The Swear Jar

When Employee Communications Has No Budget

July 16, 2020 Andrew Brown and Elizabeth Williams
The Swear Jar
When Employee Communications Has No Budget
Chapters
0:00
Introduction
0:48
What we mean when we say 'no budget'
1:46
Reasons why organizations have no employee communications budget
4:06
Consequences of having no employee communications budget
7:29
What to do when you have no employee communications budget
16:08
Summary
17:31
Post-Covid-19 Employee Communications Product
18:06
What's caught our attention
21:28
Outro
The Swear Jar
When Employee Communications Has No Budget
Jul 16, 2020
Andrew Brown and Elizabeth Williams


Supervisor: “Congratulations on becoming our Senior Manager in charge of employee communications. We know communicating well with employees is vital to the continued success of our organization. So, we’re expecting great things from you.” 

Communications Professional: “Sounds great. I’m confident that we can leverage employee communications to move the needle on some of the organization’s top priorities. What’s the current budget for employee communications?”

Supervisor: “Employee communications budget? We don’t have one.”

If this scenario sounds familiar to you, don’t panic. You’re far from being alone and this situation need not be hopeless. There are tangible things you can do to successfully address the absence of an employee communications budget in your organization.

In this fast-paced episode of The Swear Jar, Elizabeth Williams and I provide you with tips for understanding/addressing the following:

  • Why there is no employee communications budget
  • The consequences of having no budget for employee communications
  • Securing an employee communications budget                      

 3 Exclusives for Listeners of The Swear Jar

As a listener of The Swear Jar, make sure you take advantage of some of our exclusives offers brought to you by some of our truly amazing podcast guests. 

  • Get a 20% on tools and training on becoming a better teller of corporate stories. Go to LeadwithaStory.com (by entering the code, LAUNCH). 
  • Get up to 5% off workshop products from group facilitation experts, Facilitation First.
  • And, win a free copy of one of Paul Smith’s books (“The 10 Great Stories Leaders Tell” or “Selling with Stories”) by sending an email to [email protected] with a note telling us your story about dealing with no or little employee communications budget. We’ll choose winners from the notes sent to us and highlight your in an upcoming episode of The Swear Jar podcast.


 

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers


Supervisor: “Congratulations on becoming our Senior Manager in charge of employee communications. We know communicating well with employees is vital to the continued success of our organization. So, we’re expecting great things from you.” 

Communications Professional: “Sounds great. I’m confident that we can leverage employee communications to move the needle on some of the organization’s top priorities. What’s the current budget for employee communications?”

Supervisor: “Employee communications budget? We don’t have one.”

If this scenario sounds familiar to you, don’t panic. You’re far from being alone and this situation need not be hopeless. There are tangible things you can do to successfully address the absence of an employee communications budget in your organization.

In this fast-paced episode of The Swear Jar, Elizabeth Williams and I provide you with tips for understanding/addressing the following:

  • Why there is no employee communications budget
  • The consequences of having no budget for employee communications
  • Securing an employee communications budget                      

 3 Exclusives for Listeners of The Swear Jar

As a listener of The Swear Jar, make sure you take advantage of some of our exclusives offers brought to you by some of our truly amazing podcast guests. 

  • Get a 20% on tools and training on becoming a better teller of corporate stories. Go to LeadwithaStory.com (by entering the code, LAUNCH). 
  • Get up to 5% off workshop products from group facilitation experts, Facilitation First.
  • And, win a free copy of one of Paul Smith’s books (“The 10 Great Stories Leaders Tell” or “Selling with Stories”) by sending an email to [email protected] with a note telling us your story about dealing with no or little employee communications budget. We’ll choose winners from the notes sent to us and highlight your in an upcoming episode of The Swear Jar podcast.


 

Elizabeth Williams
Hi everyone and welcome to The Swear Jar, the official podcast at the Academy of Business Communications, where we tell it like it is about corporate and employee communications and use occasionally colorful language to raise money for worthy causes. My name is Elizabeth Williams,

Andrew Brown
And, I'm Andrew Brown. Today we're going to talk about something that all organizations face at one time or another. It makes me mad it makes me sad, or as I take from one of my favorite shows, it makes me SMAD we're talking, of course, about when an organization has no budget, or its employee communications.

Elizabeth Williams
Let's start at the beginning. What do we mean when we say employee communications has no budget. So it can mean a few things it can mean there's not enough resources to accomplish what's expected of the internal communications function. Or the team. No money is devoted to training people who for the health of the organization actually need to be better at communicating with their colleagues or supervisors and reports. But what we don't mean necessarily is that there's a shortage of money for, let's say, trinkets and trash and posters and some supervisors pet project because they almost always seem to have money found somewhere in the budget. So essentially, we're describing organizations that have not formally allocated a specific dollar amount or range to help implement the communications function to fulfill its general mandate of strengthening the bond between the organization and its employees.

Andrew Brown
Now, I always find that astonishing. You have to wonder, given that kind of critical mandate for every organization, why those charged with employee communications end up having little or no budget, and I believe it turns out that the reasons fall into one of three broad buckets, number one: employee communications just isn't valued. And of course that spills into if you will into bucket number two, employee communications has not clearly articulated what is expected of them, nor have they ever really quantified previous results. And the third bucket, which is related to buckets number one, two, is that employee communication budgets get cut because of the missteps or other emerging priorities,

Elizabeth Williams
But, I would also say there's a fourth bucket and that's when the person who's putting the budget together really doesn't have any idea of what employee communications costs. And so they assume that because there's a headcount and a computer that the rest of it is somehow free because that person is just doing it. In fact, that happened to me I was hired at a place as the new Director of Communications and sat in a meeting where the executive said, Oh, good, the communications problem is solved because now Elizabeth is here, and I'm thinking, you have no idea what I'm about. And so, you know, they forget about things like, you know, translation and design and we have to buy software licenses and, and yeah, we need to train our communicators, both the people on the team and also executives and managers. So of course, there's cost, the value things interesting, and it's a bit of a tough nut to crack. And so that can be, you know, a bad history, someone really screwed up the employee communications, it could be that it was just in the hands of a, let's say, less than competent, or her less than popular person or department. And so often it's tucked under other places as somebody side hustle. And it could be a case of our old friend, you know, the Communications Fallacy. Hey, everyone communicates, so we must be doing it. Well. It could be that there's just a prevailing attitude that communication somehow happens by magic or, you know, it bursts fully formed from the earth. But you know, the truth is that when the communications area has no budget, scary shit is definitely happening. So we'll start with the most obvious outcome, a really important life or death stuff tends to get ignored or it gets miscommunicated or just done badly or too late. I don't know about you. But I've certainly seen that during the recent COVID pandemic, you know, employers were called upon to communicate really scary stuff that changed every other day that they barely understood, they had to do it in a huge hurry. And a lot of them who had no actual communications team tried the old DIY, do it yourself approach. And of course, by the time they called us, they had managed to scare half their frontline employees into staying home. One employer I worked with was using terms like 'failure to follow public health protocols will result in immediate termination'. But then they weren't saying what those public health protocols were because they were changing every single day. So that's an example really, of amateur hour in the communications department. And that's an output of Not having the budget to do it well and do it professionally and we aren't having a crisis. You know, we can certainly see what happens when employers do a crappy job of communicating routine changes, like mergers, right? They freak people out. And that can sometimes help you find your way into an ugly media story. Yeah,

Andrew Brown
There are some other implications having no employee communications budget and one I think that all communications professionals feel is that over the long term: the bar for employee communications remains really low. And all the negative outcomes that come with poor employee communications naturally kick in and these are things that span all departments: lower employee engagement, higher employee turnover, less pride, taking the work people complying with key industry standards, of course, lower productivity, which is what everyone sort of gravitates to less innovation and ultimately, an eroded commitment to the organization's purpose. So, essentially, without a communications budget, it really destroys any organization's ability to adapt to change and survive.

Elizabeth Williams
And, you know, one thing that we have heard in the face of this right as well, you know, we're we're bootstrapping. And you know, if we had a budget, we wouldn't have that nice camaraderie and we don't need some stuffy communications person. And that may be the case in a very small organization. But that really only works for a short amount of time. In large organizations, people very quickly learned that important shit is going on behind the scenes and that leaders aren't always interested or able to share that information effectively. And that whole bootstrapping thing, it's a little bit absurd, right? Would you even consider asking an organization to not have an IT budget or a budget to hire skilled people or budget to innovate or budget to do marketing, right? I mean, if you did you may as well just pack up your bag.

Andrew Brown
We've covered what we mean when we say an organization has no employee communication budget. And, we've also covered the reasons that employee communications may not have a budget and the dire implications when there is no budget for employee communications. Now, let's get to the hard part. Right let's turn to what our fearless communicators all our listeners out there can do when they're given the challenge of strengthening the bond between an organization and its employees. And yet they have no budget. In my mind they're are only two choices. One: figure out what can be achieved without having a budget or really low budget or two: figure out how to go about getting a budget.

Elizabeth Williams
Yeah, that's kind of a Hobson's choice, right? The reality is, they're both pretty tough and depending on your culture, it may actually be Easier getting a budget than figuring out, you know, which fires you're going to put out with your teeny, weeny little budget, why we started how we go get a budget, because you and I have both had to do that a whole bunch of times. And, we need to start with a little bit of a painful reflection, which is that maybe we as communicators have contributed to the situation, maybe, just maybe we've been so bogged down with the tasks that we've actually lost sight of the forest for the trees. And if that's the case, we can definitely play a role in figuring this out. So I would say the first place you want to start, especially if you're new in an organization, or you're new in your role is figure out how your organization manages the process for setting and reviewing and finalizing budgets like who's involved in that how are budgets managed and reviewed some some companies it's quarterly, semi annually, sometimes it's annually in some corporations, those processes are well articulated. And then some you have to know the rules of the game and otherwise you're roadkill. So, my first piece of advice would be, please make sure you get a guide on this journey either from someone inside or outside. So internally, I always made friends with somebody in finance. They're incredibly helpful. Yeah, I mean, they help you not just get your bills paid and stuff, but they can let you know when the planning cycle start and end and what's expected and how people go about getting budget. So if you've got any of those trinkets in your desk, go make a new friend and finance get a mug or something. And if not, you know, get someone from outside get someone who's put together budgets before to help you do a good job. A lot of communicators maybe are a little intimidated by putting a budget together but you part of working in an organization and we need to get our head around the whole process and we need to get injected into it. I would say I another good first step is find out when the annual budget planning cycle starts. There's always a planning cycle. I'd say it takes about four months before your fiscal year ends. So, if you've got a January first fiscal start, then about August is when the finance people are going to start sending out the templates and looking for the answers and initial guidance on what people are looking for for the next year. So, you need to work your way into that. And I would say, go to your supervisor and just say, you know, we need to make sure employee communications is measurably supporting our organization's priorities. No one's gonna argue with that. I mean, if they do, I would say get out of Dodge, because you don't want to work for that company. Because that's just a company that doesn't want to work for us. They want to slave force. And part of the skill set of a Fearless Communicator is knowing when to stick to your guns and when to realize that some organizations are, are simply not going to share your values. And it invariably means that you're going to have to develop a detailed plan with specific employee communication skills and activities, the expected outcomes, the risks, what you're going to do to mitigate the risks, and how you're going to validate or measure those outcomes. And every single thing on there has to ladder to a corporate goal, even if it's a little bit of a stretch, and that's kind of your insurance policy, right? Like if you can say, Well, if I do this that we help achieve that goal, you blunt a lot of the arguments that are likely to come here way about corporate communications being somehow fluffy and, and in fact, one of my favorite goals, if I can't think of anything else is the dismal world of compliance. Never underestimate the value of compliance in getting budget. So one company I know was forever in trouble with authorities for badly communicating its health and safety policies, right. There's a lot of regulations around how you do that. And they were also not communicating in French, which is the law if you work in Quebec, and they did. And once I found out they were missing the ball on this, I actually went to the legal people, and the Occupational Health and Safety people and I just said, I can help you comply, and their little lights lit up. I didn't have to give them a mug or a cookie or anything. And I did, I made friends and legal. And then what I ended up getting was a very generous translation budget, because once the organization realized that communications is part of compliance, they immediately gave me the money I needed for translation, which was most of what I'd been asking for, I think another place you can start Put some budget in my experiences in projects. So if your organization is going through a change or implementing a new technology, chances are there's a whole project team. And that project team has a project budget. And if you can get in there fast enough, you can make sure that the project manager sets aside a chunk of budget for communications, that's critical.

Andrew Brown
The more discipline you can bring to the table, the more serious you will be taken, the more value you will bring to the organization. And the more you will be seen to bring value and the more budget you will secure as a result. I think that's a good thing for communicators at all levels of an organization. Of course, we have to be real as well. If your organization is gone sometime with literally no budget, you're not going to solve all the organization's issues overnight. And the truth will likely be that you may not be seen as credible enough to secure anything, but a token budget. So build into your budget planning process, involvement of internal and external sources, who might bring some additional validation and increase the credibility of that budget and of course, the plan that you're proposing. Essentially, get another set of eyes on it, someone who's perceived as being credible, and that's going to help you get a budget faster.

Elizabeth Williams
There are probably a Google Search can get you some benchmarking data from IABC or other organizations that if you can pop in front of leadership that says, well, companies in our snack bracket are spending this much on communications and I'm only asking for like 'this much' -- sometimes you can actually make it sound like it's a bargain. Let's look at that other smelly pile, though. In other words, what do you do when you just don't have a budget? Or it's teeny tiny? Do we, you know, put our energies behind our leaders pet projects, because those are probably on a saleable? Do we just forget employee communications or, or try to scrape it into the lap of some unsuspecting newbie and Marketing or HR or do we wait until something breaks? And then go do the 'I told you so dance' and get some project money to clean up the mess that someone just made?

Andrew Brown
I think we've all been there and wanted to do that. But of course that doesn't help anyway. So, you know, that is the million dollar question that our that our clients, regardless of the budgets turn to us to help answer. Essentially, they want to know where they will get the biggest bang for the buck. And that's a valid point. But it often neglects that reality that employee communications without budgets must contend with. And that reality is that that may be in an organization culture that is neutral on the importance of employee communications, a lack of in house communication skills, and has little thought given to the business risks of not having effective employee communications.

Elizabeth Williams
And the risk is huge right? And we certainly we've helped lots of clients get past these issues that handcuff fearless communicators, we try to focus on what is the difference between the employee communications that are important, and those that are truly urgent. And particularly if you can tie it back to risk, you tend to win the hearts and minds as well as the finance team. So, you may find people going to bat for you if you can connect, reducing risk with employee communications. And in fact, we have a little tool that we use with our clients to help them give them a starting point for connecting corporate priorities with budgets and we pleased to share that. That is a good starting point.

Andrew Brown
Yeah, for this discussion, it's also an appropriate point to, let's summarize some of some of our discussion points. So for one, determine why your organization has no or little or insufficient budget for employee communications and the reasons always organization specific and hinges on the assumptions about employee communications and its role or effectiveness in helping your organization meet its business goals. And that's one key issue. The second point: get acquainted with that budgeting process, as Elizabeth says, you know, make friends with someone in finance or maybe someone legal, maybe both. Also get acquainted with the people, the timetable, the criteria. And chances are, you're going to need some support from an internal sponsor. You could use an external guide like someone who's been there. And finally, create a budget is part of a communications plan. It's never divorced from a plan and when you get budget, measure the crap out of the results and demonstrate you've actually delivered on the budget.

Elizabeth Williams
Excellent. I would also add that if you haven't before developed the business case for employee communications reach out to someone like us. That's one of the things that we do is we help communicators tie the plan that they want to put together to the actual business and making the business case so we can help you build one that's compelling and of course, measurable so that you don't get budget once you get budget forever.

Andrew Brown
Elizabeth, thank you for that shameless shill for our shopping for, you know, business case for employee communication.

Elizabeth Williams
I would be remiss if I didn't shave.

Andrew Brown
You know what I see that shameless show and I'll do one as well, I'll add, we have a new product offering called Back on Track, which helps our listeners and their teams construct, rollout and manage all post COVID-19 employee communications and that's a scary thing for people to wrap their head around. So I'm very excited about pulled together as product. That being said, Elizabeth, what are you listening to watching reading these days?

Elizabeth Williams
Of course, we're recording this in June of 2020. So I would say that 90% of what's on my reading list is stuff about how we're communicating as we start to roll out of the beginning of the COVID crisis. And so one of the things I actually was listening to is if anybody hasn't heard of farnam Street, it's a fantastic blog. It's written out of Ottawa, Canada, and it's meaty, and it's really good. And they have a podcast which is called the knowledge project. I was listening to Episode 84 and it was an episode about how you create routine from chaos. I was originally actually not going to listen to it because it sounded fluffy and dumb. And boy, am I glad I listened because I realized that how chaotic the workplace has really been for the last few months. And in general, it's pretty chaotic and the incredible value of having routine in terms of both being personally productive, but I was also reflecting that we need routines as organizations to be collectively productive and collectively connected. This podcast gave me a ton to think about. We'll put a link in the show notes, and I highly recommend Farnam Street, the knowledge project podcast, and in particular, this episode about creating routines from chaos.

Andrew Brown
So, I'm reading or rereading our newly published book, the Fearless Communicators Guide to COVID-19: How to communicate with employees to get through scary, uncertain and uncomfortable times. And we pull together that book because we wanted to provide some very practical, actionable tools and advice that people could use right away. It has a self assessment to help her listeners position themselves in terms of crisis communications and a 30 day plan. And I'm also revisiting Edward de Bono book called Sur-petition. It's about creating value when everyone else is merely competing. Always a good read. Always a few nuggets you take away from that guy. It really helps reframe how to think about something, how to have a discussion with someone and 'turn the lights on' for someone who's locked in a particular way of thinking.

Elizabeth Williams
Well, thank you talking of shameless shills you put me to shame on that. And I would think that Edward de Bono book I actually haven't read that.

Elizabeth Williams
There we go, creating value, and I think that's a great place to end. So that's it for us, everybody. Thank you so much for joining. If you liked this podcast, do us a favor and leave a rating or better still subscribe,

Andrew Brown
Check out the show notes and resources at Academy of Business Communications.com. Until next time, see you soon. Bye, everyone.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai
Introduction
What we mean when we say 'no budget'
Reasons why organizations have no employee communications budget
Consequences of having no employee communications budget
What to do when you have no employee communications budget
Summary
Post-Covid-19 Employee Communications Product
What's caught our attention
Outro