Communicator Spotlight: John Allen
Last updated on December 19, 2022 at 06:20 pm
Get to know John Allen
I feel like good engagement begins with understanding: what information are the employees wanting and needing? What kind of questions are different members of our organization getting about policies or benefits? What are their usage patterns for our different channels of communication? —John Allen, Senior Communication Specialist
What is one of your achievements that you’re most proud of?
When I consider achievements I’m proud of, my first instinct is to look at what has brought me peace or happiness, and those often involve the lives of others.
I volunteered as a teenager at a shelter for youth who had been, for whatever reason, taken from their homes. I’m glad I did that, and I hope they benefited from that.
I could also point to my creative outlets. Music is an instrumental part of my life. I started playing piano at a young age and still play daily. Writing is equally important to me. I love the art of storytelling, and I’ve been really lucky to work in fields related to it. When I switched to internal communications in manufacturing, I brought those experiences and lessons with me.
In that vein, I’m glad to have been a part of the team that rolled out our employee communications app. It couldn’t have come at a more pivotal time. When COVID-19 arrived on the scene, we used the app as a primary source of communication with our employees. It allowed us to keep our employees informed. I was very happy (and still am) with how well it’s allowed us to engage our employees.
And finally, if we’re discussing achievements and leaving the world a little better off–I can’t leave off my four girls: aged 15, 13, 11, and 9. They’re all excellent students, and I feel a little better knowing they will be in charge one day. I say this without any hesitation: they’re genuinely wonderful people, and not only am I proud of them, I actually like them, which is something positive I can point to–especially with two teenagers.
You have a great company culture. What are your top tips for building culture?
Our company culture is amazing, and I really consider myself lucky to work here. There’s no magic bullet to great company culture. It’s a combination of too many factors to name. But I can point to a couple of things that I think really help build the great culture we have:
- We have a defined set of core principles that define our current actions and future goals. These focus on everything from diversity, transparency, and accountability, to creativity, respect, and the environment. It’s more than just a set of nebulous ideas. It’s something we actively strive for daily.
- If a large part of our culture is the result of our goals and leadership, the other part is from how our teams operate. I can’t point to which came first: the great people or the supportive environment, but I suspect it was a mix of them. Innovative and collaborative people help shape the environment around them, creating a fertile ground for ideas to grow.
- We also strive to help each employee in the organization understand what part we all play in creating a successful company with a great product. When there’s buy-in from employees, it improves morale. Instead of feeling like a number in a large company, I feel like an integral part of its functioning and continued success.
We all like to feel like we matter. So, when a company takes time to look inward as much as outward and view its employees as important, that culture can take root and grow organically.
All companies have corporate communication (e.g. legal, HR) that needs to go to all employees. What are your strategies for getting employees to engage with these messages?
There are a lot of similarities between marketing and internal communications. For all of them, engagement is key. There’s a message, there’s an audience, there are channels for delivery, and there is the feedback and measurement of the impact of that message. However, there are major differences as well. In advertising, we could take each message and determine a specific demographic or psychographic target. In manufacturing, each message needed to be broad enough to be available to everyone while also brief enough to get the message across at times when everyone is available.
Much like traditional marketing and advertising, though, we have multiple channels through which we can reach our employees: videos, digital signage, print media, and so on. The last two decades have brought a landslide of changes to the communications landscape in general, and that applies to our employees as well. When we launched our employee app, it gave us a channel to reach our employees right where they are, on their schedule.
I feel like good engagement begins with understanding: what information are the employees wanting and needing? What kind of questions are different members of our company getting about policies or benefits? What are their usage patterns for our different channels of communication? We use that information to help shape what we communicate, and to make sure that the information is relevant, timely, and clarifying. In that way, even though the subject may be a little drier than a human-interest story, it’s still something in which our employees are interested.
When messages are initially crafted by another group like HR or management, they can sound quite dry and corporate. Working within the internal communications department, I advocate for “humanizing” the message, and I feel like that helps engagement, too.
What techniques do you use to navigate changing employee expectations regarding their employer communications?
I love data, and I feel that good data drives communication. It’s really easy to track hard, quantifiable data in manufacturing, like units produced or jobs per hour, etc. But in communications, getting good data can be a complicated process. Luckily, as technology advances, so do our methods of feedback. We can see the numbers behind what content employees are interacting with and how long they engage with that material. We can see what works and where we have opportunities to improve.
One of the realities of communications is that there are rarely any one-size-fits-all solutions. I know my daughters can search for information online in a heartbeat, and there’s some truth to the belief that younger generations are more comfortable with technology. So as demographics change, I expect their media habits to change as well, and moving from a more traditional broadcasting method of communications to more interactive and responsive methods lets us see what works and what doesn’t, and make decisions based on that data.
We also supplement with real one-on-one interactions. Prior to COVID-19, our company held regular roundtables and focus groups where we spoke with employees in different parts of the organization and sought their feedback. We’ve had to make a few changes to the process, but the core of the reason for asking for that feedback remains the same: it adds qualitative data to our quantitative data and helps us understand what our employees need and want from us from a communications perspective.
Do you have any words of wisdom you would like to share with other comms professionals in the manufacturing space?
If I had any wisdom to offer other professionals in the manufacturing space, it would be to continue learning and seeking out knowledge. I’m sure it drives my superiors crazy sometimes, but I’m always asking “why?” Why is this done this way? What kind of data supports this method or technique? I approach everything with an open mind geared towards learning. If we do something one way and it works, I want to know why so that I can potentially apply that technique somewhere else. Or if we do something one way and we don’t have clear data on its efficacy, I want to look deeper and see if there is indeed data there to support continuing the process or revising it.
I’ve found that there’s some truth to the old adage, The more things change, the more they stay the same. Technology continues to evolve, and with it so do our communications tools and methods. Ultimately, people are looking for information that impacts their lives or makes them proud to be part of an organization.
So, my words of wisdom aren’t really words of wisdom since it’s something communications professionals are already excellent at. Start from the point of view of the audience to which you’re communicating. Use data to develop everything from the content to the tone of that content. And develop new tools and use existing ones to tweak and evolve anything and everything you can—the channels available, what different audiences seek out and interact with, and what tone strikes the best balance between getting across pertinent information briefly while still remaining interesting. And keep your finger on the pulse of the employees, leadership, and communication trends as a whole.
Oh, and take time for your hobbies.
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