VZ Communications Speaks Out

Fired ObamaCare Worker: Did Her Company Do the Right Thing?

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This week, a Florida woman named Earline Davis was working the telephones at the health care marketplace call center and enrolling Americans in health care insurance (i.e. ObamaCare) when a talk show host called. She granted him permission to record the live, on-the-air call and answered his questions. She was fired the next day. Was this the right move by her company? Probably not and here’s why.

First, the story.  When Ms. Davis answered a routine call to the hotline, conservative talk show host Sean Hannity was on the line and asked her a series of questions about issues with website enrollment, in addition to chatting about her training for the job, the weather and more.

When grilled by Hannity, she admitted to “glitches in the system.” She said she had been given a script to answer complaints and, at his request, read it verbatim to Hannity. “They told us there’s a

Interview with microphone

script for everything, so we just type keywords, look up that script and read it to the consumer,” she said. Asking about ObamaCare overall, Hannity said, “Have you ever got anyone who really likes it yet?” She answered, “No, not really.”

Ms. Davis reported that when she arrived at work the next day, she was met by three people who escorted her to human resources where she was told that speaking to the media was not allowed, and she was fired.

The problem here is this: (1) Ms. Davis claims she never was told in training that speaking to the media was against company policy and, (2) her employer has not claimed that Ms. Davis shared inaccurate information or deliberately attempted to damage the company. Ms. Davis seemed to speak honestly about her experiences at work and avoided personal commentary on the issues. For someone without media training, she did well in handling what often was an aggressive line of questioning.

The lesson here is obvious: Train the people who are your face to the public. If you do not specifically tell your employees that they should not talk to the media on behalf of the company and give them training on how to avoid doing so, you cannot expect them to handle the issue appropriately.  Since there were scripts available, Ms. Davis should have had access to one that read, “My only job is to enroll people in health care insurance. So unless you need to enroll, let me find a supervisor who can talk to you on the record about any issues with the process.”

Let’s say that Ms. Davis was mistaken – that in fact, she was instructed not to speak to the media. Should she be fired? Still, the case can be made against it. First, nothing she said seemed to be inaccurate or damaging. Moreover, she was so pleasant and so personable that it cast a favorable light on an enrollment process fraught with issues. Finally, when everything you do is being microscopically critiqued –not to mention questioned in a congressional hearing – the last thing you want to do is create yet one more reason for examination. Now, as Ms. Davis appears on various news programs and people flock to offer her “better” jobs, you have yet another public relations crisis: Big Government Versus the Nice Mother in Florida Who Was Just Doing Her Job.

Although many are turning the tables to blame Hannity for Ms. Davis’ termination rather than her company, the bottom line is this – it should not have happened at all. If you say the wrong thing, it’s not the reporter’s fault – it’s yours. You are in total control of everything you say. So prepare, prepare, prepare.

What should a company do when an employee speaks to the media but should not have done so? It depends on the circumstances but in this case, a better tactic for her employer would have been a 30-minute crash course before the next shift for all employees on how to handle these types of issues in the future. Should the company speak publicly about the issue?  I wouldn’t have recommended a public comment after the interview. Let it go. This could have been a one-day story reported primarily by a few media outlets. Instead, it has become a week-long story making its way through mainstream and social media.


Understanding Culture and Communication

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Suggested Reading: http://athrivingworkplace.com/2013/10/08/culture-and-communications-two-sides-of-the-same-coin/

This is a good article to help explain the idea of  “culture” and the role that communication plays in establishing it. In a nutshell, culture defines how things get done in our companies.

Culture = acceptable behavior.

As part of doing things, people interact and share messages — that is, the rules of the road.

Communication = defines acceptable behavior.

Leadership plays a key role in creating the right work environment for people to get things done, and they demonstrate that through both their actions as well as their words. This article gives leaders some tips on how to use communication to create the desired culture. “If leaders want to influence cultural norms they need to be a part of the employee discussion. Furthermore, this isn’t a discussion that leaders can simply insert themselves into; they need to be invited in by the employees. And the cost of a ticket to that discussion … is trust, authenticity, and intimacy.”

As Companies Get Wiser on Wellness Programs, Workers Get Healthier and Wealthier

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Suggested Reading: http://tinyurl.com/lfetexr

There are lots of debates on whether “wellness at work” programs work or not. In this article, a study found that at 60 percent work and that they can greatly reduce health care costs. Regardless, I know at least two things to be true: (1) Any time a company takes action to help an employee save money or improve his/her life, it increases the chance that the employee has a favorable opinion of the company, which in turn improves employee engagement and productivity, and (2) incentives to improve your health can be effective. Personally, I hate to exercise but I’ve been doing it routinely ever since my insurance company started offering me “points” for it. Seven months later, I think I’ve earned a whopping $200! It’s not about the money — it’s about racking up those points on the tote board. . . .

Click to see what VZ Communications has done for clients with wellness programs.


Only 18% of Employees are Engaged

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New Gallup poll says only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged at work/ In other words, about one in eight workers — roughly 180 million employees in the countries studied — are psychologically committed to their jobs and likely to be making positive contributions to their organizations. Read more.

Here are some tips on engaging employees. VZ Communications excels at helping companies do these five things very well, and we have the case studies to prove it:

1. Evaluate your current tools.
2. Connect employees to values.
3. Open the lines of communication.
4. Live the brand.
5. Remember that your message matters.

Overcoming Doubts about Hiring an Independent Consultant

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Suggested article for reading: http://www.mbopartners.com/blog/how-overcome-client-doubts-about-hiring-independent-consultant?goback=%2Egde_54676_member_278412354#%21

This article points out several ADVANTAGES to hiring an independent consultant, but let me also contend that independent practitioners are often more cost effective and produce as good or better products than large consulting firms.

  • We work quickly and efficiently because we don’t have the myriad of layers you’ll find in large firms (partners, senior VPs, VPs, account managers, supervisors, etc.). That saves you money and time.
  • We don’t sell you a service then move on to the next client while we farm out the work to the junior consultants. You get your work completed by experienced, senior professionals. We’re good at what we do or we couldn’t make a living at it. There’s no place to hide in a small firm if you don’t make the grade.
  • We have an extensive network of other senior professionals like us. We all work together to fill any gaps in skills and knowledge so that you get a top-notch team who can meet every need.
  • We’re nimble enough to immerse ourselves into your culture. We never act like an outside firm — we consider ourselves to be part of your team for the duration of the project (and maybe longer).
  • We don’t sell you an off-the-shelf solution. Everything is developed just for you, based on our experience and knowledge. When I worked in corporate, I remember hiring a firm that charged me thousands for a strategy that they had developed months before for other clients. Their practice was to do a search-and-replace within the document, then send it off to the next client. Too bad that the search-and-replace they did on the strategy they sold me didn’t catch every reference to the last client. Yes, I fired them.

My passion for independent practitioners isn’t because I am one. It’s because when I worked in corporate, it was my practice to hire independent practitioners. My colleagues blew their budgets on elite firms, arguing that a one-stop shop was more efficient than managing one-off writers, designers, videographers, etc. They were lazy and wrong — once I found the best in the business in every tactical and strategic area of communications, it took very little time to explain to each what I needed and even less time to hold their hands as they did it. First drafts were often final drafts. We came together as our own little firm, making big things happen for my company.

They saved me money, they produced great communications, and they made me look good.


First, Engage Yourself

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Jumping Business PeopleSuggested article for reading: A Very Simple Reason Employee Engagement Programs Don’t Work 

This article (see link above) is a great reminder that changing the culture in which we expect our employees to thrive and be productive begins when we look in the mirror ourselves. I’ve been an advocate of ensuring that employees know “what’s in it for them” for a a long time. In fact, it’s how we reporters were taught to write news articles — always answer the question “what does this mean to the reader?” within the first two paragraphs of your story. In the 1990s, communication experts and researchers wrote books and did study after study about how linking personal success with business success “engaged” people  at work and, in turn, made them even more productive and satisfied.

Sadly — 20 years later — we’re still trying to figure out how to engage employees. The folks in Silicon Valley seem to have it figured out — doesn’t every young college graduate yearn for Free Beer Fridays at Pixar or to get a free massage and play roller hockey at Google?

Call it a program or initiative or even change management — the words you use to describe it aren’t nearly as important as the actions you take to make it happen. Roll your eyes at the West Coast folks (of course, they aren’t the only ones who’ve figured out this engagement stuff), but they’re on to something. You already know that most employees will come to work and do their jobs for a paycheck . . . maybe even for some intrinsic desire to do the right thing. But in today’s global economy, your business will not succeed with average people who merely clock in and clock out. The brightest, most talented, most productive people — the ones who will take your business to the next level — can’t wait to get to work in the morning and do great things.

How do you create that kind of motivation? First, ask them. Too often, we grab the latest issue of Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For and assume that if good service rewards works at Wegmans Food Markets, it ought to work for us. Maybe, but my research often finds that topping employee wish lists is everything from better desk chairs to the opportunity to contribute creatively and be rewarded for it. Every situation, every employee, every company is different. Start by asking employees what would make their companies a better place to work, and change the company. Change within your employees will likely follow.


Paula Deen: It Didn’t Have To Happen

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A lot can be said about how poorly this was handled by the Paula Deen team from a crisis communication standpoint. But let’s go back to the root of the issue — it may never have started in the first place if there had been a clearly defined communication channel that allowed workplace concerns to be elevated to leaders who could address them. These channels are not difficult to establish and can make a huge difference not only in employee engagement but also in public opinion, as evidenced in this case.