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Communications Roadshow = Big Value

Posted on November 24, 2019


Welcome to Battle Creek

I’m Jessica VanderKolk, the Communications Manager for the City of Battle Creek, Michigan. Find me on Twitter and LinkedIn.

What I’m reading: The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown

What I’m listening to: Christmas music. Don’t @ me.

What I’m (re)watching: The West Wing


Battle Creek’s internal numbers look like this – 550+ teammates, in 15 buildings, with about one-fifth who don’t receive city email.

I’ve continued, re-started, and created a variety of ways to communicate with our team from the start, and started surveying them about those methods right away, for feedback.

I created nearly-identical, online communications surveys four years in a row. Supervisors of those without city email received the PDF version to print – a handful typically came back to me. The top response rate was about 16 percent; the most recent was about 10 percent.

Surveys are easy to miss or skip – someone’s on vacation, it becomes buried in your email inbox, some see it and forget it, field crews never see it – you get the idea.

I did pick up great feedback to which the team has responded. I received some great suggestions for our monthly, internal newsletter, mainly to do with hearing the stories of our people and departments. Since an early suggestion, I’ve interviewed, or asked teammates to submit answers to a short list of questions, writing a “Nice to Meet You” feature. I’ve reached across departments for volunteers and now am working through our senior department leaders, at the suggestion of my communications team.

Nonetheless, with barely double-digit response rates, I felt last year that the formal survey had run its course. I decided to take the communications show on the road.

This fall I started joining department and division staff meetings to ask some of those survey questions, and ask our team to talk to me about what works and what doesn’t. I’ve been to seven out of dozens, and I’ll be the first to tell you that I’ve worked as a communications professional for close to 20 years, and am still an incredibly nervous public speaker. However, a therapist said I should better promote what I do, so off I go.

I’m thrilled with the results already.

I’ll tell you now that, if you’re looking for a way to connect with your team, in person is it. I think we all know it, and that time is the main barrier; it will likely take me a year to complete the road show.

But it’s worth the time. Most people in our organization speak to more neighbors on the phone than I do. They interact with our website and various communication tools differently than I do. And I want everyone to see that I’m serious about gathering feedback on our methods, and improving them.

A great suggestion I’ll be adding to a current website review came from our Utility Billing team. We have a “Public Notices” graphic button on the home page, which links to official meeting notices. When our team and neighbors look for boil water advisories, they naturally click on Public Notices. Those advisories are actually under “Alerts” in a different part of the website. What a great piece of information to help us better meet people where they are online.

Another suggestion I’ve already developed is another for our newsletter. Our city manager writes a message to the organization each month, and our Recreation team suggested asking senior leadership to rotate on this message, with news and updates from their departments. I have our senior leaders scheduled through early 2021, starting with our airport in January.

I look forward to the conversations to come, learning more, and improving the connections and messages to our team.

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