon request or when changing jobs. And some states, such as New York, Massachusetts, and Vermont have pay equity laws, which say employers can’t pay employees of different genders differently for similar work.

Pay transparency could be good for everyone – including job seekers, current employees, and even employers, as Kathryn Vasel writes in CNN Business. But it could also backfire, as current employees find out just how much they are underpaid, or potential employees get frustrated at the breadth of the salary bands posted.

What this means for communicators: To attract the level of talent they want, HR communicators will have to step up their storytelling skills. It starts with the job boards, but it doesn’t end there: How can the job description itself be compelling enough to encourage applicants to act? How can the interview process become a storytelling opportunity? And how else can organizations amplify messages about their culture and reputation so potential employees can view pay as an important, but not the only, driving factor when considering taking – or keeping – a position?

These three trends are all going to keep communicators busy in the days ahead. But one thing’s for sure – there will be plenty to write about! For help sorting through the impact of these and other comms trends in 2023, contact us.

New Year, New Opportunities to Highlight Your Benefits

By Jessica Cogan, Senior Communication Consultant

The beginning of the year is a great time to make some meaningful resolutions about your benefits communications. To get started, cast your mind back at the year in the rearview mirror: Did you have regular touchpoints with employees about their benefits, or did they hear from you only during annual enrollment? Revisit your tactics: Were your employees partial to one communication type over another? Infographics over brochures? Texts over emails? Decide what needs changing. Now’s your chance to make a good start.

You probably already know it’s not ideal to talk about benefits with your employees only at enrollment time. Regular communication helps employees take full advantage of their benefits by offering them timely resources, and it helps you build trust with employees. The right cadence depends on your company’s culture and what’s happening within the organization – some teams like monthly benefits newsletters, where others find quarterly campaigns sufficient. Creating a year-long communications plan – one that considers competing communication priorities – is something you can do right now and reap the rewards of all year long.

Filling out your year-round communications strategy

Here are some ideas for promoting benefits throughout the year.

  • Start with listening. When was the last time you asked your employees what they want and need from benefits communications? If it’s feasible, take a quick pulse survey to find out what information employees need, what they might be confused about, how often they want to receive communications, and in what format. This can help you build a more effective communication plan for the year.
  • Focus on action. At the start of the year, when benefits change or new benefits become available, consider sending employees a quick checklist of information they need to know or actions they need to take. For instance, employees may need to be on the lookout for new ID cards or need information about how the plan they selected a few months back will actually play out for them when they need to seek care in the year ahead.
  • Prioritize wellness. Have a wellness program? Increase engagement by spotlighting it while New Year commitments to self-improvement are still top of mind – and keep communicating about wellness later in the year as a resolution reminder.
  • Align your communications with moments of national awareness or appreciation. February is National Heart Month, May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. These are great opportunities to promote your health and wellness benefits. But there’s also Home Office Safety and Security Week, International Women’s Day, and Financial Literacy Month in April. Get creative about opportunities to promote programs that might not get the attention they deserve.
  • Target employee groups that need extra support year-round. Consider outreach to employee groups that could benefit from resources created just for them – for example, people with diabetes, new parents, or caretakers of elderly parents. Create resource guides or toolkits that feature the programs, policies, and benefits that can support them – all in one place. When employees are struggling or facing new challenges, they’ll appreciate the benefits team that provides holistic support.

With a little forethought and planning, your annual benefits communication plan can have a big impact. Ongoing communication increases plan participation rates and helps employees understand their benefits, so they can get the support they need, when they need it. And by building trust and awareness with your people, thoughtful benefits communication can help you position your organization as an employer of choice.

Need help creating your annual strategy? Give us a call.

 

A time to celebrate, unwind and read

 

Some favorite books from your friends at the O’Keefe Group

Everyone appreciates the gift of downtime. Our holiday wish for you is that you get some time off this December to enjoy family, friends, and a good book or two. So, rather than our usual business insights, this week we’re sharing some of the books we’ve loved during 2022.

 

FICTION

If you finally have time for one of the most highly praised novels of recent years…

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr brings together a memorable collection of characters from three different times and places: 1453 in Constantinople, 2020 in an Idaho library, and sometime in the future on the interstellar ship Argos. “Bound together by a single ancient text, the tales form a rich tapestry of solace and resilience and a celebration of storytelling itself.” (Goodreads)

If you’re a fan of historical fiction and beautifully crafted writing…

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell paints a luminous portrait of Agnes, a free spirit and healer born in Warwickshire, England in the 1580s. Agnes settles with her husband in Stratford and has three children, Susanna, Judith and Hamnet. Her husband, a playwright, later writes Hamlet, in honor of their son.

O’Keefe Group Senior Communicator Cathy Donnelly had this to say: “O’Farrell’s imaginative, compelling, lyrical tale transports us to a time that seems at once distant and contemporary. It’s the deeply layered story of an oddly gifted woman, an unconventional marriage, and the devastating and ultimately transformative power of grief.”

If you loved Little Fires Everywhere….

Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng is told through the lens of 12-year-old Bird Gardner. Bird lives with his father in a society governed by laws designed to preserve “American culture.” After receiving a mysterious letter, Bird embarks on a quest to find the truth about his mother, a Chinese-American poet who left the family when Bird was nine, and whose works have been removed from the libraries.

O’Keefe Group Senior Communicator Tammy Kleinman says “Ng’s novel shows us the very real perils of censorship, isolation and fear, but it is also a love letter to storytelling, which has the power to help us heal.”

If you think YOUR family is dysfunctional….

The Latecomer by Jean Hanff Korelitz is the story of an affluent New York couple and their triplets, who share few interests and little affection for each other. Most of the book takes place after they leave for college, when their mother’s loneliness leads to a surprising decision. The skillfully woven storylines and plot twists meander from Brooklyn to Cornell University to the world of modern art, and the author’s razor-sharp satire of contemporary culture is hilarious. Fans of Austen and Dickens will see their influence in this otherwise very modern novel.

NONFICTION

If you’re looking for something laugh-out-loud funny (but also poignant)….

The Best of Me by David Sedaris finds the humorist older and wiser but still riotously funny. There’s a lot about Sedaris’s partner, Hugh, even more about the oddball Sedaris family, and hilarious snapshots of a recent book tour. He also shops for rare taxidermy, hitchhikes with a lady quadriplegic, spits a lozenge into a fellow traveler’s lap, and hand-feeds a carnivorous bird.

For O’Keefe Group Founder Teryl Taglieri, “the humor and wit of Sedaris is my remedy for a bad day, and The Best of Me is the best of him.”

If you’ve seen it on all the lists and wondered why….

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner is a remarkably wise memoir by the 30- something founder of the band Japanese Lunch. Zauner explores her identity as an Asian-American and the bonds that food can create. This includes frequent visits to H Mart, an Asian market in her hometown of Eugene, Oregon.

O’Keefe Group Senior Communicator Danielle Foley calls this “a beautiful memoir of a daughter caring for her mother during the last stage of a terminal illness. Crying in H Mart will have you, yes crying, but also craving the amazingly delicious Korean food that is cooked and meticulously described throughout the book.”

If you miss Trevor Noah already….

 

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah is another memoir by a young, talented offspring of mixed parentage. Noah grew up in Apartheid-era South Africa, the son of a black mother and white father at a time when inter-racial marriage was illegal. He recounts his upbringing in Soweto, where his light skin made him a curiosity, with his trademark mixture of humor and righteous indignation. After a childhood spent in poverty, Noah sold pirated CDs and later started a DJ business, launching his astonishingly successful career in entertainment.

If you want a glimpse into a fascinating sub-culture….

Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker is a funny and enlightening memoir from a former tech journalist who “stumbled upon an alternate university in which people could, after a single sip of wine, identify the grape it was made from, in what year, and where it was produced within acres” (Goodreads). Her decision to become a certified sommelier takes us inside elite tasting groups, exclusive New York restaurants, a California winery, and a neuroscientist’s fMRI machine.

O’Keefe Group Senior Communicators Jessica Cogan and Laura Singer think this is one of the best non-fiction books you’ve probably never heard of.

And that was just our short list! Also highly recommended:

  • The Henna Artist by Aika Joshi
  • Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout
  • The Light We Carry by Michele Obama
  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  • The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason
  • Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
  • The Maisie Dobbs novels by Jacqueline Winspear
  • The Jackson Brodie stories by Kate Atkinson
  • Wine Girl by Victoria James

Happy Holidays and Happy Reading from the O’Keefe Group!

  • Teryl Taglieri
  • Tom Taglieri
  • Jessica Cogan
  • Cathy Donnelly
  • Danielle Foley
  • Margo Hackel
  • Diane Karsch
  • Cathy Morris
  • Tammy Kleinman
  • Lauren LaFronz
  • Laura Singer
  • JoAnne Stauss

Hiring a Contractor? Read This First.

An interview with Communications expert Lauren LaFronz

Choosing the right contractor to help with communications planning, writing, project management, and other initiatives isn’t easy. Your project’s success, and often your reputation, hinges on the contractor’s ability to consistently deliver their best work, on time and within budget.

We spoke with Lauren LaFronz, a 20+ year marketing and communications veteran who went from managing contractors to becoming one herself. Here, Lauren shares best practices on selecting and engaging contractors, and a few lessons she’s learned the hard way.

Q: Tell us about yourself and how you got where you are today.

A: I’ve always had roles with a heavy focus on content creation. I’d been thinking about starting my own freelance writing business for a long time, and recently decided to pull the trigger.

I knew I had something unique to offer since I have a lot of firsthand experience not just in writing, but also in demand generation, SEO, branding, and many other areas of marketing and communications. Since I understand how all these things work and complement each other, I’m able to create content that achieves specific business objectives and integrates seamlessly with other marketing tactics and strategies.

This, along with the strong network I’d built during my career, gave me the confidence I needed to finally make the jump to freelance.

Q. When you were on the hiring company’s side of the table, what constituted a successful engagement with a contractor?

A: When I managed contractors, a truly successful engagement wasn’t just when the contractor delivered high-quality work on time and within budget. It was also when the contractor provided me with a great overall experience by being flexible, responsive, and generally easy to work with.

For example, at one of my prior jobs, I managed multiple freelance writers. One writer in particular had less subject-matter expertise than some of the others, so he took a little more time to turn around drafts. However, he had a positive attitude, handled unexpected strategy changes in stride, and never took feedback personally. I appreciated that he just rolled with the punches and did what was asked of him.

On the other end of the spectrum, there were some freelancers who had more subject matter expertise but were lacking in other areas. For example, one freelancer pushed back repeatedly on requested changes to various content assets. And another didn’t understand basic etiquette. During a video call, he took a call on his cell phone—unmuted—while I was explaining something. Needless to say, that was the last time I hired him to work for me.

Q: What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned on the inside, as someone who has hired contractors?

  1. Don’t ignore red flags. It’s like that saying, “If someone shows you who they are, believe them.” For example, you might find a contractor that has the right experience and skills for the job. However, when it comes time to screen them, it’s clear they didn’t prepare, because they have no idea what your company does. Or they show up ten minutes late. Don’t assume these things are one-off incidents. First impressions can be telling, and if you hire that person, the odds are you’ll be dealing with the same issues on the regular.
  2. Watch for budget creep. If you’re expecting a contractor or agency that bills hourly to stay within a specific budget, don’t assume they will let you know when they’re close to exceeding that budget because they won’t always remember to do this. Require that they submit weekly reports on hours/spend accrued to date, or at least make sure you’re regularly checking in for an update.
  3. There’s no such thing as too much information. Providing as much information as possible will allow your contractors to deliver their best work. It’s important to do a comprehensive debrief with contractors–not just on the project itself, but also on your expectations, deadlines, the review process, and any specific guidelines the work should follow (for example, branding guidelines). It’s also important to provide access to resources like subject matter experts and background documentation, so the contractor can quickly get up to speed.

Q: What are some key questions to ask potential contractors during the screening process?

A: Here are a few important ones:

  1. How many clients do you typically work with at the same time? The answer will give you a general idea of how much time they’ll have to spend on your project.
  2. What do you know about our business? Going back to my prior point about red flags, if the answer is way off base, you’ll know the contractor didn’t take the time to properly prepare themselves for your call, and that you should hire another candidate.
  3. Can you provide samples of your work? Even if someone comes highly recommended, it’s always best to ask for work samples, so you can verify their domain expertise and see firsthand the caliber of work you can expect.

Q: Now let’s switch gears and talk about the contractor experience. What’s one lesson you learned the hard way as a contractor, and what would you do differently next time?  

A: One lesson I’ve learned in my short time as a contractor is that if a project isn’t right for meor the clientit’s best to just walk away. It’s hard to say “no,” but sometimes it’s the right thing to do.

I was recently approached about creating a content marketing program for a very small startup. They wanted a comprehensive program on a shoestring budget. During the conversation, I realized it was highly unlikely that I could provide anything close to what they wanted at an acceptable cost. Instead of having an upfront conversation with them about this, I spent several hours creating a proposal. And as I expected, it was a no-go. Now I know to be more direct when it comes to budget discussions, and to turn projects down if it’s clear there’s not going to be a fit on either end.

Q: As a contractor yourself, what’s the one thing you wish more employers knew about the best way to engage a contract worker?

A: It’s important to build relationships with your contractors and treat them as an integral part of your team, rather than just another set of hands for hire. Even though contractors aren’t salaried, full-time employees, they want to feel like they’re making a difference and contributing to your success.

It also works the other way around–inviting contractors to team meetings, events, and even for an occasional cup of coffee allows them to better understand you, your business, and your expectations.

All of this leads to stronger, more productive relationships that enable contractors to become fully invested in your success and deliver their best work.


Whether you’re looking for a full team of consultants for a long-term initiative or an individual contributor for a quick project, the O’Keefe Group can help ensure your next freelancer engagement is successful. Contact us to learn more.

 

 

Getting from “Someday” to “Today” — Encouraging Younger Employees to Save for Retirement

Jessica Cogan, Senior Communication Consultant

Long-term goal setting is tough for anyone but that’s especially true for the youngest employees in our organizations. Reports vary on average savings rates for young employees – from 7% to 14% depending on your source – but the bigger picture is clear: by and large, Americans aren’t on track to have sufficient savings when it’s time to retire. Those who are best positioned to right their ships are our youngest employees – since they can benefit most from good old compound interest.

So what can we do to encourage more of our young workers to participate in their 401(k)s? There are some key elements of the plan design – company match, speedy vesting, automatic enrollment, and enrollment incentives – that can help. But it is equally important to create a company culture that is focused on financial wellness. And communications play a large role in that.

Creating a culture focused on financial health requires a holistic approach. Make sure you’re doing these three things to support it:

  1. Empowering the individual.

One of the great things about the younger workforce is that, by and large, they’re a tech-savvy bunch. They’ll be comfortable accessing online tools and resources made available to them. Your plan administrator can provide videos and calculators. Lean on those but consider creating your own tools that reflect your unique brand. And communicate about them often.

But don’t stop there. Use targeted messaging, so your communications are more likely to land. Are there folks not participating in the 401(k) at all? Talk to them about any barriers and give them some options for getting started. Are some employees not contributing up to the company match? Show them how much faster their accounts could grow with higher contributions. Regular personalized statements are also a great idea.

Think about the timing of your communications too. We can’t pretend that what’s happening in the world at large doesn’t impact how employees feel about their retirement plans. If markets are volatile, talk about it. This is a perfect opportunity to build trust with your people.

2. Engaging younger employees.

Too often our retirement communications feature smiling silver foxes well on their way to a happy retirement. But if we want younger employees to participate, it’s important that they see and hear from people like themselves. Testimonials from younger employees about how and why they are planning for retirement could be featured in videos, live meetings, and more.

Millennials and Gen Zers are socially motivated. Are there ways to add social components to your outreach strategy? How about holding information sessions over lunch or happy hour? A celebration for National 401(k) Day? (Yes. That is a thing. Mark your calendar for September 8, 2023.)

3. Getting leadership involved.

Get managers and execs talking about the importance of saving for retirement. Meetings and town halls are a great opportunity for this, as are one-on-one meetings. Ask mentors to share their own experiences. If you want to truly create a culture that cares about retirement savings as an aspect of financial well-being, leadership needs to be involved.

Getting your younger workers on board with your 401(k) requires cultivating a culture that supports and encourages their participation. If you need help developing an engagement strategy for your 401(k) plan, contact us at The O’Keefe Group.

Why Communicators Are Still Feeling Burned Out + What You Can Do About It

By Danielle Foley, Senior Communication Consultant 

These days, workers in every field are experiencing an uptick in stress and burnout – and internal communicators are no exception. Since the beginning of the pandemic, communicators have been faced with an almost daily onslaught of new challenges and commitments. These challenges continue to take their toll on communicators’ mental health.

Workers are more stressed than ever.

Communicator burnout is part of a national trend. The American Psychological Association’s 2021 Work and Well-Being Survey found that 79% of employees had experienced work-related stress in the month before the survey. Thirty-six percent reported cognitive weariness; 32% reported emotional exhaustion; and 44% reported physical fatigue—that’s a 38% increase since 2019.

In communication roles, added stress comes from a constant flow of new and complex problems, changing priorities, workplace culture issues, and the inability to truly disconnect from work. Here are a few more reasons we’ve heard from communicators about why they are burning out. If these reasons sound familiar to you, we’ve got a few ideas for how to manage the stress that comes with them, too.

– An increased expectation to communicate “non-corporate” messages

Over the past few years, there’s been added pressure on companies to weigh in on issues of social justice, climate change, reproductive rights, and more. It’s a tricky road, for sure. Yet more and more employees – especially younger generations – now expect their employer to take a position. It’s put internal communicators smack dab in the middle of these issues – which is stressful in and of itself – and has also tremendously increased their workload.

So what can you do?

Upskill: take advantage of conferences and workshops that offer specialized training for communicating in this new environment. That way you can help guide leadership in developing a playbook to tackle these issues in a planful, thoughtful way before the next one rolls around.

 

– Too many cooks in the kitchen

This problem isn’t new. Communicators have been struggling to limit the number of reviewers and late-breaking edits since the dawn of time! But with the increased volume of work and ad-hoc requests related to COVID, return-to-office policies, diversity issues, etc., it’s just not tenable to let everyone share their two cents, right up to, and sometimes beyond, the publication deadline. Of course, it’s not a bad thing to have a more inclusive mindset when it comes to communications in the workplace. But it is important to recognize that getting something out the door takes more time –and more work—than it used to.

So what can you do?

Lean on these tried-and-true techniques:

  • Create a detailed review schedule from the get-go. Update it regularly and be firm about deadlines.
  • Be explicit about what kind of edits you would like from each reviewer (e.g., please review for accuracy, not style). This article has some great tips.
  • Choose a “final arbiter” from the team who can intervene if there are differing opinions among reviewers.

 

– The battle of best practices

Just trying to get a message out to the organization can be stressful. For example, as communicators, we know that short, direct reads are more effective than long, detailed explanations. But often, subject matter experts want all of their content to be included, regardless of the medium, the audience, and what we know to be best practices. So emails run to multiple screens and benefits enrollment guides read like novels. And every time this happens, a little voice inside every communicator’s head is silently screaming, “Why are we bothering? No one is going to read this!”

So what can you do?

Arm yourself with data so the next time you recommend a course of action, you’ve got the facts to back it up. Have click-thru stats and open rates at the ready to determine the best vehicle. Conduct regular communication audits or pulse surveys to gauge how employees like to receive communication. With so many employees still working remotely, communication methods are changing rapidly. So make sure you stay on top of the trends.

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Stress will always be a part of our lives – and to a certain extent it’s what keeps us motivated to do our best work. But when stress tips into burnout, both mental and physical health can suffer. The demands on communicators are unlikely to diminish anytime soon. But as you deal with these demands, we hope you can use these tips to take back some control and advocate for your own well-being. And if you’re looking for additional support on communications strategy or execution, reach out to The O’Keefe Group for help.

 

Not Feeling the Hybrid Vibe Yet? Here’s How to Get Into the Zone.

Catherine Morris, Senior Communication Consultant & Writer

Hybrid work was a necessary response for many businesses during the pandemic and the fact is that in a post-pandemic world, hybrid is the new normal. In September a new wave of employees began commuting back into the office. We saw evidence of the change in Zoom meetings, where office dress returned on screen and groups attending calls were sitting in conference rooms.

The physical side of hybrid work is obvious, but for many, the new hybrid mindset is still a work in progress. Employees have gotten used to the benefits of working from home. They don’t necessarily see an upside to long commutes, wearing pants with zippers, and eight straight hours of being “on” for their colleagues.

If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. Back in May, Apple employees got together to write a scathing letter to management about their resistance to mandated in-person work days. And in July, one of our clients shared with us the challenges of luring people back to the office. But despite these obstacles, most of us recognize that hybrid work is here to stay.

So how do you get yourself into the right mindset for hybrid work? Here are a few suggestions that will help.

 

Accentuate the positive

When employees were sent home to work, they rose to the challenge. They adapted and got good at working remotely. They also may have gained a new sense of work/home balance, getting time and money back that was previously spent on commuting. With many businesses moving back to the office, it’s easy to get stuck behind the benefits of working remotely. Instead, try focusing on the upside to being in the office:  the opportunity to collaborate, cross-pollinate ideas, and build the informal engagement that contributes to your company culture and helps you deliver great results.

Create a pre-commute ritual

Learn to make the most of working from home and in the office. The goal is to do both well. Make prepping for your commute easy. Create a checklist of what you need when you pack up to go to the office and set yourself up for the commute the night before you go. For example, make sure you’ve got gas in the car or that you’ve purchased your commuter train ticket ahead of time. Set out your snacks, pack up your laptop, and charge your phone. Reach out to other colleagues who are also making the transition and ask them to share their best practices for simplifying the shifts from home office to work.

Focus on the outcomes

After two years of upheaval, it’s time to refocus on the work at hand. Once you’ve established a new routine, you can think about your performance. Check in with your manager about your short and long-term goals and seek out opportunities for growth, whether they are in person, remote, or a combination of the two.

Look forward

Learn from the journey you’ve been on but focus on the future. The fact is that things are different. We’re not returning to where we were before the pandemic. The world has moved on and a new state of work is emerging. Take a moment to stop, reflect, and build the mindset and behaviors that will help you be successful going forward.

Managers note: communicate communicate communicate

If you’re managing people, communication is a difference-maker. Be clear with your team about what is expected. If you’re operating in a hybrid model, be specific about the number of days they need to be in the office and how the team will work. Where there’s flexibility, make that known as well. And this is not a one-and-done message. Be sure to communicate your message, and then repeat it. A lot. This will hold both you and your team accountable to the new structures, and minimize the distraction of uncertainty, so your team can embrace the opportunity that hybrid work enables.

Finally, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to hybrid work that will satisfy everyone. Whatever a company decides will undoubtedly evolve. Adaptability is key to hybrid work success. Stay open and flexible. Get good at change because it’s one thing we can all count on.