Category Archives: Organizational Culture

The Disneyfication of Work

Can employee experience transform the workplace into a totally immersive WorkWorld?

The experience starts when this package arrives at your house.

When Disney was developing the MagicBand, they faced plenty of design challenges. One challenge in particular was what the MagicBand readers at each ride’s access point would look like.

The team designing the MagicBand system wanted a waist-high, modern-looking stand featuring the outline of Mickey Mouse’s head. To access a ride, a park guest would touch the Mickey on their MagicBand to the Mickey on the reader. If the reader’s Mickey glowed green, the guest could enter the ride. If it glowed blue, the guest would need assistance. (Using a red light was a no-no.)  

The “Mickey to Mickey” access points were elegant and intuitive, and the uniform design of the readers ensured guests would recognize them no matter where they encountered them in the park.

Debate to Excellence

Reportedly, Disney’s Imagineers weren’t happy with this solution. The Imagineers are the creative powerhouses responsible for the design and construction of the company’s theme parks. They argued that the MagicBand readers would disrupt the immersive experience of each attraction. The shiny, high-tech scanners might fit in well at Space Mountain, but would you really expect to find such a thing on the grounds of an ancient, haunted mansion?

These were two valid but competing perspectives on what would deliver the right experience for guests.

If you’re doing employee experience right at your organization, these are probably the kinds of debates you’ll be having.

Link the Employee Experience to Business Goals

Disney invested $1 billion in MagicBands because they wanted park guests spending less time waiting in line and more time buying and creating memories. 

What do you want employees to do less and/or more of and how does the experience of working at your organization contribute to or inhibit that? 

While “employee experience” may seem like a new and trendy topic, recognizing the business value of a good employee experience is not.

Way back in 1995, the Harvard Business Review published an article called Putting the Service-Profit Chain to Work. In it, the authors wrote: 

Profit and growth are stimulated primarily by customer loyalty. Loyalty is a direct result of customer satisfaction. Satisfaction is largely influenced by the value of services provided to customers. Value is created by satisfied, loyal, and productive employees. Employee satisfaction, in turn, results primarily from high-quality support services and policies that enable employees to deliver results to customers.

The Service-Profit Chain

Support services & policiesSatisfied, loyal, productive employeesCustomer ValueCustomer SatisfactionCustomer LoyaltyProfit & Growth

They went on to say that the “internal quality of a working environment contributes most to employee satisfaction. Internal quality is measured by the feelings that employees have toward their jobs, colleagues, and companies … Internal quality is also characterized by the attitudes that people have toward one another and the way people serve each other inside the organization.”

A growing number of organizations are tapping the proven ROI of a better employee experience. But, at the moment, few companies can claim an advantage in this area. In his book, The Employee Experience Advantage (Wiley, 2017), Jacob Morgan classifies just six percent of the companies he analyzed as “experiential.” This means there’s an opportunity for you to help set your organization apart … Now, if you can just figure out whether your employee badge readers should be shiny and modern or dusty and cobwebbed …

By the way, the MagicBand designers and the Imagineers ultimately arrived at a compromise. The readers would have both consistent features, like the Mickey icon, as well as thematic elements to help them blend in with each attraction. 

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8 Removable Barriers to an HR Communication Strategy

Common Roadblocks and Practical Countermeasures

You’re ready to roll out a great new employee program. 

You send out some emails, do a few presentations and generate some interest. 

But soon, the buzz dies down and the whole thing is practically forgotten. 

Sound familiar?

Based on what I hear from clients, this scenario is all too common. No matter how good you think the communications are, they don’t ignite lasting change. 

There are many reasons why a particular communication or campaign fails, but I think it becomes more difficult for these efforts to blossom if they lack fertile, strategic ground in which to take root. 

Without a comprehensive strategy, coming up with a cool, new communication is like trying to invent a new traffic sign without abiding by the MUTCD. 

Below, I highlight a few of the most common roadblocks I encounter that keep organizations from having a solid HR communication strategy. 

Most of these roadblocks can be difficult or even impossible for a single individual or team to overcome. So, I’m going to suggest some practical countermeasures you can take at a small scale that can help. 

#1: HR Communication Planning Is Siloed

You have your own communication budget and you do your own planning — and so do all the other centers of excellence within HR. This is a missed opportunity. When everyone is doing their own thing, good ideas, tools, channels and resources are not being leveraged for the benefit of all. Many of the other problems in this list start to emerge as a result of this siloed approach.

Countermeasure: Collaboration. If you have no central communication resource, gather up your HR colleagues who are similarly tasked with communication responsibilities, and form a squad or guild. Get together regularly to discuss your needs and to share ideas and solutions.

#2: There Is No Cohesive HR Identity

If there’s no cohesive approach, there can be no cohesive identity. As a result, every campaign coming out of HR is a one-off effort — another piece of junk mail vying for attention in a crowded corporate inbox. 

One of the biggest eye-opening moments during an engagement is when we reveal to a client the results of a communication audit. All we have to do is put a few samples of the organization’s communications side by side and everyone sees immediately how disjointed they are.

Lacking a cohesive identity will undermine your efforts to get employees to recognize and fully appreciate everything your organization has to offer. It also means that, with every campaign, you’re spending precious time and resources (or, worse, none at all) figuring out what your content should look and sound like.

Countermeasure: Communication guidelines. If you can’t get help from someone with brand development experience, you can still create a simple set of guidelines that document the verbal, visual and experiential identity of your content and communications. Pull together a few diverse communication samples that you think best represent the program you own. Find the similarities in how they look and sound. Focus on what makes them distinct from other company communications but still aligned with your organization’s brand. Distill it down to a page or two of words and images that literally show someone how to create content and communications for you. Then, make sure all future media align with these examples.

#3: Your Intranet Is a Mess

You can’t rely on your section of the intranet to reach employees because employees don’t rely on the intranet as a source of useful information.

This cycle must be broken.

How to fix this problem depends on several issues, some of which are complex and technical.

Countermeasure: Content management. Don’t dismiss or ignore your intranet. It should be a reliable source of up-to-date, authoritative information. Depending on your platform, it might also foster collaboration and audience feedback. We typically recommend performing an audit of content, processes and requirements, and then developing site maps and process maps. This is not an easy or quick step but, in the long run, it will make managing content on an enterprise-wide scale easier. Imagine, for example, that you have to update site content about your organization’s compensation programs. Wouldn’t it be helpful to have a single document that shows you where all that content resides and how to manage versions across employee types and geographies?

#4: HR Lacks Communication Resources

Quite simply, you lack the time, money, people, skills and tools to do it all.

Countermeasure: Partnerships and/or simplicity. Of course, we here at Smith would love to become your go-to communication partner. But, if you can’t always engage professional help, be realistic about your capacity and capabilities. It’s better to have a one-page intranet site that is accurate than to have a complex navigation scheme filled with out-of-date content and empty pages. Use Word and PowerPoint templates to simplify document creation. If a colleague has a good document or presentation, use it as a model. If someone else in your organization engineered a good campaign, talk them about what worked and copy it.

#5: Employee Audiences Can’t Be Targeted Effectively 

As I cover in another post, if you want your audience to pay attention, you have to offer them something of value. It’s tough to do that if you don’t know who you’re talking to or you’re talking to the wrong people. 

Countermeasure: Audience segmentation. Get to know your audiences and segment them as much as you can. If you’re making a change that only affects full-time, benefit-eligible employees, be sure you have an email distribution list of only those employees. If you have employees in different geographies, be sure the intranet is serving them relevant content. Use surveys and other sources of data to create audience profiles and personas so you can communicate with greater clarity and relevance.

#6: The Metrics Are Missing

If you’re sending out a communication or creating content, you’re doing it to affect behavior. It’s important to clarify what that behavior is and why you want to change it. Not only will this help you measure the success of the communication, it will help you craft content that is targeted, easier to understand and more actionable.

Countermeasure: Metrics. We were recently asked by a client to update content supporting an employee recognition program. Among our first questions were: How do you know there’s a problem with the current content? How will you know if the new content makes a difference? Even if your best answer is, “We get a lot of questions from managers about it,” find some way to quantify the impact.

#7: Available Communication Channels Are Being Ignored

Email, PowerPoint and the intranet are not the only ways to reach your employees. 

I was trapped in a traffic jam on I-4 recently on the way to Disney World with my family. Right next to us was a box truck emblazoned on all sides with ads for an auto accident attorney. How apropos. 

Think about your experience outside of the workplace. Consider all the creative ways marketers deliver content to you as close as possible to the moment when you can act on it. 

Countermeasure: Process maps and journey maps. You can only create a successful channel strategy when you really know what you’re asking the audience to do, what they need to do it right and when they need it. Process maps and journey maps can help you evaluate all the steps, tools, technologies, people and places involved. They can also help you pinpoint where employees might struggle. You can use this information to figure out where, when and how to deploy content throughout the process. Be flexible and be creative. You might be surprised at where this process leads you.

#8: HR Source Material Is a Bunch of Slides 

PowerPoint can be a great presentation tool, but it’s not a great place to articulate a strategy. When you create content in PowerPoint, you think in PowerPoint. That means thinking in choppy bullet points instead of thoughtful sentences and paragraphs. 

A lack of source documentation also makes the discovery process more difficult. Instead of handing someone a guide or summary to read, you have to go digging for answers and schedule “brain dumps.” This can literally add weeks to a project schedule.

Countermeasure: Formal documentation. You can keep it short and simple, but try to capture basic details, such as eligibility, a description of the program, websites, contact information, associated metrics and key messages. This is not merely an exercise in discipline or formality. This document becomes content you can later repurpose in presentations, memos, websites and more.

Are any of these roadblocks keeping you from having a killer HR communication strategy? Are you dealing with any others? We’d love to hear from you.

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Putting Games to Work

Gamers’ Pwn Scientists with Epic Win in Molecular Biology

Can games really change the world for the better? A few weeks ago, I finished the book Reality Is Broken by Jane McGonigal, PhD, a world-renowned designer of alternate reality games. In the book, McGonigal argues that gaming can lead the way to solving real-life problems.


There are some interesting takeaways for managers and employers of all kinds. For example, badges, or “leveling up,” could offer employees new forms of recognition and achievement that can engage them at work and encourage them to grow.

Already we’re seeing companies use games as a form of marketing. One example is Dodge’s hide-and-seek campaign for the Journey. The car company hid three of these vehicles around the country; find one and it’s yours.

But who has effectively used a game to solve a problem, as McGonigal describes, and not just as a marketing gimmick? Well, these guys have … Online Gamers Crack AIDS Enzyme Puzzle.

The games McGonigal explores in her book encourage collaboration, give people challenges that test their skills and provide recognition for reaching the next level of achievement. But, applying game theory doesn’t mean employees will trade in their drills for joysticks.

As a communicator, I see games as a useful metaphor, a new interface with work, a new context and fresh language for the work experience. In this sense, gaming seems to be an effective way to communicate the personal value of work to the individual. I mean, wouldn’t it be more interesting to “beat a high score” than “reach a quota”? Would you rather be a “Level 5 Project Management Guru” or a “PMO Coordinator”? The idea is to apply to work the elements of gaming that are shown to engage players for hours on end in tasks that, when you get down to it, are needlessly difficult and have no material benefit other than a feeling of total immersion.

Could re-imagining work as a game at your company help you untap your employees’ full potential? If carefully designed, the answer seems to be yes. If gamers did in three weeks what scientists had been unable to do for years, it might be worth popping in a quarter and giving it a try.

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Recognizing Employee Achievement with Badges

Badges Recognize Accomplishment, Expertise, Authority

Badges are a well-known feature of gaming and social media, but they’re nothing new. The Boy Scouts have been using them to encourage youngsters to learn new skills and rack up achievements for a century.

And, of course, law enforcement has long used badges as a symbol of authentic authority. Badges have proven their worth in recognizing progress and conveying expertise. So why don’t more employers use them as part of their performance management programs?

In many performance management programs, you set goals at the beginning of the year and then get assessed on your achievement at the end of the year. If you’re lucky, you might get a checkpoint along the way.

Based on your final assessment, you get a score and maybe a raise. That’s it. No one else knows how you did or what you excelled at.

Badges could be a symbol of recognition just shy of a raise or promotion (or a supplement). They could serve as acknowledgment of progress. Your company could award a badge for enhancing a relevant skill, learning a new one or living up to a company value or competency.

The value of these badges is not only in recognizing the employee’s achievement but in identifying that employee to others as an expert or authority in a certain field or skill. Becoming known as the go-to person for “project management”, for example, would further reinforce the employee’s strengths and give your company its own resident expert.

A well-defined set of badges could help focus employees’ efforts while letting them pursue unique personal development paths. Where do you put these badges? You could place them on employees’ online profiles (check out what the FDA has done) or add them to email autosignatures. Physical badges, like ribbons or certificates, would also work, but would only be effective in organizations where employees share space. For one client, we recently created a series of removable/restickable laptop stickers; colors indicate what level of leader bestowed it.

Online publishers and game developers think badges will attract users. The Boy Scouts know a badge will encourage a young man to help an old lady cross the street. By giving us lasting, sharable recognition, badges can unlock the desire we all have to take on challenges, accrue achievements and be known for what we’re good at.

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