employee engagement

Six Ways to Give Back with Blast

At this time of the year, we see a natural shift in priorities toward gratitude and giving. Here at Blast App, we are grateful for our team and everyone that has helped us in this journey. And the most rewarding part of our job is seeing how our customers treat their teams and how their teams, in turn, treat each other and the community around them.

Blast wasn’t conceived as a platform to just reinforce knowledge and identify knowledge gaps. At its core, we’re focused on building an engaged, internal audience and that engagement takes many forms. To me, engagement is attention. Someone told me the other day that, “Attention is love.” And love goes both ways. Paying attention to our team members implies we care for them. Paying attention to our organization implies team members care about the greater mission. And paying attention to the community around us reflects the same.

Today, I’d like to share some stories of how Blast can support that attention and how customers have embodied the spirit of attention for those around them.

Support your local pet shelter: Our top story is from one of our hospitality customers. Due to Hurricane Irma’s impact to their local community, dozens of animals were displaced and in need of care at the local SPCA shelter. This local hotel raised donations through a raffle for a free weekend stay. In addition, team members redeemed their Blast points for gift cards and donated them for food and supplies at the SPCA shelter. It’s a great example of paying attention to the community and Blast is honored to play a small part in supporting their generous efforts.

Help school-aged kids in shelters: One of the biggest challenges for schools is providing respectable support for kids who are in temporary shelters. These kids don’t have ample school supplies or clothing. Many kids come to school wearing the same clothes everyday or lack warm jackets. Use your team’s Blast points to provide some basics that can brighten their day and help their self-esteem.

Take underprivileged kids shopping: A common reward offered by our customers is a Walmart gift card. You can collect enough gift cards and create a fun shopping trip for the kids to pick out holiday gifts for their families. It’s easy to redeem for gift cards and the smiles on their faces will make it all worthwhile.

Book flights to see family: A team member recently found out that their mother needed to go through extensive chemo treatment for late-stage cancer, but she was unable to make a trip across the US. Teams can organize airline miles in exchange for Blast points to support teammates and help them be with family for critical events.

Donate to a cause: Many organizations have existing programs that contribute to local Habitat for Humanity builds or support American Cancer Society walks. You can support fellow team members involved in these endeavors by matching donations through Blast points redemption. This gives attention to both internal team members and the community around you.

Ask vendors to sponsor: Many customers are very creative in sourcing their rewards and incentives. Instead of only offering gift cards or company swag, customers have approached their key vendors for contributions. Vendors appreciate the opportunity to elevate their visibility to internal teams, but more importantly, they want to contribute to local causes as well. Whether the team is contributing supplies to local food banks, technology for a classroom or prizes for raffles, there are many ways to involve your business partners and benefit the community as a whole.

These are just a few ways to get creative with Blast points to help everyone pay more attention to those around them. What will you do this holiday season to show gratitude and pay attention to those around us?

Seven Questions to Ask Your Team

We have all been a contributor to annual employee satisfaction surveys, and for the most part, they haven’t changed much over the years. While there is greater acceptance of a mixed approach to leverage pulse surveys as well as annual surveys, the line of questioning has generally remained the same. But should you be asking different questions?

Workplace culture has been evolving over the last decade, with even the largest companies trying to break down the traditional “corporate” environment to foster a more innovative culture in order to compete for talent. We should focus our efforts in determining if we are cultivating the culture we want and that requires asking employee satisfaction questions a little differently.

Here, I present seven questions that you should be asking, whether through your annual employee survey or through pulse surveys. I think they help represent a different mindset from management and will illicit insightful feedback from your teams.

1. Are you having fun at work?
We now spend more than a third of our day at or on work with many team members spending more than that. But that doesn’t mean we should be suffering. Work should be fun in order to bring out everyone’s best effort and talent. Ask this question to gain insight into whether you’re effective in aligning the right opportunities for the right talent. 

2. Do you feel the management team is transparent?
Transparency is highly coveted these days, with millennials leading the charge in asking for brands to be authentic and management to be transparent. What this means is the desire to understand why tasks are being assigned. If you are successful in creating transparency, you have a higher chance of retaining key talent and creating an open culture. So while you may think you are being transparent, how are the employees perceiving management?

3. How comfortable are you to give feedback to your manager?
Transparency flows both ways and it’s important to understand whether middle management has created a culture of fear or openness. Check-in to see if there are managers that need coaching and encouragement to reflect the openness that you are creating at the top. Employees should be comfortable providing constructive feedback to their supervisors in order to maximize operations and customer service.

4. What three words would you use to describe our culture?
While this is an open-ended question, it’s a true reflection of how your team members perceive the workplace. By asking employees to put culture in “their own words,” we reflect on whether there is alignment to company values as well as how culture is actually embodied in our front line teams. Oftentimes, what we think we are encouraging is actually not what is being heard.

5. What would be your number one reason for leaving?
Employee satisfaction surveys often ask how satisfied employees are with benefits, pay, training, etc. But what is the ONE thing they would leave for? While compensation naturally ranks high, you may be surprised at what is really driving attrition amongst your staff. Insights here should lead organizations to think hard about what can be done to address the cause and how much resource to allocate.

6. If you could do it all over again, would you re-apply for the job you have now?
When I first came across this question, I was a little surprised. Why would we want to know if they would apply for the same job? Interestingly, it’s a great way to gain insight into how job perception and reality line up. This relates to our first suggestion question above, but asks whether the job description and hiring process provided the best match of skills and desire with the opportunity. If you “sell” a job the wrong way, it ends up costing the company more in the long run due to unhappy workers and lower productivity.

7. How likely are you to refer someone to work here?
No surprise here, but I think it’s important enough to include this as a reflection of how the organization as a whole is perceived. With outlets like GlassDoor and LinkedIn, it’s hard to hide just what your employees think, so why not address the issue head-on? It’s important to know whether your current team members are having enough fun, seeing growth opportunities and being managed appropriately to recommend their friends come work with them. It’s truly the ultimate measure of support for your organization as a whole.

While these seven questions are not the only questions to ask, I suggest organizations incorporate some of these into their annual survey or use them in pulse surveys to keep tabs on trends. The workplace has evolved challenges the way we build company culture and respond to employee concerns. Keep evolving your feedback mechanisms to keep an open dialogue with your team members, especially the front line teams.

Using Video to Tackle HR Digital Transformation

Our much more digital lives is strongly influencing our expectations at work as well as at home. Recent studies on digital transformation in HR, like this one by Deloitte University Press have highlighted the need for further digital initiatives outside of our products and services. This is the HR digital transformation and there are many facets to the challenge.

But how does one go about tackling this very broad, pervasive challenge? HR neither has the resources or the specialists, but is tasked with tackling this issue across the organization. And many are looking to solve the whole problem, but that’s nearly impossible. So let’s start with a simple, yet effective digital transformation. Video.

The Wall Street Journal recently published an article on the focus of the next billion internet users: video and voice. “Typing is dead,” they claim. Google’s YouTube service has seen this coming as well, investing time, resources and creative energy understanding the needs and desires of the next billion internet users.  For context, the next billion internet users are coming online from countries catching up on technology infrastructure, like India, China, Indonesia and Brazil. So how does this inform our strategy to leverage digital resources to improve employee engagement?

What we can learn from YouTube and these macro behavioral trends is that we need more video and voice at work. Those long CEO emails? Not read. Posters in the breakroom? Not read. Bulky handouts about your 401k plan? Not read. What employees crave is a more direct connection and when you can’t do it in person for everyone, video is the next best thing.

So let’s focus on some simple ways you can use video to engage your internal audience. It’s not that hard and it’s not that scary. Thanks to a virtual mini-studio we all hold in our hands (smartphones), we have the power to create fantastic videos that really resonate with our team members. There are three areas to focus on when thinking about creating a video message: 

The Best Ingredients
People: identify candidates from around your organization, at all levels, for participation. These include your CEO, an intern, a new employee, support staff and long-tenured team members. 
Story: associated with people are great stories. Stories about their journey in the organization, their role, what they do for your customers and what they enjoy most about the organization. Identify fun and inspiring stories that support the message you are trying to get a cross.
Setting: the office, a customer visit, a volunteer activity or just happy hour get together. It’s great to showcase areas or events not employees see often or have a reason to visit. Bring customer stories to team members who don’t usually interact with them. Highlight activities that others may have missed. 

Appropriate Length
I cannot emphasize enough how important this element is to making an engaging, consumable video. We see so many videos get drawn out, over-produced, over-scripted. Employees want to connect with real people and it’s that connection that brings them closer. The most positively received videos are often off-the-cuff, lightly outlined and aimed to be 45-90 seconds. 

Given the time constraint, don’t try to deliver too much. The whole point is bite-size pieces of consumable information. Aim to deliver video messages relatively often so there is a constant stream of various types of video messages. If this is your first video, take your time to develop a format that works best for your organization.

Maximum Exposure
You’ve assembled the story, the people and produced a quick hitting video. Now what? Get the word out! Put your marketer’s hat on and find channels to promote the video to your teams. If you have to use email, make sure to embed the video link and add a screenshot of the clip. You don’t want to waste your hard work with non-engaging forms of communication. If there is an intranet page that employees visit often or TVs in the breakroom or lobby, use those to show the video.

In addition to videos, think about podcasts. While not as visually interactive, hearing a story directly narrated by a fellow team member can have just as much impact on employee engagement. Given that communications is often a top three issue cited in employee surveys, podcasts and videos are a great way to get the message directly to all levels of employees. The issue is often the filters between leadership and the front line, especially middle managers who are either not equipped, trained or bought-in to effectively pass on the message. 

The great part of using videos is creating that direct connection. Plus, it creates a natural demand for more interactions. Your team will look forward to the next video update with great anticipation. So use videos to kick-start your engagement tactics!

(Do you wish this blog post was a short video instead?)

Learn How to Build Loyal Fans from NASA

In the fall of 2013, the United States government faced a budget quandary and the government shutdown. As an avid space fan and NASA Social participant, I had been on Twitter for several years following and advocating space-related news. But something amazing happened during the government shutdown.

For some background, the NASA Social initiative was started to engage people around the world through social media. As online engagement grew, NASA also started in-person “tweetups” to bring social media fans on-site at various NASA facilities to cover key events, just as regular media would. During the event, NASA Social attendees would use various social media platforms to spread the word. 

Using this strategy, NASA Social has created a huge global fanbase. And this fanbase would come to the rescue during the government shutdown. You see, while NASA employees were unable to tweet or share information, the global fanbase took over. The hashtag #WhatNASAMightTweet became the rally point. During the shutdown, social media fans from around the world took to Twitter, Facebook and other platforms to fill the void. No one got paid. No one got any favors. NASA fans were so engaged that they took the initiative on their own to fill the void - 24/7 for two weeks.

As one of those fans, I was astounded at how strangers rallied together to support their common cause. These were loyal fans. And as one attendee said, “NASA Social alumni is like family to me.” So how do we create loyal fans in our own organizations? Borrowing from NASA Social’s experience, I will highlight some keys elements to consider in creating fans of our organization.

What is the organization’s personality? Great brands create a unified voice to the market and can instill emotions. But is there personality internally? Does the communication style, tone and voice reflect the core values and create the right environment? Creating a personality allows employees to engage at a more comfortable level. NASA Social was able to create personalities around their missions by tweeting as the Mars rover or an exploratory spacecraft.

Sometimes, it takes time (and luck) to find the right personality. Look to your values and culture for hints on what voice plays well with your employee base. Is it really any different than your external marketing voice? Creating the right personality builds the fan base and elevates fan engagement for the content. This is not easy. It’s hard to balance serious, executive messages through a voice that can be more casual. This also means giving some guidelines to leader videos, so everything isn’t necessarily overly-produced, so their personality comes out more.

What captures all our attention is a good story. And like any good story, there’s a plot that intrigues us and characters that we care about (personality!). At NASA Social, they leverage storytelling every chance they get. There’s a team of social media managers that take on various missions or events and for the most part, have discretion over how they approach it. But in the end, they are all strategically aligned on spreading the news and engaging the audience.

For organizations, an ambassador network can work well to provide the stories that matter. And often times, the best stories come from deep in the trenches. Find advocates at all levels of your organization and recruit them to be storytellers. The audience will appreciate the intimate stories from various departments and levels and provide genuine “plotlines” to maximize engagement. Having different perspectives and voices for storytelling keeps it interesting and avoids the “business tone” that often turns off your audience.

No, not that kind of leadership. This is where I break from the norm and talk about leadership from your fan base. During the #WhatNASAMightTweet fill-in campaign, it wasn’t NASA leadership that won the day. It was the leadership amongst the most loyal fans that took the initiative and grew and sustained the effort. 

If you get the first two things right, you create natural leaders in the fan base to help the organization through both good times and bad times. Loyal fans help you fight the fight, so you don’t have to. Negativity can be reversed by loyal fans throughout the organization, without it sounding like “another management storyline.” So find leadership in the fan base so that growing the loyal fan base becomes a self-sustaining cycle.

We can all borrow from lessons from NASA Social’s success over the years on how organizations can create loyal internal fans. Leveraging personality, storytelling and fan leadership, you can create, grow and sustain a base of loyal fans that improve engagement all around. And as a space fanatic, I hope this inspires you to check out the various NASA social media accounts and look for opportunities to apply for one of the coveted spots for the next NASA Social event.

(You can find NASA Social events at: https://www.nasa.gov/connect/social/

Four Reasons Pulse Surveys Don't Work

There has been a big movement toward deploying pulse surveys in the last few years, but I still see many organizations confused about how they should use pulse surveys and what benefits they can bring - as well as the perils of doing it wrong. In this blog, I want to focus on what pulse surveys really are, the major pitfalls to avoid and most importantly, how to make pulse surveys most effective for your organization.

Let’s first define what pulse surveys are. Pulse surveys are designed to capture, well, the pulse of the organization around key topics important to management. As the name indicates, these are surveys deployed in relatively short intervals, designed to gather high level data around specific topics or initiatives. But depending on the goals for your pulse survey program, you can take various strategies on content, frequency, target audience and data analysis.

Organizations often ask - should I replace my annual employee survey with pulse surveys? Or do they live together, and if so, how? I think there are advantages to both types of survey initiatives and it doesn’t necessarily mean replacing one with another. But as most things go the answer is: it depends. For larger organizations, an annual survey is still the cornerstone survey strategy. An annual survey is often aligned with the strategic planning process, helping to feed the annual strategy with input and insight into the people side of the equation. For smaller organizations, there might not be the appropriate resources to support both an annual survey and pulse surveys.

So why should you consider a pulse survey strategy? Primarily, it’s the speed of business. More specifically, the speed of business change. Most organizations would self-proclaim that there is more and more significant change in their business environment than in the past. To properly respond to the increase in change, organizations are looking for ways to be more agile and pulse surveys can provide more frequent data to improve organizational visibility.

As you decide to pursue a pulse survey approach, here are four common pitfalls to keep in mind and suggestions on how to avoid them.

1. Not Defining a Goal
It seems trivial, but clearly define the objective of deploying pulse surveys before you start. Improperly defined goals will lead to disappointment in the results and confusion amongst the organization as to what response they should expect from the survey results.

  • There are several ways to think about pulse surveys, depending on our intended use case:
  • Continuously listen to employee opinions 
  • Targeted, one-off surveys for big events or one-time organizational changes
  • Track feedback throughout the year between annual surveys
  • Measure results of responsive action as a result of an annual survey
  • Identify how to further improve responsive actions from an annual survey

These five goals are fairly common in pulse survey strategies. But a lot depends on your organization and how you might start a pulse survey program, especially if you have not deployed one before. 

2. Asking Unrelated Questions
Pulse surveys are not designed to be heavy. So it takes more discipline to maintain focus based on your goals. Some organizations deploy single-question polls, while others aim for 3-5 questions at most. The goal is to get feedback from the audience without consuming too much time. Some question topics to think about might be:

  • Employee sentiment - like the Net Promoter Score (NPS), “How likely are you to recommend a friend to work here?”
  • Managerial support - “Does your manager provide adequate training for you to perform your job?”
  • Effectiveness of responsive actions - “Has there been an improvement in the quality of communications in the last 6 months?”

Keep questions related to each other so the audience is not confused by the line of questioning and don’t look to acquire vast amounts of data. Pulse surveys are meant to “take a pulse” in specific areas of interest.

3. Too Often or Not Often Enough
Timing can be critical to gaining adequate responsiveness and buy-in from the audience. Surveys conducted too often can intrude on regular schedules and asking for feedback without adequate time lapse can create survey fatigue. Employees want enough time for change to have happened.

On the other hand, waiting too long allows issues to fester without getting adequate visibility. Intervals can vary from two weeks to quarterly, and it mainly depends on your goals. If you are looking to measure on-going sentiment, quarterly may be too sparse. If you are checking on how effective responsive actions have been, every two weeks might be too often. Make sure to align the timing with your goals.

4. Asking Everyone
Given that pulse surveys often look to target specific topics, think about the target audience that you need feedback from. Was the initiative related to a specific department or geography? Or a specific product-line or business unit? Pulse surveys don’t have to target all employees all the time. Your decision should be driven by the level of insight you are looking to gain to calibrate for the right audience set.

Pulse surveys are a great way to listen to your team and to create a regular channel for feedback from the organization. Make sure to consider your goals and define the right audience, content and frequency to maximize effectiveness and engagement with your pulse survey initiatives. And make sure to respond appropriately to concerns brought up in pulse surveys - no one wants to give further feedback without seeing responsive actions from the organization.