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Chuck Chats Vacation, Bullshit, and Me-Mails with Liz Jurewicz, Rackspace

Elizabeth Jurewicz’s passion for connecting with people knows no boundaries. In college, she seized the opportunity to intern in Sevilla, Spain with only an elementary level of Spanish. However, the initial language barrier did not stop her from developing lifelong friendships with the people she met and led to an inevitable love affair with Spanish language and culture. Her favorite part of her job at Rackspace is getting to help employees build strong personal brands online and share their expertise via social media.

 
Chuck Gose: Liz, when I last saw you, we were in Vegas. That’s sounds somewhat salacious but we’ll get to that later. But you were getting ready to go on a sabbatical to Spain. How was that?

Liz Jurewicz: Hah I thought what happened in Vegas stayed in Vegas? It was my first time there, but I thought those were the rules?! I did take a “sabbatical” to Spain. I say “sabbatical” because it wasn’t officially a sabbatical but it was a two plus week vacation, which I feel is unusual for Americans to do. It was absolutely fabulous. I ate manchego cheese every day!

CG: CG: This is something that your employer Rackspace encourages employees to do, right?

LJ: Absolutely! I was able to work with my leadership and they were incredible supportive. They were also incredibly excited to have me back, which was nice.

CG: Why did you choose Spain?

LJ: Spain is my second home. I did study abroad while I was in college, which turned into doing a masters in Spain, which turned into teaching in a bilingual school for a year. Every time a program ended, I found another reason to stay. I made some incredible friends over there and we still keep in touch so anytime I have a chance to get back, I take it.

CG: What about getting back into the groove at work?

LJ: I am a true believer in the two week vacation. It’s the perfect amount of time to really disconnect. It takes about the first week to wean yourself off the hectic pace we usually maintain and relax into vacation. The second week is pure joy and by the end, you need to do some laundry so it’s time to come home. I hope my jetsetting is an inspiration to others. You come back from vacation with new energy and new ideas.

CG: What’s something new that you want to tackle this summer or this year at Rackspace?

LJ: So right now I’m working with our international offices to expand our Employee Advocacy program so a European vacation felt like it was a good alignment (or at least that’s what I tell myself). My mind is definitely thinking internationally at the moment, trying to figure out how to enable our regional offices.

“[Bullshit is] all the fluff that we put in our internal communications to make us feel like we’re doing our job.”

CG: Are you noticing any cultural differences in employee advocacy efforts?

LJ: Absolutely, and that’s why you can’t take a one-size fits all approach to employee programs. Each region, each office has their own dynamic, their own culture and often their own language! You want to make sure the program you’re putting in place resonates with the employees there. This is why I adopt more of a train the trainer approach and try to work to support a local point of contact who can be the face of the program. This is the idea in theory, so my focus this summer is to put it into action.

CG: Let’s take a step back a bit. How did employee advocacy get started at Rackspace?

LJ: Our program started very organically. We needed to do a better job of explaining our social policy to employees in a way that made it tangible. Often times we read social policies written in legal speak and have no idea what it really means when it comes to posting on Facebook or LinkedIn, for example. So that’s where our program started, with a course around understanding our policy and strategy and it’s grown from there.

CG: And you’ve been a part of that growth. It’s probably a good time to point out that you don’t have “internal communications” in your title.

LJ: It’s true, it’s not in my title, but maybe at this point I could be considered an honorary member of the internal comms circle of trust.

CG: I’ll print you out a membership card and laminate it. Then it’s official.

LJ: Hah and I’d like to get the secret handshake as well. I stumbled my way into internal communications. Like a lot of companies, we had kept the two functions separate — internal comms, external comms — then along came my role with social enablement and it turns out I needed to do a lot of both.

CG: Let’s jump into your Vegas trip. And don’t worry, there will be no pictures posted. But I do want to talk about your presentation because there were a few key points that got people talking.

LJ: I’m pretty sure one of the talking points was the fact that I said “bullshit” in a formal presentation.

CG: Eh. People could have put on their earmuffs if they wanted.

LJ: Oh no, I stand by it. Writing Without Bullshit is by far one of the best reads for communication professionals today.

CG: For the sake of this thread and my own curiosity, define “bullshit.”

LJ: So I interpret it as all the fluff that we put in our internal communications to make us feel like we’re doing our job. It’s all the additional words that don’t actually add clarity for the reader.

“We don’t want to receive an email (focus on the author), we want to receive a me-mail (focus on the reader). For me this means, if they can’t skim it, they won’t read it.”

CG: Do you have any tricks for getting rid of the bullshit?

LJ: My personal trick is to read everything out loud. I can’t tell you how quickly you’ll be able to catch your own bullshit that way. And I can always tell if someone has read something out loud or not. When you read something out loud as opposed to reading it on the screen, you can quickly tell what is relevant and what is not, if you’re using fluffy words or if it gets the point across. My favorite is when someone gets bored reading their own stuff. That’s when you know the process works.

CG: How do you think this bullshit test would work with executives and leaders?

LJ: It would be painful (at first), but totally worth it. It’s a simple but powerful tool we can use to improve our communications.

CG: It’s a shame there’s not a Bullshitometer score. You paste your words into an app and then it gives you a score, like how much bullshit is in your content.

LJ: I have a hunch that Josh Bernoff might have made one. I’ll look into that for you!

Related: The Blablameter (Not by Josh Bernoff)

CG: One of the key messages you had that resonated with attendees was all about “Me-mails.” Explain what these are.

LJ: Me-Mail is a term from Seth Godin. He has a fabulous talk on how to get your ideas to spread where he calls out that we don’t want to receive an email (focus on the author), we want to receive a me-mail (focus on the reader). For me this means, if they can’t skim it, they won’t read it.

CG: So how do communicators begin thinking about this approach of “me-mails?”

“So how do we make the most of emails? We me-mail instead.”

LJ: Three simple things to do are:

  1. Answer a specific question in your me-mail. This will help you avoid adding in irrelevant fluff.
  2. Read it to yourself out loud. When you start trailing off and thinking about your grocery list, know you’ve lost your reader about 10 seconds before that.
  3. No more than three pieces of new information in one email. This means that no email should be longer than three paragraphs long. If it is, then go back to step one and start over again.

CG: This is a radical departure from how most communicators use corporate email, especially with messages to employees (instead of personal email).

LJ: Yes, but it’s a necessary one. We are all oversaturated with emails, but we’ll all admit they’re not going away anytime soon. So how do we make the most of emails? We me-mail instead.

CG: It goes to a point that myself and others have made. Employees don’t hate email. They hate crappy email. Just like they don’t like crappy intranets. Or crappy apps. Or crappy digital signage.

LJ: It’s like we hold ourselves to a different standard when we put our professional hats on. As consumers, we hate long emails, spam emails, unappealing UI, but suddenly we are put in the context of our professional roles and we’re doing all the things we hate.

CG: Do you think communicators are guilty of valuing their time more than their colleagues’ time?

LJ: I think there can be a disconnect. Everyone is very busy — back to the need for two week vacations and everyone taking a break — so I don’t think it’s an intentional “my job is harder than your job” attitude. I do think that communicators have a particularly challenging job today where information is so readily available and employees are saturated with messages from all angles. How do they rise above the noise?

CG: I think you’ve provided a few great ideas for not contributing to the noise and focusing on what’s truly important. But I also think that communicators should be more creative. How important is creativity in communication at Rackspace?

“If a communicator is focused on how to get the employees the information they need in the most efficient way, that will shine through.”

LJ: We have a unique culture here so creativity can thrive in a culture that emphasizes employee engagement. Creativity can be more challenging in certain environments over others, but at the heart of it if the communicator isn’t having fun and enjoying their role, that will shine through in the messaging. This is my yoga teacher peeking out a little, but intentions shine through. If a communicator is crafting a message from a place of stress and focused on what their leadership thinks, then it will probably miss the mark with employees. If a communicator is focused on how to get the employees the information they need in the most efficient way, that will shine through.

CG: I wrap these chats up with the same question. Describe your thoughts on internal communications via emoji.

LJ: Wait, don’t I get to ask a question? Hasn’t that tradition taken off yet?

CG: Emoji first. Then a question.

LJ: Just kidding. Ok, internal communications in one emoji: nerd-face-emoji I’m a sucker for nerd face, but I’ll explain why I think it’s relevant to internal comms. Nerd face is smart, but doesn’t take itself too seriously.

CG: I like it. Now do you actually have a question for me or was that just a mean tease?

LJ: No, I always have a question for you! I see you as sort of the ying to my yang. You’re someone who started in internal comms but is doing an amazing job at external comms. From that perspective, balancing the blend of internal and external, where do you see the future of comms as a function?

CG: I don’t see internal communications dying as others have said. If anything, I see a greater importance on internal as leaders are starting to understand that employees are what drive success. And the more you talk directly to them in an honest and compassionate way, the more they will deliver back to the business. I believe that people want to be engaged. The problem is that companies aren’t that engaging sometimes. And that’s what leaders need to understand about employee engagement. It’s not a program. It’s something that happens when employees trust leaders and leaders trust employees. *Steps off soapbox*

LJ: It’s an exciting time to be in communications.

CG: I agree. Thanks Liz Jureqioiquejqkljwkljqljz.

LJ: No bonus points for you! It was a pleasure to chat with you, as always Chuck. You reminded me I need to follow up with the Vegas attendees to see how they’re doing on their homework. They’ll be thrilled you reminded me :)

Article by: Chuck Gose

Founder and host of ICology, a podcast and resource for Internal Communicators. You can find me talking to the most interesting people in comms here and on the podcast. Connect with me on Twitter: @chuckgose and @learnicology