Giving a lifetime: It’s bigger than a gift card!

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This blog is prompted by three separate stories I’ve heard over the last month or so and all to do with retirement – stories that have left me sad and wanting more than anything to be able to do something for this generation of our workforce who have given 40+ years to the same organisation.

This is SO important as it is unlikely ever to happen again. The world has moved on and only in rare occasions will we see people staying in the same organisation throughout their whole career. That’s why on the one hand when we talk to HR Directors about re-framing long-service awards, we’re going out there encouraging companies to recognise the earlier milestones. We do this because it creates the opportunity to talk about an individuals’s contribution much earlier on in their career – to communicate that they matter and hopefully instill in them a sense of loyalty and pride even if they do move on somewhere else.

But let’s not forget about those long-servers too…just imagine the amount of change they have experienced in the last 50 years or so – changes so significant that the way that we work has completely evolved and become something that employees in their early 20’s just wouldn’t be able to comprehend.

The first story comes from a financial services company in the city. A colleague had worked their 41 years and in the couple of weeks running up to his retirement he sent out an email to the people he’d worked with in that time to let them know. It was a group email and the responses were over-whelming. The group then rallied together to do something for him. Nothing would have happened if he hadn’t have pro-actively done this himself. After 41 years, he would have walked out not knowing the difference he had made. How would that make you feel? I’ll say it again 41 years!

I saw the next story on Facebook and you can see the write up here:

http://www.bournemouthecho.co.uk/news/14568253.Waitrose_store_s_act_of_kindness_towards_nurse_goes_viral_on_social_media/

For those that don’t have the time to read the whole article, the story is similar to the first one. A woman retires from the NHS after 54 years and her local supermarket surprises her with flowers. She gets more recognition from kind-hearted supermarket staff than the organisation she has committed 54 years of her life to. Now I don’t know the facts around this so I’m hoping that it’s not this at all but still. Our people are out there making a difference for us every day and the very least we can do is say thank you. Thank you for your loyalty, thank you for sticking with us through all the changes, for passing on your expertise to new people joining us and for being part of who we are.

The final story came from a recent conversation in the pub. A chap I got into conversation with had retired that day after 52 years and he sat there looking genuinely sad with tears in his eyes. He’d been given some  vouchers as a parting gift but with no final presentation, no gathering of people to say thank you. He was sat in the pub with his friends who had rallied together and bought him a nice bottle of scotch. His exact words were, “I just wanted some reminder of the time I’ve given to ‘x’ company. A watch or something like that, something I can look at and be proud of everything I achieved. Something to show my family, something to show off to my mates in the pub.” We are sentimental creatures us human-beings, we create emotional connections to the organisations we work for despite the highs and lows.

Our founder Obert Tanner once said this:

“One could say we sell two values: the value of beauty and the value of kindness. The kindness is a company’s willingness to recognize, with dignity, an individual for what he or she has given to that company. After all, giving the productive years of one’s life, the daylight hours of each working day – this is the ultimate that an individual may give to any company.”

Think about the experience you are creating for those people reaching their retirement. What can you do to make sure their parting feeling is one of pride? What can you do to make sure that they feel part of something truly special and that they walk away on their last day, content that they committed their working life to you!

Find out more about service awards here at octanner.com

3 years and counting…appreciation from the top down!

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Today marks my three year anniversary at OC Tanner. We celebrated it last Friday as some of the team are away this week but it’s felt like one of those amazing extended birthdays where it ends up being a week of loveliness and still today the messages keep pouring in! Ecards that people must have taken the time to schedule so they arrived today so they didn’t forget…that says so much to me about the culture of appreciation we have here and how deep rooted it is in all that we do.
Like with any cultural piece though this doesn’t happen overnight – it takes time, it takes energy, it takes effort and it takes belief. We have the same challenges as any organisation, we just keep working through it and the messages keep coming from the top, role-modelled by our leaders and this cascades all the way down to the front line. I listened to a podcast by our CEO Dave Petersen a few weeks ago and as I started thinking about this post, I think his words will really get you thinking about how we make people feel in the workplace and what a powerful thing appreciation is.
If you have time to listen to the podcast, fast forward to around 4:18 where Dave talks about how appreciation events are an indispensable part of our culture here at OC Tanner.
He explains how if he’s in his Exec meeting and he knows that someone is celebrating a 25 year anniversary or is about to receive a silver award for the Great Work they have done then he will leave the meeting. He will not miss them as he wants everyone to know how important they are to him. Every time he’s involved, he loves listening to what colleagues are saying about each other as they know better than he does what they do on a daily basis.
Here’s the powerful bit for me though. He talks about going back to his office feeling confident. Grateful that he is surrounded by great people doing great work. He hears about our people doing what they are doing and he feels like we can do anything because he hears what people are saying about each other when they are expressing their appreciation. And as a leader, this is really important to hear. Outside of the numbers, outside of the data, those stories come from the people here at OC Tanner who are trying to make a difference every day and without the channels that we have in place to allow those stories to come out, it would be much harder for him to hear, in such a genuine way, all of those great stories.
And this is not just an American thing. I’ve seen THE most powerful moments of recognition happen within companies across the UK and generally it’s not about what you give that person, it’s how you make them feel.
Have a think about the leaders in your organisation? Have they ever viewed recognition and appreciation in this way? What would change if they did? Valuing our people is often viewed as the pink and fluffy stuff for some unapparent reason. Our CEO doesn’t see it that way. Valuing people in a genuine way linked to our business outcomes is one of the most powerful communication channels we have at our disposal. It makes visible what great looks like, it connects people in ways that technology cannot and it shines a spotlight on the potential in all of us to come to work each day and make a difference. Taking the time to share those stories is all it takes!
It’s three years for me today, I’m hoping it’s going to be much longer. Appreciation changes everything…it has for me and it can for you too!

Thank You!

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Thank you for coming here every day,

For making a difference in your own special way,

For cheering me up and making me smile,

For always being willing to go the extra mile.

For caring, for sharing, for sometimes saying no,

For challenging me and pushing me, it means more than you know,

For living our values day in and day out,

For living our brand, for having some clout.

For believing and trusting in good times and bad,

For telling me to switch off from my phone and iPad,

For trusting me, encouraging me every step of the way,

And not just on Employee Appreciation Day!

I hope you all have a fabulous day today, make a commitment moving forward to sow appreciation into your daily to do list! It will make an amazing difference…I promise!

Storybursting…

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Stories.jpgComing to the end of a year always brings out the reflector in me and I’m hoping it may bring about the end of a severe blogging drought in the world of Dawn Smedley!

This year has been a challenging year both personally and at work. My mum has overcome and battled the big ‘C’ word and is about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime with my Dad to see my brother in New Zealand, my children are both now in school and having seen their nativities this week, they just make me so proud every single day and my husband is a legend full stop.

And then there’s work…the appreciateologist has found her rhythm, her pace, her style. I’ve learnt so much this year, pushed myself to do things I’ve never done before and feel enriched and privileged to be part of a community of people who are on the tipping point of something extraordinary. I love being part of this. I love being able to influence this and use all of what I know about appreciation and recognition to help organisations weave this into everything that they do and its working.

I am so lucky to hear all the great stories that are starting to be shared and shouted about. To be inspired by amazing people on the front line making a difference every day, doing the right thing and being recognized for it. Our Yearbook is gaining momentum as a unique way of allowing managers and colleagues to share their thoughts, photos and videos to celebrate contributions overtime allowing those stories to pour out in bucketful’s.

Stories, stories, stories. We hear so much about them. How important it is to share them. For me though, it’s how they make you feel. Stories have the ability to break down barriers, to create deeper connections and meaning to everything and to make often complicated topics, much easier to understand. Stories inspire you and when you’re part of the story, you feel part of something much bigger than yourself.

In 2016, how will you allow the stories in your organisations to come out? How will you use stories to inspire new starters, to demonstrate what good looks like, to nurture teams, to attract and keep your customers, to help your employees feel part of something bigger?

We all want to be part of something, make 2016 all about your story and how your story fits in with what you do. Create opportunities for these stories to come out, they are there right now just waiting for an opportunity to burst into the world…

Wishing you all a fabulously lovely festive period and a happy, healthy 2016!

Making an impact 2015 – CIPR Inside

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Last week I had the great privilege to attend the annual CIPR conference in London. I’ve never attended a previous one so had no pre-conceptions to the day. I did very much like the theme though ‘making an impact’…sounded right up my street and an interesting line up of speakers. I thought it only fair to share some of my key learnings from the day and if you don’t have time to read the rest of what I’ve got to say and you work in Comms and Engagement then get yourselves there next year (and in the meantime get yourself connected with the growing IC community by contacting Jenni Field, Chair of CIPR). It is an inspiring and very lovely bunch of people doing great things in your space and all are so willing to share their experiences good and bad. Do it now! And in the meantime, I’ll tell you more about the day…apologies in advance if I misquote or get any of the facts wrong!!

Opening – Steve Murgatroyd, Vice Chair CIPR Inside

Loved the stories and photos shown of characters like Glen Mills (Usain Bolt’s coach), John Favero (Barack Obama’s speech writer) and Margaret Hamilton (the lady who wrote the code that got the Apollo spaceship to the moon). All names that not many people in the room had heard of, yet people who have however made a huge impact. The correlation was made to people working in Internal Comms. I loved this analogy and thought it was a great way of front running the rest of the content. Internal Comms have the ability to drive and heavily influence change without being front and centre. Maybe there is more of a need to demonstrate the impact you do drive every day!!!

Sarah Pinch, President, CIPR

Inspiring to hear how CIPR are driving the profession forward.How the board are lobbying hard when it comes to diversity, inclusion, ethics and providing on-going support and development for all of those working in your space.

Rachel Miller, All Things IC – The importance of content

Absolutely loved the emotionally charged video shared by Rachel at the beginning of her session. It really demonstrated the power of creating an emotional connection with your audience…and it was about plastic milk bottles!!! Intrigued? Click on the link to the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MRt4lEXkDJs

Here are some of the key points from the presentation:

  • Each individual interprets content in a unique way – we need to find ways to tailor content accordingly
  • The average human attention span is 8 seconds!!! If you want to make an impact, make it fast!
  • The shortest distance between two people is a story! So true…
  • Always think about the Maya Angelou quote: people don’t forget how you made them feel
  • Internal Comms have moved from being content creators to content curators
  • With any content use the RAW framework: Is it real? Is it accurate? Is it right for our organisation?

Tim Rutter, Tata Steel – Offline audience

Tim gave some fascinating insights into the Port Talbot steelworks in Wales and the challenges working with a 5,000 strong employee base that are predominately offline. He made me laugh a lot too! Here are my take-aways and AHA moments:

  • For them a tabloid style newspaper reporting the good, the bad and the ugly drawing on humour and reflecting their values and key areas of focus has helped drive a real cultural shift
  • It has taken 6-7 years to really become embedded
  • The number of lost time incidents has reduced in this period from 4.5 to 0.3 – real measurable results!
  • You have to tailor the content to the majority of your people, don’t fall into the trap of basing decisions on your own likes and preferences
  • It’s ok to be brutally honest if it works in your organisation
  • Sensational headlines make people smile and attract attention. Remember we are all human-beings who like a good laugh ‘Just a little prick!’ 😊
  • It takes dogged determination to keep going with it – stick with it and know that it is making a difference!

Saskia Jones, Oxfam – Engaging remote audiences in conversations with leadership

Saskia talked about the challenges working for a not for profit NGO and engaging remote audiences in conversation across the globe. To put that in context they have 5,000 staff and 30,000 volunteers in 50 countries! From a recent survey it was found that people were feeling increasingly disengaged from Oxford-based leadership. They needed to come up with a way to break down barriers and open up communications on a global basis!

Here are some of the key points from the presentation:

  • They launched a digital platform accessible to all called ‘Ask Me Anything’ with three exec contributors including the Chief Exec
  • People could start discussions and comment on other discussions 24/7
  • Not censoring and genuinely allowing people to ask anything including if the Chief Exec was wearing his lucky pants!
  • The importance of moving from ‘cascade to conversation’ and creating authentic connections with leaders

Sarah Purdie, Clarks – Engaging Video

Sarah brought to life the power of video and it’s growing importance in communications in bringing company stories to life. For Clarks it was to really bring meaning to what being a global brand really looks like and creating a ‘little film that made a big impact!’

  • Leader videos have their place absolutely and they use them, but this was about creating an emotional connection to the brand (190 years old this year! Wow congratulations Clarks!)
  • The importance of including their own people in the video ‘made by Clarks people for Clarks people’
  • In terms of reach, every store has a TV and DVD if not infront of a computer all day so a video was a great choice in reaching all
  • Creating something short and powerful, just over 3 minutes!
  • You could see what a great conversation starter it would be across the business, a great brand awareness tool and a great way of attracting/on-boarding new employees so that they can see what they are becoming part of!
  • The video would not have been enough on its own – needed manager briefing notes on how to talk around it and follow-up so people knew what was in it for them
  • All done on a limited budget using internal resources at Clarks and a locally-based video company to film and edit the footage! Making an impact in practice with amazing feedback and results to show from it!

Stephanie Davies, Laughology

The afternoon started with a bang! This was a fab way to wake us and shake us all up after a rather yummy lunch! Stephanie had us clapping, cheering, banging on tables, standing on chairs and there was definitely lots of laughter in the room!

  • Stephanie talked about the power of laughter and how it changes your neurotransmitters so you are engaged in a different way to normal – I could definitely feel the energy flowing around the room!
  • Dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins are all triggered when you laugh!
  • I loved the fact that science can back up how important laughter is and how it can change the way we feel in the workplace
  • Stephanie talked about her happiness research and how the following 5 areas affect our ability to be truly happy : confidence, personal development, positive relationships, support and coping skills
  • What a great thing Stephanie is doing in going out to organisations and schools and reminding them of the importance of laughter with results to show for it too!

Jenni Field, CIPR Inside Chair

Jenni then talked about and encouraged the group to become more involved in the CIPR and to help in recruiting new members. A video was shown on how you can develop your own careers with the CPD courses and you can get points for completing them!!!! Jenni also talked about the regional ‘Ask the Guru’ events…another great way of finding out what’s working in other organisations. One of the main take-always from Jenni as well was from her own experiences working for SSP and the importance of measurement and strategy for the work that you are doing to earn your seat at the table. This is not about the number of campaigns that have been done, it’s showing that behaviours have changed. Measurement shouldn’t be a tick box exercise.

Unfortunately I missed most of John Nielson’s session from Lockheed Martin but the bit I did catch was the positioning at the beginning. John has an external Comms background and a huge amount of experience working for global companies in various parts of the world. He talked passionately about the need for an integrated communications plan (external, internal, stakeholders, government, digital) and the absolute need to partner with business functions and stakeholders when communicating in a large, global organisation. Sorry I can’t do your session more justice John. If anyone would like to fill in the gaps…please do!

Kevin Ruck, PR Academy – Measurement

The next session was all about measurement and I’ve included a couple of photos of the models shown on where to start with this shared by…..

The bit that struck me the most in this session was the Alex Ferguson story and how he took the time to know everyone’s name and always said hello to everyone at the club. The simple act of saying hello helps people feel valued! Start with the basics…no big power points, keep it real!

Sasha Watson, ARM – Measurement in Practice

Sasha had such great energy and brought the topic of measurement to life in a really engaging way. She explained the importance of having research to back up her plan.

  • Started by asking employees ‘what does good look like?’, looked at what had been done in the past and conducted a full Comms audit
  • Used data to drive decisions which worked really well in a company made up of engineers/technically-minded people “It’s not me, it’s the research!”
  • Get lots of feedback and use this to tweak the plan
  • Use data again to look at the effectiveness
  • Have behaviours changed? Just because people have read it, doesn’t mean that their behaviour has changed
  • People bought into the strategy because of the feedback, it earned her a seat at the right tables and even an increased budget!

Janet Morgan, GSK – Strategy in Action

The final presentation by Janet was around ‘turning strategy into action’. At GSK, all Comms sit together and head of sits on leadership team. Huge, global organisation, very complex, highly regulated, 40% of employee base offline. Newspapers won’t work as they operate in a clean environment. 26 languages. Wow!

  • Historically, all internal Comms have sounded like a press release to get past government regulation
  • Internally, when asked about brand reputation, employees felt proud but were unable to say why and articulate it
  • Employees felt a disconnect from the corporate strategy and their work
  • Externally, unsure about what GSK actually do. Like us when they get to know us. Unaware of heritage, products and impact
  • The goal was therefore to increase pride internally and reputation externally – to think, behave and be seen as one company
  • They needed to develop a corporate narrative that was consistent, adaptable and flexible – what would unite all?
  • They succeeded in creating a 7 page narrative that did just this ‘a global healthcare company on a mission’
  • Janet shared great visuals of the website, the video created and how different countries had tailored it to meet their own requirements
  • She explained how popular ‘fill in the blank’ documents are
  • Finally, Janet spoke about how important it is for employees to hear things first rather than through the media

Phew! If you’re still reading this, well done! I know that was a bit of a mammoth download of info but there were such great learnings from the day. I wanted to be able to log this for myself and for others as a reminder or if you couldn’t make it on the day, a way of being to grab a nugget or two and get you thinking about coming to the next one!

For me though, it was really about the strategic role that internal Comms plays in all aspects of business but especially in how you instill that sense of pride and belonging. How you connect people to your companies mission and purpose for being, and help them feel valued and part of something bigger than themselves. I come at the world with my ‘Appreciateologist’ head on and know that without you all then my ambitions when it comes to creating a culture of recognition would be impossible.

Be proud, and thanks again for letting me be part of such a great event!

To find out more about OC Tanner click here.

Through the keyhole…

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Through the keyhole…

As you read this, it’s highly likely that you have gone through or will go through this exact same experience either yourself or with someone you love. Male, female, young, old – cancer doesn’t discriminate. My lovely mum has lung cancer, recently diagnosed and about to undergo major surgery to remove a third of her lung through keyhole surgery. How does that work?

That’s just one of the many questions, thoughts, concerns that we’ve had in the last few weeks. Imagine my Mum, the strongest woman I know, who has already battled and beaten cancer once. Imagine how it feels to be told you’ve got to go through it again, to share this with your loved ones, to say it out loud, for a new reality to exist where you are once again vulnerable and scared, to be faced with the ‘c’ word and all the uncertainty that comes with it. I say it again, my mum is the strongest person I know.

Last week, I attended a Patient Education Programme with my mum and dad at the Leeds NHS Teaching Hospital in preparation for mum’s operation. On walking into the Bexley Wing, I had to pinch myself to realize that in fact I wasn’t in the lobby of a contemporary hotel as my eyes took in the polished white décor, bright coloured chandeliers, art displays and grand piano. As I took it all in, I noticed that the people sat around in this haven of calm and tranquility were all obviously in various stages of cancer treatment and recovery. WOW was my first thought, what an amazing environment to recover in, to feel normal in, to feel like a human-being and not just a patient. I felt optimistic about our appointment and seeing my mum smiling and enjoying the art work as we walked through boded well!

We spent the next two hours sat with three other patients, a very caring Lung Specialist nurse and a physio talking through the before, during and after of the operation. Seriously I was blown away. They talked about how mum could best prepare herself physically and mentally before the op, showing us a suggested exercise regime and giving permission to do it (mum had been worried about doing further damage). We then went through the admission day and exactly what would happen, the layout of the ward, they even had pictures of the actual doctors and nurses who mum could expect to see when she was there. Then on to the operation itself all in detail with diagrams and pictures so each person had the opportunity to ask questions, raise concerns and really understand the lay of the land.

I say it again, I was blown away. When you are faced with the shocking and devastating news that you have cancer, how can you be expected to take in all the details? I haven’t been there but I can only imagine that the world slows down and the edges get a bit blurry so for this session to happen a couple of weeks on, at a time when the initial shock has passed and you have had some time to move to a place where you are ready to fight and ready to contemplate what’s next, it was just brilliant to have the opportunity to be with the real people who would be holding your hand on the next part of the journey.

The outcome for all of us that day was that we all left feeling mum was in safe hands, we felt more in control of what we could do, I felt better able to support mum and dad and I came away really understanding what would happen next. For mum, all the questions that had been whirring around in her head, causing her sleepless nights, she had the chance to say them out loud and I genuinely think it alleviated so much of the stress that comes from not knowing what’s happening.

It got me thinking about how we communicate in the workplace. We assume that people are receiving the messages that are sent out…we create communication strategies with leaflets, brochures, intranet sites, posters, emails, collaboration sites, websites, blogs, etc etc. We can track and monitor who clicks on them, who opens them to justify that its working but for me nothing beats that human to human interaction. That moment when you can look in someones eyes and have a meaningful conversation. When that conversation starts with positive intent on both sides to create an environment where everyone in it would like to get something good out of it. Where information is shared, questions can be asked, concerns can be raised and solutions found. I think we forget sometimes that email is great, but picking up the phone and speaking to someone is so much better. Making the effort to walk over to someone’s desk and say thank you, ask if you can help, have a giggle, find out what they did at the weekend builds trust and strengthens relationships.

We live in a crazy, crazy world with so much change and upheaval. We can only control so much. But let’s remember that the one thing we can control is the impact that each of us can have on the people around us. We can choose to enter into every conversation with a positive intent, we can care about the people in our lives, we can give people a voice to raise their concerns, ask their questions and feel part of something bigger. We can respect people, be honest with them and see things from their point of view. We can treat people as grown-ups and trust them with information. We can help create an environment where people can be themselves. We can help reduce the stress of not knowing by creating transparency in our organisations. We can create cultures where we focus on what people are doing right.

As you can tell, this experience has had a huge impact on me and we feel confident about the future. This is happening in the NHS today and I am grateful for it. Let’s apply some of these exact same principles as we go about our daily lives!

The Starfish Story – engaging hearts and minds

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As the old man walked the beach at dawn he noticed a young man ahead of him carefully picking up starfish from the sand and placing them back into the sea. Finally catching up with the youth, the old man asks why he was doing this. Because the stranded starfish will die if they are left in the morning sun, he replied. But the beach goes on for miles and there are thousands of starfish everywhere, scoffed the old man, how can your efforts possibly make a difference? For a moment the young man contemplated the starfish in his hand before tossing it gently into the waves. It makes a difference to that one, he said.

A story by Loren Eiseley

This lovely little story was sent to me this morning. In the absence of starfish in the Milton Keynes area this sunny morning, I will be metaphorically be trying to make a difference in my own little way. What starfishes will you make a difference to today?