Gratitude: That’s what I’m feeling right now. We come to the office every single day in the hopes of working with great people, doing meaningful work, and making a difference. And I’m delighted to say, in 2016, we did it! Thanks, in great part, to all of you.
Which is why, as we bring this year’s Open Enrollment and holiday season to its festive close, I want to give a big THANK YOU to those who’ve touched our practice, helping us do what we do. Thank you for entrusting us with your business, your time, your challenges, your opinions, your faith, your support, your ideas, and your collaborative genius. Thanks for sharing with us all the things that make you uniquely YOU. We look forward to doing it all over again next year!
Until then, have a very happy holiday season. Enjoy. Sleep in. Eat a lot. Give presents. Read a book. Hug your friends, shop the sales, and get your fill of holiday movies. Do your thing. And we’ll see you in 2017!!!
The past several months have had me operating in triple time. There has been:
- preparations for my big debut on the TEDxWilmington Women stage,
- arthroscopic knee surgery the day after, and
- leading my team through the busy Open Enrollment season.
It’s probably no surprise that, with all three in the hopper, I’m feeling a bit down this week, which is why I’m taking the time to indulge myself in writing this blog – to help you and me, truthfully, find our way through it.
Here’s a six-step plan I’ve come up with as an antidote for living in the “after” – the gray space that happens when [that big thing] is over. Perhaps it can help you too!
- Just enjoy. Take a moment to smell the roses and bask in the afterglow of your achievements. I should be embarrassed to tell you how many times a day (15 to 30) I relive the standing ovation I got after I finished my TEDx talk, but the endorphin release has got to be good for my body. I worked hard for that moment and I’m proud of it. So, I’m going to milk it for all it’s worth until everybody is super sick of hearing about it (probably happened already) – including me (not there yet)!
- Reconnect to your peaceful and, if appropriate, spiritual self. The day after my talk and surgery, I spent a lot of time on the sofa binge-watching Doctor Foster on Netflix, reading People magazine (my version of pop rocks candy), and just breathing. While it helped that I couldn’t move around too much without crutches, I still would’ve taken the time to sit, think, process, and breathe.
- Imagine big. Ahhh, here’s the fun part. What comes next? I’ve just done my first TEDx talk. My knee is finally on the mend. I’m no longer worried about finding a team member on the window ledge during Open Enrollment. It’s time to paint a picture of what’s on deck next. I say challenge yourself and go for it! (Tedx talk number two? Maybe a book? Or a fun run?)
- Manifest. People, I’m here to tell you this works! I spent an entire year picturing myself in the red circle on the TEDx stage while listening to my theme song (yes, go ahead and laugh). And viola, I applied and they accepted. Just give it a try. What we give attention, we give power. So manifest away: your employees managing their health care spending like financial whiz kids, being fluent in the language of benefits, and thanking you for such a great benefits package and clear communications.
- Let go of anything that may be standing in your way. Letting go is, in fact, the subject of my talk. (I’ll share when it’s available!) That means problem-solving around whatever external obstacles may be in your way. And, doing the internal work necessary to have the life you want.
- Make it happen when you’re ready. That does not mean waiting for all conditions to be perfect. Rather, it means that when you’re equal parts exhilarated and terrified by the thought of doing something, you’re there. And if you need the kind of help the Trion Communications team offers, we are too!
So I’ve got news: I’ve been invited to speak at a local TEDx event in October. I’m really excited about it on many levels, not the least of which is the fact that I’ve been working toward this goal for a while:
- Engaging with a speaker coach to nail down the elements of performance.
- Visualizing myself standing in the red circle of TED on stage, facing a friendly audience (yes please).
- Writing and refining a speech that meets the very deliberate 18-minute time limit, as designed by the TED engine.
I was so excited to get my formal “YES”. And then, the TEDx organizers lowered the boom: They told me I have just 10 minutes to talk. Not the 18 minutes that my speech is now. TEN.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I am super appreciative of the opportunity and ready to bring my A game, of course! But 10 is practically half of 18 and that, my friends, is the challenge.
As a writer, I’ve always known that it’s harder to write short than long—but that the end result can be most powerful. And this is no exception. You simply cannot write the same way for all lengths and mediums. In fact, writing for live performance—where you can use words AND real-time body language, facial expressions, and tone to convey information—requires different muscles and word counts than writing for video, email, traditional print, presentations, social media, and podcast.
Knowing the difference—and how to work each medium to its fullest—is what we do every day to help our clients meet the information needs of employees. Since the 21st century offers us a myriad of ways to communicate, we have to be very thoughtful and grounded in our approach.
We do that by asking a series of pointed questions up front and letting the answers guide our direction. Like, for example, who’s our audience? What do they need to know and how? What’s in the message for them? How can we meet them where they are? What can and can’t we do with the media and the time we have?
As far as my speech, I think I’m there. But it was a total rewrite. When it comes to writing short (or even long, since you want to make sure every word is working hard), sometimes it’s a matter of simply paring back a few words or playing Kerplunk with your sentences, making sure nothing falls through the cracks. But other times, it can be a matter of stepping back and rethinking things entirely.
In either case, it has to be done. And if you need help, well, you know who to call.
The end of summer can be a precarious time when it comes to communications strategy planning. A lot of our clients put it off because they don’t have their final plan decisions. And they believe they need them in order to get us going down the path of planning. But it’s just not the case.
Yes, absolutely, we need to know what’s going on so we can target the right audiences, embrace the right tactics, and develop messaging accordingly… BUT, there’s lots to talk about before any of that even happens. That’s why we bug our clients early—well before they’ve gotten approval to move forward from management committees. We know there are ways to get ahead of the game, so when the collective thumbs up come in, we’re ready to hit the ground running.
If you’re playing the waiting game right now, perhaps the things we focus on can help you get moving as well. They are as follows:
- Who are the players? After all, no man is an island when it comes to developing employee benefit communications that matter. If you can answer the following questions, you’re in good shape: Who’s in charge of communications planning? Will you handle that internally or will you need outside help (e.g., printers, designers, translation specialists, voice-over talent, us)? If you need to work with vendors, who are they and have you engaged their services or at least given them a heads up?
- What resources do you need to get the job done? I’m talking in terms of manpower, time, and dollars. If you don’t think you have or can get what you need, come up with a contingency plan for creating and executing on strategy. While it’s nice to have a lot of bells and whistles, it’s not always necessary. Sometimes a simple postcard, benefits brochure, and narrated video presentation can get the job done—at least in the short term. Think about what would work best inside your organization, lay out all your ideas, and whittle them down to the basics if necessary.
- What are best practices inside your organization? How will you share information with your various populations? What have you seen that really works? Consider where employees are and reach them there. For example, if most people sit in front of a computer, email can work just fine. If they operate in a retail or manufacturing environment, you may need to go a different route—like video, a brochure bulk-shipped to locations, or a fact sheet for managers to distribute on the floor. Don’t rule out a postcard to home if most of your employees are men since research tells us the female spouse makes most of the benefits decisions. You’ll never reach everybody with one approach so be prepared to understand your employees’ needs and demographics, and communicate several times, several different ways to improve your odds.
- How would employees like to receive information? Do you have any feedback—either anecdotally and/or from an employee survey—to inform your strategy? If so, now’s the time to pull it out of a drawer and keep it within easy grasp. Because once you get down to brass tacks, you’ll need those results to inform how you forge ahead in terms of tactics.
As you can see, there’s a lot to keep you busy while you wait for decisions to be blessed. So get started with these four things, if you haven’t already. And if you need help, you know who to call (hint: me!).
Well, here we are. Again. I can see July 4th in the rear view mirror and Labor Day straight ahead. And while I delight in the prospect of fall’s cool breezes and retrieving my suede boots from storage, I don’t always feel the same about one of the season’s staples: Open Enrollment.
Not to sound negative, I always appreciate a challenge. That’s why my job is so right for me. But everything in moderation. And you and I both know: Open Enrollment is about a lot of things, but moderation is NOT one of them—especially if your job is to educate employees about their benefits AND move them to action by X date. (No pressure.)
For our part, with our clients’ final decisions often coming in at the last minute, we essentially have four to 10 weeks to create full-scale campaigns for each of them. In the world of benefits communications, that’s like five seconds.
The good news is, we do more than just get through it every year. You should see our team’s work – it’s fantastic, says the proud parent who birthed none of it. I am amazed at what they’re able to do on a dime. Granted, it can get stressful, but hey, that’s what I’m here for: To help keep them grounded. With that said, here’s some of what I do to keep us all off the ledge during our busiest time of the year. Perhaps it can help you and your team as well!
- I put my oxygen mask on first. As the group leader, my meltdown comes now—in private—before all the madness ensues. If I complain to my husband a ton, lose plenty of sleep, and binge eat now, it will be well out of my system, leaving me free to be there for the team when they need me most.
- We plan early. In June, I gathered my team to talk about how we’ll approach the season. We debriefed on last year’s experience, applied lessons learned, and assigned roles, back-up roles, back-ups for the back-ups, and systems for making a go of things. It’s a very left-brain experience that’s designed to lay the foundation for what follows; it’s also a great way to kick off the season.
- Everybody gets a vacation. It is summer after all, so I tell my people to go, be free, to enjoy the beach, the mountains, their sofas, Netflix, and/or prolonged periods of drool sleep. All I ask is that they stay off of email (and wear sunscreen, of course). And if they must, only chime in when they see our “safe” word in the email subject line, like, for example, “HELP!!!!!!” (Sometimes functionality trumps creativity.) The goal is to get some space so they come back ready to rule the world.
- We do fun things together. Among other things, every August, we go to a Phillies game. It’s less about whether they’re having a good season and more about being together — bonding, eating hot dogs, and rooting for the home team.
- I plan cool things! Just after Labor Day, I roll out a series of activities designed to infuse silly time into what’s otherwise a horse-race of an experience. For example, I give the team a three-word clue on Monday about an item I’ll give each of them on Friday (e.g., a mug, a shark-inspired shot glass, or a pair of “Bazinga” socks in homage to the Big Bang Theory—a team favorite). Then they have all week to guess what it is. Or, whoever has the best Open Enrollment-related story wins a gift card. Things like this help to lighten the mood when the pressure is at fever pitch.
- I help people find their way from liquid to solid. It’s inevitable: Between August and November, someone on the team will come into my office and tell me the time of day. They need more time to make that benefits guide Louvre worthy. They can’t find a translation service that knows Javanese. The printer’s gone AWOL. They ran out of soft pretzels at the deli downstairs. They were abused as a child. Whatever it is, they melt down. It’s okay and, for some, a necessary part of the whole shebang. The good news is we haven’t lost anybody yet.
- Carbohydrates. Several times a week. Need I say more?
So how are you planning to get through it all? Meditation? Project management software? Brownies? Feel free to borrow some of my suggestions. And, if you’re willing, write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and share yours – I’m always open to suggestions! Thanks and Godspeed!