Company: Advisor Group, Phoenix, AZ USA
Nomination Category: Achievement in Internal Communications
Advisor Group is one of the largest networks in the U.S. of independent financial advisors, overseeing $268+ billion in client assets. The company’s 1,000+ employees in 5 states, serve 7,000+ customers in a fast-paced, dynamic industry. The past 18 months have been a time of growth and vitality: the business added 2,000 more customers (+35%), launched multiple new services, integrated 3 major acquisitions, and addressed significant new regulatory requirements. The efforts of the 17-member HR team were key to the culture change and employee engagement required to support the needs of the business.
This rapid pace of change and the intensity of the business cycle called for an entirely new approach to internal communications as 2018 began. A Strategic Framework for Internal Communications was introduced, with three objectives:
Shape and Form the emerging culture of this newly-independent business so as to institutionalize it;
Increase Employee Engagement; and “Bring the Customer Closer.”
Two key challenges:
Creating a common culture among employees geographically dispersed at 5 sites in 5 states, with ~100 working from home.
Only half of the 1,000 employees are in customer-facing roles (call centers); the remainder are functional corporate staff that support their colleagues.
Small-town newspaper model adopted
The Communications Team introduced a new internal communication strategy modeled on the way a small-town news organization covers its community, with frequent & deep “local” coverage. There were two success factors:
1. Ensuring a multi-skilled Communications Team – An effective small-town news organization relies on a variety of people: writers, editors, photographers, researchers, infographic designers, data analytics teams, videographers, and video editors. The two Advisor Group communicators are “back-pack journalists” by training and experience, that is, each is able to apply all of these transferable skill sets from journalism to the business environment.
The two communicators stay close to the HR team, CEO and functional leaders for identifying appropriate content capture opportunities, enabling a steady flow of written and photo/video examples of employees making the culture real (avg 40/month). They also commission field admins, executives, and those attending conferences as “correspondents.”
2. “Outside-In” News Focus – The new communications strategy regularly exposes employees to customer issues, and what they need from us to be successful. Some examples of “bringing the outside in” to the entire organization include:
a. External customer events hosted by the company receive ample internal coverage (text, photos, video), with key remarks from executives, samples of external presentations, and photos showing sales & marketing employees at work visibly interacting with customers.
b. Advance copies of all customer-facing communications are shared with employees. For those in the call centers, this helps them be more informed when customers call with questions; for those not in customer-facing roles, it sensitizes them to how the company is communicating externally, and also how their projects and initiatives are being marketed to gain revenue and share.
c. Adherence to external newswriting standards to ease readability. These include timeliness, brevity, writing style & succinct headlines, use of multi-media, and making it clear when “action is required.” It includes targeted messaging and a focus on “people” through photos and quotes (people want to read about people).
The quantity, frequency, and visibility of culture-shaping and employee engagement examples issued as part of this new communication strategy quickly created a snowball effect of positive momentum. Some of the communication-led projects also directly engaged hundreds of employees (team videos; see samples).
During this period, Glassdoor approval scores reached new levels (4.0/5.0), and a bi-annual employee engagement survey showed double-digit improvements across the board. This was also reflected in the bottom line, as the financial advisors served by Advisor Group continued to experience above-average growth net of the market. Importantly, that momentum has continued into 2019.
1) Steady drumbeat of culture-related examples: 40+ culture/engagement stories monthly, with photos and/or video links…kept culture initiatives visible, built positive and fun momentum.
2) “My Career Story” Video campaign, with 23 internally produced employee testimonial brief “why I work here” videos…dual outcome of aiding internal engagement and external recruiting.
3) Employee Voice Survey participation campaign, with six-week climate-setting series ahead of survey date, featuring NCAA-themed summary videos of past actions, leader encouragements, and site/function contests…drove awareness, participation to record 90%, and gave leaders strong actionable data.
4) Customized Manager “Communication Framework” tools developed and presented to over 70% of manager…to help cascade and reinforce business strategy in their own team meetings…managers rated it 4/7/5.0)
5) People-focused Framework for CEO All Hands Agenda…. Employee Photo Collage cover slide, brisk & brief reports like a TV show, ample time (30+ minutes) for Q&A…leadership visibility