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What I Learned at PRSA Connect

A few weeks ago, I led a workshop at PRSA Connect – PRSA’s annual conference devoted to Employee Communications. It was my first time attending (and my first time in Nashville!) and I was impressed with the sheer scale of the event, as well as the overall format and topics. PRSA Connect started as a small, 50-person event and has grown steadily each year. This year sold out at 300 people, so you’d be wise to keep an eye out for next year’s event!

After leading an Employee Experience Hackathon on the workshop day, I stuck around for the remainder of the conference and walked away with some fantastic takeaways:

  • While past conferences have focused largely on specific tools and channels to engage employees, most of the discussions at PRSA Connect were focused at a much higher level. Speakers focused on emphasizing communicators’ role in helping employees find meaning in their work. For example, Alison Davis of Davis & Co. highlighted the fact that employees are lonelier than ever and are looking for meaningful connections to co-workers and to their work. Better employee communications can help!
  • Another recurring theme was the importance of leading with humanity. This may elicit a huge “DUH”, but it’s a concept too often forgotten. Peyton Woodson Cooper from Houston’s LBJ Hospital emphasized how she used simple acts of humanity, like hugs in the hallway, to keep employees going during Hurricane Harvey. In another session, Tonya Hurst, Internal Communications Manager from Trihealth wisely said: “Start with empathy, and work back from there.”
  • I’m thrilled to see more organizations using increasingly sophisticated data and metrics to demonstrate impact. For example, Houdad Javidnia, a workforce communications leader at J&J, discussed how the company used data to debunk myths and assumptions made by senior leaders. When rolling out a new communications tool, many assumed that younger employees would be the most eager adopters. The data, however, told a different story, and communicators captured and shared that data to demonstrate that role types, mindset and other factors were better predictors of behavior than age.
  • As the trend toward more mergers and acquisitions continues, I was especially interested to hear perspectives on how to effectively combine two (or more!) organizations. Elisabeth Wang of Piedmont Healthcare, which has successfully navigated several acquisitions in recent years, emphasized that while it’s difficult to strike the perfect balance between transparency and timeliness, nothing is more important than building trust with employees during a time of rapid change. Similarly, Mark Dollins, head of executive and global employee communications at DuPont described how his organization prepared employees for the massive merger with Dow Chemical Company by first building a clear and compelling narrative and then bringing it to life with ongoing updates delivered via a wide variety of channels.

And, perhaps my favorite recap comes from Jonathan Mann. You may have heard about Jonathan, whose claim to fame is the fact that he writes a new song every day (he’s up to 4,000!). He wrote a custom song (with help from conference attendees) that beautifully sums up all that we discussed – enjoy!

 

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Ann Melinger