Communication essentials - March

A note from the author: I’ve decided to reboot the communication essentials blog. I’m going to share the industry rundowns for the weekly ‘ben thinking’ roundup. (Sign up below.) I will be using this space to focus on one ‘essential’ that you might need or find interesting. The focus, as always, is on you. I hope you find these helpful as I will be posting a new one every Monday and Thursday.

Turnover tsunami.

Shhh. Don’t tell anyone, but there is a storm coming.

A ‘turnover tsunami,’ as Recruiting News Network calls it in this article, is about to hit. I’ve seen the forecast, and it isn’t great. Let’s put it this wayꟷif this were a real storm, Jim Cantore would be showing up to our collective town, bracing for the worst.

I hope you find some time to read the full article* but as a quick preview, the article starts by sharing the results of a recent study that shows more than half of those employees surveyed in North America are planning to look for a new job in 2021. And in a separate study, a quarter of those interviewed are going to quit their job outright.

You’ll find some of the usual suspects as the reasons for thisꟷpay, burnout, balanceꟷbut not surprisingly, the pandemic has had an effect. From the article:

“… 46 percent of respondents feel less connected to their company, and 42 percent say company culture has diminished since the start of the pandemic. Just 21 percent said they are very engaged at work.”

Alerting you to this coming storm isn’t the only reason I highly suggest reading this piece. It does go on to share some great thoughts on how to lessen this storm’s impact on your business. My favorite? External stay interviews, where third-party companies talk to your employees to learn more about those unseen flight risk factors.

I use this blog to share news that I think is essential to helping your business stay pointed in the right directionꟷespecially when those essentials can be managed through a holistic communications strategy. This piece definitely checks the box and reminds us just how important an internal communications program is to protecting your business. Think of it as your umbrella.

And that’s my last storm analogy.

Speaking of ‘last,’ this is the last blog for March as I won’t be posting new content on Thursday and akhia is closed on Friday. I’ll see you back here on Monday, April 5.

Have a great Easter weekend!

*Thank you to Kevin Bachman, CRA Doctor, Screenbridge Partners, LLC for sending me this week’s article!

Water cooler chat.

One year into the pandemic, there is one thing I think we can all agree on—we miss the small talk. The water cooler chatter. I’m totally dating myself, but some of my most vivid memories are talking about ‘new’ movies and shows—and must-see moments—ranging from The Sopranos to Napoleon Dynamite to The Office.

So, I thought—why not bring this experience back? Here are some water cooler thoughts to share with you for the month of March.


What am I watching? A little bit of everything.

  • Billions – Is it bad I’m rooting for Axe? (Note: I’m only in season 2.)
  • The Crown – Some episodes make me sleepy, but one thing’s for sure—this is some of the best acting on TV, period.
  • The Sopranos – No, not for the first time. Call it nostalgia. Call it time to fill. But I’m re-watching this and enjoying it almost more than the first time. The show goes deeper than I ever realized.
  • Cobra Kai – Guilty ’80s pleasure is now guilty 2020s pleasure.
  • The Boys – I just finished; can’t wait for season 3. Is Homelander one of the best, worst characters on TV?
  • The Umbrella Academy – I just finished; can’t wait for season 3. Is Klaus one of the best, worst characters on TV?
  • Avatar, the Last Airbender – My daughters pleaded. I caved. I watched on of their favorite shows ever and I have to say … not bad.
  • WandaVision – Blew my mind.
  • The Mandalorian, season 2. Yes, I was behind. Yes, I love Grogu. And, yes, somehow I avoided the spoilers!

Oscar watch

Despite a weird year, there are some great movies out/being considered for Oscar.

  • Nomadland – I’m pretty sure this has to win best picture. It sums up 2020.
  • The Chicago 7 – Admittedly, I’m only halfway through. But so far, so great.
  • Judas and the Black Messiah – Loved this movie. And parts were shot in Cleveland. LaKeith Stanfield and Daniel Kaluuya are both outstanding. A shame only one can win.
  • Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – Speaking of winning … Chadwick Boseman? Yep. Viola Davis? Yep. These are no-brainers.

Crime Corner

One of the categories my wife and I watch together.

  • Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel – The way some of the interviewees talked about this hotel … especially the couple who showered and drank the water after … well, just watch it.
  • Night Stalker – This one creeped me out. And has a dark tie to the Cecil Hotel.

Let’s get the (virtual) water cooler going! So, what are you watching? Shoot me a note on LinkedIn or email (

Vaccination marketing.

As I said last week … this is a no-judgment zone. This isn’t a piece on how you should or shouldn’t get vaccinated. However, it is a piece on what companies are doing to market to you if you are.

We’ve heard a lot about companies incentivizing employees to get vaccinated. The most recent is Bolthouse Farms, which will pay employees $500 to ‘get the shot’ at one of the clinics they’re holding in-house.

Now we’re seeing companies latch on to vaccine promos. Uber and Lyft were offering free rides to vaccination sites. But Krispy Kreme might have come up with the most … ahem … tasty offering yet: a free glazed donut for showing your vaccination card.

Here in Northeast Ohio, Cleveland-based Market Garden Brewery is offering a 10-cent beer of your choice to the first 2,021 people showing their card. Given the Cleveland connection, I might have chosen to stay away from any beer-related 10 cent promo. (But it’s the thought that counts, and I would definitely choose a beer over a donut.)

So what do you think? Is this a viable marketing tactic? Too polarizing? Or did I lose you at free donut?

One thing is for sure: We are continuing to see the world of communications being rewritten. Are you a composer? Or a consumer?

Channel awareness.

First … this is a no-judgment zone. Hey, if you want to post personal info, funny anecdotes and pictures of pets on LinkedIn, that’s totally your right to do so.

However, just don’t expect everyone to like it. Including LinkedIn.

They are launching a new campaign to remind all of us to … well … keep our focus. Turns out they don’t want to become Facebook. And all judging and joking aside, I have to say the campaign is well-timed.

LinkedIn has worked very hard to come back from the brink, turning into a powerful networking community that has done a lot of good and inspired a lot of business-minded thinking. So it’s understandable they’d want to fight to keep it that way. Their charge to us?

“Do business where business is done.”

A solid reminder to respect the channel and, even more importantly, protect your channel strategy.

Resting my eyes.

“I’m not sleeping. I’m resting my eyes.” This should be the next installment of those fantastic Dr. Rick Progressive commercials.

One year into the pandemic, your eyesꟷand brainꟷcould use a rest from the video calls. This read from CNN breaks down all the ways Zoom, Teams, etc., are assaulting our senses and challenging the way our brain was wired to interact with people.

I feel the strain of this daily as I’m sure so many of you do. For those of you who don’t know meꟷor were never in a prepandemic meeting with meꟷI should tell you that I have a very hard time sitting still. I like to write and sketch on my notepad or the white board. I like to get up. I don’t sit still in my chair. So having to concentrate all of my energy onto a 13-inch screen has definitely been a shock to the system.

The good news is … this article shares a solution. And the solution is pretty revolutionary. I’m not even sure I should give it away for free but … since we’re all friends, here it is: Opt for more phone calls.

Yep, the old-fashioned phone call. Or don’t turn your camera on and just use voice. Either way, give yourself a break from the video screen.

So my challenge for anyone reading today is this—turn one meeting a day into a phone call. I would love to hear how this helps, if at all. Or if you have any tips worth sharing on how to defend against video fatigue.

Pick up a phone. Rest those weary eyes.

Managing change fatigue.

Earlier this week I revisited the emails I sent our agency one year ago at the start of COVID. I sent six emails in a five-day span, each day building on the prior day’s news. Consider that in one week we hit employees with news regarding:

  • The stock market halting trading
  • The first COVID case in Ohio
  • Changing our visitation policy
  • Announcing work from home for the week for those with kids in schools that had closed
  • An employee COVID scare
  • Closing the office … for three weeks

Three weeks turned into 52, and we were off and running with trying to help employees as we adjusted to working from home as well as maintaining transparency with our company moves and policies.

No one stopped to ask, ‘are we hitting our employees with too much?’ or ‘should we try to balance the communications we’re sending?’ In fact, full communication at all levels was encouraged and expected.

But a year later, we are all seeing the impact the previous year has had on people. And it’s what you would expect: People are burned out. In fact, FlexJobs reported back in August that 75% of U.S. employees are reporting symptoms of exhaustion.

Companies are finding they are in a unique position of having a lot to share while managing the responsibility of how they share it. And somewhere along the line it was inevitable that companies will fall/have fallen victim to ‘getting the news out’ v. ‘communicating the news in.’

Fast Company recently wrote an article on just how much employees have been asked to absorb over the past year. They classify what employees are experiencing as ‘change fatigue’ꟷ and how it’s leadership’s responsibility to help employees manage this.

This article goes on to share six suggestions (that I wish I had a year ago) to keep in mind as you communicate with employees. One that stood out to me was empathetic leadership teams. From the article:

“Leaders are more than the public face of their company; employees look to C-level executives and business unit managers for cues on how to react to changes. These individuals must embrace a two-way communication flow when sharing details on changes. Remember that leaders have had much more time to think about the change than employees. Give them time and opportunities to process it.”

A nice reminder that despite how much has changedꟷand how much you’ve needed to communicateꟷit’s important to maintain the energy, clarity and empathy today that we relied on to communicate in week one.

Redefining courage. 

I came across a fantastic article on courage in leadership, featured on the Spin Sucks blog.

I’m not going to get into what it covers here because, well, I couldn’t do much better than the article itself, which I encourage you to read.

Instead, I would like to focus on an unspoken element of this articleꟷand courage in general. While the piece dives into unlikely leaders or heroes and the forms their courage took, I’d like to look at how courage has been redefined in the past year.

To fully embrace what the piece is saying, about why organizations need courageous leaders, we must understand that the ideaꟷand examplesꟷof courage have changed.

The courage to admit a weakness. Show vulnerability. Say ‘I don’t know.’

The courage to break with the way things have always been done. Fail. Or believe in someone or something when others don’t.

The courage to move forward knowing others might not (probably won’t) ‘like’ you or what you’re doing.

Courage. It’s essential. Because today, when it’s easierꟷand more encouragedꟷthan ever to voice your displeasure, the thought of putting your convictions and thinking out there is scary. Will the trust and belief you have in yourself give way to the fear of unacceptance? How many great ideas, products and companies would have been lost if they had to face the scrutiny of today?

Today, stepping out seems more valuable than stepping up.

The art of a meeting agenda.

Ever been to a meeting without an agenda? Or had to put one together?

More importantly, have you ever had to ‘pay’ for a meeting?

Yes, scheduling a meeting is like consuming your company’s/a company’s resources. For however long that meeting is. Every person in that room has a cost associated with them. Are you confident that the time you’re booking is a wise investment of that cost?

All this considered, it’s not a stretch to think of the agenda as an ‘art.’ And something you have to work on. But a lot of times … it’s an afterthought. We prioritize scheduling the meeting with little thought to the purpose, intended outcomes or structure for the meeting.

Which brings us to today’s communication essential. As you know, I’m always looking for ways to work better in this virtual environment–it’s the purpose of this blog. And a lot of times, it comes down to the basics. In fact, I see a lot of overlap between the basics and the essentials as we go forward.

That’s why it’s interesting I found today’s inspiration by looking back. To the year 2015. Which is when this HBR article, titled ‘How to design an agenda for an effective meeting,’ was written.

I typically don’t reference or share articles more than a year old, but something told me I should check this out. If it was trying to address this problem six years ago … there had to be something in it for us now, right?

Right. In fact, there’s a lot of somethings in it. And I really hope you read it. But one takeaway I want to share here is ‘estimate a realistic time for each topic.’ Wow. Simple. But powerful.

Of course, that’s only as good as the person communicating that ahead of the meeting and holding the team accountable to those times and the agenda overall.

But you already knew that … right?