Some years back, a custodial employee working for one of my clients came up with an ingenious way to eliminate a slip hazard for customers on wet or snowy days. A story about it, with a photo of the employee, was featured in the company newsletter. This company routinely mailed copies of its newsletter to the children of any employees highlighted within its pages, with a personalized note that read, "Your daddy's picture appears on page 2."
Several weeks later, management held a staff meeting and invited questions about their quality improvement program. The custodian rose to his feet and reported that the day his two children received the newsletter, he'd been greeted with a hero's welcome when he got home. His youngsters wanted to hear how his picture came to be in "the paper." The kids had subsequently brought the newsletter to school for show-and-tell, and the teacher posted it on the school bulletin board for a week. His kids felt like celebrities at school, he said, as if their dad had been on the cover of Time magazine. He went on to acknowledge that he'd always assumed they were somewhat ashamed of the janitorial work their father did for a living. This expression of pride from his own children, he said, was the most personally rewarding experience in his entire 30-year career with the company--and if this was the kind of thing management meant by "quality improvement," he wanted them to know he was ready to do anything he could to help. With that, he sat back down. Things were strangely quiet in the meeting room for a few moments after his remarks.
Information vs. Inspiration
"I have been consistently shocked at how important [internal communication] is to employees," New-York-based retail consultant Cheryl Beall told me during an interview for my book Motivation. "Some kind of a mention in the newsletter, and [the employees are] diving down the hall to get it. And I have to admit, it really quite frankly shocks me."
Why would I be discussing newsletters in a book about motivation? Precisely because the company newsletters with the greatest impact are not those that seek to inform but rather those that seek to motivate. It's a simple shift of purpose, but it changes the kind of information the newsletter presents and the way its presented--and it dramatically changes the effect the newsletter has on the culture of the organization. Instead of striving to keep workers in the know about random news events, the primary goal of these newsletters is to keep workers fired up about the key objectives--in other words, the mission--their organization is pursuing.
The Power of Hero Stories
The traditional newsletter is a hodge-podge of information, a patchwork of what often turns out to be old news by the time it makes its way into print. Worse, besides being outdated, the content often reflects management's interests more than those of the rank and file. While management may want a big story about the company's new product line, for example, the employees are often far more interested in photos of the company's charity fundraising picnic and softball game.
Newsletters in high-energy businesses, by comparison, usually reflect an entirely different focus. Because these businesses are typically more customer-driven than profit-driven, their newsletters exist to show employees reflections of themselves doing extraordinary things to help customers or benefit the community. Everything in the newsletter is there exclusively for the edification of employees--as opposed to the education of employees (for the edification of management). Each edition of the newsletter puts as many employees in the news as can be squeezed into the available space. Everybody goes diving down the hall to get their hands on the latest edition because they know it's going to be full of hero stories about them. These hero stories become much more than a reflection of the organization's commitment to customers and the community--they become powerful intensifiers of that commitment.
Show, Don't Tell
How do you find these hero stories? Creating a motivational newsletter requires adopting a semi-journalistic approach.
- Learn about something newsworthy that one or several employees did. This may require digging for facts among co-workers and customers. If your company routinely invites customer comments, this can become a prime source for hero stories.
- Use direct quotations from employees, co-workers and the customers affected. The greater the number of direct quotes, the greater the story's overall credibility and impact.
- Take photos of the employees and customers to accompany the story. Photos further enhance both credibility and motivational impact.
The real job of an employee newsletter is to motivate workers to do positive things for customers and the community. Start filling your newsletter with stirring descriptions of workers doing that, and let your employees experience their own "hero's welcome."
Paul Levesque's latest book Motivation is available from Entrepreneur Press. Paul has spent 20 years as an international business consultant, specializing in the connection between employee motivation and customer service.