All posts by Rick Cole

About Rick Cole

Rick is a Social Media Strategist and Senior Consultant at Smith. Contact the author directly

Why do I work here?

Employees need help answering this important question.

“Why am I here?” might be a bit existential for our Ideas page. However, “Why do I work here?” is a critical question for everyone engaged in employee communication.

It’s also a question a lot of employees are asking these days:

  • Employee turnover is at an all-time high.
  • Millions of Baby Boomers have left the workforce.
  • The job market remains extremely tight.
  • Media are reporting resistance to back-to-office initiatives. 
  • Social media highlight and distort employee dissatisfaction. 

In tumultuous times like these, questioning one’s job/career choices makes sense. Even in the best of times, it’s healthy for employees to periodically review their career track and job satisfaction. 

“Why do I work here?” is a question that can lead to an employee’s sense of purpose, commitment and growth. Research has shown that a sense of purpose can be linked to traits found in the best employees—resilience, initiative and engagement. It’s also a question employees often can’t answer without input from their leaders.  

Note: Higher rates of engagement and purpose are usually found in upper-level executives, who have a bird’s eye view into the organization’s purpose and progress. Sharing that view and connecting the employee’s role to it on an ongoing basis is critical. 

Without understanding this connection between their role and the organization’s purpose and progress, it’s nearly impossible for an employee to answer the question “Why do I work here?” satisfactorily.    

That’s why every employee needs to hear clearly and frequently about:

  •  The organization’s defined and declared purpose.
  • What progress is being made toward the organization’s purpose.
  • How their role helps achieve the organization’s purpose.

Without good, ongoing information tying the first two bullets to the third, the employee is left to surmise the value of their role based on various implications and speculations. 

With such under-informed calculations, it’s often too easy for the employee to view a job change as greener pastures. An employee who understands their role within the organization’s purpose, and the organization’s purpose within the world, is better equipped to realistically evaluate alternative situations, such as a job change or even retirement.

They’re also better equipped to create their own unique and personal sense of purpose and happiness within their current organization.  

Smith is here to help with your employee communications. It’s what we do.  

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Take a Bigger Bite

When snackable content won't satisfy, consider long-format podcasts.

We’ve all heard about snackable content⏤six-second videos, memes, SMS surveys, etc.⏤short, dynamic, often interactive, content packets meant to entertain or entice audiences toward further engagement. All good. 

Snackable is a huge part of social media content marketing. It’s especially effective for mobile, consumer audiences. We create snackable content for our clients to help drive employee engagement and to push specific campaigns, like annual enrollment or wellness initiatives. For internal audiences, the goal of snackable content is not entertainment. It is to promote long-form content designed to forward important organizational goals. 

Think of it more as an appetizer. Because sometimes you need a little more to chew on.  

Slow down, take time, dive deep. 

Only small bits of information are presented in snackable content. However, many topics worth communicating to employee audiences are significant⏤situated in organizational history, strategic thought and planning. Consider the communicative value that is lost when much of the exposition and reason underlying decisions is left blank. We are living in an age when audiences want more information, not less. The same is true for employees. Better information, better engagement.  

Sure, long-form content takes a little longer to consume, but the payoff is worth it. There’s time to dig a little deeper. There’s time for managers and employees to broaden their perspectives on the inner workings, challenges and strengths of your organization. 

There’s time for long-format podcasting.

A long-format podcast engages the listener with conversations that either thoroughly cover a topic or continue as ongoing discussions. There are many ways these conversations can be formatted. They can be 10–15-minute episodes serialized for as many as necessary to cover the topic; regularly scheduled ongoing conversations lasting 20 to 30 minutes; or 60-90 minute panel discussions about very technical subjects. Time is not the issue. Depth is. 

Side-by-Side (a demo)

Below I found two pieces of content that promote long-term savings for and financial independence for younger people. The first is from financial trainers and authors, MyFi, Inc. They created a “snackable” video illustrating a familiar truism of saving and compounding interest to promote their book and services. The second is a podcast episode from the “About to Launch” podcast, a very successful financial podcast created and hosted by Jamila Souffrant. 

Check them both out and consider which one would best drive employee participation in a 401(k) or other ESP. 

Push here to play short video.

Podcasting is now.

When they first started, podcasts were an obscure way to listen to audio files on devices, like Apple iPods. Early content was generally repurposed from public radio, sports radio and other talk radio programs. Universities also made educational resources available in the form of lectures and seminar discussions.  

Two things happened over the past fifteen years to help push podcasts to the upper tier of popular digital content. First, there was the explosion of smart phones. Remember it wasn’t that long ago when most people only had cell phones. Then came the DIY movement popularized on YouTube, whereby everyday folk demonstrate their talents, discuss their interests and chime in on subjects they care about. Podcasting, both video and audio, emerged within these trends. 

Only five years ago, creating a great-sounding corporate podcast meant renting, or creating, a designated recording studio space. This made podcasting expensive, unwieldy and difficult to coordinate.

Today, podcasting is very accessible. Technology has evolved on similar tracks to other cloud-based collaborative tools like Zoom. Smith uses technology that allows our clients to create great-sounding podcasts from the comfort of their office or their home. The recording is done remotely, with Smith production staff and consultants. Prep time is minimal and editing tools allow us to turn around complete episodes quickly. We also host client podcasts on secure, private platforms so client content is only viewed by intended audiences.    

Where podcasts can help.

Areas within your organization that require deep knowledge, cross-departmental understanding or increased transparency are excellent candidates for podcast conversations. 

Setting Direction: Top-level decisions are often disseminated through various indirect channels resulting in incomplete information and decisions that appear devoid of supporting facts and logic. A regular C-suite podcast can put everyone on the same page, understanding not only the direction of the company but how and why a decision was reached.

Educating Employees: Employee education is a never-ending process. Information is only part of the education process. Other important aspects of effective learning involve presentation, accessibility and engagement. Whether the subject is changing processes, organizational transformation or employee benefits, creating a podcast can help support your internal educational goals.   

Increasing Collaboration: Does your left hand know what your right is doing? In large organizations, the answer is very often “no.” New ideas emerge when new inputs and perspectives meet existing knowledge. Opportunities to collaborate toward innovation are often missed because of a lack of cross-departmental communication. Challenges like a silo-mentality that ends in groupthink and even inter-departmental obstruction can be transformed through conversations dedicated to cooperation. 

Five Styles of Podcasts

Interview: The interview is a very familiar style of podcast. A host asks questions of guests, often subject matter experts. (Clients have used these to help explain difficult legal and investment issues surrounding retirement.) The person conducting the interview needs a solid understanding of the subject to get the most from the guest. Loosely scripting these talks can be very useful. 

Panel: This style of podcast is well suited to highly technical issues and for collaboration. Panel discussions should have a moderator/host and subject matter experts with different perspectives. One key benefit of the panel discussion is that knowledge is spread across various panelists. This takes the content load off any single person, and it often leads to surprising new perspectives and shared understandings. 

Solo: While this style has the advantage of being the easiest to schedule, produce and edit, the presenter has a difficult job. The solo presenter must hold the attention of the audience without any help. Unless you have a very talented speaker on staff, this podcast is best suited for CEO or other high-level executives. However, beware of over-exposure for key executives. A frequency of quarterly or monthly podcasts is best.

Ongoing Conversations: Unlike a serialized topical discussion, these podcast don’t have an end. The idea is to have two or three trusted voices that become familiar fixtures within the organization. Ideally, they each bring unique, yet complementary, perspectives. For example, one person may continually take the side of the customer, while the other the side of production or marketing. Together they work through challenging issues from familiar perspectives. 

Any department can host its own podcast; e.g., HR, Compliance, Marketing, Research & Development, etc. Because audiences can be very targeted, there is no need for the entire organization to hear every show. Depending on the amount of information you need to cover and the pace of change, weekly or monthly episodes can be a part of employees’ lives.  

Repurposed material: This style of podcast allows you to assemble company talks, learning sessions, outside presentations, videos and other material that different departments generate. Transforming this existing content can eventually create a singular archive for preserving organizational memory and tracking transformation. 

Getting Started

Smith can help your organization strategize and implement your internal podcasts. Contact us; we’ll listen to your specific needs and give you a more detailed presentation of our ideas and capabilities.

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ABCs of a 21st Century Writer

Prose, Pixels and Persuasion

Audience

Start with your audience—what they know, what they need to know and how they make sense of the world.

Brevity

Tight copy is the “soul of wit,” and it takes twice as long to write.

Context

Pre-existing knowledge and conditions dictate how an audience receives messages. Incorporate context to add layers of meaning. Ignore context and risk failing to connect.

Drafts

The third draft is always better than the first or second. The fifth? Not so much. Exert the right amount of effort and resist obsession.

The Greeks knew some stuff.

Ethos

Beyond the prevailing zeitgeist, every corporate culture, marketplace and social media following taps into specific memories, values and language to make meaning. Persuasiveness often hinges on these.

Feedback Loops

Natural feedback signals are lost when we use any media—from writing books to broadcasting video. Many of today’s technologies, like social media, are including ways to measure audience reactions. Click-through rates, watch-times and other social media listening techniques act virtually to tell us what’s resonating and why.

Graphics

Graphic design increases readability and keeps our messages relevant in fast-moving media environments.

Modern readers unconsciously judge our visual production values against everything else they encounter.

Hyperlinks

Hypertext is the most underappreciated and the most powerful writing developments in our lifetime.

Hypermedia de-clutters our prose while adding unimaginable richness to our documents. Your digital composition can unlock the world with the right hyperlinks.

Interface

Our documents are read on a myriad of screens—some are the size of matchbooks, others the size of walls. Anticipate which interfaces your audience uses to design features like graphics, audio, video and interactivity.

Juxtaposition

Compare and contrast to help delineate and distinguish.

Knowledge Management

Communication increasingly means managing information flows, platform integration and data analysis. Technology and numbers can often intimidate communicators. It shouldn’t.

Written language is a profoundly complicated technology. If you can master English, spreadsheets should be like coloring books.

Laughter

Comedy is best left to professionals.

“There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.” — Erma Bombeck

Modality

Digital communication is beautiful because we can incorporate any or all of these modes into our documents:

  • Text is great for brevity and/or complexity.
  • Video captures short attention spans.
  • Audio contains subtle cues and emotional richness.
  • Interactivity engages the mind, the will and the body.

Negativity

It’s not all sunshine and lemonade. When you say something important, someone else is likely disagree.

Anticipate possible negative reactions and integrate effective responses when possible. On social media, always have strategies for dealing with negative posts. Especially learn how to deal with trolls. (Hint: Don’t feed them.)

No Trolls!

Obviousness

Don’t do the thinking for your audience. You’ll bore them and lose them.

PowerPoint

I know we have to use PowerPoint. But must we use it badly?

When you use it, avoid the well-known sins that lead to glassy looks and ineffective presentations.

Questions

For interest, create questions in the minds of your audience; questions they must answer for themselves.

For clarity, answer the questions your audience might ask if they could.

Repeat

If it needs to be said, say it again and then say it again.

Then say it a different way. Then repeat it. Then recap, referencing the first three times you said it.

Cut a groove into an audience’s memory that isn’t easily erased.

Speed

Quick turnarounds, instantaneous responses and on-the-go content development are creating pressures for communicators to be faster and faster.

It’s amazing and exhilarating to open a mobile app and produce a fully formatted video that posts 5 minutes after initial inception. It’s also exhausting and sometimes reckless to move at the pace afforded by these platforms.

Tap the brakes for better content.

Timing

Impatience can cause an initiative to fail on the launch pad.

Measure the moment, looking for what the Greeks called kairos (the fullness of time, the pregnant moment). This is especially important with campaigns where information builds upon itself or momentum is critical.

Unaddressed Issues

When you choose not to directly address issues that are important to your audience, it’s often helpful to signal that you’ve made a conscious choice and are not guilty of ignorance or oversight.

Voice

Professionals are often required to slip into their client’s voice rather than to find their own.

We all have a style. We just have to open our mouth and sing to find it.

Words

I love words. You love words. The right word is a delicious morsel; the crafted sentence a feast.

It may seem that technology is pushing words aside, but fear not. Words accomplish things AI never will. In the hands of artisans (smiths), words reach into our memories, touch our hearts and create our possible worlds.

X-rated

Always avoid blue jokes and references (see Laughter).

Yell

SOMETIMES IT’S GOOD TO GO BIG!!!

Zig when others Zag.

If everyone is using digital, it may be time to mail a beautifully crafted, glossy print piece.

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Building a Green Website

An Earth Day consideration of UX.

Today is Earth Day and a perfect time to publish this last in a series of posts about designing your next website with a focus on User Experience (UX 2022). 

Environmental impact being a critical issue for everyone and every endeavor, it’s good to consider ways to mitigate any negative impact caused by our design choices. 

Digital’s Huge Aggregate Impact

Computers don’t have exhaust pipes. So, sustainability isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when building a website. Yet, the collective impact of communication technology is substantial.

While the aggregate footprint of all computers is huge, an individual organization’s share is likely miniscule. So ignoring the problem may be tempting. Which would be a missed opportunity to be part of the solution and/or raise awareness and engagement on behalf of the environment. 

Tiny and Incremental Steps

It’s true that your individual website generates a tiny negative footprint and any design choices you make will only help on the tiniest of margins. The reverse also is true. The impact of individual web design choices can add up to a substantially positive aggregated impact. 

As a general design principle, eliminating “interaction friction” means fewer steps, smoother transitions and less computation, all leading to using less energy and generating less heat/friction. 

The following are some choices you can make to reduce interaction friction:

Be a Solution Minded Organization

From a cost perspective, building a new, greener website, or replacing the functionality in your current site just to make it more efficient will not save money. Typically, organizations rebuild a site every five years or so.  If cost-saving is the objective, the next scheduled rebuild will be the best time to incorporate more Earth friendly design choices. 

Beyond the material benefits, however, there is goodwill value in a greener website. Your Earth friendly design choices tell customers, employees and other stakeholders that your organization is both aware and part of the solution. 

Just like tiny energy savings add up to a real impact, tiny individual efforts on behalf of the environment can add up to entire communities and societies that value the environment–when everyone does their part.

UX 2022 Series 

In 2022, a good UX has become the standard for good website design. In this series, we’ve looked closely at important UX features, how they work, and how they can improve a website. All articles in this series can be accessed via the links below.

UX 2022 (An introduction.)

Core Web Vitals: Googles three essentials to user experience. 

Thumbs Up! The ergonomics of great mobile UX.

Speed: Slow websites are quickly abandoned.

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