Turn Down the Noise and Turn Up the Volume
The recent Women in Strategy Summit in New York City brought together an amazing group of 150 executive business professionals from the fields of communication, consumer insights, marketing, product development and technology. It was a great experience being able to listen to influential speakers from organizations like PepsiCo, Bank of America, Forbes, Siemens, Pfizer, Wyndham and the Girl Scouts.
I also was thrilled to be interviewed and share a little bit about my story as well as talk about why women bring a different perspective to management, leadership and business. But the event was especially meaningful for me because I had the opportunity to conduct a fireside chat with a truly remarkable and talented business leader, Susan Warner, Senior Vice President, Internal Communications at Mastercard.
Our conversation was titled “Turn Down the Noise and Turn Up the Volume: How to Repair Employee Communication for Business Impact.”
Technology has completely changed how we communicate in our personal lives. That means employee expectations and behaviors have shifted as well. The problem is the business world has not kept pace with this evolution. The result is communication in the enterprise can be broken. And it can cost companies millions of dollars annually in lost productivity.
Warner gave us her insights to successfully modernize employee communication and demonstrate real business impact. It was a great discussion, and I wanted to share her thoughts with a wider audience. Here’s a shortened transcript of our question-and-answer session.
Q: As technology has changed the way we communicate in our everyday lives, the corporate communicator role seems to be undergoing a revolution. How does communication as a business function differ today than it did 10 or even 20 years ago?
A: Twenty years ago, it was a case of one-way communication. Everything was push-down. Then it became two-way communication with the ability to create a conversation. Today, it’s real-time communication with mobile. In communications, we’re no longer the sole creators of content. Employees can, and should, lead the conversations.
Q: When it comes to employee communication, what is the most important outcome? What is the biggest challenge? And why do we need to be thinking about this now?
A: It’s important that our employees are truly engaged with the content because that’s how they are learning. It gives them a real understanding of our strategy and priorities. But most importantly, they know how their jobs fit into helping our company execute the strategy. It shows them their value and importance to the organization. I see the biggest challenge is still in reaching them. If you are a company with remote workers who are not chained to a desktop, there are serious challenges to overcome. Something like newsletters are old school. That’s why mobile communication is so critical.
Q: Everyone seems so focused on employee engagement these days. Is that just a buzzword? What does it look like to have engaged employees and what is the impact on the business? Whose responsibility is it to drive this?
A: While everyone thinks it sits with HR and Internal Communications, I would argue every department owns employee engagement. Every department should be thinking about their content and their activities and ask themselves a series of questions. Is this engaging our teams? Are our employees learning what they need to know? Are they giving us their input? Do they know how their jobs ladder up to the bigger picture? Is there an open, transparent dialogue happening? Are they committed to going the extra mile to get the job done? Are they passionate about giving back on behalf of the company? I don’t think two departments can work miracles alone. To me, it’s everyone’s responsibility.
Q: What role does leadership need to take in creating employee communication and engagement that has an impact on the business? How should this be prioritized and what does that look like? New tools? New guidelines? Bigger budgets? More training?
A: Well always more budget, of course. From a tool perspective, I would say mobile communication is important. Also, intranets that take communication to the next level with personalization and AI. The key is that employees should be able to engage in the content and share it themselves.
Q: You are a big believer in data and measurement. How should people be thinking about measuring the outcome of employee communication? What should we measure? How do we leverage data and insights for business benefit?
A: My philosophy is that if you can’t measure it, don’t do it. Outputs can be great information – the number of page views, number of comments. Outcomes give you more insight into employee behavior. Are they willing to go the extra mile? Do they understand the company’s strategy? What was their level of information before the session? What was it afterward? Are they informed of company news and happenings? The answers to those questions are where you derive important insights.
Q: Mastercard is a large organization in a regulated industry with employees all over the world. What is your team’s strategy to align all those people with totally different jobs? How do you create relevant, engaging content across the company?
A: We can do a lot from the center. But we also have to respect that every region is different. What works in Latin America might not work in the Middle East. We create the global internal communication strategy with that in mind. What’s important is that we find common ground. All employees love the stories that go behind the win. They love profiles on individuals. They love this series we call the Rumor Mill – where employees can send in anonymous questions and get answers. Find what works and then keep it going. But also flip things on its ear every now and then just to keep it fresh. Just because it worked in 2014 doesn’t mean it’s going to work still in 2018. Rev things up!
Q: We are at this Women in Strategy Summit and we both know that whatever industry you are in, especially in a company like Mastercard, being conversant and literate on technology is crucial. What are you doing at MasterCard to build this literacy for the next generation?
This is one of my favorite topics. I’m passionate about our Girls4Tech program where we invite young women to Mastercard to learn about all the different technology career paths they could explore. Fraud detection, cryptology, digital convergence, big data . . . most people don’t know these careers exist, and we are exposing a new generation of women to these possibilities.
Q: What does the future workplace look like? How will we align employees? How will we empower them? Will everything be about data and measurement?
A: I think the future workplace will be kind of like smartphones – better and faster with lots of data behind it.
Q: As Boomers retire, the DNA of the workforce changes and employee expectations shift. Technology also continues to disrupt how we do things. What should business leaders do today to foster alignment, goal-oriented communication and employee engagement in the future?
A: We’re at such an exciting time. I’m a Boomer in a world of Millennials and I find it so much fun and energizing. The best things we can do is to be transparent, be open to ideas, be willing to change things up, trial and fail … and win. The evolution of communication certainly has changed what and how we do things. But nothing ever beats a good story. So, we have to continue to hone our storytelling craft – whether it’s writing an article, creating a video, digital graphic, podcast, or embracing new technologies as they come down the pike. The form might change. But connecting and engaging employees will still be an art. Yes, it will be influenced by empirical data and by technology. But it also will continue to be impacted by our gut instincts and our passion.