Diary of An Intern: Learning How to Communicate Change

Over the last few weeks at my internship, I've gotten an insider's view of a corporate philanthropy program in action. I've learned about how ABC gives (through donations of money, product and time) and what kinds of programs it will support (generally, family health and wellness, although the guidelines get more narrow for more restricted things like cash grants). And so far it's been a great learning experience, one that has reinforced my view that, when done right, for-profit companies really can use corporate giving programs to not only better their communities but connect more effectively and genuinely with their customers and employees. In all of this learning, though, there's been one unexpected challenge: what happens when a company has put a corporate giving strategy in place...but no one pays attention?

Perhaps the biggest bump in the road that I've encountered so far is a true lack of knowledge, awareness, and unfortunately in a large handful of cases, what appears to be a disinterest in ABC's corporate philanthropy program. The lack of knowledge and awareness shouldn't surprise me - afterall, this is why I was hired in the first place (that whole "Socialization plan" I talked about a few weeks ago). But I've been a bit taken aback by some of the employees at ABC who don't seem all that interested in our program and what we're trying to accomplish.

Case in point: I've talked about those intern training meetings the company holds, where senior leaders from different functional areas come to talk to us about the work they do. At the start of every meeting, we go around the table and introduce ourselves and what department we're in. ABC has interns in finance, marketing, new business development, even packaging - and when those interns say what they're doing for the summer, no one raises an eyebrow. But when I explain I'm working in corporate giving - well, all I can say is it's like on TV when all of a sudden the record screeches to a halt and the room goes silent. People just don't seem to get it.

This got me thinking: what can I do to not only educate employees about corporate giving at ABC, but actually incentivize them to get involved?

I've often spoken with employees about the program, and while a little education helps them understand the point of it, it still doesn't seem to register with them that they can actually participate in it. They seem to "get" why it's important in the grand scheme of things (at least as it relates to making our consumers happy), but often it appears there still is a disconnect when it comes to why this should matter to them specifically. On the other hand, I know through both actual and anecdotal evidence that corporate giving is important and that it should matter to our employees - which I guess just demonstrates how assumptions (and perhaps my own idealism) can get in the way of actual progress.

Anyway, what's interesting is that this whole epiphany around how to effectively promote this kind of program and activate employees to get involved coincided with a recent conversation I had with a new friend of mine, Monica Nakielski. Monica is Principal at Harmeda, a CSR strategy consulting firm in Boston. Over the last few months she's been kind enough to serve as a source of information, background, and insights for me during my own career exploration (you can follow her on twitter and read her insights for yourself at @mnakielsi). Anyway, Monica and her colleague Heather Stagl (@enclaria) have just written a workbook entitled "Plan to Avoid Scattershot Change: A Step-by-Step Guide to Communicating for Change" and they were kind enough to give me a sneak peak. What's great about it is that it literally walks you through the steps involved in communicating change at your organization, including targeting your message to the specific audience you're trying to reach as well as carefully choosing the medium through which you'll transmit your story. It turns out that it's not as simple as just telling people about your program and expecting them to get on board - which, in hindsight, is what I have been doing without even realizing it.

One of my favorite sections of the workbook talks about how to "Entice, Educate, and Engage" the stakeholders involved in the change initiative, and I've been thinking a lot about how to do that at ABC. Interestingly, the Educate and Engage parts don't seem as tough as the Entice idea. In the end, I think it comes down to creating a message and action plan that is so compelling, transparent and genuine that the reasons to get involved seem obvious (which I know is easier said than done, but in theory shouldn't be too tough considering we're talking about philanthropy). I can educate employees about corporate giving, and I can recruit employees who have participated to engage their colleagues in the program.

But when messages constantly compete for employee attention and you can't offer incentives beyond "feeling good," how do you entice people to sit up and pay attention? 

This is a question I'll be working through over the next few weeks and I'd love your feedback. How have you caught people's attention and inspired change from within? What's worked? And what hasn't? And of course I'll keep you posted on my progress.

In the meantime, if you want to learn more about Monica and Heather's workbook, they're going to be hosting a webinar on July 17th for Net Impact members to introduce their ideas and walk people through the plan. You can check out more details on the The Changebase events tab under July or click here.